All posts by Graham Womack

The 25 worst Baseball Hall of Fame selections

Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend is a few days away, with near-unanimous selection Ken Griffey Jr., as well as Mike Piazza, set to join Cooperstown. By stats, each ranks close to being an inner circle Hall of Famer.

Not every selection in Hall of Fame history has been stellar, though. ForSporting News, I have a new piece ranking the 25 worst Baseball Hall of Fame selections ever.

I went one step further than many people go with these lists. First, I included managers, umpires, and executives. I also suggested alternative selections who were eligible at the time.

I’ve resisted doing one of these lists for several years, as it’s a little more negative than I typically like to go.  As my friend Adam Darowski just tweeted:

Right there with you, Adam. That said, I admit I enjoyed writing this list more than I expected to.

Two new columns, Curt Flood and Andrew McCutchen

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted here, which means a couple new Sporting News columns from me.

First, one that’s fairly innocuous. I wrote about Andrew McCutchen’s budding Hall of Fame case and if a trade might help it.

Second, I wrote about Curt Flood’s Hall of Fame case. Specifically, I think it’s a little overrated because of the historical misconceptions about Flood’s contributions to baseball’s labor movement, misconceptions that persist to this day.

Flood’s son has been pummeling me on Twitter since the story went live, accusing me of being paid to write a hit piece. I’d of course never take money from anywhere but a publication to write a journalistic story. But I’m curious to hear if anyone here agrees with the rest of what Flood’s son said.

Two interesting Hall of Fame cases: Ichiro Suzuki and Joey Votto

It’s Tuesday, which means my latest edition of “Cooperstown Chances” is out for Sporting News. I also realize I forgot to share last week’s column here, so I’m going to drop two links.

First, I wrote about Ichiro Suzuki, who isn’t the “real” hit king now but will be an easy Hall of Famer five years after he retires. I didn’t spend too much time focusing on this in my piece. The real thrust of what I wrote about: a few better players will be lucky to draw 1/10th the votes that Ichiro does.

Meanwhile, I wrote last week about Joey Votto, who ranks as one of the better first basemen in baseball history through his first nine seasons. However, it’s critical Votto continue to rebound from his slump this season if he wants to keep his Hall of Fame hopes alive.

As always, feedback’s welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Join me for a live chat about baseball history

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday that I probably should have…

The National Pastime Museum hosts one-hour live chats each time it publishes a new article. I’m having one at 9 a.m. PST for my Benny Kauff article.

I wanted to invite anyone interested to come take part. It should be a fun discussion about banned players, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and whatever else people are in the mood to discuss.

Two tragic figures: Billy Martin and Benny Kauff

I have two new articles out today, and while I didn’t plan the scheduling, they correspond a little. I wrote about two of the more tragic figures in baseball history, even if the tragedy in each case might have been partly of their doing.

First, for Sporting News, I wrote about Billy Martin’s Hall of Fame case. It’s been 26 years since Martin died in a friend’s drunk driving accident, and I explored if his Hall of Fame window might be closing. The thought: Martin, who’s been a candidate at least six times, might still have a shot, but he’s going to have competition yet again this fall with Jim Leyland newly eligible.

Then for The National Pastime Museum, I wrote about Benny Kauff. Many baseball history fans might know the story of Kauff’s banning, how Kenesaw Mountain Landis made an example of him after his 1921 acquittal for allegedly participating in a car theft ring. What might not be as well known: Kauff’s life after banning, which included numerous arrests, a short playing career, and, finally, redemption. I had fun researching this one.

As always, thanks for reading.

A month’s worth of columns– and why I haven’t been updating

My apologies.

I’ve been busy with various writing obligations and just realized I’ve neglected to post here since April 26. It’s sometimes hard to prioritize this site since, to be blunt, I don’t make any money at it and couldn’t earn anywhere close to a living even if I allowed advertising and pulled out all the stops. There simply isn’t enough interest in baseball history.

If I had a day job or was retired or financially dependent on another person, I might write frequently here. I think most baseball history bloggers fall into one of those three categories. But I’ve been making a living since October as a freelance writer and editor, which has meant focusing on paid work. I know in a given week how much money I need to make and what work I’ll need to do to make it. Most weeks, it’s a hustle.

At some point, I’d like to carve out an hour or two a day to write regularly here. I’m not there yet, though.

That said, here’s a month worth of Sporting News columns:

Again, my apologies. I’ll try to get back to posting links to my columns as I write them.

A few contemporary Hall of Fame cases

It occurred to me that I haven’t been providing links to my recent Sporting News columns here. Thus, I’m going to offer links to a few articles this morning.

Anyone who reads me regularly knows that over the past few months, I’ve been interviewing long-retired candidates like Dale Murphy, Bobby Grich, and Dwight Evans. With the MLB season getting underway though, my editor and I thought it might be good to focus on some active players. Hence, over the past few weeks, I’ve assessed the cases of Buster Posey, Zack Greinke, and Justin Verlander.

It’s fun to shift gears a little and write about players that a lot of contemporary readers care about. That said, I’ll probably do another round of interviews before too long. Ideally, when the Expansion Era Committee releases its ballot for Cooperstown in the fall, I’d like to have interviewed every player on it.

10 tips to make a living as a freelancer

A little over a year ago, I moved back from Oakland to Sacramento, where I grew up, to be with my girlfriend. When I left the Bay Area, I worried I’d be turning my back on my writing career. After all, in my time there, I wrote for places like the San Francisco Chronicle and Sports On Earth. I was never able to consistently make a living at writing in the Bay Area, but it always seemed to offer the allure of being possible at some point down the road.

A few days after my move, I began working in a coffee shop in Sacramento. I also began to pick up freelance writing gigs: a baseball history website; an alt-weekly that I’d freelanced for years before; and Sporting News. Frustrated about my coffee shop job, which was never a great fit, I also posted a resume online and secured a couple of copywriting clients: a plumber with multiple websites not related to plumbing (because few people really want their day jobs) and a Bay Area publishing concern.

In late September, I had an epiphany: I had enough freelance work to quit the coffeehouse. I had set an hourly rate for copywriting work that would allow me to eventually write full-time. But I didn’t think that things would come together as quickly as they did. With some trepidation, I handed in my two weeks’ notice and worked my last evening of coffee on October 18.

Six months to the day, I regard my decision to quit coffee and write and edit full-time as the best move of my professional life. I’m 32 and wasted years in day jobs: sales, food service, manual labor, call centers, you name it, all the while avoiding trying to make a living as a writer. For anyone who might be in the same position that I was, here are 10 tips on how to make a living as a freelance writer and editor:

1. Ask for work. I got to where I am now because, after years of not doing it enough, I started putting myself out there more. I contacted editors I wanted to write for, sending emails and making cold calls. I posted my resume online. Even after I had clients and places to write for, I still kept asking for work. I pitched stories and projects I could do. In time, editors and clients began coming to me with assignments. But six months in, I’m still seized with conviction that if I’m going to make a living as a writer, it’s on me.

2. Be realistic about what you need to charge. The last time I tried freelance writing full-time a few years ago, I charged $15 an hour and ran out of money aggressively fast. This time, I got an idea of what others charge for copywriting. I wrote out a monthly budget of my expenses. Figuring on 1,000 hours of freelance work per year and that I would need to set aside 30 percent of my gross for taxes, I set a rate that was competitive and would allow me to meet expenses.

I’ve tinkered with this model over the past six months as I’ve begun to accept more journalistic work, where the pay is often by the piece or per word and typically less than copywriting. But I’m always clear about how much I need to gross in a month so as to not have to get another office or coffee job.

3. Know what to set aside for taxes. Many freelance and contract workers get popped the first time they file taxes. Some years ago, I took a contract job, put aside no money, and eventually had to go on a payment plan with the IRS. This time, I was cautious. Months after starting with the assumption I’d lose 30 percent of my gross to taxes, I used Google and a worksheet from my tax guy to determine I’d be fine setting aside 25 percent.

It’s important to know how to roughly calculate taxes for two reasons: 1) Freelance workers who earn at least $10,000 in a year have to make quarterly estimated tax payments, with penalties at tax time for not having paid enough through the course of the year; 2) The amount you pay in taxes goes up when you earn more.

4. Be realistic about how much time you can spend on stories. Before I made a living as a writer (or had a girlfriend), I had no problem spending inordinate amounts of time on stories. I still do this sometimes. My recent Sacramento News & Review cover piece, for instance, took me two weeks longer than I thought it would. I lost money on that story because I knew it was worth it. Generally, I’m careful about my time and aim to hit the number of billable hours that I need each week. I also am careful to generally not take on unpaid work, though there are exceptions (such as this post.)

5. Be versatile. My passion’s baseball history. If money were no object, I’d spend all my time digging through online archives, talking to former ballplayers, and writing stories, both mainstream and esoteric about baseball. Alas, money is an object. I’ve found that making a living as a writer requires a willingness to tackle a variety of subjects: local government, outdoor recreation, automobiles, and much, much more. I’m fortunate that a good chunk of my living comes from writing about my passion. Maybe in time, all of it will come this way. Until then, I’ll write about as many things as I have to.

6. Keep regular hours where possible. Some freelancers feel like they always have to be available. I say that’s nonsense. Any copywriting client worth your time will figure out a way to call you during normal business hours. Journalistic work is sometimes harder to fit into these hours. That said, I try not to work too many evenings and am generally careful to take at least one weekend day off per week. After all, I live with my girlfriend who works normal hours. My work isn’t so important to regularly sacrifice time with her. I also worry about burning out if I work too much.

7. Keep your pipeline filled at least a week or two out. A list sitting next to my keyboard as I write this tells me that over the next two weeks, I have five stories to write for one publication, two stories for another, and 7.5 hours of copywriting work that my client prepaid me for. Generally, at least once a week, I create a list like this. When it doesn’t have the target number of billable hours that I need, I call my clients and editors and ask for more work.

8. Know how to market yourself. This is definitely a work in progress for me. I just set up a showcase page for some of my best baseball clippings. My LinkedIn profile needs some work. My girlfriend sweetly had business cards made for me in December, though I still haven’t gotten in the habit of keeping a few on me at all times.

Marketing is perhaps my greatest challenge as a writer. I like to think I do a lot of good, original work, but it’s a challenge sometimes conveying the value I can offer a client or editor. I think a lot of writers struggle with this. That said, I know my value and how to sell myself as a writer well enough to have gotten this far. I’ll get better.

9. Keep meticulous records. Being a freelancer means I typically get paid 10-15 times a month and am continually setting money aside for taxes and having opportunities to deduct business expenses. I’d go crazy if I tried to remember everything come tax time. Thus, I keep a spreadsheet where I log all of my earnings, deductions, and money I’ve put aside for taxes, among other things. Some freelancers opt for software that automatically does this, though I’m apprehensive about this.

10. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do this. This is last and probably most important. I put off going freelance for years because I worried it would be too difficult, too fraught with the potential for me to lose all of my money and have to be bailed out by my parents. To be sure, freelance work is tenuous and stressful at times. But, with a bit of planning and sober realism, it’s very doable. In fact, all things considered, it’s probably easier than keeping a crappy day job.

Why few African-Americans play baseball– and the people working to change this

With Jackie Robinson Day a week from tomorrow, I have a cover story out today for the Sacramento News & Review about why few African-Americans are playing baseball– and what’s being done to change this.
(On a semi-related note, I forgot to share my Sporting News column here this week. It’s about why Buck O’Neil still isn’t a Hall of Famer.)

I spent a month reporting my cover story, doing more than 30 interviews from Little League coaches to former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent. I focused on people like former MLB manager Jerry Manuel, who’s founded a free baseball academy in the Sacramento to get more blacks playing.

I believe this is an important story, worthy of a national audience. Please give it a read if you have a chance. Any help getting the word out would be appreciated as well.

An interview with Dwight Evans

This is about a week late. Chances are, some of you have already seen the following piece on Twitter or elsewhere online. For the rest of you just seeing this, my apologies. But I figure better late than never.

I’ve taken this week off from my column for Sporting News, partly because I have some other work pressing. Last week however, I released an interview with Boston Red Sox great Dwight Evans, one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame who is no longer on the writers’ ballot.

I’ve enjoyed every interview I’ve done so far, but I will say that Evans, like Bobby Grich or Alan Trammell, was in the inner circle of players I’ve wanted to talk to. It was very cool to get some time with him, and he said a lot of interesting things.

Again, my apologies for the lateness here. Hope you all enjoy the piece and are enjoying this series. That said, I’d welcome more feedback, positive or negative. I want to know what’s working and moreover, what isn’t working, so that I can continue to get better at this.

Thanks for reading.

________________

Other people I’ve talked to: Steve Garvey | Jeff IdelsonTommy John | Jim Kaat  | Tony La RussaDale Murphy | Alan Trammell | Fay VincentBilly Wagner

I talked to Tony La Russa about Jim Edmonds

My latest is out for Sporting News. I got two minutes with Tony La Russa at an event in Phoenix this past week. Because my mind quickly goes to the Hall of Fame, I asked him about the case of one of his former players, Jim Edmonds.

Edmonds got just 2.5 percent of the BBWAA vote for Cooperstown in January, disqualifying him from future writers’ ballots. But La Russa thinks he belongs.

As always, feedback is welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading.

Talking to Alan Trammell

The latest edition of “Cooperstown Chances” came out for Sporting News yesterday. I’m at spring training in Arizona so I haven’t had a ton of time to promote this, but I hope this gets some reads. I interviewed Alan Trammell about his Hall of Fame case.

Trammell, who completed his eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot in January, gave a good interview, worth a read for anyone who cares about Cooperstown.

Let me know what you guys think.

Celebrating the greatest baseball writers of all-time

I have two related articles out at Sporting News today that might be of interest:

As always, feedback’s appreciated. Thanks for reading.

I went on MLB Network with Brian Kenny

Last August, I pitched Sporting News on doing a column about the Hall of Fame. In emailing with an editor, I mentioned the Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? column that I (and a number of other writers) did here a few years ago. I wrote to the editor,  “I found even on my modestly-trafficked site that the column drew readers back each week and stimulated discussion. I can only imagine how it would resonate on a major site like yours.”

What I promised seems to finally be coming true. Brian Kenny had me as a guest on his MLB Network show “MLB Now” earlier today. He had me on, via satellite from a studio in Sacramento where I live, to discuss the “Cooperstown Chances” column I’ve been doing for Sporting News for six months now. Brian and I talked for five minutes about the recent interviews I’ve been doing through my column of Tommy John, Bobby Grich, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, Jim Kaat, and Billy Wagner.

I’m still amazed as I write this that I got to go on MLB Network or that I didn’t totally go to pieces on live, national television. I could feel my heart thumping as I sat in the chair in the dark, windowless studio waiting to be patched in– I worried that the microphone on my tie would pick up the noise. Thankfully, Brian Kenny regularly brings writers onto his show who’ve done little or no television, and he’s great at putting people at ease. My friend Adam Darowski, who went on the show two weeks ago, had a similar experience.

So we’re clear: Without Sporting News (or the support of the woman I love), I doubt any of this happens. I don’t know if I’d have interviewed half the players I’ve talked to. I know how to cold call and send query emails, and old ballplayers love to talk; but I also have this golden ticket every time I call a player, being able to name drop a publication that’s existed since 1888 and still has a solid presence online, even if it no longer has a print edition. I also don’t know if someone like Brian Kenny would have seen my work had it not run on Sporting News. It’s a tough world these days for independent sportswriters.

I’m on the ride of my life right now as a writer. Every week seems to bring some new awesome experience that I never would have bet on five years ago and still seems utterly ridiculous as I write about it. (I haven’t mentioned this, but I’ve been fully self-employed as a freelance writer and editor since mid-October. It’s a post for another time, but I’m actually solvent four months in. It’s almost as surreal to me as seeing myself on television.)

If anyone is in the position I was in not long ago, working hard in obscurity, I say: Keep at it. Keep doing what you love, even if it very reasonably seems like no one’s reading. Keep working hard. Results will come, in ways you wouldn’t predict.

That said, I hope this is only the beginning. I’m going to keep working to see what unfolds. I want to talk to more players, many more. I want to have articles in places like Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and the New York Times. I want to write a book.

It goes almost without saying, but thanks to everyone who’s read my work since I launched this site in May 2009. I wouldn’t be doing any of the things I’m doing without a lot of help and support.

Talking to Tommy John

My latest is out for Sporting News. For the fifth straight week, I interviewed the player I wrote about. In weeks past, I’ve spoken to Bobby Grich, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, and Jim Kaat. This week, I scored another great interview with Tommy John, who’s got a good shot of going in eventually but, like every player I’ve spoken to, is in long-term limbo.

As always feedback is welcome. Thanks for reading.

Bobby Grich knows he’s underrated

My latest for Sporting News dropped a little while ago. Continuing my recent spate of interviews, I scored an hour-long talk with one of my favorite candidates, Orioles and Angels second baseman Bobby Grich.

If you’re into sabemetrics or 1970s baseball, you might love this interview. Grich is a good storyteller, as well as a rare former player who understands how his value breaks down in terms of sabemetrics. He was a pleasure to talk to.

Expect more of these interviews, by the way. I feel momentum building.

The Second Coming of Joe DiMaggio

I posted yesterday about a chat I will be doing at 11:30 a.m. PST today to promote a new article. The article’s live this morning, and if you enjoy my writing, this one might especially be of interest.

I wrote about how Joe Marty got hyped as the second coming of Joe DiMaggio, his teammate from the Pacific Coast League and why he failed to live up to it. This was a fun one to research and write. Marty’s near to my heart, as I grew up and live in Sacramento, where he’s from.

Please let me know what you guys think of my piece, good or bad. No one’s been commenting lately, and I want to make sure I’m writing things that are of interest. If not, maybe it’s time for me to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to create better articles. I don’t want to waste my life churning things out that no one reads.

Join me for a live chat about baseball history

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to have a new freelance piece dropping at The National Pastime Museum entitled “The Second Coming of Joe DiMaggio.” It’s about how DiMaggio’s teammate in the Pacific Coast League, Joe Marty drew comparisons to him when he debuted in the majors in 1937. In general, I’m intrigued with players who get heavily hyped or compared to all-time greats and then don’t live up to it. Marty was also from my hometown of Sacramento.

The National Pastime Museum has started doing something interesting recently whenever new articles appear. It’s having its authors host live chats to promote them. I’d like to invite anyone interested to take part in my chat tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. PST.  The National Pastime Museum publishes a lot of good writing about baseball history and offers fair pay for professional writers, so I’d like to see it succeed. I also think this chat should be a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys baseball history.

To sign up for the chat, simply go to this page and RSVP. You’ll get an email reminder 15 minutes before the chat.

The chat will last for one hour and primarily be about Joe DiMaggio and my article. That said, I invite people to take part regardless of if they’ve read my piece and also to ask me any question under the sun. If people would prefer to spend an hour talking about the Hall of Fame, I’m cool with that. I’m happy to talk about anything people want, as long as we’re talking baseball history.

Please feel free to email me at thewomack@gmail.com with comments or questions about how to sign up or anything else related to the chat. That being said, I look forward to chatting with as many of you as possible tomorrow.

Another week, another interview: Steve Garvey

My latest is out for Sporting News. At this point, I feel comfortable saying here that I’ve set a goal to interview one iconic non-Hall of Famer a week for the foreseeable future.

If you’ve been reading along, in recent weeks I’ve interviewed Dale Murphy, Jim Kaat, and Billy Wagner. This week’s interview is Steve Garvey, who was a pleasure to talk to and was thought of as a Hall of Famer near the end of his career.

Old players aren’t too difficult to get a hold of and generally love to talk about their careers. Want me to interview someone? I can probably do it (within reason, of course– I don’t know if I can get Barry Bonds on the phone.)

Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or email me at thewomack@gmail.com.

Talking to Dale Murphy about Hall of Fame exclusivity

My latest is out for Sporting News. Continuing my recent interview kick, I talked to two-time MVP and Atlanta Braves great Dale Murphy.

It was pretty cool to talk to Murphy, who was one of my dad’s favorite players when I was a kid. For someone who I think has a fair shot of eventually going in Cooperstown through the Expansion Era Committee or some other iteration of the Veterans Committee, Murphy’s very accessible. He also ranks as one of the nicest sports figures I’ve interviewed along with Ozzie Smith and Dick Vermeil.

Expect more interviews. I spent 40 minutes on the phone this morning with another well-known player. I’ll share that one next Tuesday.