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My Lunch (sort of) with Rob Neyer

March 3, 2019
My bucket list, circa 2016:
1)      Meet Bill James
2)      Meet Rob Neyer
3)      Attend a Cincinnati Reds World Series game
As that avid fantasy baseball player Meat Loaf once sang, "two out of three ain’t bad"…..
A couple of years ago, I wrote about the experience of meeting Bill James in person when he visited Cincinnati to give a speech at Xavier University.   That was a thrill, to say the least.  
Today, Sunday, March 3, 2019, as luck would have it, I got to meet Rob Neyer as well.
Rob was in Cincinnati over this weekend as his excellent book Powerball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game was awarded the prestigious CASEY Award for the best baseball book of 2018. The CASEY Award has been presented annually since 1983 by Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine. The magazine was founded in 1981 by a couple of baseball aficionados from Covington, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River) and is, as their web site states, "dedicated to poetry, short fiction, prose, art, and book reviews; all devoted to baseball".
A few of the previous CASEY Award winners:
  • Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock (1984)
  • Good Enough to Dream by Roger Kahn (1985)
  • The Bill James Historical Abstract by Bill James (of course) (1986)
  • The Pitch that Killed by Mike Sowell (1989)
  • Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train by Henry Thomas (1995)
  • Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by Howard Bryant (2002)
  • Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis (2003)
  • The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O'Neil's America by Joe Posnanski (2007)
  • Pete Rose: An American Dilemma by Kostya Kennedy (2014)
…..and many others.   Rob certainly joins some elite company.
It was an interesting event, held in an restaurant (called "Crosley’s", of course) in the old Cincinnati village of St. Bernard, and I think it would most accurately be described as a "hole in the wall" type of place, and I mean that in the nicest way, because those are some of my favorite and authentic type of eateries.   "Crosley’s" is located in the basement of a Skyline Chili, which is about as Cincinnati as it gets. It was definitely an appropriate gathering place for a bunch of Cincinnati Reds fans, and the place was certainly packed with those, all there to honor Rob and his fine work.
Rob was seated at the bar signing books for the attendees. Rob and I had corresponded a few times over the years (as he has been known to frequent Bill James Online) and I let him know that I was going to be attending. I introduced myself and we had a nice chat.
The event began, and after some preliminaries and a "Carnac"-inspired baseball-themed comedy bit that yielded equal measures of laughs and groans, the host/co-founder/editor-in-chief of Spitball proceeded with the rest of the ceremony (note - the host’s name was Mike Shannon, although, as he is quick to point out to everyone that asks, he is not the same person who was the former third baseman of the Cardinals from the 1960’s and current Cardinals radio broadcaster).   Some baseball books and baseball art were awarded as door prizes, and Mr. Shannon also asked the crowd several baseball trivia questions to demonstrate the locals’ collective knowledge. 
You know, I always thought I was pretty good at baseball trivia, but I was stunned by the quickness and accuracy exhibited by the crowd, especially a couple of the savants that were present. I personally was stumped by the questions like "who once retired the 3 Alou brothers in a row in a game?" (answer: Carlton Willey of the Mets) and "who succeeded Frank Chance as the Yankees manager in 1914 and became the youngest manager ever?" (answer: Roger Peckinpaugh, age 23, who managed the last 20 games of the season).
The staff did a rundown of the other nominees for the 2018 CASEY award, and then they introduced Rob to present him with his award (which is an authentic Louisville Slugger bat imprinted with the CASEY Award logo). Rob then spoke for a bit, reviewing his background (including the time he spent working for Bill James) and talked a bit about the book. 
After that, Rob took several questions from the crowd on a wide range of topics covering trends in the game, the changing responsibilities of managers and general mangers, how analytics impacts all levels of the game (including youth baseball), and many others. There was a whirlwind of questions, but Rob handled all inquires with aplomb. He reminded me a bit of Bill in the sense that he did his best to hear exactly what each person was asking, paused for a moment to collect his thoughts, and then gave his best, most thoughtful, and most honest answers that he could, rather than just giving a stock response or telling someone what he thinks that person wanted to hear. I could tell the crowd appreciated his insight. It was a very engaged crowd, and there were definitely fans of all ages. A good time was had by all. 
So the question becomes, now that Bill James and Rob Neyer have been checked off the old bucket list, do I hold out hope for the Reds’ World Series game before my time is up? Or, maybe I need to revise my bucket list and try to meet another sabermetric icon. 
I wonder what Tom Tango is up to, and if he has any plans to visit Reds Country?
Hope you enjoyed reading.

COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)

Boog Alou?
4:04 PM Mar 4th
Regarding the Alou Brothers Trade: The Cardinals later traded Boog to the Orioles for Hullab.
3:54 PM Mar 4th
Speaking of trivia, have you heard the one about the time six brothers were involved in one trade? The Cardinals traded Matty Alou, Felipe Alou, and Jesus Alou to the Giants for Bob Alou, Tood Alou, and Skiptoom Alou . . .
2:47 PM Mar 4th
I grew up in Ohio as a Reds fan in the 70's. Their 1975 World Series win was such an important win to me as a fan at age 15. But I moved to California in 1982 and by the 1990's (thank you Marge Schott and Bob Howsam) had lost all interest in the Reds.

My question is: how often to people change allegiance to a team? Do you pick a team that is winning or do you go with the local team? You move across country and your only access is to a different team. Do you stay a fan of your original team or do you switch to the local team? If there is a terrible owner, do you switch to another team or maintain your allegiance?

And fantasy baseball made me change my allegiance. I'd go to a game and be rooting for a specific 3 guys - who cares which team they were on. Is that good for baseball or bad?

1:58 PM Mar 4th
Thank you, this was fun to read.
11:34 AM Mar 4th
I wished for a little of the Carnac detail too....

OK, here's one:

"Infield fly rule"
-- What rule did Steve Lyons forget?
(takes some history knowledge and some thinking, therefore not real good)


-- [question omitted, too disgusting]

10:49 AM Mar 4th
Hey, you mention the Carnac portion of the event, and, then, you give no examples. As a connoisseur of bad humor I am appalled.
10:40 AM Mar 4th
Thanks for the comments, guys.


Yeah, I was mostly going on memory on Shannon, and when I started following baseball he had already converted to third base full time, so that's how I remember him, as well as having pretty vivid memories of how he had to suddenly end his playing career due to his kidney ailment.

As far as the venue of the event....they've had so many of these, I guess they have a pretty good idea as to how many attendees to expect. I didn't do a head count, but my guess is that there were maybe 40 people there....maybe a little more, maybe a little less. It had the feel of a small, tight-knit group, where a lot of the people were clearly very familiar with each other. A woman (I think it was Mike's wife) was in the back section cooking up hot dogs.

6:13 AM Mar 4th
I didn't know Neyer had won the CASEY. Glad to see my opinion confirmed by competent authorities.

I'm afraid I stopped reading Spitball years ago. With rare exceptions, baseball doesn't seem to me to produce a lot of quality fiction.

Nice report, Dan. Thanks for it.
5:48 AM Mar 4th
Nice summary of the event, Daniel. Thanks for sharing.
5:01 AM Mar 4th
Very nice recounting of the event. Thanks for writing it and posting it.

Real nice job on the characterization of how Bill takes questions....or I guess really how Rob takes questions :-) but as you say, it's like how Bill does. You nailed it.

Some stray points:

-- I'm surprised the event wasn't in an at-least-somewhat larger venue.

-- How come I've never heard of a thing like Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine? I mean, I'm not asking you, I'm asking myself. But I do wonder, how could such a thing not be better known than it is, which I'm assuming to be 'not very.'

-- My goof-detection radar was activated by your calling Mike Shannon (the other one) a third baseman. But since I know that you don't tend to make mistakes on things like that, I wasn't that surprised to see that he did actually play a lot more games and innings there than in the outfield.
11:50 PM Mar 3rd
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