Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Goodbye. (For Now.)

(Disclaimer: this is a very personal essay. I want to talk about why I’m ending this blog, which means by necessity I need to talk about myself. If you are one of those people who think that I am an arrogant and self-centered writer, well, this piece certainly isn’t going to change your mind. There will be some navel-gazing here. I humbly ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m not writing this for self-aggrandizement, but because I feel obligated to explain myself to you, the reader.)

“You’re rooting for clothes when you get right down to it.”Jerry Seinfeld.

I just don’t have the time anymore. I wish I could give you a better reason for why I have stopped blogging about the Royals, but that’s the honest truth, and the evidence of that is that it somehow took me more than four months after my penultimate post to write this one. That wasn’t the plan at all; the plan was to say goodbye before the season ended, to write one last long, poignant article that explained why I was no longer going to write about the Royals by way of explaining why I started writing about the Royals in the first place, and everything that happened in the 20 years between those two points.

And that was the problem: I didn’t have the time to write that article. I wanted to write about how much the game has changed over the last 20 years, how much smarter baseball teams have become, how much smarter the Royals have become, and how that’s made doing what I do – which, in a nutshell, is waiting for the Royals to do something dumb and then pointing fingers at them – so much more challenging than it used to be.

And if I had the time to write that article, I think it would have been a good one. But it turns out that I don’t. If I did, I probably wouldn’t need to stop writing about the Royals in the first place.

I started this blog in 2008, when I had two daughters, a five-year-old and a two-year-old. I now have four daughters, ages 12, 10, six, and three. When I started this blog, I had one main dermatology office in St. Charles, Illinois, and had just opened a satellite location that I worked out of one morning a week. In the seven years since, I’ve hired a physician assistant, opened another office way out west in Sycamore – it’s an hour from my house each way – and added three more employees.

But I continued to write about baseball at every opportunity. I couldn’t keep up the frenetic pace of blogging I established in 2008, but I managed to put up a column here at least once a week. The increasing demands on my time caused me to stop writing at Baseball Prospectus, my original home, almost entirely – but then in 2011 Bill Simmons dropped me an email asking if I could write an article on the Royals for his new Grantland site that had just launched, and what started as a one-off piece turned into a second article, and pretty soon I was being encouraged to write as often as I wanted for what was becoming one of the coolest websites in journalism, in front of the largest audience I ever had. (You will notice that I continue to write for Grantland when I can. I would be a fool not to. It’s a fantastic place to work.)

And then in 2013 I got the call that, in retrospect, I had spent the previous two decades working to get. The Chicago Cubs contacted me and asked if I would be interested in interviewing for an analytics position in their front office.

Let me rephrase that: The Chicago Cubs wanted me to work for them.

Let me reframe that one more time: The Chicago Cubs, run by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, who had already won two world championships and ended an 86-year championship drought in Boston together, thought that I could help them in their attempt to accomplish the same in Chicago. More than that, the Cubs contacted me even though they knew I was a dermatologist and wouldn’t be able to work for them full time. Forgive me if I never get tired of bringing that up, because it was the moment that most vindicates the 20-year passion project that has been my baseball writing career. It probably always will be.

In the end, I didn’t get the job, in large part because the Cubs felt they needed someone who would be able to commit to the organization full-time. I completely understood their reasoning, and frankly remain astonished that they would even consider the alternative. Maybe they really didn’t consider the alternative, but simply figured that once an opportunity to work in baseball presented itself to me, I would be willing to walk away from my dermatology career to pursue it.

And if ever there was such an opportunity that I’d drop anything for, it was this one. I mean, it’s the Chicago Cubs. It’s a team that 1) is one of the most iconic franchises in American sports even though 2) it has a longer track record of continuous failure than any team, in any sport, possibly in human history. A Cubs world championship is the Mount Everest of the sports world – quite literally the most momentous achievement possible. And their front office sees the game pretty much the same way I do – I mean, even my not-so-bright ideas coincided with theirs. Oh, and I live 45 minutes from Wrigley Field.

I have many regrets about the fact that I couldn’t have made a different decision, but I have no regrets over the decision I made. As much job security as there is in medicine, that’s how little job security there is in sports. To throw away a practice I had spent a decade building to take a job that I could get fired from at any moment, possibly for outcomes that I had nothing to do with – that’s not a risk I could take, not with a wife and four kids to support. And that’s without even mentioning the pay cut up front.

I mean, you have to understand: I never set out to be a sportswriter. I’ve said this before, but if Herk Robinson had protected Jeff Conine in the 1992 Expansion Draft, or if he hadn’t traded Gregg Jefferies for Felix Jose, I may never have started writing in the first place. I started writing about baseball on rec.sport.baseball – the online bulletin board for analytic baseball nerds in the pre-web era – because I felt compelled to share my frustrations with someone, anyone, who would listen. The last 20 years have all been one happy accident for me.

But once the Cubs opportunity came and went after the 2013 season, I realized something. I realized that I had gone as far as I could go in baseball with just one foot in the game. Short of working for a major league team, I had accomplished pretty much everything I could have imagined accomplishing when I told Gary Huckabay in 1995 that yes, I would be happy to join him in writing a baseball book with no name, no publisher, and no market.

I also realized that as long as I kept one foot in baseball, it was limiting how far I could go with my medical practice. I had been slowly growing for 10 years, but very slowly, in large part because I was thinking about baseball when I could have been thinking about how to grow my practice.

So I decided it was time to fish or cut bait. On February 9th of this year, I formally closed on the acquisition of another dermatology practice in Oak Park, Illinois, a stone’s throw away from Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio and the setting for such classic movies as “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Rookie of the Year”. (Well, they’re classics for me…) So I’m now working out of three different offices while trying to grow my practice enough to one day hire more dermatologists to work with me.

If and when that day comes, I’m hopeful I can hand off enough of the workload to allow me to start writing more again. But at least for the time being, I’ve had to put my writing career on the backburner. I hope you understand.

When I first started this blog, I made the conscious decision to keep the web design simple and to eschew any advertising. This was, in retrospect, probably a mistake. I decided to keep from monetizing this site because I didn’t want to feel obligated to write about the Royals all the time – but it turns out I couldn’t control that compulsion even though I was writing for free. I don’t think this blog would have made me rich, but even a couple hundred dollars a month would have grown into like $20,000 by now. That’s on me.

But before I go, I would like to make an appeal to my readers for money. Not for me, but for the victims of the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen since World War II. As many of you know, my parents immigrated to America from Syria, settling in America in large part because the Assad family had set up a totalitarian dictatorship in their home country. Four decades later, the Assad family still had an iron grip on the country, and peaceful democratic protests in Syria as part of the Arab Spring in early 2011 were met with the most brutal and murderous response imaginable. The revolution was initially led almost entirely by moderate, non-sectarian protestors, who begged for help from the outside world when their non-violent protests were met with bullets, bombs, and eventually weapons of mass destruction outlawed by the Geneva Convention. While no help was given to moderate protestors, the initially-tiny extremist contingent was plied with weapons and cash from rich benefactors from the Gulf…and now it’s 2015, and ISIS is a global menace, while the Assad regime whose bloody, barbaric reign created ISIS in the first place is still in power, and the moderate rebels are either dead, in exile, or are barely holding on. It’s enough to make a man sick.

But I’m not here to argue politics: I’m here to ask for help for the victims of the disintegration of Syria. Of the country’s 23 million people before the war, nine million have been displaced from their homes, and four of those nine million are refugees in other countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. These people are left wanting for the most basic of life’s necessities: food, shelter, schooling for their children, medical care, freedom from fear. I feel a moral imperative to help these people.

So I have teamed up with the Syrian American Medical Society, or SAMS, a nonprofit, non-sectarian, humanitarian organization largely comprised of Syrian-American physicians who would like to give back to their native homeland. (The outgoing President of SAMS, Dr. Zaher Sahloul, is a friend of mine, and is one of the more remarkable people I know, traveling regularly to refugee camps and sometimes even into war-torn Syria at great personal risk to provide medical care and deliver supplies, and working to highlight the calamitous situation there to the American public, while also working as a full-time pulmonologist and critical care specialist here in the Chicago area.)

If you are so inclined to help, a donation of any amount to SAMS can make an incalculable difference in the lives of so many people, and I would be forever grateful for the gesture. Not to turn this into a Kickstarter campaign, but if you do make a (tax-deductible!) donation to SAMS, I’ll do something for you in return.

Here’s how this works: click on this link to make a donation. Select the amount you wish to donate, and designate where you would like your donation to go to. (Pick any program you wish, or just stick with the default of “most needed.”) After you enter your donation amount some more options will pop up. Then, under “Additional Information” you will see the question “What brought you to the site to give today?” – select “Dr. Rany Jazayerli”.

Fill out your payment information and click “donate now”. After your donation goes through, you should receive a receipt by email. Finally, forward a copy of your receipt to ranyontheroyals (at) gmail (dot) com. In return:

- For any donation of at least $25 – barely 5 cents for each of the 479 articles I have written on this site – I will personally email you a thank you note, to the email address you sent me the receipt from.

- For any donation of at least $50 – just over 10 cents an article – I will instead send you a handwritten thank you note by regular mail, to the address listed on your receipt.

- For any donation of at least $100 – less than 21 cents an article – I will instead call you by phone to thank you personally. (When you send in your receipt, please include the phone number you wish to call, as well as the days and times that work best for you.)

And for those of you who are willing to be especially generous with your charitable dollars, I have two more deals for you:

- For any donation of at least $300 – less than 63 cents an article – I will instead meet you at a restaurant for a lovely meal and conversation; we’ll talk baseball the whole time, or anything else you want to discuss. (We’ll go dutch, not because I’m trying to be cheap, but because I don’t want to subject you to my personal dietary restrictions.)

- For any donation of at least $600 – that’s $1.25 an article – I will instead treat you to a Royals game. I’ll buy the tickets. (If anyone affiliated with the Royals can set me up with discounted and/or free tickets for a charitable cause, that would be much appreciated.) We’ll talk baseball the whole time, or anything else you want to discuss.

A couple of notes:

1) These offers are NOT cumulative. A $100 donation gets you a phone call, but not a phone call, handwritten note, and email. A $600 donation means I’ll see you at the ballpark, but I won’t see you at lunch first.

2) For these last two offers, please note: the offer is for one person only.

3) Both at the restaurant and at the ballpark, I will entertain people in groups of up to five or six, so it will be you, me, and maybe three or four other people.

4) I’m thinking barbecue for lunch, or maybe a place like First Watch for a weekend brunch. I’m happy to take suggestions; I’m not the local.

5) As I only make it to Kansas City a few times a season, I can make no promises on when exactly we will meet – depending on demand, it may be 2016 or 2017 before we can arrange the logistics to accommodate everyone. I honestly have no idea how much interest you all will have at the higher levels; I wouldn’t be surprised if no one makes a $600 donation, but I’m hopeful – and more than a little terrified – that a few dozen of you take the plunge. If so, I beg your patience as I try to accommodate everyone into my schedule. Priority will be given based on when I receive your emailed receipt, so the sooner you donate, the better for you.

Phone calls and handwritten notes will probably be made in August and September.

6) I plan to see my lunch guests in the Kansas City area, and my ballpark guests at Kauffman Stadium. But if you are able to meet me in the Chicago area for a meal, or meet me at a Royals game here in Chicago instead, I would obviously be fine with that as well, and we would have a lot more scheduling options that way.

7) I reserve the right to get creative in order to make this work. I’m sort of operating on blind faith here that this will all work out, and I ask you to be patient with me. Thank you.

I’m saying goodbye, but this isn’t a permanent and final goodbye. I still care about the Royals, and as those of you who follow me on Twitter know only too well, I still care about sharing my opinions of them with anyone who will listen. After the magic of 2014, I can only say that I’m glad I didn’t close down the blog a year earlier. And I’ll tell you what: if they make the postseason again this year, I’m sure I’m going to have a lot of thoughts about them in the playoffs, thoughts that can’t be contained on Twitter and have too much of a niche audience for Grantland. Maybe I’ll make Rany on the Royals a seasonal thing that opens every October, like a pumpkin farm. Maybe I’ll even throw in a column if they make a big move at the trading deadline or a big transaction in the off-season.

Because October, 2014 made the seven seasons of mostly futile writing that came before it all worth it. I don’t want to wait 29 years for that rush again. I don’t want to wait 29 months for that rush again, even if that rush could end with the Royals being on the other side of some long-hapless underdog’s Cinderella story. The Royals have exceeded expectations this season – my own included – as much as they exceeded the nation’s expectations last fall, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to acknowledge that the front office may actually know what it’s doing. Last year may not have been a fluke.

The fan base has certainly acknowledged it, and as gratifying as it has been to see the Royals actually becoming one of the most feared and respected teams in the game, it’s just as gratifying to see Royals Nation rise up the way I always claimed it would if we just got a team worthy of our fandom. The record crowds don’t surprise me. The best local TV ratings in baseball don’t surprise me. The Royals’ complete and total domination of the All-Star voting…okay, that surprised even me. If Omar Infante is the starting second baseman in Cincinnati on July 14th, I will be as horrified as I am titillated.

Because for all the hand-wringing over how Royals fans are making a mockery of the vote, of how they’re forcing long-needed changes in the voting process to be made in the future, I’ve seen not nearly enough credit given to the Royals that it’s their fans – one of the smallest fan bases by population, though clearly not by passion – that have succeeded where no other fan base has. You can complain that the voting process needs to be tweaked, and I’ll agree with you – but first you have to tip your cap to the Royals for doing something that fans of the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, and 26 other teams were never able to do.

It’s a new chapter in the history of the Royals, and even if I’m not chronicling it on a daily basis anymore, I couldn’t be more excited to see where this leads. I’m not at all surprised by the passion of the fans, or by the emergence of a new generation of fans who finally have a reason to root for the Royals, but I was caught off guard by the emergence of one particular fan – my eldest daughter, who is now 12 years old.

I had already reconciled myself to the fact that none of my kids would be baseball fans; they hadn’t shown any interest, and let’s be frank: being a baseball fan can be exhausting, because they play every single day. There are a lot of other things you can do with the time you spend following a baseball team 162 times a year. This was just going to be something that Dad did in his free time, and they could find their own hobbies and interests.

My daughter watched the Wild Card game last September 30th, but went to bed in the sixth or seventh inning – it was a school night, remember. My wife told me afterwards that before our daughter went to sleep, she said she felt terrible for Dad who flew all the way to Kansas City to watch his team lose. (My wife, bless her heart, stayed up until the end, something she’s never done before.) The next morning my daughter woke up to the insane news that the rest of us digested over the course of two heart-stopping hours, and…I don’t know, but maybe something clicked that day. She watched every playoff game from then on. She celebrated with me when they clinched the ALDS, and then when they won the pennant. She was mad – she’s still mad – that I didn’t take her to the World Series. (I was rooting for the Cardinals in the NLCS in part because I was planning to drive down to St. Louis with her for one of the weekend World Series games.)

And then after a quiet winter – well, she wore her new Royals ski hat everywhere, and wanted to know why Billy Butler wasn’t coming back, and who are these new guys – the season started, and they started 7-0, and…well, I’m still having trouble processing it. I come home from work and she’s watching the Royals game on TV. She’s texting me at work asking for my MLB.tv password. She made a sign – “Salvy 4 Perezident” – when the Royals came to town to play the Cubs, and she was over the moon when Salvy saw her sign at the game and flashed her a thumbs-up. She told me before the season that Moustakas was her favorite player, and she never turns down an opportunity to say “I told you so” after Moose flicks another pitch to left field for a single. She’s already begging me to take her to one of the Royals games when they come back to Chicago to play the White Sox in three weeks.

She’s also playing softball for the first time, and it’s clear that watching Royals games on a regular basis has given her an awareness of the game that the other girls don’t have. She came home after a game once excited to tell me that she had been catching, and when the batter hit a foul pop-up, “I tore off my catcher’s mask just like Salvy does” and made the catch. Last week I attended one of her games – she had moved up to the leadoff spot – and before she went up to the plate she turned to me behind the fence and said, “I’m going to ambush the first pitch like Esky” before doing just that. (She grounded out to third.)

She watches the game from a different perspective than me; while I’m focused on statistics and strategy, she’ll say things like “why doesn’t Alex Gordon ever wash his batting helmet?” But baseball has grandeur; there are so many ways to enjoy it. The fact that she picked any of them is still something I have to get my head around. I mean, there’s no way to get around this fact: she’s a 12-year-old girl, and the Royals are her first crush. (Thank God it’s the Royals as a team, and not, say, Eric Hosmer.) And like any father of a 12-year-old girl on her first crush, I’m terrified that the Royals are going to break her heart.

She has no history with the Royals that doesn’t involve them being the best team in the American League. She has no memory of suffering, of sacrifice, of humiliation, and I want her innocence to be maintained. And at the same time, I need her to understand that it’s not this easy. I’m already steeling her for the fact that we could be the Angels this year, the team with the best record in the league over 162 games that watches its season end in the span of less than 72 hours because of a few unlucky breaks.

But for now, I’m content to enjoy the experience of rooting for a winning team, and sharing that experience with my firstborn. (My 10-year-old daughter doesn’t watch obsessively, but she asks how they do each day and wears her pink Hosmer shirsey all the time. Even my wife has started to pay attention, or at least she follows the Royals on Instagram.)

Before the season began, I intended to say goodbye for good when I wrote this article. Instead, I’m just going to say goodbye for now. I’m not going anywhere. And I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that, after writing about baseball for 20 years, and after blogging about the Royals for 15 years, I’ve learned that Jerry Seinfeld was wrong: we’re not rooting for clothes. We’re not rooting for laundry. We’re not even rooting for the players, and certainly not their manager, or general manager, or the analysts in their front office.

We’re rooting for each other.

And rooting for all of you has been one of the great joys of my adult life. And I intended to write that when I first announced that I was going to stop blogging about the Royals, before Sung Woo came to America, before the second-half surge, before Jarrod Dyson and Terrence Gore ran the White Sox dizzy, before Salvy got doubled up against Detroit, before that wonderful night here in Chicago when the Royals clinched a playoff berth, before the greatest game I’ve ever seen in person, before Aoki’s catch and Moose’s homer and Dyson’s throw and Hosmer’s homer and Butler’s steal and Wade Davis struck out the side and Gordon’s homer and Escobar’s double past first base and Butler’s sacrifice fly and Escobar knocked the ball out of Joseph’s glove. Before the World Series. Before Gordon held at third.

It’s been magical, all of it, and thank you, all of you, for sharing the experience of being a Royals fan with me. I’m still rooting for all of you. I hope that you’ll all still be rooting for me.