Who knows the most about baseball?

Tops among the things about which I spend a lot of time thinking: baseball, and ways that I suck as a human being.

I probably “know” more about baseball than almost every person that I encounter on a daily basis. (Not a lot of hardcore sports fans coming through the doors of Woodland Pattern Book Center, and my housemates are mostly hipsters.) For seconds at a time, even, that thought embues me with a sense of uniqueness — and uniqueness is justification for existence, isn’t it?

However, each day I also partake of the Realm of the Intertrodes (aka Interbert J. Internets), where I have another kind of life that’s filled with dozens of people who know all sorts of things about baseball, where there are entities like FanGraphs, or Joe Blog.

During my e-time, then, I remember that I don’t know shit about baseball. (And yet, I write for this awesome site.) I’ve been having this feeling for a long time. Consider this blogpost I made over three years ago, when writing for a site like this wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye. In the post, I admire one of Carson’s FanGraph posts about Mark Bellhorn. Over two years later, Carson saw enough in me to allow me to post here. Though I’ve thoroughly relished the opportunity, some days I am filled with dread at the idea of having to post something here, where many of the readers (it’s apparent through comments) are just as fit or much fitter for this task.

Today is one such day. And in my dread, for some reason, I googled “who knows the most about baseball”, and what I found was underwhelming, as you can see in the image above.

If we’re really trying to answer this question, we could go about it in different ways — narrow it down. Like, we could ask, Who’s the best at baseball trivia? That question is best answered, perhaps, at the yearly SABR conference. Currently, Mike Caragliano owns that title, though according to this New York Times article, a man named Al Blumkin dominated for years.

But I’ve never been especially interested in trivia like this, even if I am a fan of memorizing players’ career numbers. Personally, I’d want to start looking at baseball writers to determine “who knows most.” In that case, we could look at the list of recent J. G. Taylor Spink Award winners, which the BBWAA awards to a member every year. But that’s pretty underwhelming, too — I think it focuses more on the journalistic, and less on the analytical or logical elements.

As of right now, there’s no Bill James Award for Baseball Analysis and Kick-Ass Writing — what would undoubtedly be the ultimate measure of balance between challenging, insightful analysis and literary chops. Without something like that, where do we start? We start right here at FanGraphs, or at any number of similar sites, or even somewhere much more longevity like Baseball America. Arguments abound in favor of various writers, I’m sure.

And I’m interested in hearing those arguments.

So, if you’ve made it this far in this hellish, narcissistic post, reward yourself by unloading your argument in the comments. Help me abolish my ignorance and grow my self-loathing by telling me: Who do you think best combines readability with truly insightful analysis of the contemporary game of baseball?

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35 Responses to “Who knows the most about baseball?”

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  1. Enzo Hernandez says:

    John Manuel.

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  2. Jack says:

    Pat Burrell knows the most in a biblical sense.

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  3. Kyle says:

    Amen, Robert. Writing about baseball while at the same time being painfully aware of how little you actually know about it is a seriously stupid and silly exercise. To answer your question, of the baseball writers I read regularly/daily, I’d honestly narrow it down to Jeff Sullivan and Jonah Keri.

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    • Robert J. Baumann says:

      Thanks for the honest answer, Kyle. Because of exchanges we have had in the past, and various baseball blog posts you’ve made, I actually thought of you when writing this, figuring I’d have a kindred spirit…

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  4. Todd says:

    For me, it’s Keith Law. He’s snarky, hilarious, and never afraid to admit when he’s wrong. Not that it factors in for this discussion, but he’s very friendly and just a generally likeable dude

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  5. Tim says:

    If there were a Bill James Award for Baseball Analysis and Kick-Ass Writing, wouldn’t you basically have to give it to Bill James?

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    • Robert J. Baumann says:

      Well, he would be the first, but to whom will he pass the torch? I like a lot of writers for a lot of different reasons, but few have given me the chills like Bill James has, and none of them have given me said chills as often.

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  6. Joe Buck says:

    Is this even a real fucking question!?!? The answer is Tim McCarver, my life partner

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    • Luke W says:

      Cheers to you for making me LOL in my unimaginably boring geometric dimensioning and tolerancing class.

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      • Jason B says:

        This thread produces a range of emotions – Joe Buck made me snicker, then “geometric dimensioning and tolerances” made me pass out and sleep for 16 hours.

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  7. Oliver says:

    Steve Goldman

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  8. Sullivan is great. Helluva addition to FanGraphs. I like what Chairman Cistulli brings to baseball writing. You get sick prose, and baseball, two of my favorite things. And he’s not a douchebag. I used to read a lot of different writers. I don’t read as many of them anymore; who has the time? (And some of them are douchebags.) Also, there’s so much shit to read.

    Really enjoyed this post, by the way, Baumann. And I’m with you: I spend most of my days wondering where and when it went all wrong, and why I suck so much, at everything. Especially writing. It used to be easy. Now it’s difficult as fuck. I’ve missed a lot of my scheduled posts here at NotGraphs, because I either don’t know what to write about, or think that I am the world’s least qualified person to write about baseball, even at NotGraphs. I’ve told Chairman Cistulli that every time he’s in touch via email, or IM, I assume that it’s because, finally, the gig is up, and he’s going to fire me.

    I’ll admit it: I admire your ability to come up with content on such a regular basis. You write a lot. And, if we’re being honest, which I think we are, I think about your Dale Thayer piece on the regular. I thought about it last night. That shit was fantastic. Even Mississippi’s post on the Orioles. Just quality shit. That’s why I love NotGraphs. You guys are bringing something different to the table on a regular basis. I post a GIF here, and a GIF there, throw in a couple of lines, or, sadly, just write some shit about the Blue Jays. I keep going to that well, and that’s another reason why I figure it’s only a matter of time before Cistulli drops the hammer.

    All of this to say that it ain’t easy, writing here, or anywhere, consistently, and with quality. I think it’s just as important to read as it is to write, but time spent reading is time spent not beating myself up, you know what I mean? Fuck, this is super long-winded now. My point is: I appreciate what you bring to the game, man. Thanks.

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    • Robert J. Baumann says:

      Navin, so much of this rings true with me. I feel like I have to write ten pieces to feel good about one of them. If all I get out of my time here is a couple of bitchin’ Dale Thayer spoof pieces, that’ll be ok by me. But all the crap that I write in between gets aired out here, too.

      I think it’s just as important to read as it is to write, but time spent reading is time spent not beating myself up, you know what I mean?

      Word up to both those points. When I read, I feel good, get lost, am a true fan. But then when the time comes to write, a lot of the time, all the good stuff I’ve read haunts me.

      Thanks for writing, Navin. Thanks a lot. And for what it’s worth, I love your GIFs, and your commentary on them.

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    • I think we’ve all felt that rising terror that comes with not knowing what to write about. It still hits me as hard now as it did when I started a year and a half ago, when it feels like I’ll never have a good idea ever again.

      What really terrorizes me, though, is when I think I have a good idea, and it goes nowhere. I like to write because I like to make jokes, with the painful knowledge that an audience is a necessary part of the process. I’ll put hours of sweat into a post for nothing, because I haven’t been able to bridge the unwritten brilliance in mind with anything that has meaning for the reader. You have to be dissonant enough to catch the reader off guard, make them think about something in a way they hadn’t before, without being so far removed that they don’t get it. Humor is hard.

      Of course, the great ones create their audience, by force if necessary. I look at what Cistulli dealt with when he first joined FanGraphs, and can’t help but wonder if that level of negative commentary would have physically killed me. Compared to that, 0 comments isn’t such a bad outcome.

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      • Robert J. Baumann says:

        Well said on all accounts, Patrick; thanks a lot. I find it hard to strike the balance between being too weird and too earnest. I still feel bad when someone calls me out on a shitty post, too.

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      • Greg W says:

        You all should give your heads a shake. There is no perfect thing to write. I enjoys different things to read on different days. I enjoy lots of different voices. It has nothing to do with most or best or evaluating things overall. It’s about your own personal view of a moment in your life, in your mind. If I had as much doubt as you have all expressed, I wouldn’t write anything at all either.

        Enjoy the ability to express yourself. Experiment with a voice. Don’t worry, there’s an audience. The internet makes publishing and expressing your voice possible, in a way that the printing press never did.

        You started writing becasue you loved somehting and wanted to share it. Keep doing it!

        Most of the things I write in my spare time are viewed by less that 100 people… but that’s a whole lot more than woudl have ever read a journal or notebook of mine.

        Be joyful when you write, and joyful if even one reader reads it. Twenty years ago, this kind of opportunity simply didn’t exists at all.

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    • Illinois glass M. Michael Sheets says:

      You almost could have used this reply to make an article, Navin.

      I go back to reread the life and times of Dale Thayer about once a week. I think that post is hilarious just to think about and impersonate that fake persona in text messages to my brother whenever Dale does anything of significance. The Padres end the season at Milwaukee, you’re a Brewers fan, I’m thinking “NoGraphs presents Dale Thayer night” for a game.

      Comment numbers don’t always line up perfectly with quality.

      You guys are great.

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      • Navin Vaswani says:

        On this note, Illinois, I will say, first of all, thank you, and, second, I love the NotGraphs commentariat. As part of my day job I edit a website that is home to two trolls, and deleting comments, day after day after day after day, and reading the nonsense posted by this one very angry and sad individual, makes me sometimes just want to throw in the towel. It is such a waste of everyone’s time, and, well, it’s pathetic. But it makes me appreciate the little community that exists here, where people are civil and don’t take themselves or the goddamned Internet too seriously. I’d buy all you fuckers a round, there’s no doubt about it.

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    • Sabermetric Solutions says:

      Chairman Cistulli? How about Almighty Powerful Cistulli Who Wishes He Was Dark Overlord Dave.

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  9. eric says:

    Carson Cistulli

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    • Robert J. Baumann says:

      For realsies, Carson would easily be in my top ten, really good shot at the top 5 if we’re talking contemporarily.

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  10. Greg W says:

    And, as I stated above, I don’t think its terribly important, but to answer the question about who knows baseball the most? He probably works for an successful MLB team, and never types anything that the general public will ever read.

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  11. Detroit Michael says:

    Yes, Bill James is such an obvious candidate, that you have to disqualify him. He doesn’t keep up on what others write, so he’s not always the most knowledgeable guy about cutting edge analysis though, so it does seem like he COULD be beat.

    Nate Silver would have been a great nomination five years ago. He was inquisitive and analytical, covered lots of facets of the game, but then he burnt out on it and went into politics sort of.

    Tom Tango fosters a great community at his blog but his readability isn’t high enough in my opinion.

    I like the Steve Goldman nomination from earlier. Not much in the way of number-crunching analysis, but he’s certainly familiar with those concepts from editing BaseballProspectus.com and the book. Writes well. Knows baseball history. Intensely follows one franchise. I miss reading his chats at BP.

    David Cameron has kind of similar credentials to Steve Goldman. You think Carson Cistulli’s comments were tough to handle? Dave Cameron takes the prize for graciously enduring the most rude comments I’ve read on a baseball blog.

    Don Malcolm and Carson Cistulli to me are easily discarded on readability grounds. I know Carson has gained a following here, but it’s too gonzo-esque for me to tolerate in more than small doses.

    Joe Posnanski is the best baseball writer I know of — everyone here should own a copy of The Soul of Baseball — but not as rounded a candidate as you’d like.

    Long post, I know. My choice is Dave Studeman. This “10 Things I Didn’t Know Last Week” columns were the best regular columns I ever read. He seldom writes, but he’s busy behind the scenes helping others.

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  12. Shawn says:

    For knowing baseball alone, and not just the SABR side thats popped up in the last 15,20 years, Id say VIn Scully. I think he could have a longer conversation about baseball with you than everyone else, and be factual on all of it.

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  13. Karl says:

    I would have to say Tim McCarver, that guy is just a wealth of knowledge and breaks down his analysis of the game in such an eloquent way.

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  14. Ron says:

    I think the point is no one can know the most. If you know the details you lose the big picture. So an expert on one team will not work. If you know about major league, how much do you know about minor league baseball. What about experts on Indy ball? That is just pro ball?

    All that being said it is Ken Burns. He knows everything important about baseball.

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  15. TsB says:

    I think what we can conclude from this discussion is that the only logical course of action is to take body parts from various great writers and combine them in to some sort of superhuman Baseball Writing Frankenstein(‘s monster).

    Thank goodness for logic.

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  16. Bryan says:

    For what it’s worth, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance gives out the Joe Posnanski Award annually to the top internet writer. Poz won the inaugural award and the subsequent namesakification. Craig Calcaterra won this year. This doesn’t necessarily answer your question, but the BBA tries to identify someone who bridges great analysis with great writing.


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