Well, I knew I was going to write about the “Future of Sports” panel I was on in St. Louis Monday evening, a panel wonderful moderated by my friend Michael MacCambridge and featuring three of my heroes: Bill James, Bob Costas and Gerald Early. It really was great. There were about 700 people there (I’m told — I’m terrible at estimating crowds) and the discussion there will supposedly be on line within the week, and if you can’t wait for that you can find some fine reviews of it here, here, here and here.
It was a terrific panel discussion, I thought, probably the best I’ve ever been on. There were so many things to think about. But, as is obvious to anyone who has been on a few panels, there are limitations to the genre. I think the biggest is that you sometimes get bogged down on one question that nobody is especially interested in — for instance, we spent a good 15 minutes discussing whether boxing will die for an audience that pretty decisively believes boxing is dead already. And the answer could have been summed up like so:
No, it absolutely won’t die entirely.
We eventually got there, and there absolutely were some gems along the way*, but panel discussions, even the best of them, sometimes feel like giant boats and it takes a long while to make a turn.
*Listening to Gerald Early talk about boxing is like listening to Charlie Parker play saxophone.
In any case, I was going to write about the panel discussion but because it seems well covered and because you will be able to see it for yourself if you so choose, I have taken a turn. Instead, I’ll be posting a series of essays about my car ride with Bill James. You may know that Bill lives in Lawrence, Kan., and I live in Kansas City, and so we figured the smartest thing we could do was drive to St. Louis together. It’s about a four hour drive each way. That means I got to spend eight hours just in the car with the man I consider the best and most influential baseball writer ever.*
*Well, Roger Angell and Red Smith among many others were pretty good too, and Henry Chadwick and Jerome Holtzman among many others were pretty influential too — Bill is just my personal choice and I felt that way before we became friends.
I’d say in the eight-plus hours (terrible traffic in St. Louis) we had about 90 seconds of silence combined. This is largely because I’m a blabbermouth, and because when I have someone like Bill stuck in the car with me I want to constantly pick his brain. I love the way Bill’s mind works. So since we were the only ones in the car, and there was nobody filming or recording, I thought I would riff off a few of the things we talked about. I hope to have three or four essays up before the end of the day.
I should say as a disclaimer that these essays are not necessarily Bill’s opinion at all or what we talked about — in fact, all of these essays would probably go with the “This movie was inspired by real and actual true and factual facts” tag. I was driving there in the rain and Bill drove home as if flurried snow and we were just talking about stuff and none of the conversation was meant for the record. So these essays were sometimes inspired by a single word or thought.
But … hey … we’re all just friends on a drive …