News

Meet Shakeia Taylor, baseball historian and sportswriter

The Baseball Writers Association of America boasts a membership of around 700 journalists working at newspapers, magazines and websites. It’s hard to know how many women are writing about baseball today. The BWAA elected its first woman president in 2012, when CBS Sports noted that “women and minorities are still under-represented in the organization and the profession in general.”

What we do know is that many women, including Black women, have a passion for the game (see: my mom). Some even write about it from time to time.

I caught up with Shakeia Taylor, who writes about all manner of sportsball and is a baseball historian and writer living in Chicago, about her writing career, baseball nerdom, durags and how she practices joy.

How’d you get into baseball?

I got into it seriously as an elementary school student. Fifth grade, actually. My family moved from North Carolina to Ohio. And all of my new friends and classmates were Cleveland baseball fans. So it was a way to make friends.

What about your journey into writing about baseball — were you marrying two loves?

In 2016, in the spring, I got laid off. I had been working to try to better understand analytics so I started a blog. That’s kind of where the writing jumped off from. I started a blog where I would go to games not just in Chicago, but around the Midwest, and I would write about my experience. And people started paying attention to it.

One of the things that stuck out to me about analytics was for the most part everyone who was talking about analytics was white and male. They weren’t making analytics fun. They weren’t making analytics interesting. It was just math. So I felt like somebody like me could apply it and find ways that are more interesting to discuss it.

What were some of the more fun pieces from your early blogging days?

The most fun thing to come out of it came later and that was the Marcus Stroman durag piece. I wasn’t doing anything serious. It was just a fun exercise in something that young black kids could understand, immediately pick up on. Marcus Stroman is wearing an orange durag, a blue durag. How well is he pitching? Is your team winning when you wear this durag? I think that was probably the most fun and the most memorable time I’ve had with analytics and writing.

Is being a baseball writer is different than other kinds of sports journalism?

Yes, I think baseball, writing is different from other sports journalism in that the stories get pulled through from years ago — 50 years, 60 years, 70 years. There’s always some new way to bring it forward. Things happening on the field that we’re seeing right now are historic: (Albert) Pujols. (Aaron) Judge. Pujols will probably be the last 700 (homerun) hitter of our lifetime. And that’s not a story that you would see in any other sport. You wouldn’t see someone talking about someone who has been playing until he’s 40 years old, and still making history. I think that’s what baseball writing brings that other sports lack — it’s old.

How do you choose what to write about?

I find inspiration in the most random places. Sometimes I’ll be watching TV or it’ll be something happening that I want to correct.

The thing that happened for years in baseball journalism is the stories of black players were told, always from a white lens. So we always got these stories of, you know ..... ‘They persisted in spite of racism.’ And as a Black person you’re like, in spite of racism?

Sometimes things like that push me to retell this story. I’m going to put all of the things that you took out back in. No one wants to talk about the hate mail and the threats and people not wanting to talk to you or (for) your family to be around, you can’t travel with the team. So sometimes I’m just inspired by — I don’t want to call them errors — but the consistency with which traditional white media can scrub the nastiness of history away.

Correcting the record is something we don’t do enough in journalism

Especially not in sports. We typically take whatever happened as whatever happened. But once again, with the stories in baseball, they can get away from us. Just look at what happened with Jackie Robinson. We have people who genuinely believed — and I know this is a thing someone believes because they tweeted it to me — that one day, a white dude was like, ‘One day, we’ll all wear (No.) 42 Jackie.’ And Jackie was like, ‘Alright, yay.’ That’s a movie. That never happened. That also sounds ridiculous if you try to place it in real life.

It’s just the one place where we constantly have to correct and agitate. (MLB) is a league who wouldn’t even acknowledge that the Negro Leagues were their own major league. But then when they do acknowledge them, it’s like, well, we’re finally giving you this thing. But they don’t acknowledge that the reason the Negro Leagues even existed. That’s why the record needs to be corrected so frequently. Because the people who get to tell history are usually the ones who are not underrepresented, misrepresented.

What would you like to write about next?

First, I think it would be incredible to talk to Candace Parker, but not about basketball. I would like to talk to Candace Parker about her Jay Z fandom. I think it’s interesting. I think it’s fun. There’s probably some gems in there, you know? I think it’d be fun to talk to Keith Sweat. That would be just the most interesting conversation. First of all, his voice would crack me up the whole time. But I think talking to Keith Sweat will be cool. Back to sports .... I still think the Disco Demolition thing is something that I want to tackle. Just because ... disco was fly. How did you let people at a ballpark on the Southside of Chicago change that?

The joy of baseball

As a Black woman writing about sports, Taylor has encountered sexism and racism on the job. Here’s how she practices self-care and joy.

Boundaries. I’m heavy on the boundaries. I don’t work after certain times or all day, all night. I do write at night. That’s when my brain works best. But if I know that I’m gonna write all night, then I might chill all day. I certainly take time to do nothing. I think, as writers, we have to acknowledge that sometimes doing nothing is a part of the process. This idea that we need to constantly be producing is kind of wild to me. I wonder if we’ve become quantity over quality people that way.

Music. I’m a big R&B person. My favorite song is “I like” by Guy. I could hear it at least six times and not even be like, “Why is the song on again?”

Talk about writing with other writers. I like to find out other people’s process. I realize that’s talking about work when I’m not working, but I enjoy what I do.

Reading. There are books everywhere. Books in every room except the bathroom. But as a writer, I just try not to take myself too seriously and do stuff that I enjoy.

Go to games. I go to games as a fan, and I have to tell people — I’m here as a fan.

Read more about Shakeia and find her writing on her website.

R.L. Nave | rnave@reckonmedia.com

Ryan "R.L." Nave is Reckon's editor-in-chief. He has been a journalist in St. Louis, Mo; Springfield, Ill.; Seattle, Wa; Boulder, Co.; Jackson, Miss. and now calls Birmingham home.

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.