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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
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O, Pioneers
2003-05-11 06:34
by Jon Weisman

Imagine founding a town.

For example, picture Los Angeles 100 years ago. A small but growing populace surrounds the core near Spring and 2nd. A smattering of people build homes near the beaches of Santa Monica and in scattered areas in between. But throughout a region that within two or three generations will be jammed, there are acres and acres of beautiful, undeveloped territory, just waiting for a few people to set up a livable, hospitable environment for everyone to enjoy.

In many respects, that is what Baseball Prospectus has done.

It may seem now that the Internet has been around forever, but only 10 years ago, most of you had probably yet to send your first e-mail. The Internet is still the frontier. There are some, as Homer Simpson would say, metropolisises - for us, the most important is probably - and smaller cities and international cities and, to be sure, exotic cities filled with temptation for the intrepid traveler. But as more and more people migrate to the Internet, the demand is growing for a town that really feels like home.

Baseball Prospectus is the commune that is rapidly growing into something much, much more. And it's impressive.

A small group of people set up a website and just start writing about baseball. Members of the group come and go, but the site expands in different areas and ambitions, all the while trying to examine their subject in a new and intelligent way that is unprecedented as a group effort. They start charging for some of their product - to the consternation of some - but the point is, they're doing this without a model and without a net. It's risky work.

They're actual pioneers.

I guess by this extended analogy, Dodger Thoughts is like the people who went west but settled in Blaine, Missouri, but that's another story.

I write about this today because Saturday, I attended what has become essentially the Baseball Prospectus town meeting - one of their pizza feeds that they occasionally schedule in various places in the U.S. and Canada. Ours was at Vitello's in Studio City, and was so classy, that a) there were nametags and b) as far as I know, no one mentioned Robert Blake once.

Baseball Prospectus authors Joe Sheehan, Jonah Keri and Doug Pappas co-hosted - and were good at it, mingling with us misfits and making us feel welcome. For a considerable time, for example, Keri took a seat at a table occupied by myself and two other Dodger fans. Keri is from Montreal and has even gone in on a season-ticket package for the Expos despite living out here, several thousand miles away. He came of age as a baseball fan around the time Rick Monday homered, so his love of the Dodgers is somewhat akin to my love of tequilla. But Keri wrote the chapter about the Dodgers in the 2003 Baseball Prospectus yearbook and at a minimum is invested in how they perform. He seemed appalled that the Dodgers could do no better than Fred McGriff in the offseason - Keri suspected that Joe Thurston had little to offer and thinks Ray Durham should have been signed - but was at least partly persuaded by my point that the Dodgers are detoxifying from the overspending of the Kevin Malone era.

(Keri is also very high on David Ross and was most gratified by Ross' home run in his season debut Friday. He additionally likes another Dodger minor league catcher, Koyie Hill, and praises the Dodger depth at that position. As for the depth at other positions ... not so much.)

A brief Q and A followed that touched on Pappas' research on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, speculation on changes to the playoff format and why Rickey Henderson could help 15 teams but has been offered contracts by none. Shortly after, the staff at Vitello's said our time was up and replaced us with fresh customers faster than a line change in Mighty Duck land. (Wrong sport, I know - but congrats to them.)

In other words, the gathering was aimable and informative but not earthshattering. What's noteworthy to me, though, is the moment we're currently living in as baseball fans. If radio and then television first revolutionized our ability to enjoy the game, the Internet is Revolution No. 3, with its ability to get other voices out there. We're still living right in the thick of it.

As inevitable as the movement may be, its ultimate value depends on the human variable. Sites like Baseball Primer and Baseball Prospectus are operating in virgin territory, not only writing about baseball but adding to the actual history of how baseball is covered and distilled. It takes much effort just to exist in this frontier, and much more skill to do so with merit and attract others to it.

There's no guarantee that Baseball Prospectus won't someday become a ghost town - Sheehan told me that the braintrust (my word, not his) will meet in July to evaluate their progress and determine their future course of action - but my sense is that there's little reason not to be optimistic.

On one level, it's truly interesting to me just to be able to watch how the West will be lost or won. But like I said, I'm guessing that they'll win. And I'm enjoying following ever-so-modestly in their footsteps.

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