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At the end of an Aug. 11 Salon story about the Oakland Raiders came this short author bio: “Christina Kahrl is a sportswriter who lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.”
Kahrl had previously written only as Chris Kahrl. Kahrl, who lives in Fairfax, says that other than by a few friends and co-workers, the addition of four letters went unnoticed.
“I broke out the full form,” says Kahrl. “‘Christina’ was one of those things I wanted to see.”
Kahrl’s main writing gig comes as one of the founding columnists for Baseball Prospectus, a font of baseball analysis that, in its 10-year existence, has been fawned over by obsessed fans and major-league insiders alike.
“These guys [at Baseball Prospectus] have gone so far beyond what we’ve been conditioned to look for insofar as what stats are really important,” says Phil Wood, local baseball historian, D.C. Examiner columnist, and talk-show host on the Major League Baseball Channel of XM Radio. “They’ve almost reinvented the game from that perspective.”
Writers, especially those who, like Kahrl, have already made a name for themselves, are generally loath to tamper with bylines. Female journalists, for example, are about as likely as actresses to leave their professional names unchanged after a change in marital status.
But after a change in gender, all bets are off.
Kahrl has been living as a woman since 2003. But her Salon story was in many ways her professional coming out. Sportswriting is still a male-dominated realm where, well, you’ve got either two balls or two strikes against you.
Giving “Christina” her first ink wasn’t something Kahrl took at all lightly. “I’ve never written publicly about my transition,” she says. “From my perspective, I don’t think of it really as a story. For me it’s about as interesting as a player’s sex life: I’m sure they have one. I hope they’re all enjoying themselves, that they’re all consenting adults. But I don’t care about it. In [the Salon piece], I also was writing about football and not baseball. So I wasn’t looking to make a story here. That [putting ‘Christina’ in print] is about as bold as I get.”
Baseball has a reputation as a very unfriendly place for all but the overt heterosexual. Mike Piazza’s infamous 2002 press conference to declare his nonhomosexuality was but one of the signs. There are hints of openmindedness: The Aug. 18 Washington Nationals road game with the Philadelphia Phillies was declared “Gay Community Night,” which has become an annual event at Citizens Bank Park; a report in Outsports.com said this year’s rendition, which featured the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus singing the national anthem, attracted about 880 members of the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
A smaller posse of hatemongers, representing a Christian group called Repent America, also showed up, with huge banners declaring, “Homosexuality is Sin. Christ Can Set You Free.”
Kahrl, however, dismisses the Philly protesters—“That’s Philly, where they even boo Santa,” she says—and adds that her heart’s been warmed by the utter nonreaction she’s gotten from baseball and baseball-journalism folks since converting to womanhood. At insider baseball events she’s hosted at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, and at her alma mater, the University of Chicago, all the focus has been on her knowledge of the game, even from those who knew Chris Kahrl back in the day.
“Nobody has batted an eye,” says Kahrl. “Everybody has been great and supportive, from friends and family and colleagues to everybody with the White Sox to the University of Chicago alumni. A reader said, ‘I had no idea that Chris was short for Christina.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what it’s short for.’ But that’s it. So whatever people might be saying about the rising tide of conservatism in America today, from my experience, we’re also in a place now, a better place and a better society, than we were 50 years go. I’m certainly happy. Again, this isn’t something I broadly advertise, because it’s a secondary issue. Yes, it’s proof that life is interesting, but it doesn’t change the fact that I love baseball. I still love the game.”
Kahrl’s love of baseball comes through in each installment of her Prospectus column, Transaction Analysis, and whenever she even talks about the game. There is no way to exaggerate how well Kahrl knows the names and numbers of baseball and how good she is at cramming that knowledge into her writing and conversation.When talking about the Oakland A’s, the first team Kahrl fell for as a kid growing up in Northern California in the ’70s, she uses “the Chris Codiroli years” as a punch line. (Codiroli was a right-handed pitcher who put up a 38-47 record with the A’s, Indians, and Royals from 1982 to 1990. But everybody knows that.)
Columns Kahrl wrote about the Nationals earlier this year were nothing if not clairvoyant. She predicted Livan Hernandez’s durability and Nick Johnson’s fragility. She wrote that the Nationals had overpaid for Cristian Guzman and that bringing in Vinny Castilla on the basis of his offensive numbers in Colorado was evidence of General Manager Jim Bowden’s “unfamiliarity with what it takes to improve a club.” Jeffrey Hammonds would be a bust, and RFK Stadium would be the most pitcher-friendly park in the division, Kahrl wrote. She hinted that John Patterson, despite having a lousy spring, could be the surprise of the pitching staff and that Chad Cordero would “become beloved.”
And all that was in March.
Kahrl’s analysis of Nationals moves since Opening Day has been just as spot-on. She went against practically every local sportswriter by going thumbs-down on Bowden’s shipping off pitcher Tomo Ohka after a tiff with manager Frank Robinson; she also questioned the acquisitions of infielder Junior Spivey and pitcher Ryan Drese.
In each case, as is the Baseball Prospectus way, Kahrl used scads of statistical minutiae to argue why these players would be busts in D.C. (Patterson’s 13-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the spring left Kahrl sold on his chances for a good year, even with a bloated 8.18 earned-run average in the preseason.)
Kahrl admits that she does hear some name-calling, but it’s a name that the old Chris Kahrl used to hear, too: “geek.”
“You usually hear that from a baseball beat writer who is always in the press box wearing the same shirt with the same burrito stain,” she says with a laugh. “When I hear that guy saying baseball fans are a lot of geeks, I say, ‘Buddy, do you wash your clothes?’ But I don’t think of ‘geek’ as a slur. Baseball geeks are all kinds. Baseball geeks can be anything from a roofer to, well, a transsexual.”