The End of An Era

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We all knew it was going to happen someday.

Since 2012, Baseball Prospectus’ podcast, Effectively Wild, has provided listeners with its unique blend of smarts, wit and even some baseball analysis. Throughout, the show’s constant has been its co-hosts, Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and, after months of speculation, Miller announced he will be leaving the show.

It’s not a complete surprise; Miller was hired by ESPN in September, to feature-write on America’s pastime. While it was unlikely the mighty sports empire would allow an employee to produce non-ESPN content, fans were hopeful. After all, the podcast had remained intact, through previous job migrations (mostly by Miller’s co-host, Ben Lindbergh).

However, expectations became reality, with Miller and Lindbergh making the announcement on the Wednesday podcast. No formal reason was provided, as the duo framed their words into more a celebration of longevity and good times than a rumination on endings.

Later in the show, Lindbergh announced that Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan would be stepping in to replace Miller, after this week. Currently, EW sits two episodes shy of the 1,000 show milestone. Miller will continue to co-host through that show.

This is bittersweet news, for the program’s fan-base – a group that closer resembles a family-community than some faceless cult. The show’s Facebook page is a hub of activity, with members contributing quirky baseball anecdotes, raising interesting questions or even reaching out to one another for random acts of kindness.

One group member recently sent out a query, asking for suggestions on Detroit Tigers memorabilia to get for his father for Christmas. He was stunned when a fellow member offered to send him a free, autographed photo of Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish, that was taken during Detroit’s, 1984 World Series season.

It’s clear the tight-knit bonds and friendships cultivated from the shared interest in a silly podcast will remain. However, the most-valuable and irreplaceable commodity linking everyone together has been the show itself. Sullivan has appeared, infrequently, as an EW guest. He is well-liked and respected in the Sabermetrics community.

It remains to be seen how the chemistry between himself and Lindbergh will play out, on a full-time basis.  On a personal note, I was a late-bloomer to the show.  I started listening back in June, after reading the co-host’s book, “The Only Rule Is It Has To Work“, which covers the duo’s memorable stint running an independent-league ball-club.  There are thousands of podcasts out there, and I am very picky about what I listen to.  I was instantly won over.

Aesthetically, there is nothing crazy about Effectively Wild.  Each show opens with a snippet of music, selected by Lindbergh (who, incidentally, has fairly good taste in that regard).  It is then followed a simple format: 20-30 minute episodes of banter, with minimal production.  Bells and whistles are not needed when the content is good.  In this case, it most certainly is.

Part of the show’s charm has been its penchant for veering off into weird digressions – ones that teeter on the edge on inane but never threatening your patience.  It was the chemistry between the two hosts that held the whole, frivolous mechanism together. After all, it’s not easy to be entertaining on a show whose frequent subject is advanced analytics.

But, like Bill James once said, “it was never about the numbers.” Similarly, Lindbergh and Miller didn’t just try to ram stats down your throat.  Instead, they proved that thought-provoking and whimsical can go hand-in-hand. Hopefully, the new line-up will follow suit.

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