SSTN Interviews Andy Singer
SSTN: Today we are here with Andy Singer of SSTN. Andy has been a Yankee/baseball fan basically since birth, and one of his strongest early memories of Yankees’ baseball is of the first time the field at Old Yankee Stadium rushed to his eyes in a sea of green out of the upper deck tunnel as a young child. Andy graduated from Middlebury College in 2011 with a Bachelor's Degree in History and as the Sports Director at 91.1 FM WRMC for most of his undergraduate career...so, of course he has a career in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Andy has spent, and continues to spend, more time on a baseball diamond than he can count. When not playing, coaching, watching, or thinking about baseball, Andy can be found playing the sax, hanging out with his wife and family, or obsessing about his golf game (or any number of other hobbies). Andy is most comfortable blending statistical analysis with deep evaluations of player mechanics and skillsets. At his heart, Andy is a misplaced baseball rat who trusts what his experienced eyes see on the field, but likes to back it up (or refute it) with data of all kinds. Andy has been with Start Spreading the News since its inception, and continues to count the community built here as one of the best parts of his daily life.
Andy, it's been too long since we actually did this. It is great to have this discussion with you. I am glad our readers can really get to know you.
Thanks Paul! It’s always a pleasure to have a conversation with you.
To begin, please tell us how you became a baseball fan.
Is “by osmosis?!?” an appropriate answer? Somewhere, my parents have a picture of me as little more than a hatchling wearing a full Yankee onesie with a tiny Yankee hat. As a little kid, the Yankees were always on TV in the living room of my childhood home, and the room was frequently occupied by my father, grandfather, and/or cousins and family friends watching the game. Beyond that, from the time I was capable of manipulating objects with my hands, I’ve been obsessed with playing any sport that involved a ball. Since I showed any interest in the game, in addition to bedtime reading that happened every night in my home, my father would sit by my bed and tell me baseball stories. I guess you can say baseball has been part of my life for as far back as I have memories.
Like so many kids, I spent countless hours in my backyard playing ball with my brother, parents, friends, and even myself. Prior to becoming an avid watcher of the game, my love of baseball was born out the simple joy of throwing, catching, and swinging a bat. I fell in love with those activities almost immediately.
As far as cementing my love of baseball for life (as opposed to some other sport with a ball), 1996 was a formative year in my upbringing. Yankee fans were still reeling from the loss to the Mariners in the 1995 playoffs (and Donnie Baseball’s subsequent retirement), and there was real impetus to build a winner soon. I followed along as Derek Jeter exploded onto the scene as the next great Yankee shortstop and the Yankees as a team charged through one of the most exciting playoff runs I’ve ever seen. While I’m sure baseball was always destined to be my first love, the 1996 Yankees’ season, and Derek Jeter’s emergence as a baseball star in particular, cemented my lifelong love of the game.
What is your first great baseball memory?
It’s really hard for me to pick just one, so I’ll give you two formative baseball memories, one of which is referenced in my biography here at SSTN.
My earliest truly great baseball memory was of the first baseball game I consciously remember attending in Orleans, MA when I was 5 years old. For those unaware, the Cape Cod Baseball League is the best amateur summer league in the country for college players. Scouts flock to watch tomorrow’s stars play against high-end competition with wood bats. I was a wide-eyed kid who loved every minute of watching really good baseball in-person (frankly, I feel that way to this day when I get to go watch a game in the Cape Cod Baseball League…it might be my favorite league on the planet). To this day, Eldredge Park in Orleans, MA is my personal field of dreams.
My second is referenced in my biography on the site, and it occurred when I was 7 or 8 years old. I went to Yankee Stadium for my first MLB games ever (a doubleheader against the A’s in the era of Tony LaRussa and the Bash Brothers), and I was literally bouncing with excitement. The Old Stadium had very narrow passageways that hid the field from view until you got near the seats. As excited as I was to watch the Yankees play in person, I’ll never forget the awe I felt as the field exploded in a sea of green to my young eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever perceived the grass as being as green as it was that day, and it stopped me in my tracks. Seeing the field at Yankee Stadium for the first time is a very special memory.
As a young fan, what did you do to keep your interest in the game? (Did you play ball, collect cards, etc...?)
You name it, I did it. I played ball at every and any opportunity that presented itself; I still have an extensive collection of baseball cards that I began at around 5 or 6 years old; I read every book and magazine about modern baseball and baseball history I could get my hands on; I read and participated in many of the great early Yankee and general baseball blogs on the early internet; I played all of the second generation of baseball video games on PC and Playstation; and I shared baseball talks, countless catches, and baseball stories with my Dad and brother.
Who are some of your favorite players over the years?
Wow, where to begin and where to stop? The first player I was ever attached to as a kid was Derek Jeter. Like so many, I loved the way he played and carried himself as a Yankee, and I have Jeter to thank at least in part for my lifelong love of the Yankees. From those teams, I also loved watching David Cone, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams. A bit later, I loved the way Robinson Cano played the game with his sweet left-handed swing and grace in the field.
In more modern times, I loved watching Didi Gregorius and Masahiro Tanaka as they carried the Yankees through some tough stretches.
Today though, my favorite players are generally pitchers. Luis Severino, Max Scherzer, and Nasty Nestor are my favorites.
Why do you write about baseball?
This might sound silly or stupid, but this is actually a very difficult question for me to answer. As much as baseball has always been part of my ethos as a person, I’ve only written about baseball for 6-7 years. The best way I can answer this question is by telling you how I started writing about baseball at all.
First and foremost, I love writing, though I don’t get to write for my own enjoyment nearly to the degree I want, which is where I think this story begins. In my day job, I have to write quite extensively, but most of that writing is either very formal or very technical. Many years ago, I felt like I was in a bit of a rut; I had been told by others that writing was one of my strengths and I enjoyed writing things that others wanted to read, but ideas felt scarce and I really didn’t have a forum to write for the enjoyment of others in a format that fit my schedule.
Around the same time, my wife and a couple of people close to me asked me why I never considered finding a way to write about baseball given my interest and knowledge in the sport, and the toes I had dipped into the waters of working within the sport. The truth is, I often considered it, but struggled to convince myself that anyone would want to read what I had to say over the great writers at team blogs like River Ave Blues and It’s About The Money, or websites like Fangraphs. The baseball blog space at that time was incredibly competitive, and frankly I had a bit of a confidence problem! I noticed that It’s About The Money was posting less frequently, so I reached out to the blog with a sample article. To my surprise, EJ Fagan gave me a shot for the last year and a half of the blog, and then you, Paul, reached out to me about staying on through the rebranding to Start Spreading The News…and I’ve never left.
So, why do I write about baseball? I write because I love to learn, and writing about baseball gives me the opportunity to dive into the gray areas of the game I love examining. When I learn things through writing, I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others. I write about baseball because it leads to discussion with a diverse community of people who think critically about what they’re reading. I write about baseball because I couldn’t imagine not writing about it at this point. I write about baseball at Start Spreading The News, because above all else, I enjoy the community that all of us, writers and readers alike, have built.
What do you like to focus on in your writing?
I have never been a fan of the way some writers get boxed into a particular style or caricature. I have never wanted to be “just an analytics guy,” or “just a prospects guy.” I like to help people gain a deeper understanding of the game using both observations and statistics, and I genuinely believe that you need both to truly understand the game of baseball. I am fascinated both by physical mechanics and their impact on performance outcomes and by analyzing complex data to find trends or provide evidence for physical outcomes. I think I gravitate most frequently towards analysis that blends those two interests. I write to learn, and I like to share what I learn, so with that as a basis, I hope that whatever I choose as writing focal points are of interest to our readers.
Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?
Whether or not baseball remains the most popular sport in modern America, baseball really is this country’s pastime. It is very difficult to tell a complete story about America without telling the story of baseball. Baseball grew in popularity during Reconstruction after the end of the Civil War, and was a conduit for establishing a connection between people from rural farmland to the increasing population of people in industrial cities. America was a broken nation and baseball was a point of common ground that even people that disagreed over politics, religion, and lifestyles could find.
On some level, that remains true today. I may be the Chief Optimist here at SSTN, but even I find it difficult to be an optimist in the world away from the community we’ve built here at this site. Baseball, at its best, is a common language and love that has the power to bridge the divide between people of all kinds. There are very few truly negative interactions I’ve ever had that involved baseball, and there have been any number of occasions throughout my life that I’ve met and interacted with people that I may not have otherwise without sharing a love and appreciation for baseball. More often than not, I learn something from those conversations and am better for having met someone new. In that sense, I think baseball is very powerful as a social force for good in the US. Much of that sounds possibly overly idealist and corny, but most days I believe it.
There's a lot of talk about baseball needing to be "fixed." Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?
I do not believe that baseball is broken, and I think Major League Baseball would be best served by promoting the talent of the game’s stars and some of the truly unique personalities around the league rather than constantly talking publicly about what isn’t working. That’s not to say that I think the Major League game is perfect and can’t be changed for the better, but “broken” is pushing it much too far.
Among the changes I would make:
· No more ghost runner on 2nd base in extra innings. I don’t think I need to explain my opposition to that one.
· Enforce the rule on the books that states that batters must remain in the batter’s box unless contact with a pitch is made. Watch a game even from the 1990s; players almost never stepped out of the box then, but Nomar Garciaparra’s OCD with his batting gloves open the floodgates. Stepping out of the box constantly without permission from the umpire really destroys the flow of the game.
· Paul, you and I disagree regarding the shift, however I would make a compromise. I would limit shifting to the following: infielders must keep their feet on the infield dirt. Want to shift three infielders to the batter’s right? Go ahead, stand in front of a 110 MPH line drive through the hole on the infield dirt, see how it plays out. I don’t hate the shift taking away infield grounders; I hate it taking away doubles to the gaps and hard liners through the infield. This rule would eliminate that.
· I am in favor of the proposed rule to enlarge the bases for a couple of reasons. For one, I think over time it will incentivize more aggressive baserunning, which makes the game more exciting. I also believe that larger bases will prevent more collisions, and I’m always in favor of improving player safety.
· Create an independent body to manage the baseball itself. MLB has done more to mess with the ball than any league I’ve seen in recent memory. It shouldn’t be a discussion anymore.
In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?
I have two very specific topics about which I’d like to see books written. Full disclosure, these are both topics about which I did a significant amount of academic research in a previous life, and I have personally always wanted to write in long-form about these topics (I also have some very early drafts for some of this work). So, I’m probably giving myself away here for someone else to write these stories, but at least I’ve got a head start on the primary source research!
I want to see a book written about Vic Power’s years in the Yankee minor league system. Vic Power put together a nice career for himself in the Major Leagues primarily with the A’s and Cleveland, but I’ve always found his story prior to that infuriating and important. While Jackie Robinson has rightfully had countless numbers of books written about his trailblazing run to the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, far too little has been written about the flip side of that coin. While Jackie Robinson was the first African American player to break the color barrier in 1947, that didn’t really open the floodgates for players of all backgrounds to play Major League baseball immediately, and the Yankees in particular had a really ugly history on this point. Not only did Vic Power have black skin, but he was also Latino. Power put together two straight truly outstanding seasons in Kansas City in the American Association in 1952 and 1953 while playing almost every position on the diamond with positive defensive reviews. He was clearly heads and shoulders above the players around him, yet the Yankees refused to call him up, a controversy that was covered extensively by the prominent African American newspapers of the day. Vic Power’s story is an important part of not just baseball’s history, but also the history of discrimination in this country, and I don’t think Power has ever had his story told in appropriate fashion.
I also would like to see a book written specifically about the experience of Latinos emigrating to the United States in the first half of the 20th Century through the story of baseball. Latino ballplayers were subjected to an incredibly nebulous set of standards for appearance that dictated whether they would be viewed as “black” or “white” in the United States prior to baseball’s integration, and there are countless important stories there that have not been told. While the stories of players like Martin Dihigo and Cristobal Torriente have been told in strictly baseball terms through the lens of the typical African American experience, there is so much more there that people should know and understand.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, "There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was." Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?
Mike Trout is incredible, and I only wish I could see him more as an East Coaster. There’s only one other player I ever saw who might have been as good or better - Ken Griffey Jr. while he played for Seattle. Jr. was genuinely a 5-tool player who had one of the sweetest swings I ever saw, flew through the outfield with incredible power and grace, and had a rocket arm to boot. I think Trout will have a better career and is the best player for the longest period of time that I’ve ever seen, but peak Ken Griffey Jr. would give peak Mike Trout a run for his money.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers...
What was your favorite baseball team growing up? Was there a team other than the Yankees you ever rooted for?
I’ve always been a Yankee fan, but as a kid I also liked to see the Reds play well after developing a friendship with my physical therapist who was an avid Reds fan.
On the non-MLB side, I have always and will always love the Orleans Cardinals/Firebirds – seriously, if you’ve never been, find a way to see a game in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
What is your most prized collectible?
When I was in high school, my brother and I used to long toss on the field at Eldredge Park after Cape League games under the lights (it made us feel like big leaguers). One night, while long-tossing in the outfield (a night marked by extreme fog, a strange and sudden occurrence that takes place with some degree of frequency during games on the Cape), a player on the Harwich Mariners gave me the game ball he received that night. I keep the ball in a special place, as I think it represents the connection baseball can help make between generations of people. It was also just incredibly cool.
I also have a copy of a photo of Mark McGwire’s 60th home run given to me by the Cardinals’ team photographer at the time. Whatever we think of that mark today, I was in awe of McGwire and Sosa's home run race in 1998 as a kid, and I treasure that framed photograph.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
Music is incredibly important to me (both as a musician and a listener), and I have such eclectic tastes that I have to list more than a few. If we’re talking about punk/ska, I love Less Than Jake, The Interrupters, Primus, Bouncing Souls, and Goldfinger; if we’re talking about Hip Hop, I love A Tribe Called Quest and Nas’ album Illmatic; if we’re talking about jazz, I love John Coltrane, David Sanborn, Count Basie, Thelonius Monk, Joey Alexander, and Branford Marsalis; if we’re talking about classic rock, I love John Mellencamp, Phil Collins, Bob Seger, and Creedence Clearwater Revival; if we’re talking about Latin pop, I love Ozuna; if we’re talking about alternative rock, I love Dave Matthews Band and John Butler Trio; oh, and I actually really like classic Jimmy Buffett (I grew up with his children’s books, Jolly Mon and Trouble Dolls). I can find something I really like in almost any genre, and I have my Mom to thank for that.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
I love eating, cooking, and enjoying all kinds of food with people (like Cary Greene, some might call me a foodie). I do love pizza, and my favorite local places are Natale’s in Waldwick, NJ and Lido in Hackensack, NJ. Otherwise, I love Italian (I’m lucky enough to have spent a lot of time in Italy for my day job, in addition to the fact that my family is very Italian both genetically and culturally), sushi, barbeque, and all kinds of other food. I also consider myself a decent amateur mixologist, and love pairing food with just the right cocktail, wine, beer, or whiskey (peaty scotches or wheated bourbons like Weller or proofier expressions of Maker’s Mark are my favorites…I also make a mean Old Fashioned, if I do say so myself).
That said, great food and drinks are about who you share them with, and that’s what matters most to me. To paraphrase something I read once, food and drink is the vehicle, not the destination.
Please share anything else you'd like with our audience -
I just want to say thank you to all of you who take the time to read and comment on our blog. I remain surprised and grateful that you are interested in reading and listening to what I have to say about baseball. This is a special place, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy spending my time with fellow lovers of baseball and the Yankees! If you’ve never done so, think about submitting a question to the SSTN Mailbag at SSTNReadermail@gmail.com – everyone is welcome!
Andy, you're great. We all appreciate all you do for the blog to make this such a great place to read about baseball. Thanks, as always!