Spare Parts: The Athletic is down, the Athletics are up

Oakland Coliseum
(Jim Margalus / Sox Machine)

I started Monday morning contemplating the fragility of knowledge on the internet while reading about Reddit’s inflection point on Defector. Reddit’s currently experiencing the online version of a walkout in protest of API restrictions on apps that made it a lot easier for moderators to manage their communities.

I had written off Reddit for years because I’d mostly associated it with cesspools that sprung up during election seasons or national tragedies, but just like a lot of other people, I eventually came around to append “reddit” on any search for advice, whether it was for a travel bag, a watch brand, a computer issue, local trades companies. Especially watches. My goodness, people know lots about watches.

Now those communities are at least temporarily dark, and it poses a big question about where that knowledge will go if the thing that consumed message boards now unravels in a search for profit. Here’s Alex Pareene:

The internet’s best resources are almost universally volunteer run and donation based, like Wikipedia and The Internet Archive. Every time a great resource is accidentally created by a for-profit company, it is eventually destroyed, like Flickr and Google Reader. Reddit could be what Usenet was supposed to be, a hub of internet-wide discussion on every topic imaginable, if it wasn’t also a private company forced to come up with a credible plan to make hosting discussions sound in any way like a profitable venture.

We are living through the end of the useful internet. The future is informed discussion behind locked doors, in Discords and private fora, with the public-facing web increasingly filled with detritus generated by LLMs, bearing only a stylistic resemblance to useful information. Finding unbiased and independent product reviews, expert tech support, and all manner of helpful advice will now resemble the process by which one now searches for illegal sports streams or pirated journal articles. The decades of real human conversation hosted at places like Reddit will prove useful training material for the mindless bots and deceptive marketers that replace it.

Later in the day, The Athletic laid off 20 beat writers, including local favorite James Fegan, and it poses the same dilemma in sports form. Credit James for breaking the news in the funniest way possible:

The Athletic positioned itself as the new nationwide local sports market by poaching writers from local outlets. You may remember the founders wanting to drain the oceans to find and kill God in 2017:

“We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” Alex Mather, a co-founder of The Athletic, said in an interview in San Francisco. “We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.”

Today, six years later:

The note said an additional 20 reporters would be moved from their current team beats to new ones, including regional coverage or general assignment roles.

That strategy marks a departure from the outlet’s onetime mission, which was to cover every team from every major league across the country with a dedicated reporter. The Athletic has been successful editorially, with millions of subscribers, but that coverage — and the travel and staffing associated with it — is expensive.

In fairness, The Athletic didn’t destroy local sports coverage at the newspaper level as much as it accelerated the self-inflicted demise. Papers that invested in their sports departments well enough for their writers to reject The Athletic’s advances seem to have maintained their staffs well enough.

Regardless of intent or success, The Athletic represented a similar shrinking of the internet that abandoned its promise once it had to start showing the ability to turn a profit, and now fans of teams — the White Sox included — are left without their best beat writer in the middle of the season.

James had the job I’d once wished I had and did it the way I’d want to do it, except he did it better than I would have, which was a secondary reason why I stopped wanting that job. The primary reason is that Sox Machine is more than I ever imagined it being, and that’s thanks to your support. I never take it for granted, but that’s especially the case when the industry keeps swallowing itself.

Spare Parts

Here’s another example of baseball writing that’s hard to replicate by somebody parachuting in on the proceedings. Philadelphia pitchers have been especially noisy about their discontent with the pitch clock, and when looking at the discrepancy between home and road violations, their complaints transcend mere whining.

While the White Sox play the Dodgers tonight, I’ll also be flipping to the A’s-Rays game, as Oakland fans will be packing the Coliseum to express how much they love the team, and how much they hate the ownership. When A’s fans originally set the date, this looked like a sad goodbye. With Nevada lawmakers a lot more skeptical about the ballpark funding plan than John Fisher and Dave Kaval expected, the Oakland fan base has a chance to state its case, and while their team is playing its best baseball of the year.

I got my first look at Elly De La Cruz when I drove down to catch the Barons and Project Birmingham last year. He was playing for Double-A Chattanooga, and while it was easy to ignore his 1-for-4 line in the box score, it was hard to ignore him on the field. He seemed too large to play shortstop, but also too large to be so fast. I guess that means he’s right-sized.

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Shingos Cheeseburgers

James’s release from the Athletic clearly is not based the quality of his work so I presume that it’s based on a massive traffic drop on his articles since a peak in 2020-2021. A wholly under serving victim of the White Sox incompetence.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

*undeserving not ‘under serving’. Geez.


Yes and no…I think. I go months without looking at my numbers out of some combination of anxiety and hare-brained “don’t go chasing clicks” philosophy. If the White Sox had pulled a Houston Astros and gone from unwatched cellar dwellers to perennial contenders over the last five years, I probably still have a job. But they also laid off their Orioles and Mariners writer yesterday, shifted their Brewers writer to be a second Mets writer last year, stopped covering the Atlanta Hawks to shift that guy to be the second Yankees writer. A lot of writers were offered two year contracts right before the NYT sale went through, setting the timeline for completing their review of how they wanted to cover baseball by the end of 2023, which has been shifting toward an ESPN model of just massing resources toward the premier franchises and scrambling toward acknowledging the others when they trip into doing something nationally relevant. They stopped covering the Rays, watched the Rays immediately make the World Series in response and still stood pat.

Obviously we all watch the Sox everyday and know they have left a large gulf between themselves and national relevancy. But if the ascendant Orioles are on the other side of it too, I don’t know if I’m a healthy Tim Anderson knee away from being in LA right now, rather than jumping into the SM comment section from my bathroom.

Right Size Wrong Shape

A fellow bathroom commenter! Sorry to hear the news, James. You deserved better.


Loved your work, James.


thanks for writing, James. Hope you have better news to share soon enough. I’ve been a subscriber since April 2018, probably when Joe Posnanski joined, but I was thrilled to follow you on the Sox beat. It quickly became apparent you provided the daily value and anything else was sweetener, and you’re the only reason I stayed on long after Joe left. Canceled my annual subscription today.


Keep us updated on your future plans!

I dont know what I’ll do when I myself am in the bathroom without some Fegan content to browse


Is it time for Sox Machine to buy the Athletic?


The newspaper/news industry has been killing itself for years by refusing to give people what they want….actual news. It’s all entertainment and bias. And that does speak to fanatical folks on each side but what they lose is their core base. Selling out for quick ratings and clicks, losing actual followers.

To your last paragraph, in my opinion that is why Sox Machine is what it is now. I found your writing in 2008. It blew me away. You’re very modest, but I’ll say it without an ounce of question in my voice, you’re the best damn baseball writer around and make our days following this team so much brighter. I’ll speak for everyone in thanking YOU in return.

I know this is a day that’s more about James so I don’t want to detract from that too much. He’s a great writer also. It sucks to know that a news source like The NY Times actually believes cutting people like that is no big deal and they can just shrug it off. But it’s why they are where they are. I feel like we’re on the cusp of the entire industry getting what it deserves finally. Or we could just be diving deeper in the cesspool. What do I know?


Sulzberger heir who now owns the Times has a big interview in the New Yorker. In it he says that people will pay for quality, and the experience with the Times the last ten years proves it. And then yesterday he turns right around and does what every media owner does: cut expenses and sacrifice quality, and expect people to continue paying.

James had better stories and more interesting angles than any other beat writer. And it seems that the players would actually talk to him in something other than clichés. James will go on to better things. The Athletic…..not so much.

Augusto Barojas

The level of deception by the media is unprecedented in scope and magnitude. The only way to find real news/truth that isn’t “spin” and intended for some kind of manipulation or brainwashing purpose is to seek out people who tell the truth, who think for themselves, are not incentivized to lie or deceive, and are not fired if they say something contrary to the narrative. Which means to stop listening to and believing every mainstream media outlet, basically. That’s not specific to sports, although Hahn has certainly tried to gaslight and manipulate a fan base that sometimes doesn’t prove to be a lot more intelligent than he assumes, sadly. They are still drawing remarkably well compared to quality of the team and effort of ownership.


It’s not just local tv anymore, now it’s regional and national syndication also taking a hit. The internet has made everyone have to work for peanuts.


If he was so inclined, I wouldn’t mind seeing some guest articles from Fegan on SoxMachine..


I know it’s Nightengale (aka the Mouth of Sauron), but he was on the score and thinks an overhaul of the FO is coming. Mentioned Gio, TA and Lynn as trade targets. All but said a losing culture permeates the clubhouse and might be cause for guys underperforming. Made sure to mention how upset Jerry is a couple of times.


Is Jerry canny enough to have a legitimate business purpose in leaking to his mouthpiece, or is he just grousing to one of his few baseball contacts?


FO changes in mid-season? Who does that? JR, of course!

Gio and TA are probably going to go, but to whom and for what? Benintendi is a possibility, too, despite his contract. Maybe right back to the Yankees. Graveman will be a target. But the Sox have so many holes right now, after Aug. 1, you might as well call them the Knights. And JR will never get his second championship.

Yep, his guys Kenny and Rick let him down the worst way: they paid too much money.


Is JR finally upset enough to do something? That is always the question.


Who would trade for Lynn. Can you directly trade with a team in Korea?


He said he talked to some scout who told him he would be a target because there’s probably not going to be a lot of pitching available and teams think they’ll be unable to unlock something. I can’t imagine the return would be great though. Probably a lotto ticket.

Last edited 3 months ago by BenwithVen

Maybe we can get Fernando Tatis III


I had to listen for myself. When asked about a front office change in the off-season, I think he described it as possible. I don’t think he said it’s likely. His main point was that the nucleus is moribund, so they need to make trades. He also incorrectly said that La Russa was the only manager to win with this group.

Last edited 3 months ago by jorgefabregas



I had the same interpretation as did you; i.e. that he did not expressly predict an off-season FO turnover. As I recall, his primary internal source is Mr. Williams and I can’t imagine him saying anything that would be harmful to him. On the other hand, I thought he was very cavalier in his comments about Mr. Grifol; I am no fan of the guy but he was pretty cold about his performance.


That Jerry Reinsdorf and Rick Hahn are still involved in White Sox Business and James Fegan is not is proof that capitalism is not a meritocracy.

Last edited 3 months ago by asinwreck

Wait, Jerry Reisndorf and Rick Hahn took over James’ dormant podcast?

Trooper Galactus

The Mouth of Sauron seems suspiciously more like a butthole.


Maybe Jerry is upset enough to take matters into his own hands and pick a new GM himself. After all, he has a track record of making management hires.


I can’t believe they fired Fegan. That’s so stupid.

As Cirensica

James Fegan is out of The Athletic?!? I am just learning that now. So the White Sox do not have a beat writer in there? I am now seriously considering unsubscribing.

James Fegan is my second favorite White Sox writer. He is fantastic, and he deserves good things to happen to him.

Speaking of Sox Machine stuff. Quick question for Jim. After all the years clicking at Sox Machine almost on a daily basis, I notice a slight change this year. You generally provide one daily article except Saturdays (sporcle day). Your articles used to be released prior or close to lunch time. I am saying this because one of my favorite things to do while in my lunch break was reading Sox Machine. This year, however, your daily articles are starting to show up later (after lunch) in the day. Any particular reason? Will this be the new norm or there is no norm really? Just curious. Don’t feel compelled to answer.


Think his schedule is different with a toddler

As Cirensica

Thank you for replying. Thank you for your articles, and thank you for SM. Looking at what happens to JF, I think sometimes we take you for granted. We are lucky to have SM. Wishing great solo-dadding 😋

Joliet Orange Sox

I work with a very nice woman named Soledad.


No Need to consider. I’m out, cancelled this morning. I use the athletic for things other than the Sox, but Fegan was the driving force I was there.

And I dont want to support the decision they’ve made anyways. Easy decision to cancel.

Greg Nix

I subscribed for Fegan. I cancelled yesterday. I’ll miss some other coverage, but by and large it will be the same stuff as everywhere else.


So you’re saying there’s a market for an independent White Sox website that would hire James? Do you know any websites that fit that description?


Soxmachine seems to be doing well all things considered. But I’m certain they could not afford paying Fegan anything close to what he was used to, lol. We’res till trying to get Josh Full time after all!

More importantly though, is that its not the same if he is not on the beat travelling with the team. *thats* whats truly expensive.

Of course, if James just wants to scratch the creative itch every now and again, by all means! I suspect though he will take a vacation from this organization

Last edited 3 months ago by Neat_on_the_rocks

The Athletic decided that beat writers in baseball and hockey were a bad investment. The wave of talented, thoughtful writers announcing their terminations yesterday was enough to staff a brilliant sports media company by itself.

Trooper Galactus

As somebody who cancelled when they hired Jim Bowden, a well-connected person without a single original idea, I’d advise you stop considering and just unsubscribe. The Athletic has been leaning hellhole for a while now.

As Cirensica

I still like Keith Law’s articles, and some of their soccer coverage aren’t bad, but definitely considering because baseball was the main motivator to join The Athletic. I ignore Bowden’s articles. I do like some other non-team affiliated baseball writers.

Trooper Galactus

I get that there are other writers you may like, and you’d probably like to keep supporting them, but the fact is today wasn’t the end, just a harbinger of more to come.


James had the job I’d once wished I had and did it the way I’d want to do it, except he did it better than I would have, which was a secondary reason why I stopped wanting that job. The primary reason is that Sox Machine is more than I ever imagined it being, and that’s thanks to your support. 

Fantastic way of putting it.


James Fegan’s departure from The Athletic is a great loss for Sox fans, and for the Sox as well. Along with Jim M, he offered intelligent and incisive analysis that simply is unavailable on sites other than Sox Machine. Again like Jim M, he is an excellent analyst and writer who will be sorely missed. The Athletic is wrong-we in Chicago valued the “local beat” because it is not available in the local papers. What a shame. The Athletic is rapidly on its way to becoming a junior league ESPN; i.e. no valuable content of any kind other than national coverage (like all Yankees and Red Sox, all the time). Good luck to you, James.


I have been a broken record lauding Jim’s business model at Sox Machine. This is in large part due to the thoughtful perspectives shared here, but also a celebration of independent media. This is a rare and valuable space, well worth the dollars we spend through Patreon.

That James Fegan could be out of work in the middle of a season is a reflection on the corporate landscape and not the work of the best writer on the beat this century. I hope he can find financial reward for his talents; if it is in a vehicle similar to this one, I will support him as I support this platform.


Me too. May I suggest Fagan’s Fanatics?


I pay for Sox coverage here and at The Athletic. I’d turned off my autorenew for Athletic (in part because I think it actually gets covered under a NYT subscription) but as I consider whether to renew my NYT subscription this will carry a fair bit of weight. I find NYT Cooking (where Kenji’s stuff now resides, among others) to be very useful and Wirecutter can be handy but I’m wondering if I should bother with the rest (and they do offer Cooking-only subscriptions). James was one of my primary reads on The Athletic (along with Klaw, and some Michigan football stuff). Unsurprisingly, the Cubs get to keep their local writer while we get the shaft, Jerry’s decision in the 80s to go off WGN screws us once again.

I guess the question is: how much for the Fegan tier of Sox Machine

Last edited 3 months ago by yinkadoubledare

I’d drop a few extra bucks per month for a Fegan article every two weeks and occasional appearances on the podcast.

As Cirensica

If Fegan joins SM, I will upgrade my SM tier to the next level.


I cancelled my Athletic sub when the NYT acquired it, convinced they’d probably ruin it. So this latest development is not a surprise.

They let go of the Seattle Mariners beat writer as well which makes me wonder if east coast bias is factoring into who got let go as well.

These days I hit up Sox Machine and the Sun-Times for Sox news (which recently went non-profit when it merged with WBEZ).


Sox Machine Forever! I’ll fly that internet logo until I’m dust in the wind.


Maybe the Tribune can hire Fegan and fire Sullivan. THEN I would subscribe to that paper again.


Just canceled my subscription to The Athletic secondary to the JF firing. It absolutely sucks; also hating the fact that the Cubs and hawks still have two beat writers.


The Colts have two beat writers as well.


Canceled my Athletic subscrition yesterday. I will miss Law and Eno but James was the reason I subscribed.


Good luck with your career, James, you deserve far better. I really enjoyed your insightful coverage and learned a lot. Keep your head up.