As the MLB playoffs unfold, Front Row caught up with Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri to chat about getting into sports as a kid and breaking into sportswriting. Keri’s work can be found here. Follow him on Twitter @jonahkeri.
How did you become a baseball analyst?
I was a baseball nut as a kid, so much so that my dad bought me my first “Bill James Abstract” when I was 8 years old. But when I graduated from college, baseball was still mostly the domain of newspapers, and no one except Bill James appeared able to eke out a living writing about baseball in an analytical way. So I became a business writer instead, and tossed my dream away. Until, that is, I started reading Rob Neyer. By the late 1990s, Rob was already doing amazing work at ESPN.com. Rob’s writing inspired me, and his early recommendations for an up-and-coming site called Baseball Prospectus helped me find a way into the industry.
Do you follow other sports as closely or do you focus mainly on baseball?
I grew up playing basketball, not baseball (couldn’t hit a fastball to save my life), and watched hoops from an early age.
Here’s how much of a basketball nut I was: In the late 1970s, the NBA was still being shown on tape delay at 11:30 ET on Friday nights. My dad, an old-school [Boston] Celtics fan, would tuck 5-year-old Jonah in around 7:30 p.m. Then he’d wake me up at 11:29 p.m., carry me over to the couch, and we’d stay up watching whichever game was on.
How did you get the gig at Grantland?
Back in July 2011, [Grantland Executive Editor] Dan Fierman wrote me an email asking if I’d like to write some baseball for the site at some point. It took me 79 minutes to write back. I was trying to play coy. Didn’t work. Loved my job then. Love it even more now.
Which ESPN analyst do you admire the most?
Apologies in advance for the many excellent ESPN analysts not mentioned, but…I’m a huge [ESPN.com NBA analyst] John Hollinger fan. I’d been reading him for years in other places, but he really hit his stride at ESPN. Here was someone who weaved advance stats into his writing, but did it crisply and seamlessly, in a way that was accessible to everyone.