While I generally prefer to write about baseball rather than baseball writers, today, I’m making an exception, because as you may have heard by now, today is Rob Neyer’s last day with ESPN. And, in many ways, we owe Rob a huge debt of gratitude.
For myself and those in the 30 and under category, Rob Neyer was our Bill James. When my family got AOL in the mid-1990s, one of the first places I headed for was ESPNet SportsZone. It took forever to load, but it was a place devoted solely to sports, and far more interesting than anything I could get from the local papers, especially on the baseball side. They even had a column called Chin Muzak, written by some guy I’d never heard of, and he said crazy things.
That guy was Rob Neyer, of course, and the crazy things he was saying turned out to be right more often than they were wrong. Once I stopped rejecting his theories out of hand, I began to realize that they actually made sense. From there, it wasn’t long before I headed down the path of baseball-stat-nerdism. Thanks to Rob Neyer’s writings, I realized that my pretty decent math skills could actually be applied to the one sport I loved more than all the others.
For those of us in the Internet Generation, we missed out on Bill James‘ abstracts, but Neyer picked up the slack. It was a different medium, and a different style of writing, but just as James produced a large army of converts in the 1980s, so did Rob in the 1990s. I’m guessing that many of the people currently penning statistically slanted words about baseball on the internet were shoved in that direction due to Neyer’s writings for ESPN.
For 15 years, Rob has been something like the face of sabermetrics. He was the most prominent statnerd at the most prominent sports site, and he used that platform to shine a light on interesting work from around the web. I can’t count how many links Rob has sent to FanGraphs, for which we’re greatly appreciative, but he’s also linked to stuff I would have never found otherwise, and created interesting discussions on topics that I don’t think I would come up with on my own.
For many of us, Rob Neyer’s work at ESPN was the gateway into this little world. I’m sure that both Rob and ESPN will do just fine going forward, but this is the end of an era, so to speak, and it’s worth noting that it was one of the most fruitful eras of sports writing in the last couple of decades. The Rob Neyer Family Tree Of Writers is enormous, and I’m proud to be one small branch.
Thanks for all your hard work, Rob. We wouldn’t be here without you.