Volume 2, Issue 79: Taste the Ceiling

"Try the words in sequence, but that's never how it's done."

Last week’s newsletter, the first sent through Substack, seemed to go well. Email me at will.leitch@nymag.com if you’re having any issues.

Here are three people I have been fortunate enough to know for a while:

One. On Tuesday night, I watched the American League Wild-Card Game between the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays on ESPN2. The game was also on ESPN, with regular announcers Matt Vasgersian, Jessica Mendoza and Jennifer Lopez’s fiancee, but I vastly preferred the ESPN2 version. It was the StatCast broadcast, which not only featured advanced statistics and graphics that allowed for a greater, more nuanced discussion of this sport that I love, but also featured my friend Mike Petriello on the broadcast.

I’ve known Mike for a few years now. I’d been reading him on Fangraphs long before we worked together at Sports On Earth, and every time I’m in the MLB.com office at Chelsea Market, I harangue him to come downstairs and have a few beverages with me. He’s smart, he’s funny, and he’s an excellent human being. You can’t go wrong if you’ve got those three. MLB.tv used to have this alternative show called MLB Plus, featuring a stat-based broadcast that was a beta run for what you saw on ESPN2 on Tuesday, and you can tell it was an experimental, just-jerking-around deal because they let me on it.

Mike was the clear breakout star of the show and is reaping the benefits now. He has put in his time. He wrote for Fangraphs for years, he did grunt work for Sports On Earth, he has watched so many Marlins games. I feel incredibly cool to have known him Back When. I think he is the absolute best in the world at what he does—it is so hard to explain complicated statistical concepts in a way that normal people can understand, and it’s one of the most important skills anyone involved in baseball media is going to need to have over the next decade—and it is downright exciting to watch him do it. I am lucky to have known him as he was starting out his career and thrilled to see him at the absolute top of his game on the largest possible stage to the widest possible audience.

2) When I worked at the Daily Illini, there was a reporter there who was instantly and obviously better than all of us. Her name was Natasha Korecki, and she distinguished herself not just through her dogged journalistic persistence but also her total disinterest in any of the other aspects of working at the Daily Illini. (Namely, skipping all your classes so you could work there 14 hours a day, drinking at The White Horse until 2 a.m. every morning and inevitably hooking up with each your co-workers at least once and then everyone pretending it didn’t happen.) Every story she wrote had some new detail in it that no one had, and she could make even the most dull campus parking story compulsively readable. She was a pure reporter in the way most of us were just pretending to be.

I didn’t talk to Natasha that often. We worked in different departments, and I was a little intimidated by her, the way stupid college boys can be intimidated by driven college girls who are smarter than they are. But she was extremely friendly and obviously destined for great things. I found myself making a note every time I talked to her, in case I was asked about it someday.

Natasha started her career at the Chicago Sun-Times, back before it became a content farm, but she made a name for herself taking full advantage of a dream reporting scenario that fell in her lap: Two consecutive felon governors of Illinois, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. (I suppose they didn’t really fall in her lap: When you cover Illinois politics, inevitably you’re going to get a felon governor to write about.) She was the definitive go-to reporter on that beat, writing a must-read “Blago Blog” that eventually became a terrific book.

She eventually launched Politico’s Illinois Playbook and now is a national correspondent for Politico, covering the 2020 campaign. You’ve read several of her stories on the campaign whether you noticed the byline or not. I feel incredibly cool to have known here Back When. I think she is the absolute best in the world at what she does, and it is downright exciting to watch her do it. I am lucky to have known her as she was starting out her career and thrilled to see her at the absolute top of her game on the largest possible stage to the widest possible audience.

3) The first person I ever had a drink with in New York City was Jami Attenberg. It was January 2000, and my plane had literally just landed for my second-ever trip to the city I now lived in. Back then, Jami had a personal blog called Whatever Whenever—a site it appears she has now let the URL expire for—that I thought was terrific, and she had read some of my old Life As A Loser columns. We were just online writer friends eager to meet in real life. We went to 7B, an old bar on the corner of 7th Street and Avenue B in the East Village, and also where they fail to kill Frank Pentangelli in The Godfather, Part II. Everything there was, to this feather-haired, center-parted Midwestern boy, so dingy and dark and scuzzy and scary and awesome.

Jami was cool and funny and profane and fantastic, a brilliant writer who was smart as shit and could waste me pint for pint and smoke for smoke. I was absolutely in awe of her. She was working a crap job like I was working a crap job, like I would work crap jobs for several years, just trying to pay her rent while she tried to make it as a writer. Hanging out with Jami, that someone as thrilling alive as she was wanted to hang out with me, made me think I should maybe try that too.

It’ll be 20 years since we met at 7B this January. Jami and I have fallen in and out and back into and then back out and then back again into touch throughout those 20 years, and that entire time she has plugged away, just working, getting better, finding her voice, challenging herself and pushing to try new things. She dedicated her life to her work the way we all say we are going to but never do.

And she has broken through. Her book The Middlesteins is one of my favorite books of the last 10 years, and it was a New York Times bestseller that finally got the recognition she has long deserved. She has a new book coming out next month, All This Could Be Yours, her sixth, and it has earned her the best reviews of her career. You should buy it. You should buy them all.

I feel incredibly cool to have known her Back When. I think she is the absolute best in the world at what she does, and it is downright exciting to watch her do it. I am lucky to have known her as she was starting out her career and thrilled to see her at the absolute top of her game on the largest possible stage to the widest possible audience.

There are so many people who work their entire lives to try to accomplish something, and it doesn’t work out. Life gets in the way, or corporate shithearts get it in the way, or they just get tired and worn down—it happens. Sometimes they decide they want something else entirely; one of the great lines in Passing Strange features the 40something narrator coming to the terrifying realization that “your entire adult life is based on decisions made by a teenager.” But when someone makes it, when someone reaches the place they were always trying to go, when they become their best self, and you’ve known them before, during and after … it’s very exciting. These are not my only three friends who stuck with it and did what they always dreamed of; they’re just the ones I happened to be thinking about this morning. They all give you hope for everything in a world that’s sometimes devoid of it. They make you always want to keep going. Because what’s coming next might be even better.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.

  1. Leave Ronald Acuna Alone! MLB.com. I’m writing a daily piece, called The Closer, about the postseason this whole month, so, uh … I hope you like baseball. This is the best of them so far.

  2. The MLB Postseason Exists to Deny You Sleep, New York. Honestly, the Cubs’ wild-card game ended at nearly 2 a.m. ET last year. You’d have to be doing something pretty special to even be awake at that hour in the first place.

  3. The 50 Best Players of the Postseason, MLB.com. I feel like one of my primary utilities is being willing, totally fine with, getting screamed at by strangers all day. This is a definitive get-yelled-at-by-strangers piece.

  4. Data Decade: Best Postseason Series of the Decade, MLB.com. I tried to take it easy on the Cardinals here, and failed.

  5. The Closer: Do Aces Even Matter Anymore? MLB.com. What this article supposes is … what if everything you thought was wrong? Whoa.

  6. Braves-Cardinals NLDS Preview, MLB.com. Already regretting my prediction.

  7. Every Team’s Potential Unlikeliest Postseason Hero, MLB.com. So yeah, there’s plenty to write about in baseball right now.

  8. Debate Club: Best Horror Film Taglines, SYFY Wire. Unusually sports-heavy week this week. But a ton of movie stuff coming. I probably wrote more movie stuff this week than baseball stuff, it just hasn’t been published yet.

  9. Official MLB “Expert” Predictions, MLB.com. I love making predictions and am always confused why journalists are so weird about it. They’re predictions! Everybody knows they’re going to be wrong! They’re fun! Who cares?

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, Grierson and I talked about “Judy” and “Bad Boys 2,” but mostly we obsessed over the wonderful, wonderful (and aforementioned) “Passing Strange.” You can rent it right now on iTunes. It will make your entire day. I promise you.

Seeing Red, Bernie and I previewed the NLDS.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we previewed the Tennessee game this weekend.

THE WILL LEITCH SHOW

As I’m sure many of you heard, there were mass layoffs at Sports Illustrated this week, including Josh Oshinsky, the guy who brought me into SI.tv to do “The Will Leitch Show.” Most of the SI.tv staff was retained, and no one has said a word to be about whether or not we are still doing my show. To be entirely honest, I’m far from certain this is a company I want to be associated with anyway. I suspect a definitive update on this is coming soon, so I’ll write about it then (and probably take this section out of the newsletter moving forward), but for now, I‘ll just I never entirely understood why they let me do that show in the first place, but if it’s gone, I will miss it nonetheless. But if that happens, considering how much they’re gutting that legendary publication, my show potentially is at the very bottom of the list of sad things to come out the Sports Illustrated sale. More to come, maybe. Until then: Might as well watch ‘em on Amazon or on SI TV.

GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 POWER RANKINGS

Yeah, I didn’t pay any attention to the Democratic candidates this week. Who could? Christ.

I am glad Bernie Sanders is OK, though. I cannot fathom having a heart attack while running for President.

1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Beto O'Rourke
3. Kamala Harris
4. Pete Buttigieg
5. Cory Booker
6. Joe Biden
7. Amy Klobuchar
8. Bernie Sanders
9. Steve Bullock
10. Michael Bennet
11. Andrew Yang
12. Julian Castro
13. Tim Ryan
14. Mark Sanford
15. William Weld
16. Tulsi Gabbard
17. Marianne Williamson
18. Tom Steyer
19. John Delaney
20. Joe Walsh

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I’ve fallen behind enough in these that I’m now requiring myself to do at least three a day until I catch back up. I apologize. I had book edits. But this is no excuse. We’ll get back on track, so keep sendin’ ‘em:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“One and a Half Stars,” Wilco. The album just came out yesterday, so I’ll be mainlining it for a while, forgive me.

It was Picture Day this week! That means ties for little boys who otherwise don’t even like to wear shoes.

Have a great weekend, all. Go Cards. Beat the Braves. Don’t you want this kid to be happy?

Best,
Will