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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Levin: Why Rick Reilly couldn’t survive in the era of Bill Simmons and Nate Silver.

Rick Reilly checked out years ago. Now, he’s finally leaving. Reilly had it first on Twitter: The columnist will write his last story for ESPN.com on June 30 and will then transition to crafting soft-focus features for various Bristol TV properties. As Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch points out, the mothballing of Reilly’s word processor will allow ESPN.com to reshape its home page, giving Nate Silver and the new FiveThirtyEight.com a prime promotional slot alongside Bill Simmons and Grantland. As Silver rises, Reilly disappears—there can be no better symbol of the triumph of modern journalism over the worst habits of the old-school press.

Reilly probably should have quit in 2009, when Deadspin caught him copying riffs from one of his old SI pieces. If not then, he should have quit that other time in 2009 when Deadspin caught him copying riffs from one of his old SI pieces. If not then, he should have quit in 2011 when Deadspin caught him copying riffs from one of his old SI pieces. And if not then, he should have quit this February when Deadspin caught him copying riffs from one of his old ESPN pieces. In that last one, a regurgitated brain dump on boring golf celebrations, Reilly copied and pasted such stale-the-first-time zingers as “I’d go absolutely electro-shock, three-alarm, bat-guano nuts!” and “I’d pick up the flagstick and fire it like a Tommy gun at the crowd.” In his defense, Reilly did change “If this were football, the guy would be doing the electric chicken right in front of the other team’s bench” to the timelier “If this was the NFL, he’d be twerking in front of the other team’s bench!”

...Reilly’s problem isn’t that he’s so often wrong or that saying something “was the biggest L.A. surprise since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child” isn’t nearly as funny as he thinks it is. It’s that his column reads as if it’s been airlifted to the Web from the Los Angeles Times, circa 1984—that it feels constricted and pat in an age when online writing tends to the discursive and enthusiastic. The one big thing that Reilly’s missing is precisely what’s made Nate Silver and Bill Simmons so successful: passion for his subject.

Whatever you think of Simmons, you can’t doubt his love of sports or sportswriting. Silver’s pieces are full of a different kind of ardor, the obsessive zeal of someone on a quest to right the wrongs of mainstream punditry. Reilly’s columns, by contrast, read like stifled yawns. The columnist has his interests (Elway, Tiger), but he can’t replicate the Sports Guy’s day-to-day investment in who’s going to win the NBA title.

Thanks to Los.

Repoz Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:14 PM | 62 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: media

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   1. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:22 PM (#4671050)
I’ve had this conversation before with friends, but I think we’re in an era of specialists. The generalist who talks about all major sports just doesn’t know enough about baseball to entertain or inform me. I know more than he/she does. I dismiss Simmons’ baseball takes for the same reason, but I’ll read/listen to him on the NBA because that’s clearly his specialty. I think this is happening in non-sports journalism too, the more interesting writers are those that specialize in finance or economics or defense issues, not the pundit who knows a little bit about everything but has to fake their way through an in-depth conversation on Bitcoin or Crimea or the debt ceiling.

   2. valuearbitrageur Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:31 PM (#4671060)
Specialist or generalist can still write some pretty good reads, but those like Reilly who are also a flaming arsehole doesn't help.

An intellectually curious generalist can be really good if they guide you through their process of discovery about a specialty without faking it. They used to have a name for those type of writers they called them "journalists".
   3. Randy Jones Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:36 PM (#4671066)
Rick Reilly couldn't survive because he is a terrible writer.
   4. Random Transaction Generator Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:53 PM (#4671085)
To celebrate his last column on June 30th, maybe Sammy Sosa can show up and pee into Reilly's coffee.
   5. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:02 PM (#4671090)
I used to confuse Rick Reilly with Pat Reilly, probably because they're both such flaming bungholes.
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:07 PM (#4671092)
I do think it's funny that a hack like Bill Simmons is put in the same headline as Nate Silver.
   7. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:15 PM (#4671098)
I do think it's funny that a hack like Bill Simmons is put in the same headline as Nate Silver.

But compared to Rick Reilly, Bill Simmons practically is Nate Silver. It's all relative.
   8. TerpNats Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:27 PM (#4671109)
Bill Simmons has the halo of Boston to protect him (and we know how much ESPN loves Boston). Reilly is from mere flyover country.
   9. madvillain Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:27 PM (#4671110)
I do think it's funny that a hack like Bill Simmons is put in the same headline as Nate Silver.


I think the Simmons backlash is funny. Self made guy that basically paved the way forward for SB Nation, Free Darko, Deadspin etc to enter the mainstream. Whatever you think of Simmons, guy pioneered the type of sports journalism we now take for granted. I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened without him, far from it, but he was a pioneer in the "I don't work for a paper I write about things I like" style.
   10. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:28 PM (#4671111)
Nate would love to have the success of Grantland.
   11. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:28 PM (#4671112)
I always found Reilly's schtick extremely cheesy and smug, even back in the 80s, when I was a kid growing up reading SIs.

I do wonder if just being a sportswriter for so many years would make you like sports less. I mean I like sports a ton, but if it was my job, and I had to be around in 40 hours a week for 20-30 years, maybe I wouldn't like it that much either. Seems like a lot of sportswriters and announcers get pretty grumpy, almost like they don't like sports. That's why Vin Scully is such a treat, he never ventured into grumpy old man territory. Even people like Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, Lee Corso - they may be parodies of themselves, but at least they seem to really enjoy what they do, are big fans of the sport they cover, and are amazed by what they see all the time. As a fan, that's what you want.

   12. G.W.O. Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:36 PM (#4671121)
#11 Maybe some get jaded, but reading Posnanski in the last few days on Lendl and Dutch Leonard and the Winter Olympics makes me think it can be avoided, even if you're a generalist writing copy everyday few days on list of different sports.
   13. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:45 PM (#4671128)
Basically right -- there just really isn't much of a market anymore for serious, yet non-specialized/non-analytical sportswriting. You either have to be an "analyst" or a (using the word charitably) humorist.

So it's either the geek squad or the doofs on the pub stool talking nonsense ... meh. It's unfortunate that people can't enjoy an excellent writer writing excellently about sports -- excellence and sports are both something people should seek out and enjoy -- but it is what it is. Sports have almost developed and bifurcated like academia, which is just profoundly off in all sorts of ways.

   14. Howie Menckel Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:51 PM (#4671131)

I once wound up sitting next to Reilly at a basketball game in Denver for 2 hours, and to be honest, he was very down-to-earth. And this was in the late 1990s, when he was at or near the peak of his game.

I was never a big fan of his writing, but I figure I owe him that acknowledgement here.

   15. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:52 PM (#4671132)
Whatever you think of Simmons, guy pioneered the type of sports journalism we now take for granted. I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened without him, far from it, but he was a pioneer in the "I don't work for a paper I write about things I like" style.

But he doesn't write anything good -- he neither is excellent, nor seeks excellence. He neither uses the language well, nor has interesting ideas. He merely babbles. His writing is all entirely disposable, so I guess its apropos that it's almost all just electrons.

   16. madvillain Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:58 PM (#4671136)
But he doesn't write anything good -- he neither is excellent, nor seeks excellence. He neither uses the language well, nor has interesting ideas. He merely babbles. His writing is all entirely disposable, so I guess its apropos that it's almost all just electrons.


The Book of Basketball is pretty damn good. I don't really want to defend him that much; I don't really like the guy either, but the hatred of him and the "he never writes anything good" stuff is just hyperbole.
   17. G.W.O. Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:00 PM (#4671138)
I love SBBs spectacular solipsism.

To be unable to see (or care about) a distinction between "I don't like Simmons" from "Simmons is neither excellent, nor seeks excellence" is simply hilarious. Have you considered reviewing records for Pitchfork?
   18. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:10 PM (#4671149)
The Book of Basketball is pretty damn good

I have it, I like it, it's not excellent. It's short-burst -- something you read on the shitter.

   19. My guest will be Jermaine Allensworth Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:20 PM (#4671154)
Maybe some get jaded, but reading Posnanski in the last few days on Lendl and Dutch Leonard and the Winter Olympics makes me think it can be avoided, even if you're a generalist writing copy everyday few days on list of different sports.

If you're good at writing about people, you can write about any sport. You just need to be aware of what you don't know.
   20. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:27 PM (#4671158)
But he doesn't write anything good -- he neither is excellent, nor seeks excellence. He neither uses the language well, nor has interesting ideas. He merely babbles.


As opposed to the Nabokov-esque brilliance of your literary contributions here?
   21. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:32 PM (#4671162)
Bill Simmons has the halo of Boston to protect him (and we know how much ESPN loves Boston). Reilly is from mere flyover country.

Thanks for the info. I always assumed Reilly was from L.A.

---------------------------------------------------

The Book of Basketball is pretty damn good.

I'll second that. It's argumentative in a good way, unlike (for instance) those tiresome "Why Everything You Know About [insert your choice of word here] Is Wrong" books.
   22. toratoratora Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:37 PM (#4671166)
Rick Reilly-Good Riddance. The only thing worse than reading his pieces was hearing him on ESPN.

As for the shift in writing I somewhat agree.When I was a kid I loved Tom Boswell.Then I encountered Bill James.
After that, Boswell's stuff came off as fluff to me.
Now I find that,with few exceptions (Some of Poz's bblogging is a good example), there has to be some sort of analytical bent to hold me.
   23. jdennis Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:49 PM (#4671171)
I’ve had this conversation before with friends, but I think we’re in an era of specialists. The generalist who talks about all major sports just doesn’t know enough about baseball to entertain or inform me. I know more than he/she does. I dismiss Simmons’ baseball takes for the same reason, but I’ll read/listen to him on the NBA because that’s clearly his specialty. I think this is happening in non-sports journalism too, the more interesting writers are those that specialize in finance or economics or defense issues, not the pundit who knows a little bit about everything but has to fake their way through an in-depth conversation on Bitcoin or Crimea or the debt ceiling.


There are people who know about all those topics simultaneously, but they don't major in journalism.
   24. Howling John Shade Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:55 PM (#4671175)
I do think it's funny that a hack like Bill Simmons is put in the same headline as Nate Silver.
Silver is pretty explicitly modeling the new 538 on what Simmons did with Grantland. I doubt he'd share your amusement.
   25. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: March 13, 2014 at 06:57 PM (#4671176)
I think the gotcha of catching him borrowing his old rifts is, well interesting, in a comparison with Simmons.
   26. cmd600 Posted: March 13, 2014 at 07:01 PM (#4671178)
elf made guy that basically paved the way forward for SB Nation, Free Darko, Deadspin etc to enter the mainstream. Whatever you think of Simmons, guy pioneered the type of sports journalism we now take for granted. I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened without him


That last bit is essential, and negates a lot that comes before it. Simmons was in the right place at the right time. Bully for him for getting so damn lucky.

I don't know why SBB is getting hate. "he neither is excellent, nor seeks excellence. He neither uses the language well, nor has interesting ideas. He merely babbles. His writing is all entirely disposable" sums up Simmons so, so perfectly. I don't think that should be taken as overly negative of Simmons. People like to babble on, especially about sports and pop culture. He fills that role. I said in the NBA thread, he's a guy I'd like to have a beer with and shoot the #### and talk basketball.

But (just to keep it in the Grantland family) Lowe and Keri do the NBA and MLB, respectively, so much better than Simmons. It seems that whenever Grantland is mentioned, Simmons gets all the credit, and nowhere near enough (and usually none) goes to the actually excellent writers that fill the pages there. Simmons may be excellent at hiring writers (or whoever does the hiring for Grantland), but I'd like to see less credit go to him for the work there, and more to the guys who actually write that good work.
   27. smileyy Posted: March 13, 2014 at 07:19 PM (#4671188)
#3 beat me to it. "Professional gets old, successful; loses hunger, edge; lives off name" isn't new to the Nate Silver, Bill Simmons era, whatever that is.
   28. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 13, 2014 at 07:43 PM (#4671193)
As opposed to the Nabokov-esque brilliance of your literary contributions here?

I don't know about everything, but my boner stuff obviously has a pretty big fan in Andy.
   29. villageidiom Posted: March 13, 2014 at 07:47 PM (#4671195)
I do think it's funny that a hack like Bill Simmons is put in the same headline as Nate Silver.
Simmons basically hired Silver, or at least actively recruited him to ESPN before ESPN knew it.

Simmons started Grantland and 30 for 30. I don't give a rat's ass whether he's a good writer or not, and I don't care that he hasn't cured cancer. My life is richer from his efforts.
   30. Kurt Posted: March 13, 2014 at 07:59 PM (#4671200)
As for the shift in writing I somewhat agree.When I was a kid I loved Tom Boswell.Then I encountered Bill James.
After that, Boswell's stuff came off as fluff to me.


See, I think Boswell is a lot closer to James/Simmons/Silver than he is to Reilly. He's not *amazing*, but he writes well and his columns are usually pretty interesting IMO. There's still room for a "middle ground"-type columnist between pure analysis and pure human interest story.
   31. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 13, 2014 at 08:44 PM (#4671220)
As for the shift in writing I somewhat agree.When I was a kid I loved Tom Boswell.Then I encountered Bill James.
After that, Boswell's stuff came off as fluff to me.


In the 70's and early 80's Boswell could write a game story on deadline better than anyone I've ever read before or since, when he was the Orioles' beat reporter for the Post. But ever since he switched to being a full time columnist and only occasional reporter, he's never found a niche that he could fill nearly as well. He dabbles in statistical analysis but he's no Bill James. He sometimes tries to write long philosophical columns about off the field issues, but he seldom strays beyond the conventional wisdom. He's not a bad story teller, but he's no Leonard Koppett. And he's not a terrible stylist, but nobody would ever mistake him for Roger Angell. You might say he's the perfect representative of the Post's sports department: Not all that bad, but not all that memorable in any way. He's actually a better writer on golf than he is on baseball.
   32. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: March 13, 2014 at 08:51 PM (#4671222)
In the 70's and early 80's Boswell could write a game story on deadline better than anyone, when he was the Orioles' beat reporter for the Post. But ever since he switched to being a full time columnist and only occasional reporter, he's never found a niche that he could fill nearly as well.

Andy, I don't know if I fully agree that his decline started with him switching to columnist. The two collections of his columns ("Why Time Begins on Opening Day" and "How Life Imitates the World Series") from the late 70's early 80s are excellent. It was sometime after that that he seemed to lose it.
   33. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 13, 2014 at 09:08 PM (#4671227)
Andy, I don't know if I fully agree that his decline started with him switching to columnist. The two collections of his columns ("Why Time Begins on Opening Day" and "How Life Imitates the World Series") from the late 70's early 80s are excellent. It was sometime after that that he seemed to lose it.

Those first two books of his are indeed very good, but they both date from the time he was still a reporter. He didn't become a full time columnist until 1984. Some of his better writings are also included in Strokes of Genius (his golf writings) and Game Day, which in on a wide variety of sports, including a terrific piece he once wrote on a professional nine ball tournament in Arlington. One of his strong points as a reporter was that his natural curiosity and enthusiasm enabled him to pick up very quickly on lots of different sports (like pool), but after he became a full time columnist there are too many times when it seems as if he's just mailing it in. He'll never descend to the hack level of a Chass (who could?), but I still think of him as a bit of an underachiever.
   34. cardsfanboy Posted: March 13, 2014 at 09:23 PM (#4671235)
Simmons basically hired Silver, or at least actively recruited him to ESPN before ESPN knew it.


...and? Plenty of people hire people that are 10 times better than them at their job, this is just another example.
   35. toratoratora Posted: March 13, 2014 at 09:53 PM (#4671245)
Andy, I don't know if I fully agree that his decline started with him switching to columnist. The two collections of his columns ("Why Time Begins on Opening Day" and "How Life Imitates the World Series") from the late 70's early 80s are excellent. It was sometime after that that he seemed to lose it.

Actually, it was these books I was thinking of (In addition to his columns which, as a Marylander,I grew up reading). When they came out I thought they were the cats meow-not Angell but better than Young and the rest of the current flock of writers.
James killed that for me.Now when I try to re-read the Boz books it's almost painful-all this "Warriors Heart" schtick.
It's too bad. I like Boz. He carried the torch for DC ball when few did.He quasi covered the O's beat for the post for a long time and also had the freedom to write great articles that covered the league. He invented Total Average (A fun stat for a while there). His love for baseball comes through loud and clear. The man had a freaking 6 foot tall baseball in his front yard for years. Of course I'm going to love the guy.
But, IMO, he glosses over the surface of the game whereas James gets in the guts.
Boz isn't alone. James ruined me for most writers of the ilk.I found myself turning towards harder stat guys, looking for analysis and insight instead of the Nuke Laloosh interview with accompanying gushing from the writer over the player. The few who made the cut, the ones I still reread are the guys like Angell, Pat Jordan, guys like that.

   36. Morty Causa Posted: March 13, 2014 at 10:06 PM (#4671249)
   37. Knock on any Iorg Posted: March 13, 2014 at 10:07 PM (#4671251)
And [Boswell is] not a terrible stylist, but nobody would ever mistake him for Roger Angell

Although she's never been to Angell's salon, you should see what Boswell used to do to my girlfriend's hair. Amazing!
   38. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 13, 2014 at 10:30 PM (#4671254)
Boz isn't alone. James ruined me for most writers of the ilk.I found myself turning towards harder stat guys, looking for analysis and insight instead of the Nuke Laloosh interview with accompanying gushing from the writer over the player. The few who made the cut, the ones I still reread are the guys like Angell, Pat Jordan, guys like that.

He's in a category of his own, but if you haven't read much of Leonard Koppett, you should. Some of his writings remind you of James's This Time Let's Not Eat The Bones, and other books contain stories worthy of the best of Angell, if not told with quite the degree of literary flair. I've got every one of his books, and I consider the group that includes him along with Angell and James as forming one of the main arteries of my baseball collection.

------------------------------------------------

Although she's never been to Angell's salon, you should see what Boswell used to do to my girlfriend's hair. Amazing!

This definitely sounds as if it's straying into TMI territory. (smile)
   39. Howie Menckel Posted: March 13, 2014 at 10:39 PM (#4671259)

"In the 70's and early 80's Boswell could write a game story on deadline better than anyone I've ever read before or since, when he was the Orioles' beat reporter for the Post."

Was the Washington Post an AM paper then, or had an AM edition that you received? many huge papers did have early editions, but others had first deadlines around, oh 3 am because the night shift was starting to yawn.

   40. villageidiom Posted: March 13, 2014 at 10:41 PM (#4671260)
...and?
AND THAT'S WHY THEY ARE IN THE SAME HEADLINE. Simmons might not be a great or even good sportswriter, but he has produced Grantland and 30 for 30, and convinced Silver to move 538 to ESPN (and likewise convinced ESPN to take him). Both he and Silver have a passion for quality sports journalism, a passion that ESPN - home to "The Decision" and "Who's Now?" and "Swami Sez" - didn't seem to have.

They are in the same headline because they have built successful business ventures founded on quality, which their now-common parent company will be featuring on their front page in place of some guy who lost his passion for sports 30 years ago.
   41. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: March 13, 2014 at 10:57 PM (#4671266)
"In the 70's and early 80's Boswell could write a game story on deadline better than anyone I've ever read before or since, when he was the Orioles' beat reporter for the Post."

Was the Washington Post an AM paper then, or had an AM edition that you received? many huge papers did have early editions, but others had first deadlines around, oh 3 am because the night shift was starting to yawn.


The Post has always been a morning only paper. The only afternoon edition I've ever seen was a special Extra that hit the newsstands in the mid-afternoon of 9/11. The main Washington afternoon paper was the Evening Star, but that went under in 1981.
   42. Nasty Nate Posted: March 13, 2014 at 11:41 PM (#4671268)
Post #40 is great.
   43. Walt Davis Posted: March 13, 2014 at 11:42 PM (#4671270)
Man, we can be an obnoxious gloating bunch.

Reilly is 56 years old and has surely made more than enough money to ride off into the sunset. He's won sportswriter of the year 11 times, co-wrote a screenplay directed by Clooney, has been on the NYT bestseller list, I gather has a series of successful young adult novels (one apparently optioned for a movie) and even appeared in a Miller Lite commercial with Rebecca Romijn. Simmons will be lucky to have half the career Reilly has had and Nate will be lucky to have half the career that Simmons has had.

I dislike Reilly's writing as much as anybody here probably but the man's being "run out of town" by Simmons and Silver like Pete Rose was "run out of town" by Ray Knight. That didn't make Knight a better ballplayer than Rose, just younger. Reilly might be "old and in the way" as all us old farts eventually are but this is no more the dawn of a golden new era than the Drudge Report was.
   44. Forsch 10 From Navarone (Dayn) Posted: March 14, 2014 at 12:02 AM (#4671273)
I don't think Simmons is a good writer (he writes "bro prose" ... "brose," which I don't find evocative or memorable), but, as others above have noted, I give him major points for his entrepreneurial instincts with regard to 30 for 30 and Grantland. I don't love Grantland (save for Jonah's contributions, which I do love), but there's no doubt it's working.

A huge second to Koppett, who's simply tremendous.
   45. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: March 14, 2014 at 12:14 AM (#4671275)
Man, we can be an obnoxious gloating bunch.


Some posters here, yes. What 'idiom said in post 40; you've got to give Simmons his due. Sure he's never going to mistaken for a satirical genius like Wilde, but the man came up with some funny stuff. Those rankings he came up when your team loses, Patrick Ewing theory and yep these are my readers comments were bloody funny.
   46. cmd600 Posted: March 14, 2014 at 01:44 AM (#4671284)
(and likewise convinced ESPN to take him).


A tough sell I'm sure.

Both he and Silver have a passion for quality sports journalism, a passion that ESPN - home to "The Decision" and "Who's Now?" and "Swami Sez" - didn't seem to have.


A passion that ESPN didn't seem to have when they were posting Bill Simmons articles on their front page.

We're lucky enough that someone with enough sway didn't screw up in hiring the right people. But I think it's fair to ask how hard is it to throw money at one of SI's top basketball bloggers (Lowe) or B-Pro graduate and already NY Times bestselling author Keri? And I think it's more than fair to point out, considering the tone of the article, that Simmons could never hold a candle to Reilly as a writer. If you want to handwave those away because 30 for 30 is better than whatever Reilly is up to these days, fine, your perogative, but Simmons is worthy of all the critical responses he's getting here. That doesn't mean he isn't praiseworthy either though.
   47. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 14, 2014 at 06:40 AM (#4671305)
I don't think Simmons is a good writer (he writes "bro prose" ... "brose," which I don't find evocative or memorable), but, as others above have noted, I give him major points for his entrepreneurial instincts with regard to 30 for 30 and Grantland. I don't love Grantland (save for Jonah's contributions, which I do love), but there's no doubt it's working.


I think writing conversationally is an important and underrated skill. Over the past ten years my feel for Simmons' writing is that it has slowly grown less interesting over time as it has slowly grown more polished and lost some of that conversational feel. One thing that, to my reader's mind, Simmons and Bill James have in common is that they both have an unusual knack for writing the way they talk, so that reading them feels like having a conversation with them.

It may not be for everyone, but it resonates with me. Perhaps because I utterly lack this ability.
   48. jmurph Posted: March 14, 2014 at 08:42 AM (#4671325)
Simmons will be lucky to have half the career Reilly has had and Nate will be lucky to have half the career that Simmons has had.


Unless your metric is simply number of columns published, I can't imagine an accounting of these 3 careers that doesn't have Simmons and Silver well ahead of Reilly now, even ignoring the next 2+ decades still to come.
   49. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 14, 2014 at 09:13 AM (#4671337)
I'll be the one to say I still actually like Bill Simmons non-baseball writing. Its not to be taken all that seriously, but it is entertaining and will usually make me laugh at least once.
   50. AROM Posted: March 14, 2014 at 09:27 AM (#4671349)
The Book of Basketball is pretty damn good.


Concur. Basketball needed something the equivalent of the Bill James Historical Abstract, and Simmons did it. As a Lakers' fan, I held one strike against Simmons before I even started reading him. But his basketball stuff is good enough to overcome that. When doing a comprehensive subject like all the good/great players in NBA history, most writers would run out of steam at some point, have good stuff on 50-100 or so of them and struggle to come up with anything to say about the rest. Simmons never ran out of steam.
   51. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 14, 2014 at 09:38 AM (#4671358)
But his basketball stuff is good enough to overcome that. When doing a comprehensive subject like all the good/great players in NBA history, most writers would run out of steam at some point, have good stuff on 50-100 or so of them and struggle to come up with anything to say about the rest. Simmons never ran out of steam.

It was nice to see people like Bob Dandridge discussed in print; no one had really done it, and Simmons certainly improved the discussion of those guys above the low bar of zero before TBOB. He could have failed to meet even that low bar if he'd said stupid things about the old-school players, and he didn't do that.

That said, most of his commentary was ridiculous: alpha dog, the 70s were nothing but coke, "the secret is it's not about basketball," "Malcolm-Abdul Simmons,"(*) "Picture me rollin" and the other stuff about Tupac. All crap. He never had any steam to run out of.

(*) Or whatever the hell the name was he gave his "black" self. "I'm an honorary black guy because I've always liked the NBA," is about as trite and brotastic as it gets.
   52. villageidiom Posted: March 14, 2014 at 10:49 AM (#4671463)
I dislike Reilly's writing as much as anybody here probably but the man's being "run out of town" by Simmons and Silver like Pete Rose was "run out of town" by Ray Knight.
Yeah, I'm sorry if my characterization above is that Reilly is being run out of town. His leaving coincides with the relaunch of 538. I don't think the latter is causing the former.

But I think it's fair to ask how hard is it to throw money at one of SI's top basketball bloggers (Lowe) or B-Pro graduate and already NY Times bestselling author Keri? And I think it's more than fair to point out, considering the tone of the article, that Simmons could never hold a candle to Reilly as a writer.
On the former, all I can say is that if it's so obvious, it should have been done and successful long before Simmons had the idea and executed it.

And on the latter, absolutely agreed, although they are writing from different perspectives and for different audiences. My preferences for this skew much more toward old school: The writer is trying to deliver the relevant information in a way that conveys the spirit as well as the letter, and comes from the point of view of an impartial observer writing to people who share interest in the event or team. Simmons' style is from the point of view of a biased (but self-aware) observer writing to an audience that shares a similarly-constructed bias, albeit about different teams/events. To put it another way, old school writers cater to the object of their audience's bias - the team, player, event, or sport the audience is interested in - while Simmons caters to their bias regardless of the object.

While I much prefer the former, there is value in the latter. They are apples and oranges, and while they are both fruit they are entirely different experiences.
   53. Perry Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:02 AM (#4671475)
(*) Or whatever the hell the name was he gave his "black" self. "I'm an honorary black guy because I've always liked the NBA," is about as trite and brotastic as it gets.


Oh come on. HE DID IT WHEN HE WAS SIX YEARS OLD. That wasn't "I'm an honorary black guy," that was "I've been a basketball geek since I was knee high to a grasshopper."
   54. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:04 AM (#4671477)
And on the latter, absolutely agreed, although they are writing from different perspectives and for different audiences. My preferences for this skew much more toward old school: The writer is trying to deliver the relevant information in a way that conveys the spirit as well as the letter, and comes from the point of view of an impartial observer writing to people who share interest in the event or team. Simmons' style is from the point of view of a biased (but self-aware) observer writing to an audience that shares a similarly-constructed bias, albeit about different teams/events. To put it another way, old school writers cater to the object of their audience's bias - the team, player, event, or sport the audience is interested in - while Simmons caters to their bias regardless of the object.


I haven't read much of Reilly's early writing, but when he had the back page in SI he came off like a judgmental, holier-than-thou, prick. He was in no way an impartial observer. Reilly did have talent, his articles were not poorly written like a lot of the older ######## that Repoz is so fond of linking to, but impartiality was not his strong suit.
   55. A Fatty Cow That Need Two Seats Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:04 AM (#4671478)
Simmons' style is from the point of view of a biased (but self-aware)


See, I think this is where he lost me over the last few years. He's not as self aware as I once thought, or projected (or he did indeed change). I still don't mind listening to him bs with Cousin Sal over NFL lines as a way to talk about the weekly state of the NFL, but how many years has he been writing and speaking professionally about sports gambling and still gets it so, so wrong?

And, yeah, SBB gonna SBB, but I'm with him on his thoughts on the BOB. It's been four years since I read it, but I was sincerely hoping for a Bill James abstract-type collection. I don't want to completely discount 700+ pages that he obviously put a lot of time into (though this is where his openness hurts him - I don't want to hear ######## about how hard it is to write a book or create an ESPN-backed website), but outside of the good hook (the pyramid), I didn't think there was too much substance there. Or at least any substance was clouded by the items SBB listed (don't forget the many porn analogies). The casualness that may have work in a column or mailbag didn't translate into what would ideally have been a reference book built for the long term.
   56. Greg K Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:07 AM (#4671480)
One thing that, to my reader's mind, Simmons and Bill James have in common is that they both have an unusual knack for writing the way they talk, so that reading them feels like having a conversation with them.

I don't know Simmons' writing very well, but this certainly rings true to me about James.
   57. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:12 AM (#4671488)
The casualness that may have work in a column or mailbag didn't translate into what would ideally have been a reference book built for the long term.


Maybe you weren't his target audience? He was wildly successful with his columns, why not continue the success and sell books to the same crowd? Who is more famous, Bill James or Bill Simmons?
   58. A Fatty Cow That Need Two Seats Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:23 AM (#4671495)
When I read the book upon its release I was 28 and had been reading him for seven or eight years. I don't have my numbers in front of me, but that's probably close to the center of his demo. I thought I built in enough caveats and self-doubt above, but to confirm: I was hoping for more, but it's just one man's opinion (well, and SBB's, which def helps my case).
   59. AROM Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:27 AM (#4671500)
That said, most of his commentary was ridiculous: alpha dog, the 70s were nothing but coke, "the secret is it's not about basketball,"


Yeah, the whole Isiah thing was ridiculous. It reminded me a lot of some of the arguments on this site about a certain Detroit pitcher who was a contemporary of Thomas.
   60. GregD Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:45 AM (#4671517)
It reminded me a lot of some of the arguments on this site about a certain Detroit pitcher who was a contemporary of Thomas.
Willie Hernandez?
   61. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:47 AM (#4671518)
but it's just one man's opinion (well, and SBB's, which def helps my case).


Does sharing the same side in an argument with SBB really help your case? I kid, I kid...

Yeah, you are who I had in mind for his age demographic. Guess I just never really thought of Simmons writing an big analysis tome based on actual numbers.
   62. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 14, 2014 at 12:16 PM (#4671552)
but how many years has he been writing and speaking professionally about sports gambling and still gets it so, so wrong?


He is constantly saying on his podcast that he is a terrible sports gambler.

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