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Hello, and goodbye

Where a VEB writer bemoans that he let Mike Matheny outlast him.

St Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies - Game 5

When I was in college, I would often hang out with some friends of mine in their dorm room, where we would spend hours watching whatever mediocre sporting events were on TV and trying to one-up each other by citing increasingly obscure St. Louis athletes (Murray Baron! Madison Hedgecock! Scott Radinsky!). Like, this was literally an entire game we would play.

We were sports nerds, living as a small collective of sports nerds at the last possible point in our lives before the burdens of actual, adult responsibility could begin to threaten the reservoirs of useless knowledge we had accumulated over twenty-plus years. And one of my friends, Nick, was an avid reader and commenter on a St. Louis Cardinals website called Viva El Birdos. He still is. If stlcardinalsfang doesn’t comment on this post, I am going to be deeply disappointed.

I had a natural inclination towards what was not yet widely known as sabermetrics as a young child (I didn’t need to be told twice that pitcher wins and RBI were flawed statistics) and I had read Moneyball when it came out, but Viva El Birdos was something unique to me—it was a place where Cardinals fans gathered and discussed their favorite team not as rabid partisans blinded by arbitrary, provincial loyalties (okay, occasionally as rabid partisans blinded by arbitrary, provincial loyalties) but as intelligent observers with a genuine interest in learning more about a game they’d followed since they were children. And the writing was both impeccably crafted and admirably built on a DIY aesthetic—writers like Dan Moore were simultaneously the smartest baseball people I had ever encountered and grounded enough to inspire a generation of online baseball writers that they, too, could do this.

I started writing FanPosts on VEB in the summer of 2014, and whether or not I wanted to admit it to myself, I was auditioning for Viva El Birdos. I saw what the likes of Ben Humphrey or Aaron Finkel were writing and I wanted to do that. And when VEB began accepting applications for new writers in November 2015, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

I had written for a few smaller blogs over the years, but Viva El Birdos was a quantum leap forward. I didn’t have any expectations for being hired, but I couldn’t not try. As it turns out, Craig Edwards had read and enjoyed my FanPosts (which itself felt like a surreal, out-of-body experience to hear from a nationally prominent writer like Craig) and he brought me on board. And with a retrospectively kind of shaky post comparing the arbitration situations of Tony Cruz and Peter Bourjos, I began my VEB career.

That was my first Viva El Birdos post. This is my last one.

It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to spend nearly two and a half years writing regularly for Viva El Birdos. I have made so many great friends and had so many great experiences that would not have been possible if not for this website.

I had a tendency at times to write what I like to refer to as “Woke John” posts, ones which carefully toed the line between baseball analysis and sociopolitical commentary. And when I knew I was going to write something with the potential to agitate, I immediately consulted Craig Edwards, not to seek approval, but rather to cover all of my bases and make sure I knew all of the necessary perspectives. Craig is a better writer than I am, but he’s also a better writer than just about anyone, and yet he never felt the need to micromanage. I suspect some editors would have been scared to run an article advocating for Pride Night at Busch Stadium in the middle of the season, but Craig encouraged ideas that went beyond the numbers. He didn’t tell us what not to do; he told us ways in which we could execute what we wanted to do. For that (and for hiring me), I owe Craig a tremendous debt of gratitude.

In addition to Craig, who recently left VEB to write full-time at FanGraphs, I had the pleasure of writing alongside several terrific baseball analysts who are no longer writing on the site. I began at VEB with Ben Markham, an ultra-intelligent baseball analyst whose posts always left my head spinning but which were always engaging and thought-provoking, and Alex Crisafulli, who shares my love for finding historic parallels with modern players and whose tweet I embedded in roughly 30% of my VEB articles. Joe Schwarz, whose talent for analyzing pitching is now being prominently displayed at The Athletic, continues to make the legacy of VEB churning out notable writers look stronger by the day.

Ben Godar has one of my favorite sensibilities among VEB writers—most of us occasionally try to assign overwhelming significance to whatever topic we are discussing, but when discussing a nationally prominent story about Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham on Wednesday, Ben simply told the story of Pham signing an autograph for his son. There was no pretense—Ben found the story he wanted to tell and he told it and it was entertaining. Aaron Schafer, similarly, might have the most unique voice in the history of Viva El Birdos—in describing obscure Cardinals prospects, Aaron does not shy away from tangents if he feels they add some context or flavor that the story was otherwise lacking.

Tyler Kinzy is a truly special writer—his growth in his relatively brief time as a VEB writer has been staggering, and if he continues to improve at this rate, he will accomplish whatever he decides he wants to accomplish. Andy Schrag, long one of the most intelligent commenters in VEB threads, has quickly become one of the website’s most can’t-miss writers, and I look forward to continuing to read his work going forward.

Game recap duty is an often thankless job—like working in fast food, recapping games for VEB is something I’ve done before and am glad that I did just so I could know that those who do it on a regular basis deserve far more appreciation than they often receive. The current recapping crew was organized by As You Van Slyke It, with stlcardsfan4 and VanHicklestein handling game duties. There have been dozens of recappers prior to the current group, and each of them deserves credit for spending their nights taking note of every detail of games.

I knew Heather Simon, a.k.a. lil_scooter93, a little bit before Viva El Birdos, but during my time at the site, she has become truly one of my best friends and most trusted allies. Heather has crafted an online persona of constant pep and warmth and somehow, this persona undersells what a genuine and caring person she is. One of the hardest parts of moving on from VEB will be no longer co-hosting the Viva El Birdos Podcast with her (though she has assured me that I can still come over and play with her dog).

Site manager Josey Curtis has assembled a crew of new writers who will be making their debuts on the site in the coming days and weeks, and while I would like to be complimentary towards them as well, I can’t say I know much about them. But I have no doubts in their potential, because Viva El Birdos has gone through transitions before, and in the end, each new crop of writers has succeeded because we’ve built upon the excellent work which has come before us.

Last but not least, I want to thank you, the members of the Viva El Birdos community, who made this unforgettable experience possible. Some of you reading this are personal friends of mine, but many more of you have never met me, and will never meet me, and I will never meet you. But as fragmented as the world can be, we were still able to bond, even if indirectly, over Cardinals baseball. And that’s a pretty special thing.