Here Come the Smart Guys
The Baseball Prospectus book signing at Barnes and Noble in downtown Brooklyn was a lot of fun last night. It started promptly at seven. I don’t think I got there until a quarter past. Of course Jay Jaffe was the first guy I saw, just as he was about to walk into the store. Same thing happened a few weeks ago at the pizza feed in Times Square. I saw Jay, with his pal Nick Stone, just as I was arriving at the restaurant. My man Jay. We walked in and could hear Joe Sheehan’s voice muffled through a microphone from upstairs. So up we went.
There was a nice turn out. I don’t know, 30-35 people? Maybe more. Mostly men, but a couple of women too. Standing and sitting. There was pizza (the Dude abides). Basically it was a was a cluster of baseball nerds all huddled together talking about PECOTA and steroids and why some teams are luckier than others in the playoffs, and good stuff like that. I think it’s a completely enjoyable experience. Being a nerd and being proud of it. Other people stopped by to listen as well and Jay and I stood in the back next to the pizza, with our friend, Cliff Corcoran.
As we settled in, Doug Pappas, who is an all-of-a-piece-baseball-nut -I mean really a classic was talking about performance-inhancing drugs when this round, bearded man with a funny, blue baseball hat, helped himself to a slice of pizza and stood next to Jay. Pappas was the oldest writer in the group, and though he’s not what I expected him to look like, he was perfect. And very bright.
I don’t know that Jay was aware of the funny bearded guy next to him, but I was. This guy was a too much. Looked like a combination of John Belushi and Danny Devito, full, thick black beard. Think about the illustration of the Brooklyn Bum on the pack page of the Daily News when the Dodgers finally beat the Yanks in ’55, OK. He had the plastic shopping bag, and the rumpled suit. Staring straight ahead, listening to Pappas, chomping on his free pizza. What kind of quirky Paul Mazursky bit is this?
By the time Dayn Perry was up to talk, the fat guy had had enough and moved on to better things in the self-improvement section. Dayn was a nice surprise. Not that I expected him to be a putz. I have followed his work for a while, and enjoyed it very much but I had no conecption of what he looked like or sounded like. As Alex Ciepley told me later, “I didn’t realize just how southern he was.” Dayn is very southern, in the best possible way I suppose. I don’t know too many southerners, but Dayn has a slow, easy, and direct way about him, that I would associate with a cool southerner is like.
Prospectus had five guys at the signing. Doug and Dayn were joined by Steven Goldman, Nate Silver and one of BP’s founding members, Joe Sheehan. Each guy took a turn fielding questions. Sheehan acted as the emcee of sorts. Joe is polished, and composed in front of an crowd. He could be on TV. He is precise, self-aware and smart. He’s like an old pro with the audience communication skills. But let’s face it: the guy is from New York. Respect due. Why shouldn’t he be good on his feet, talking in front of people?
Ah, it’s an assumption on my part, I know. But I have rucchmones with Sheehan. Joe and I were born within five months of each other, and it’s likely that we were born in the same hospital (Columbia Pres). How old do you have to get before discovering you were in the same grade with a someone instantly bonds you somehow? Joe grew up in Inwood, and I originally lived on the upper west side. Sheehan may have been residing in southern California for the last dozen or so years, but everthing about him says New Yorker. And that’s what it so appealing about him. Get Sheehan to go on TBS and talk hoops with Kenny “the Jet” Smith, and he’d be a cinch. The guy is a natural sports talker.
I didn’t get a chance to hear Steven, but Goldman was there anyway, standing behind Nate and Pappas (who were seated at a table), with his hands resting on chest, holding the edges of his jacket. He looked like an Orson Welles publicity still circa “The Magnificient Ambersons.” All he needed was a pipe, and some slippers.
It was a comically studied, self-aware posture. You know slightly self-depricating; one that looked completely comfortable as well. Goldman is a big guy, with a great shock of black hair and black rimmed glasses. He has these terrific, expressive eyebrows and an easy smile. He’s entirely sympathetic. One of those dudes you look at and say, “Man, isn’t he such a good guy?” And I’m telling you, looking at him, all I could think was what Al Hirshfield could do with him in that pose, next to the charactures of the other guys. He would make a fine Al Hirshfield drawing.
Nate Silver would too, and he was a very good with the audience. Nate looks like a kid, but he comes across with the confidence of an adult. He was not rattled talking in front of people and he made eye-contact with the people who asked the questions. I got the sense that he tried to answer each one to the best of his ability. He wasn’t overly concerned with having the “right” answer.
The great thing about Nate is that he doesn’t look like a baseball guy. He looks like a numbers whiz or a record nerd or some kind of nerdy guy. But he’s completely comfortable in his nerdiness, which makes him less nerdy. He was actually assertive and confident in a way that some of the other speakers were not. (He later told me he had been on the debate team, and it shows.) Nate doesn’t come across like an awkward dork, he comes across as someone who is extremely comfortable with his intelligence.
Silver doesn’t project any insecurities about being as smart and I always find that to be an inviting and welcoming quality. I love that in people. He’s humble. Silver is more interested in sharing his knowledge and having a dialogue than being right all the time, or superior in any way. He’s completely impressive. No two ways about it: Nate projects well.
After the signing, their was mingling and then a gangle of us headed west on Atlantic avenue and settled in a neighborhood bar. It was a bar for local locals in their twenties and thirties. The place was still pretty much empty when we arrived which means that we staked out a good spot in and around a slightly elevated area that had tables and booths. Later in the night, the place filled up and a this mo mo who looked like Kenneth Branaugh spun records. He played eighties music and had his shirt open half way down his chest. Jeez what a stroker.
But the vibe was good, and a good bunch of guys were there, including Alex Ciepley, Derek Jacques, and Pete Fornitell. Must have been about a dozen of us or so. And it was a fine night, hanging out with dudes, talking about baseball. What more could you ask for to keep you grounded as a guy?