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Leaving Los Birdos

I won’t be here all week. Or, also, ever.

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to bury the lede -- this will be my last article at Viva El Birdos. If this kind of saccharine, self-serving article isn’t for you (and oh boy, will it be saccharine and self-serving), might I direct you to one of Aaron’s fine works on prospects or John LaRue’s incisive commentary? There’s nothing for you here aside from occasional snippets of ‘remember those Cardinals writers.’

But if you’re still here, then this might just be the article for you. Because I have a lot of things to say about VEB, and about how it has forever changed my life. First, some details: I’m starting a full-time role at FanGraphs on Monday. It still looks kind of weird when written; like if I breathe too hard on the letters they’ll fade, and it will have all been a dream.

But yeah, that’s happening! And while I was spending more time than ever writing for FanGraphs even over the past ten months, this is a step up. I already felt a little weird moonlighting here, for no money and with to be generous intermittent focus on the Cardinals (aside from my actual fandom), but I was doing it because it’s still such a thrill to see my name in the byline of a website that served as my introduction to caring about the numbers behind baseball.

But that’s a different thing than working for a place that does baseball analysis while also doing baseball analysis for someone else on the side, and I think the reasoning behind not writing here anymore makes a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean I won’t miss it -- coming up with things to write about random Cardinals stoked my love for baseball more than I ever could have expected. Trying to find something interesting to say about the likes of Chasen Shreve or Dominic Leone is a great way to immerse yourself in the minutiae of baseball statistics, because you aren’t telling an interesting story without going pretty deep into the weeds.

But that’s mostly about me, and I think that’s the wrong takeaway here. What really stuck with me throughout my tenure as a VEB writer, and even before, is the strength of the community. Before I ever pondered writing about baseball, I would come here and pore through the articles, then read through all the comments to learn more about baseball. The names have changed over the years (and only some of that due to Andy Schrag cycling through usernames like Leonardo DiCaprio through girlfriends), but the fact remains that as much goes on in the comments as in the articles.

If that was all this site was, that would still be remarkable. I’m not here to dunk on other teams’ blogs, but I’ve found the discourse at VEB to be consistently a cut above the rest. To put it succinctly, most people commenting, on anything, have given less thought to the issue in question than the person who wrote the article they’re commenting on. That’s only natural -- that’s kind of what writing is, an in-depth comment. But here, I didn’t always get that sense. And even if I’d spent more time writing something than the person responding, questions have tended towards thoughtful brainstorming rather than gotcha’s and ad hominem nonsense.

But VEB is more than just its commenters, though you guys are great. It’s also Heather, who has been writing here and giving me basically all my Cardinals news for far longer than I wrote for the site. It’s Aaron, who tirelessly churns out article after article and whose prospect analysis I trust as much as anyone I’ve read. It’s John, who makes me feel inadequate every time I see a graphic in his articles. And yes, it’s Josey, who keeps finding writers to keep this contraption of a website airborne even as more and more writers fade away for one reason or another.

And hey, let’s acknowledge things for what they are: a lot of those reasons are the general difficulty of being a writer for SB Nation. It’s not exactly a lucrative business being an internet baseball writer, but recent events have shown that Vox and its affiliates are running a pretty tough model for the content creators. There was the initial unpaid writer purge, which underscored how much of SB Nation’s content came from people not really getting much back. The struggles really started then; maybe you can get four people to each write one article a week for peanuts, but asking one person to contribute four articles a week pretty quickly turns into an actual job.

We’ve had issues on this site, from time to time, in getting a game thread and game recap up every day. That’s not because we just hate the Cardinals and can’t be bothered to write about them; it’s because it’s hard to staff people. Things came to a head for me when SB Nation announced that it would be firing (let’s be real, they probably said “letting go of,” but we know what that means) every writer who resides in the state of California due to California’s new freelance writer laws. The details are boring, but basically anyone who contributes more than 35 pieces a year to a single publisher is considered an employee of that publisher, and rather than bear the increased costs of employment versus contracting, Vox just hit the old ejector button.

I don’t know what would have become of my weird situation. I reside in California and contribute more than 35 articles a year, but I also didn’t get paid for them, so it’s not clear where that shakes out. Things were still up in the air when I decided to leave. But the situation felt a little icky to me, is all. That’s a lot of people producing content for a huge corporation that the corporation can’t, or won’t, give the protections that full employment conveys. I have a ton of respect for Daniel Epstein, who used to write for Beyond the Box Score, and he resigned in solidarity with the California freelancers despite not being affected. I don’t know what I would have done in the end, but it never ended up coming to that.

That’s the grumpy side of my decision to leave. But for the most part, I won’t think of that. I have complicated feelings about SB Nation and Vox, but I certainly don’t about VEB. I can say without any duplicity that I’m hugely thankful for everything this website has done for my life, and that it’s still one of my absolute favorite places to go to read about baseball. It’s not quite FanGraphs, of course (hi Meg!), which combines the quality I’ve become accustomed to with the sheer insanity to hire me, but it’s probably a close second for me in terms of what I read. That’s pretty crazy, because there are some amazing writers out there -- but the community and writing at VEB remain so strong that I find myself gravitating here when I don’t have anything else to read.

This has been long-winded, and I’m not at all sure that it got my point across. There were two things I really wanted to say: this site is great, and it is so not because of the name on the banner, or the power of the brand, but because of the people who contribute, both with bylines and in comments. If you take away nothing else from my tenure here, take that away. This place is great, and we’re all lucky to have it. The community is persistent, and that’s really amazing. The internet is full of a lot of pretty awful places, and this is emphatically not one of them.