Notes + Scribbles 1

I have been a little disillusioned with writing lately. My beloved craft seems to have been consumed entirely by ‘content marketing,’ with words now a means to other, capitalist ends. The inherent pleasure of writing – writing to express, educate and entertain for the sake of it – has been buried under a morass of complex external disciplines. SEO. UX. Data and analytics. Modern writing is painfully reverse engineered, as ‘influencers’ and ‘content creators’ start with dollar signs and work back to clickbait garbage. I’m done with that, and this forum – my Sunday notes column – is fashioned from the seeds of my annoyance.

Years ago, as a baseball-loving kid, I devoured the Boston Globe each morning for sports news, notes and nuggets. I was raised on the sharp, hyperbolic prose of Peter Gammons, Dan Shaughnessy, Bob Ryan and Leigh Montville. Indeed, those legendary columnists had the greatest impact on my writing style, which congealed from the miasma of great American sportswriting. In many ways, then, my writing belongs to another era – that of Roger Kahn, Angell, Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner and Dick Young – and I’m stripping things back to those roots by writing from the heart.

It was Young who pioneered the weekly notes column back in the 1950s. Writing for the Daily News of New York, Young mined clubhouses and taverns for unfiltered pearls of baseball wisdom. Gammons resuscitated the concise, digestible format in the Globe shortly after joining the paper in 1969. Peter’s weekly notes gained a cult following across America, avid readers consuming his eclectic insights alongside coffee and bagels each weekend. Before the internet arrived, Gammons’ notes were a staple of baseball culture – akin to a merging of Twitter and MLBTradeRumors before either was conceived. Gammons emptied his peerless notebook each week, and sports fans lapped it up.

And so, it is with a tip of the cap to Gammons and his fellow literary titans that I embark upon my own columnist journey. The notes column works for me by reducing friction and allowing a stream of consciousness to emerge. I hope it works for you by delivering an interesting, succinct and readable hub of thoughts, ideas and concepts. Each week, I will share my observations on a range of topics, from Tranmere Rovers and the New York Yankees to coffee, music, culture and more. Whatever is on my mind, I will empty it here – just like my writing role models once did, unbothered by extraneous noise.

Let’s get down to business, then. Here are my first Sunday notes.

  • The Yankees continue to slide, and their lacklustre play is edging towards crisis territory. Following a fantastic, historic start, the Yanks have gone 14-17 since 1 July. They are currently mired in a four-game losing streak, their longest of the season, and those early delusions of grandeur have been consigned to history. Once considered a cakewalk, the American League is now a legitimate race, with Houston, Seattle and Toronto also vying for the pennant. I still believe in the Yankees, but they need to rediscover the killer instinct that turbocharged their hot start. Baseball in August and beyond is not for the faint of heart, and Yankees fans are beginning to panic.
  • Linked to the Yankees’ malaise is the baffling end to their trade deadline activities. After bagging Andrew Benintendi, Frankie Montas and a couple relievers, Brian Cashman took the gloss off an otherwise productive trade season by dealing southpaw starter Jordan Montgomery moments before the 2 August deadline. A solid, dependable workhorse, Montgomery was sent to St Louis for injured centre fielder Harrison Bader in a deal that raised eyebrows across baseball. Quite why Cashman dumped a reliable starter, shedding crucial depth, is unclear – even if Bader is a great defensive centre fielder. The Yanks will now depend on three injury-prone hurlers – Luis Severino, Domingo Germán and Jameson Taillon – to solidify their rotation, and that may come back to haunt them down the stretch.
  • I was really disappointed with the Baltimore Orioles at the MLB trade deadline. Despite being just a couple games adrift of a wildcard spot, GM Mike Elias blew up his roster by trading Trey Mancini and Jorge López. Sure, Baltimore is building for the future, but its willingness to punt from a decent position now really bothers me. Moreover, it speaks to the annoying, neurotic idealism of big league front offices, which are overly concerned with ‘championship windows’ and ‘long-term sustainability.’ If you are not trying to win every single ballgame – especially when you are firmly in the playoff race! – what is the point? The way modern baseball executives horde prospects and prize payroll flexibility is absurd. Rather than striving for rings, certain teams are content to kick the can down the road, preparing for hypothetical futures that may never arrive. By trying to be clever, some execs turn themselves in knots, and that does not bode well for competitive balance.
  • In this regard, I was refreshed by the Colorado Rockies’ approach to the deadline. Rather than cave to external whispers and follow the homogenous teardown ethos, Colorado did not hold a fire sale despite being buried in the NL West, baseball’s new powerhouse. In fact, Colorado bucked the trend by signing 37-year old reliever Daniel Bard to a two-year contract extension because hey, why not? I understand the Monforts are pretty capricious owners, but Colorado also receives its share of unwarranted criticism. People bash the Rockies because they do not play by the book, but I admire them for that. True, it makes little sense to lose Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story before signing Kris Bryant for seven years, but whatever. At least the Rockies are trying to win games – even if they have little clue how to achieve that objective. The same cannot be said of Oakland, Baltimore, Washington or Cincinnati. So, er, go Rox, I guess.
  • Speaking of unfashionable teams confined to the NL West doldrums, spare a thought for beleaguered fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Without a division title since 2011, the D-Backs lost 110 games last year, and have followed that by playing dull .443 ball this term. Arizona has some exciting young players, Alek Thomas chief among them, but even a second overall pick in the 2022 amateur draft quickly turned sour for the hapless D-Backs recently. Ten days after signing Druw Jones, the son of former Braves icon Andruw, Arizona learned that the precocious outfielder needs shoulder surgery. Jones suffered the injury while taking batting practice at Chase Field during a ceremonial introduction. That sucks in every way. Oh, and Juan Soto just got traded into Arizona’s division, so keep the D-Backs in your prayers, people. They need the help. 
  • It would be remiss of me not to mention the late, great Vin Scully, who passed away at the age of 94 this week. Arguably the greatest sports announcer of all-time, Scully was the Dodgers’ play-by-play man for 67 years – a remarkable feat. Vin called ballgames involving Jackie Robinson through to Julio Urias, uniting baseball generations with his inimitable, loquacious narration. I loved listening to Vin, who painted the most beautiful pictures with words, and the world will be a darker place without his smile.
  • One last baseball note – MLB announced this week that regular season games are returning to London in 2023. The Cubs and Cardinals will play a two-game set at the Olympic Stadium next summer, much to the joy of my fellow British baseball fans. I’m really looking forward to the series, which will give the entire UK MLB community a chance to unite once again. Dreamy stuff. 
  • Tranmere have made an inauspicious start to the 2022-23 season, losing their first two matches in dreary fashion. I did not attend either game, once an unthinkable notion, and my disinterest seems emblematic of a general apathy spreading through the fanbase. There are many reasons why – raised ticket prices, lowered expectations, poor recruitment, institutionalised mediocrity – but many loyal, diehard Rovers fans are pissed off. Perhaps more worryingly, many supporters – including myself – are just…not bothered. It is the same old story at Prenton Park, and the banality has worn thin. I cannot even muster the energy to moan about Tranmere anymore, such is their acceptance of humdrum anonymity. If they cannot be bothered respecting lifelong fans by signing real players who play real football, why should we be bothered to turn up? Choosing not to be enraged on Saturday afternoons is an increasingly appealing concept, and more Rovers acolytes take that path each week.
  • One football story that is piquing my interest at the moment: Galatasaray signing Dries Mertens. Yes, he is 35. And yes, he could well be the next Radamel Falcao in Istanbul, but there is something magical about Gala pursuing big names. Cimbom have not qualified for Europe this season – not even the Conference League! – but they are still big-game hunting. Respect.
  • Finally, a note about the craft of writing. I’m a writer, not a marketer. I’m a writer, not a social media brand. I’m a writer, not an entrepreneur. I’m a writer, not an influencer. I’m a writer, not a graphic designer. I’m a writer, not a photographer. I’m a writer, not a vlogger, podcaster, ecommerce whiz or meme artist. I’m a writer, so I’m going to write. Feel free to remind me whenever I veer from that track.

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