Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Hot Wilbon Take

Earlier today, John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal tweeted this quote from ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, linking to a full rundown of an event that is just as exhausting as it sounds:

As it happens, what was once Grantland will be toasted at something like an Irish wake at venue in the city tonight with more than 1,000 people, including yours truly, having RSVP’d. Though Grantland was well-funded and played host to many wonderful pieces of journalism, it also ran very wonderful silly pieces, and many wonderful pieces that came from other reporting methods than the one through which Wilbon attained fame. Wilbon was no fan of Bill Simmons, and while Grantland doesn’t entirely fit the profile he was targeting, he couldn’t have considered it too far off, either. Now Simmons is gone. The blog king got. The Old School rules again. Or so it goes.

It doesn’t, but if he is obliquely right about one thing, it’s that the basics of beat journalism — talking to people, in person — can yield relationships and stories that cannot be unearthed in other ways. This is News, but it isn’t news. If he is wrong about the rest of it, and he is, it is because he has placed himself at the center of a universe in which he cannot be wrong, one in the Right People. Like him, Christine Brennan and Tony Kornheiser believe that the blogs are gonna ruin sports, or reporting, or America, or something, and for this they are afforded the gift of being on Wilbon’s level. If he his right, and I have no doubt he is, they’re professional equals only because they’re fading just as fast as him.

Some Fantasy Football notes to myself and okay you can look too

I’m an avid Fantasy Sports player, and I’ve found that my most astute observations about each game come in the middle of the season, only I forget to write them down and commit the same mistakes year after year. That ends tonight! Here are some Fantasy Football tips that are good for the way the game is played right f’ing now:

Wide receivers are the most important players in the game: There are no two ways around this one, and if it wasn’t for Brady and Gronk, they would be the entirety of the game’s most valuable players. Even in leagues where RB is the most important position in the game, the best RBs have proven to be largely fungible — both Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell got hurt, and Charcandrick West and DeAngelo Williams are high-earning point-hunters in their stead. This isn’t always true — Alfred Blue isn’t exactly soaking up Arian Foster’s numbers — but it’s far more true than it is of the best receivers. If Julio Jones or Antonio Brown gets hurt, there’s only so much slack his backup can pick up.

The upshot: If you play in an auction league, like I do, it might actually be a good strategy to intentionally overspend on the best receivers in the game, even if it means blowing your entire budget. RBs will get hurt. TEs, QBs and defenses can be streamed. (We don’t play with kickers, and it’s a revelation.) The amount of season-long value at any position on the waiver wire in week 1 is insane — the only problem is identifying it. The only place you know it’s not going to come is on the wing. Grab the top WRs and win.

Be systematic: For the first month of the season (or first two months of the baseball or basketball seasons), work largely off of the beginning-of-season values. Take advantage of players who are willing to drop top players are dirt-cheap prices because of early season struggles. Shorthand for this is ‘get the name players.’ They didn’t become names by accident.

In the second month of the season, make lateral moves to fill out the depth of your roster. In the third month, exploit the waiver system to be ready to grab the best player available after any given week. If you have a mid-range waiver claim, don’t bother trying at anybody but the best players. Save up for No. 1. I’ve gotten DeAngelo and now Danny Amendola this way in just the last two weeks.

The upshot: As much as this might help you, the hilarious anarchy of Fantasy Football will ensure that your best laid plans eat butt. So take this with a grain of salt. At the same time, this won’t steer you wrong.

Make sure to grab fun players: Football is a TV sport, and you’re going to watch your players try to score points for you, and you’re going to enjoy it. That’s the plan, at least. Do draft players on teams that play close to you or you expect to see on national TV all the time, and try to cast as wide a net as possible (unless you just take all the Pats, like the Other Pats Fan In My League Did And Now He’s Gonna Win.) It’s diversifying your bonds to this dumb sport, and it’s a smart thing to do.

The upshot: You avoid realizing that you’re wasting your life watching this terrible sport.

Hope that helped. Good luck!

New York and Paris

I had been planning to write about New York for this post, but it is Paris at the top of my mind, and it’s hard to access the mental space that talks about building cities and representing the on film when you see familiar ones being ripped apart before your eyes. What is sure to be lost on us is that the terrorists usually fail in the long run, provided the events are recognizable one-offs — Paris will remain Paris just as New York remained New York before it, and Paris remained Paris before that, and so on. Just as the stories of old New York so often evoke the stories of today’s New York, the stories of old Paris will continue to evoke the Paris of the present and future.

I was here to talk about New York, though, and how it is portrayed on television, mostly through three current shows that I think capture what has been called the three fundamental experiences of New York in important and distinct ways. The three experiences of New York are the ones I read on one of those ‘Poetry in Motion’ placards I saw on the subway about a decade ago, despite the fact it isn’t poetry, per se, and it’s the one by E.B. White from ‘Here is New York’ that flatters Brooklyn washashores like myself:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.

I’m pretty sure that’s the second-best quote about New York of which I know. Until recently, it was the best, but the new king is fresh and mostly notable for who’s saying it and where he’s saying it, and for the fact it’s perfect. It’s Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, on the city he fought to play in:

If you’d rather skip the video, the nut is this: “New York is the greatest city on the planet, I think” he says. “But you’re not a New Yorker if you don’t wake up some days and be like ‘man, fuck this place.'”

Nothing in the world has ever been truer than that, except that people probably hate living in Paris from time to time as well, and that’s the rub: the places people bother to hate are generally the ones they love even more. If no single number instance of terror can shake the feeling, it’s because that small bit of extra love makes all the difference. You compound it over and over, and nothing can rip it apart.

Here are some cool things about ‘Master of None’

“Relaxing” is not something I do particularly well, which is one of a few reasons “Netflix and chill,” the modern hook-up code, is not for me. The bigger problem is that I’m a married man with a young daughter, so it’s hard to find time for Netflix or chilling, and I often fail at whichever option I choose. Not so with the first few episodes of “Master of None,” Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series, which I like, largely because he’s fictionalized his own life in a way that’s pretty cool.

The show is about a very Ansari-like character in an identifiable, living New York, doing things that the real Ansari would have been doing five years ago or even five years from now, in another, less successful lifetime. The show looks like truth but it’s fiction, but it’s seamless and beautiful fiction. (I don’t mean this just figuratively — it looks wonderful, with the East Village and Lower East Sides appearing to exist in perpetual, hopeful, colorful dusk.)

I watched Ansari be interviewed by fellow comedian Paul F. Tompkins a few years ago, and what Ansari said about his creative process has stuck in my brain ever since. Tompkins asked Ansari if he recorded his shows and listened back to them, to which Ansari said yes, he did, to which Tompkins replied that he didn’t. What I remember about the interview is how Ansari knows why Tompkins doesn’t want to listen to his own set — he hates listening to himself, as many journalist do, too, respect — but Ansari clearly doesn’t feel the same way: his instincts for the process, and his self-confidence, don’t allow for it. (He doesn’t say as much, and it doesn’t come across as dickish, but it comes across.) Here’s that clip, which runs about aminute:

I think of that bit every time I hear Ansari doing standup, and I always end up, strangely, with the sense that he’s lying about something: that what he’s saying isn’t a true story, and that I’m laughing (and I often am) at fiction. A lot of this is his comedy, which involves a lot of sex jokes I don’t find plausible, only to crack up just the same, and I feel duped… until I realize that this is the way it’s always been, and that a slick sausage salesman is still just a sausage salesman. Not that I think this is Ansari’s true calling. In that same interview, he says he prefers standup to acting, but I think his work on “Parks and Recreation” and now “Masters of None,” have exposed his unique skill as an actor and writer.

“Masters” has been compared to “Louie,” not unreasonably, for its pacing, setting and, well, everything else, but the dynamic of the show definitely crosses a generational and cultural line that’s becoming easier and easier to delineate. “Louie” thrives on the collected experiences of Louis C.K., which occur in the darkness, and succeeds despite an occasionally sordid personal life that might not square with the openness demanded or at least requested of our new stars. If he’s made it work, it’s through complete control over the final product an an uncommon willingness and ability to plumb his depths for tragedies he can gild into comedy bits. He’s put in the time, after all.

Ansari’s show is lighter, with tragedy (like establishment anti-Indian racism in casting calls) playing more like a death by a thousand cuts than a knife-blow to the gut, which is more or less the story of every episode of “Louie.” It’s a more connected show, though, with the impact of small, perpetual tragedies playing themselves horizontally among several characters instead of corkscrewing away at the protagonist as we gawk: it’s tragic plus ‘Real Time.’ Ansari’s gift is that he doesn’t let the shit get to him, and if “Masters” too light to be called a masterpiece, it presents something new for the formerly tortured artist unwilling to subject herself to “Louie’s” unbearable self-destructive process, but wants to build her work just the same: a master key.

Return to blog mountain, Tuesday edition: Grantland closes, and it stinks

For a long time, I’ve not felt the need to write, critically, about anything. Instead of collecting my thoughts, I’ve been collecting the thoughts of others and been perfectly okay with it — too many of them, maybe, to hone in on a single idea. Writing is always better when it’s open-ended and therein lies a problem: it’s also great when it’s focused. The first part hasn’t been hard. The second part has proved near impossible.

How do you both at once? I can’t claim to really know, but I’ve gotten a better sense in the last few years as I’ve been exposed to criticism of demonstrably high quality. I’m thinking of critics at the recently shuttered Grantland, specifically Wesley Morris and Andy Greenwald, both of whom (Morris, moreso) use what I’d call the New Yorker method: review one or two things, connecting them thematically both to each other and to trends at large, all while hiding the work. It can be breathtaking.

The closing of Grantland won’t kill this criticism, but it will make it harder to find, and less good. It stands to reason that our best individual critics will continue to improve, and I hope to find them, but I can’t promise that I will. The great thing about Grantland is that I knew I was in the best spot for the best thinking both about the stuff I loved and the stuff I could not give a crap about — like the best criticism, the thoughts themselves were worth the price of admission, even if the price was merely my time. Unfortunately, my time couldn’t pay for it all.

On the Internet, time is not money. Time could not save Grantland, which apparently ran a $15 million operating deficit, or in that range. As new as ESPN is, relatively speaking, it’s still an “old media” company, and it’s clear from their newly found austerity. In an era where Netflix, HBO and Amazon embracing and hoarding cult hits, ESPN has chosen to shun them, and it doesn’t seem surprising.

In this case, ESPN’s trash will be the treasure of the rest of the Internet, but it won’t be the same. I’ve long felt that the pomp of writers moving from one outlet to another has been overblown, largely because, as writers have (necessarily) become brands, they’ve just moved their content to different URLs. If Grantland was different, it was because the whole seemed somehow greater than the sum of its parts even while the parts were still individually wonderful. Their writers will surely continue to do great work, but it’ll be work likely reinforced by its own genres, drawn inward on a web that expands outward.

Now ESPN is effectively a FOX Sports clone with better television rights, fighting inward against a single enemy, and that’s the way ESPN likes it. John Skipper (effectively) fired the ineffectual Jason Whitlock, only to see him jump laterally to FOX, and it’s hard not to think Skipper saw this as a win in a binary, zero-sum game between the two relevant parties of sports media. To ESPN and FOX, as corporate entities, critical outlets like Deadspin and even The New York Times might as well not matter. ESPN is in the brands business, the other non-TV outlets in the actual analysis business, and that’s small potatoes to everyone but me and the hundreds of people I follow on Twitter who are just as saddened by the new status quo as I am. It’s likely that most of us are just complaining about this stuff to each other (and if you’re reading this, it’s definitely us) and not making an appreciable dent in any of it. We might actually make them worse. Token opposition can be good for business. “Keep it fair,” and all.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, even as what came to be the best sports website on the Internet was forcibly shuttered due to what amounts to a petty grudge and a lack of imagination. ESPN could have made Grantland work, and they didn’t do it less because Grantland wasn’t profitable (as Chris Connelly would have you believe) than they had no interest in trying to make it so. It’s as plain as day and as dumb as sin. The post-Grantland era is a sad one, but if it’s at all hopeful, it’s that the playing field is wide open for those of us who are fighting to push our collected thoughts on the Internet, against the big bullies who would, but for an amazing four-year stretch, pretend we don’t exist. With ESPN out of the picture, the battle against the brands just got easier for any given individual. We’re always fighting uphill, and the incline just got lower, but that just makes reaching the mountaintop that much harder.

A tentative return to blogging

I don’t know what to write.

It’s been a long time since I considered writing an important part of my life. This was by design. After writing and editing full-time since before I graduated college, I needed a break. Plus, not writing about things gives you more stuff to write about once you start again.

But over the last few years I’ve worked from home and have subsequently not had as much human interaction as I did in the past, and I’ve found it has dampened my need to get my takes out into the wild. Something about being around people stokes my natural vanity and makes me want to impress them, and when that was taken away, my desire to impress those same people plummeted to near zero. I still wrote some sports stuff here and there but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t know where it was.

Now I feel the urge again, and I’ve been trying to write a long essay on fantasy sports and a novel with middling results. It turns out I like to think about them a lot, but I’m so out of practice as a writer that it’s hard to put down everything in my head. It’s almost like I need an outlet to get some words on paper just to prime the pump, so to speak, so I can really let myself jam.

That’s where you come in.

I don’t know who “you” are, but I can probably guess: you’re probably one of my friends in real life or on the internet, and if you read this or my other stuff I’m thankful for it. The fact is that I haven’t known for years for whom I was writing, and I think I fell into the “writering” trap that’s a easy target for amateurs and part-timers. It’s hard to write things you think sound good, and that’s the rub: it’s easy to write things that are actually good. You just have to do it.

I’m going to start writing for Baseball Prospectus Boston again, because I think occasionally having an assignment is good for my brainz. And I’m going to try to continue my other projects as well. But I’m done pretending that I don’t need help from the Internet, even if it’s just a place to dump some words so I can get to the good ones below. I think I have good ones below, and it would be a shame to see them go to waste.

A sad toast

When I was a few months into my first reporting job at the Queens Courier, Daniel Pearl was killed by Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan. The Editor in Chief of the newspaper at the time was especially somber that day and served us all red wine in paper cups to toast ‘Danny’ at the end of the day. At the time I thought it was overly fatuous, but I was young and dumb. That editor has passed away himself since then, and I finally see at what he was getting. Even then, the journalism industry was small, and it still is, in relative terms.

When two local news reporters were killed today in the course of doing their jobs, I felt something like my editor must have felt back then. There but for… and whatnot. Not everyone in journalism ends up at The Wall Street Journal, like Pearl, but it’s a capricious and hardly egalitarian system into which we enter. With few exceptions, anyone could be anyone else. Maybe not everyone could have been Daniel Pearl, but anyone could have been a local TV camera operator or news reporter in Roanoke, Virginia, and that’s exactly why it hurts, and why today’s sadness hits so much closer to home.

Sox win

… and I wrap it all up.

In which I appear on a baseball podcast

Listen here!

An oral history of the Sox on the eve of the World Series

3,500 words, by me. One of my favorites.


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