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Four to Thank

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It is often said that baseball has the most interesting offseason, and in this case the Conventional Wisdom is absolutely right. If any gambling degenerate, football-crazies protest this point, pay them no mind. They want to be the best at everything, don't they? But Capology is not a word, and a daily fake "debate" between John Clayton and Sean Salisbury is not the least engaging. Football has one legitimate point of offseason fascination: whether Mel Kiper's hair withstands five hours of first round boredom.

Baseball's offseason is king.

Still, even the most fervent seamhead must concede the Hot Stove period sometimes drags. There are several bursts here and there that sustain it and make it great---the Rule 5 draft, the deadlines for arbitration offers and non-tenders, the Winter Meetings, the free agent deadline, the arbitration process---but there are pockets of inactivity mixed in, and we're in one now.

How is a baseball fan to remain interested during times like these? More to the point, how am I to remain interested? The answer, my friends, is the purpose of this post. There still exist sources of interest, of information, of fascination. While this list is by no means exhaustive and I seek not to exclude anyone or anything worthy of praise, I wish to credit four people (or, in one case, a group of people) for sustaining my interest throughout the balance of the offseason.

In no particular order:

THE HARDBALL TIMES

What it is: Baseball writing group.

Deserving of "thanks" because . . . : Much of this offseason has involved a peek at something THT-related on at least a daily basis. To a great extent, this attention is a product of its excellent Annual. DM from Nats Blog composed an in-depth review back in mid-December, so I will not belabor my appreciation for the Annual.

Still, since I'm always good for a Die Hard reference, I will note that the Annual reminds me of a conversation between John McClane and a soon-to-be-highly-unfortunate first floor guard at the Nakatomi Tower. McClane, just off the airplane from New York on the dime of his astranged wife's benevolent multinational corporation, inquires as to Holly's whereabouts. The guard (noted in the script as "Guard") instructs McClane to punch in her name on an obnoxious-looking touch screen computer console; with every letter McClane enters, the machine beeps in one of those "It's the 1980s, and here's some Technology" kind of tones. McClane finally locates his wife---under her maiden name, no less---and remarks, "Cute toy." To which "Guard" wryly replies, "Yeah . . . it'll [even] help you find your zipper."

Well, The Hardball Times' Annual really is a "cute toy" for an obsessed baseball fan like me. It transcends the now-formulaic arrangement of Team Essay/Player Comments and gets back to being a true annual: fascinating essays on various subjects, interesting studies, and it'll even help you find your zipper---by which I mean, if you need to reference something, it will probably provide it for you, right at your fingertips. Traditional stats, sabermetric stats, batted-ball stats. THT's Annual is the back-of-the-baseball-card for people who don't collect baseball cards anymore.

Plus, I'd be remiss not to mention the content THT provides on teh internets---all for free. I have no idea if that's sustainable, but I'm enjoying it for now. Thank you, Hardball Times.

KEN ROSENTHAL

Who he is: Head Baseball Writer, The Sporting News; Head Baseball Writer, FoxSports.com; Insider, Sporting News Radio; if not immortal, then certainly indefatiguable.

Deserving of "thanks" because . . . : The. Man. Is. Super. Human.

Nicknamed "Robothal" at Baseball Primer, Rosenthal is a veritable One Man Gang of national baseball reporting; Primer's search function yields 4,190 references to his name. I have nothing against which to compare that figure, but I have to believe it is a lot.

Rosenthal produces content on a daily, twice-daily, and sometimes thrice-daily basis. He's all over every rumor, scouting report, quote, . . . you name it. Without a doubt, Rosenthal is the baseball writer who has most embraced the Internet Age. You know how Bill James reserves a spot for "best baseball writer" for the various decades in his Historical Abstracts? In my book, Rosenthal has already locked up this decade's honor. Case in point: one afternoon, a new Robothal article popped up on FoxSports.com, while he was chatting on Sporting News Radio.

Plus, Rosenthal seems refreshingly egoless for a baseball writer, and I'd be remiss not to note that Rosenthal and I appeared within ten minutes of each other on the same podcast. Yes, Rosenthal even does podcasts. He's everywhere! And he's the best.

RONNIE "NIGHT TRAIN" LANE

Who he is: Derivatively-nicknamed evening host of "MLB Live," an evening show on XM Channel 175, MLB Homeplate.

Deserving of "thanks" because . . . : The Night Train simply loves baseball, and when I listen to him talk about baseball, I remember why I love it.

Lane is is a man who likes to talk about baseball, without being beholden to a preconceived format, or any axes to bear, or any perceptible conceit. He takes calls from everyone---idiots, smart guys, mouthbreathers, over-literalists, foam fingerists, Red Sox Nation---and treats every single question or comment with a certain joy. He'll often amplify a caller's reference to a player with a fun, often-extemporaneous, sometimes not-terribly-accurate nickname (i.e., "Ah, Ben Broussard . . . Benny 'The Bopper' Broussard"), and this is endearing because he derives the same amount of interest from the Indians or Marlins as he does the Yankees or Red Sox.

This quality makes Lane an enjoyable offseason listen, because, contrary to what ESPN may think, there is more to baseball than Red Sox-Yankees. If you want to talk about the Brewers' rotation, the Night Train is game. Have you ever heard anyone else on the radio take three minutes to discuss the Pirates' minor league prospects? Me neither. Now, this is the benefit of having an outlet like XM Homeplate; nonetheless, there is something about Lane that separates him from the rest of the lot there. Even though he's not an ex-player like some of the others, Lane's the best at conveying a pure fascination with baseball. I don't call in to talk shows, but I'll admit sometimes being tempted with Lane's show. His style is very inviting.

BILL LADSON

Who he is: Beat writer for MLB.com's Washington Nationals team site.

Deserving of "thanks" because . . . : Quite simply, Ladson produces much of the content that fuels this and other Nats blogs, especially in the offseason. More broadly, if you're talking about an on-field issue that involves the Washington Nationals, chances are Ladson's covered it.

Nicknamed "Rocket," presumbly because of how fast he walks (as representive of how fast he gets to a story, it would seem), Ladson is commonly referred to as "Rocket Bill" in the Nat(m)osphere, just as the Post's Barry Svrluga is called "St. Barry" (because it sounds like you'd have heard of a "St. Barry of Svrluga"). Last spring, Svrluga and Ladson compared preferences in television shows, and it is worthwhile to spend a moment comparing the nature of the coverage they provide to Nats' fans---and why a guy like Ladson is indispensable during the offseason.

People don't necessarily open the Post to read about sports, and people don't necessarily open the sports page to read about the Washington Nationals. The Post gets a lot of criticism from Nats' fans (e.g., "The Warehouse Post"---a reference to a perception that the paper has been in the pocket of Baltimore Orioles' owner Peter Angelos), and much of the criticism is frankly silly. But it's probably beyond debate that the Post is not really your number one source of Nats' news in the offseason. Why, Svrluga---himself an excellent beat writer, in the opinion of many---is off to Italy soon for the Winter Olympics. In other words, there's more to the Post's life than baseball.

But, in Ladson's job, there is nothing but the Washington Nationals. Simply stated, he is the only writer dedicated to coverage of the Nats, and his coverage is certainly dedicated. He publishes articles and reports at least four or five times a week during the offseason, even during its most barren times. He'll not only report that, say, Sammy Sosa and the Nats are negotiating on a contract---but he'll also report in every day or two to update the negotiations, the sticking points, the possibilities. As fans, we are not left out in the cold, so to speak.