This is our annual MLB preview issue, and as usual it's a comprehensive analysis through two essential prisms: the current state of the game, and the mind of Tom Verducci. He has meaty profiles of NL MVP Kris Bryant (page 52) and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts (page 70), as well as shorter but equally compelling pieces on a new breed of analytical pitching coach and on the return to the U.S. of ex-big-leaguer-turned-Korean-megacelebrity Eric Thames. It's a typical Verduccian mix. No familiar subject can't be mined for fresh insight. No detail is too small, no trend too subtle, to be missed.
As conceived by baseball editor Emma Span, our preview is built on the idea that after the Cubs' world championship (perhaps you've heard) the game is entering a new epoch. The book is closed on over a century of baseball history—no more curses, no more baggage, no more looking back at the long narrative behind us. (Oh, wait. Indians.) With one of the sport's defining story lines finally finished, it's time to focus on what will make the game great for the next 100 years.
No one is better positioned to tell that story than Verducci, who knows a few things about evolving from one era to another. Since his arrival at SI in 1993, Tom has established himself as a peerless chronicler of the sport in print and online. "He's the best baseball writer ever, and I honestly don't think there's a close second," says Fox Sports writer and broadcaster Ken Rosenthal, who has known Verducci since their days as Newsday interns in the early '80s. "What he does actually amazes me on a fairly consistent basis."
But Verducci long ago realized that the written word wasn't the only narrative tool at his disposal. Many sportswriters have made the jump to careers in television—mostly as pundits, insiders and studio-show analysts. Over the last decade Tom has done plenty of that for the MLB Network, TBS and Fox. But he's added several degrees of difficulty that make him unique. One, he seamlessly adapted to a role as an in-booth game analyst, a leap few "writers" have made: He's called weekly games for MLB Network since 2009 and for Fox since '12, and he was in the Fox booth for the '14 and '15 World Series.
Two, he hasn't forgotten his day job as a long-form writer. The result: mind-boggling double duty such as the feat he pulled off when the Cubs finally extinguished that curse. After working Game 7 as a dugout reporter for Fox (along with Rosenthal), he captured the Cubs' historic victory in an exquisite 4,000-word SI cover story. The last out came at approximately 12:46 a.m. ET. He filed the story a mere seven hours later, in time for a special early close that had the historic issue on Chicago newsstands four days ahead of schedule. For those of you who haven't had to sum up 108 years of history and one of the greatest Game 7s on no sleep: It's hard.
That multimedia excellence is a big reason that Verducci has a stranglehold on the National Sportswriter of the Year award: The National Sports Media Association just announced that he has won it for the third straight time. (He'll pick up the hardware at the NSMA's annual event in June.) And Tom enjoyed that post-Series all-nighter so much that he essentially extended it through the holiday season. Somehow, between the Series' end in the wee hours of Nov. 3 and the first week of January, he wrote the definitive book-length, behind-the-scenes account of Chicago's rise to World Series champion. The Cubs Way, published by Crown Archetype, will be released on March 28.
The book details how president of baseball ops Theo Epstein, manager Joe Maddon and the rest of the Chicago brain trust worked over several years to change a franchise's culture and make a championship possible. It's no accident which writer was allowed behind the curtain. "The thing that stands out the most to me about Tom is that you trust him," says Maddon. "Trust is really, really important, and I would bet that 100% of the baseball people you speak with would say they trust Tom Verducci."