A little over three years ago, I looked around at the site I was managing at the time and saw a vibrant site, filled with the latest rumors and news on all four Philadelphia sports teams. The problem was, while the site was updated with the latest news on the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers and Flyers, nothing really stood out. As a college student looking to make sure I was on a sustainable path in an industry that was on a path that, well, wasn’t particularly sustainable, I realized that as a writer, I needed to make an adjustment. It’s great to be someone that puts together 75 plus articles a month (not at all an exaggeration) and helps keep Philadelphia sports fans in the know, but you become a cog in the SEO machine more than a reliable writer. It’s not a way to make a living.
So I reassessed my style. Aggregating is great, and in today’s media climate, if you can’t effectively aggregate a report and find another angle on it, you are doing yourself a disservice. But the end goal for my career wasn’t to aggregate or build off of other people’s work full-time. It was to be the type of writer that led the discussion, who other people wrote follow-up articles based on my work.
This thought put me into a place of reflection, one that many writers, editors and media executives have found themselves in over the past decade. What was it that made me want to read someone else’s story (not just click on the story, but read the entire thing)?. What made me anticipate the story so much that I would go on the site every day, unprompted by social media, ready to read the latest? More importantly, what made me duck around paywalls or even pay for journalism content?
The conclusion that I came to was that there wasn’t just one thing. The stories that I clicked on the second they were published were usually longer form stories that combined original reporting, aggregating, relevant quotes and some opinion. That was the type of long-form content that I wanted to begin creating.
One of the biggest inspirations for what became “Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly” was Nick Cafardo’s Sunday Baseball Notes column every weekend in The Boston Globe. I anticipated that article so much that even though I knew it wasn’t in the paper edition of The Boston Globe until Sundays, it was usually up on the Globe’s website by about noon on Saturday.
Often, Cafardo would break some sort of news in the pieces. But even the ones that he didn’t break anything, there was a great formula that made the pieces easy to digest. There was a long-form story to open. Underneath the main story, there was a second, usually quote-based, smaller story. Then there were two different segments called “Apropos of Nothing” and “Updates on Nine,” which delivered useful nuggets of information on trade candidates, players looking to add one more year onto their respective careers and just opinions of important minds around the sport. Sometimes Cafardo would opine as well. (The “Apropos of Nothing” segment was the inspiration for the “Nuggets” section at the bottom of in-season articles, where I’ll share important trends and statistics on the Phillies, while also throwing out some opinions that are only worth a paragraph or so, as opposed to a full article.) And at the bottom of each piece, Cafardo would share a unique historical infograph, with information that originated from noted baseball researcher Bill Chuck.
Cafardo, 62, tragically passed away at Spring Training Thursday, from what his colleague Bob Hohler called “an embolism.” Phillies Nation, along with the rest of the baseball world, issues its deepest condolences to friends and family of Cafardo.
Whether you knew Cafardo by name or not, Philadelphia baseball fans certainly knew of his work. He was very plugged into the Cole Hamels trade sweepstakes, because the Red Sox were believed to be interested in Hamels when the Phillies were shopping their former World Series MVP. He was the first to note that former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was interested in becoming a coach after being relieved of his executive duties with the Phillies. He had close ties to two former Phillies, Shane Victorino and Jonathan Papelbon, and would often report on their comeback attempts, or lack thereof, in the case of Papelbon. In June of 2016, he noted that the Phillies had internal discussions about taking on the massive contract of then Miami Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton, but would need Christian Yelich in any deal. And he broke the news in October of 2015 that the Phillies planned to hire Los Angeles Angels assistant general manager Matt Klentak to replace Amaro.
In a way, the outpouring of support since the announcement of his sudden passing this afternoon is telling of how great of an individual Cafardo must have been. Here’s a list of people in and around the sport who have tweeted about how fondly they thought of Cafardo since the news broke: Alex Rodriguez, Bob Nightengale, Jim Salisbury, Peter Gammons, Gordon Edes, Bob Ryan, Jim Bowden, Keith Olbermann, Tim Kurkjian, Tom Glavine, Mike DiGiovanna, Ron Darling, Will Middlebrooks, Chris Cotillo, Andy Martino and Jay Jaffe. That list could have gone on, but it features a Hall of Fame pitcher, a member of the 600 home run club and some of the best baseball writers of our time.
Unlike all those mentioned in the above paragraph, I didn’t know Cafardo personally. And yet, he’s someone that I, almost four decades younger than him, modeled my writing style after. He’s a writer that I will continue trying to emulate parts of his style, even if he had no idea who I was. And I’m sure I’m not in the minority there. His death, at age 62, comes at far too young of an age. But he leaves behind a legacy as one of the best baseball scribes in the country, one who whether he knew it or not, helped inspire future generations of those covering America’s pastime.
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