Jayson Stark

Jayson Stark was unfortunately caught up in the ESPN layoff spree of 2017, but unsurprisingly given his talent and reputation, it didn’t take long for him to catch on with The Athletic.

Now, less than two years after ESPN let Stark go, he’s being honored with the 2019 J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Writer’s Association of America.

(They meant 2019.)

The award isn’t quite a Hall of Fame induction, but it’s just about as close as you can get. From the Hall of Fame website:

The award honors a baseball writer (or writers) “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing” and is presented during Hall of Fame Weekend by that year’s President of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA).

The award is voted upon annually by the BBWAA, via a meeting and subsequent “show of hands” either at the preceding year’s World Series or Winter Meetings. A nominee is recommended by the BBWAA’s Screening Committee prior to the meeting. Each award recipient (not to be confused with an inductee) is presented with a certificate during Hall of Fame Weekend and is recognized in the “Scribes & Mikemen” exhibit in the Library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Stark is obviously a deserving choice, having covered MLB across five different decades. Stark joined ESPN in 2000, having risen to national prominence via his syndicated Week in Review column, and he remained at ESPN in a variety of roles until 2017. Peter Gammons had a column honoring his longtime colleague Stark ready to drop today at The Athletic, in which he extolled the virtues of Stark’s “find the weird and interesting angle” style of covering baseball:

[When we met he] was a young writer from the Providence Journal. At the time, I didn’t know he once climbed up the billboard sign outside Fenway Park where fans — leftover ’60s guys, likely members of the Cult of Bill Lee — climbed up with cases of beer and watched games. If I had known, I’d have better understood how his brilliant mind could uncover those conflicting, inexplicable things that make some of us awaken every day believing the next game will bring us something we’ve never seen before.

He could read about something, track it, and make it a great story. On May 5, 1996, Sammy Sosa hit a ball out of Wrigley Field that went through a window in an apartment building across the street. Jayson tracked it down to the apartment of a Frenchman named Philippe Guichoux and learned that Guichoux had no idea what the ball meant. “I knew the apartment was near a field,” he told Stark. “I just didn’t know a baseball could go out of the field.”

Stark is clearly popular among his fellow media members, as plenty of praise rolled in, most of which were similar to this from Stark’s colleague at The Athletic, Richard Deitsch.

And while I’ve never met him, nor have I covered baseball professionally, I did grow up reading and watching his work on ESPN. That led to our only interaction, when 20-year-old me wrote a very, very 20-year-old me email to Jayson, in November of 2007, on the topic of Stark’s weekly trivia question, which had something to do with short MVP winners.

Thanks to the magic (and horror) of Gmail, it’s survived to today:

Hi Jayson, I was just wondering if you considered 5’6″ Hack Wilson, who in 1930 was the unofficial NL MVP, winning a media poll.  No award was given out due to financial strains caused by the depression, but it seems a shame for that to overshadow his obvious MVP season (191 is pretty close to an untouchable record, in my opinion.)  Keep up the good work.
Jay Rigdon
PS-Any chance the Cubs offer Rich Hill, Carlos Marmol, Felix Pie, and Matt Murton for Santana?  Just a pipe dream I know, but with Santana they’re instantly NL favorites, right?
At least I grew out of whatever instincts led me to send that particular email, and especially whichever instincts led me to include a horrible trade rumor proposal at the end. Jayson, to his endless credit, responded that same morning:

I knew I’d hear from people about Hack and Paul Waner, but they didn’t win “official” MVP awards. So they’re not wrong. But they’re not exactly right, either. Am I making any sense whatsoever?

No chance on your Cubs-Santana deal, by the way.

Thanks for writing.

Jayson Stark
What stands out there is that if Stark took the time to answer a dumb, one-off question from someone he’d never met nor will likely meet, it means he probably took a lot more time to answer a lot more of those questions.
Awards like this should go to people who deserve them and appreciate them, and it’s hard to think of someone more qualified on those fronts than Jayson Stark.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.