I suppose it’s no secret that today is my 38th birthday – at a certain point you can’t hide your birthday any more, not in an era of Facebook and Wikipedia and lives lived largely online – but it’s also the fifth anniversary of my first day as a full-time employee of ESPN, a milestone of special significance for me, as I’ve never worked for any company for that long before.
Prior to joining the Jays in 2002, I was chronically bored at work. In fact, I was bored at several workplaces, one more boring than the next. My first job out of college was in consulting and was interesting for about ten months, until the powers that be figured out that I was handy with a spreadsheet and decided I should be used exclusively on cases that required a lot of spreadsheet work. Being handy with a spreadsheet – which at the time meant I could use Excel without adult supervision and maybe write a macro or two – is not equivalent to enjoying working with spreadsheets, and as I’m sure many of you know, that kind of work gets old fast, especially when you’re doing nothing with the results of your analyses. Every job after that was, in one way or another, more boring, and when I’m bored, I’m not exactly a model employee, either.
Baseball offered one clear escape from boredom beyond the obvious love-of-the-game factor: The challenge of the sport is never-ending because the product is people. We can analyze and estimate, project and value, but we will always be wrong at least some of the time, and being wrong drives us all to learn from our mistakes and develop new methods or metrics or heuristics to be less wrong in the next cycle. I was hooked on the draft after just one year in the room because it might be the area in which teams get it wrong most often, even smart teams run by smart guys who’ve thrown a lot of resources at the question of how to get it less wrong. When you’re dealing with teenagers and guessing how they’ll mature physically and emotionally over the next six years after you’ve handed them a big pile of cash, you’re going to be wrong with a capital R a lot of the time. That promise of an unending challenge is thrilling, and it exists even on the other side of the wall, where I never put money on the line on players but have all of my opinions out there for the public to tear apart (and use to construct lengthy complaints of bias). But after five draft cycles with ESPN on top of five with Toronto, some small amount of sameness has set in. The challenges remain, but the calendar doesn’t change, and the task list is the same every year.
What has kept the job interesting and rewarding over the last five years, more than anything else, has been my interactions with you.
I have written before what a great privilege it is to write for you, and to know that so many of you choose to pay to read my work every year. But my compensation for this effort goes well beyond money. You challenge me to be better – to evaluate better, write more clearly, to take strong stands, to keep up with the latest analyses and statistics, but also to be funnier, quicker, sharper, because I know it’s what you want, and if I’m not any of that, I’ll hear about it in short order. And along the way you will make me laugh, or teach me something, or tell me about a great book to read or a place where I must eat or a game I have to play. That interaction, more than anything else, is what makes this job so interesting and so much fun, even for a peripatetic mind like mine that ten years ago seemed destined to be bored no matter what I did for a living.
Thank you all for letting me entertain you these last five years, and for giving me so much in return. I’ve gotten more from you than I ever could have hoped to receive.