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Original Issue

A Head for Baseball

Stephen Cannella walks the nonchalant walk of an athlete who also happens to be good at math. Unhurried, a vague smirk, unafraid of statistics. So how good was he? Cannella, SI's senior baseball editor, went to the same high school—New Britain (Conn.) High—as fireballer Steve Dalkowski, the hardest thrower ever (page 50). Cannella threw hard, too (no-hitter in Little League, 10-inning shutout in high school), but maybe not that hard. As an American Legion pitcher he gave up what might have been the longest home run at New Britain's Beehive Field, a ballpark so cavernous that the minor leaguers who played there—including sluggers such as Mo Vaughn and Sam Horn—had a notoriously hard time homering there.

So what. Cannella was academic All-State in Connecticut, ERA under 2.00, and went on to study English and serious math at Boston College. It is telling that as a boy of 10, he informed an encouraging SI senior writer Jack McCallum (who had been a colleague of Steve's father, Tony, at a small newspaper in Pennsylvania) that when he grew up he wanted to be one of two things. First, a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer. But if he couldn't be that, he wanted to be the guy who compiled the sports agate for the Associated Press. Strange? Yes, but promising.

When Cannella grew up he became a reporter at SI and progressed through a series of jobs at the magazine, among them writing baseball for five seasons. One year he profiled Reds star Ken Griffey Jr., who of course wouldn't talk to him, putting him off again and again. Cannella was up against his deadline when, sometime around 3 a.m., he spilled a bottle of water all over his laptop in his hotel room. In a defining moment of enterprise, he located a 24-hour Kinko's in Cincinnati and filed his story on time. In an equally defining moment, when his editor told him it was no big deal to meet deadlines, Cannella thanked the editor for the insight. Ha.

Working as a reporter for SCORECARD, Cannella fell back on math, creating the Statitudes rubric, a blend of esoteric numbers, real life and intellectual firepower. During his 5½ years as Scorecard editor, he further distinguished himself on a particularly bumpy deadline when the lead essay fell through and he conjured up 900 words on how dirty baseball players' caps had become. It was pretty funny.

So how good is Cannella as SI's baseball editor? The 2011 Baseball Preview speaks for itself, but there is this disturbing fact. Cannella, a Red Sox fan as well as an impartial journalist, is picking the Red Sox to win it all (page 74).