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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

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
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
10) being annoyed by the existence of this list
11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

The Disposable Baseball Blogger
2004-11-14 21:46
by Jon Weisman

Farewell, Brian Gunn.

Farewell, Edward Cossette.

Rest in peace, Doug Pappas.

Baseball blogging is young, young like the days when there were hundreds of automobile makers instead of a handful, young like the days when there was enough test pattern time on your television that anyone with an idea and a sponsor could grab a regular time slot (although, thanks to cable and satellite, you might say TV clumsily clings to its youth.)

The brief history of baseball blogging has been a land rush - acres and acres of virgin www out there for the pickings like an online version of the old American West, requiring only a little moxie to stake a claim. But just like the dark side of Manifest Destiny, not every homesteader hangs on. Some stick it out for only a few months, or weeks, or days, or - you've seen it, no doubt - hours.

The tattered remnants of their domains can still often be found, scattered about like ghost towns or crosses in the dirt. It's been axiomatic in the genre that even very intelligent voices are better suited to be regular readers than regular writers. And some cityfolk never had any business being out in that wilderness to begin with.

But 2004, perhaps, marks the first year in which a couple of baseball bloggers who struck it rich creatively, a Huntington and a Stanford (hey, it's Big Game week) of baseball blogging, have decided to walk away on top. Within weeks of each other, Gunn and Cossette, the leading bloggers of this year's World Series teams at Redbird Nation and Bambino's Curse, pulled up stakes and head back to their former lives.

Most certainly, this year marked the first time that the passing of a baseball blogger was mourned. Doug Pappas, a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, also authored his own website, Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog, which was the world's most lucid and informative provider of legal and business information and commentary related to baseball. Pappas died unexpectedly in May, at the age of 42.

It's enough to make the hardiest consider questions of their own baseball blogging mortality. No one sticks it out in the Great American Blog without passion and dedication, but in a world where financial compensation could be years away, if it's coming at all, in a world where there's always some young whippersnapper ready to try his luck at being his own baseball-writing boss, in a world where some of the best have already bid us goodbye, some serious questions come to mind.

No. 1 on the list is this: How fleeting is a baseball blogger's existence?

"On some level, yes, we are all replaceable," Gunn said in one of a series of interviews conducted by Dodger Thoughts in the past week. "I trust that there will always be bloggers with the intelligence, the expressiveness, the time, and the gumption to share their thoughts online with a community of like-minded fans. If anything, I think the blog revolution is just getting started - the more people who do it, and do it well, the more people will follow in their footsteps. On the other hand, there are a number of bloggers out there who have truly original voices, and once they step away from the keyboard there will be no one to take their place."

David Pinto, writer of perhaps the leading national baseball blog, Baseball Musings, seconded the notion of the disposable blogger.

"Of course that's true," Pinto said. "No one has a monopoly on ideas, and new blood brings new perspectives. In 20 years, people will be complaining about the old bloggers not being with all the new ways of presenting information, that we're living in the past. (If I ever write that players in the 1990s were better than players today, please shoot me.) And some of it will be true. That's why it's good to try new things. I think All-Baseball and The Hardball Times are great ideas; over time they'll present a familiar structure, but they can be innovative and not only bring in new people, but new ways of presenting information and using technology."

Even the most faithful readers of certain blogs share the sentiment that baseball bloggers are replaceable.

"Sorry," said Bob Timmermann, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research and an almost daily commenter on Baseball Think Factory's Baseball Primer and Dodger Thoughts. "No one has made me think that they are the Jim Murray of bloggers yet."

Murray Markowitz, a 34-year-old corporate transactions lawyer living in New York and a daily reader of Alex Belth's Bronx Banter, pointed out that bloggers shouldn't feel too bad, because "most of us, in all areas of endeavor, are replaceable." On the other hand, he noted that Pappas really hasn't been replaced.

"The bloggers who take the time to develop a unique style or who cover a distinctive sub-field become indispensable," Markowitz said. "Doug Pappas, for example, was a lawyer who covered the business of baseball at his website. He was witty, incisive, never patronizing to his readers, and covered the discipline better than anybody else in the U.S. The knowledge gap in this field that has resulted from his untimely death is deep and wide."

The potential exists, in other words, for even the lowly blogger to rise above the expectations of genre and become an integral part of the baseball world.

Said Jonah Keri, a Baseball Prospectus colleague of Pappas: "I think the feeling was nearly unanimous throughout Baseball Prospectus, the blogosphere and the broader baseball community that it would be extremely difficult to find a writer with Doug's rare combination of legal savvy, financial acumen, writing skill, passion for baseball and free time who could do what he did in the way that he did it. We have called on talented writers from outside the group, such as Neil deMause, as well as some of our own writers to cover topics that Doug would've probably covered were he still around, and they've done a very good job, but obviously their work differs from Doug's in numerous ways."

Pappas' work ended in the worst kind of sudden. But Cossette and Gunn voluntarily left their websites despite being two of the most respected writers in the field, despite fast-rising critical and popular acclaim. Certainly, these talented writers will resurface in other places - in his final posting, Cossette implied as much - but the question remains, when things are going so good, why go?

"I do ... miss the other loves of my life," Gunn wrote in his farewell message to his readers. "Spending more time with friends, or watching movies, or getting outside, or working harder on my day job, and all the other things that fell by the wayside during my daily blogathon. As you can guess, keeping Redbird Nation fresh and lively is a huge time and energy commitment, and the sacrifices I'd have to make to come back for a third year are too great."

Gunn added in his Dodger Thoughts interview that while blogging needn't be all or nothing, sometimes the compulsion is too difficult to resist.

"I do think there's something about weblogs that contributes to this sense of disproportion," he said. ”One of the virtues of blogs is that they're essentially limitless - you can write as much or as little as you want, any time of the day or night. But this can also be a trap. Because you have no deadlines, you feel like you're always on the clock. Because you have no editor or space limitations, you feel like you can always be writing more. The form practically begs you to be more expansive. Throw in the fact that bloggers tend to have compulsive personalities (actually that's not a fact at all - more of a casual observation), and you end up with a lot of folks who have problems establishing boundaries with their blogging. Or at least that's true in my case."

Jay Jaffe, whose site, The Futility Infielder, was one of the earliest entries in the field, said he "shocked himself" by completing a year of writing - and now he's well into his fourth. But Jaffe added that his longevity has been aided by him picking his spots.

"I'm not manic about posting every day," Jaffe said. "My general feeling is that unless I can put together at least four or five interesting paragraphs on a topic, I'll leave it for somebody else to cover until I can weigh in. If that means posting two or three times a week as opposed to five or six, so be it."

Less is more. Sounds like a simple-enough strategy, like "try a diet low in saturated fats." But it's a difficult balance. Only a few of those who turn off the compulsion to write every day can turn it back on with ease. And with fewer posts, one risks a diminishing hold on the audience.

"If a blogger is too bored with the subject to post fresh material, then I can't be bothered with his work unless he's really good," Markowitz said. "Especially during the offseason, when I'm looking for something to fill the baseball gap (I don't follow hockey, basketball or football), I like to be able to read something everyday, whether it's a link to a useful article, or a think piece about what the most competitive World Series ever was."

The dream of many baseball bloggers - though not nearly as many as you might think - is to make money to support, if not justify, the time and effort. The Whopper dream is to earn a living; the Whopper Jr. is to earn enough to cover server costs and maybe a few ballgame tickets.

Some sites reap a few dollars through advertisements such as Google Ads, others generate a few kind donations from benevolent readers. Sites also function as a de facto resume and portfolio for their writers, and occasionally succeed in finding the writer paid freelance work that otherwise would not have come.

But with the reality of the disposable blogger comes the fear that if you contemplate charging for your services, you had better be prepared for some awkward silences of the Paypal variety.

"I don't know when I'd be willing to pay," Timmermann said. "Someone better have some content that knocks my socks off."

Without a doubt, the audience for a pay-for-play blogger would drop faster than the horse that Mongo slugged. On the other hand, the transcendent blogger might find readers willing to spend.

"Bloggers who offer genuine analysis, coupled with a good chuckle or two, become worth the price of a subscription," Markowitz said. "Take Jim Baker, Bill James' former assistant who was also responsible for some of the funniest material in Bill's books in the mid-1980s, for example. Jim published a free daily e-mail thread a few years back that I started reading, but he terminated it when he joined the ESPN Insider site. I was willing to pay ESPN to keep reading Jim's work, but I canceled my subscription when they fired him because there's nobody else at their site whose work is worth $50 a year. I now pay for Baseball Prospectus so that I can read Jim Baker and Steve Goldman."

Said Dodger Thoughts reader Brian Greene: "I hate to admit it because free is nice, but I'd pay for Dodger Thoughts before I'd pay for ESPN Insider. Forty dollars a year is a fair price for what amounts to 300+ entries/year targeted to my top interest. But this is theoretical, right?'

Actually, it is. For the indefinite future, anyway. Because the income would come with a cost. With the inevitable loss in audience quantity comes losses in something critical to the baseball blogger: the reader who is referred to or accidentally stumbles onto the site. Bloggers who lock their entries away in premium mode before they have fully matured are, in some respect, sacrificing the future for the present.

By the end of the 2004 season, former Dodger broadcaster Ross Porter was quoting pieces from Dodger Thoughts on the air. When the season began, however, Porter had never seen a blog nor heard of blogging.

"There must be plenty of people who are searching the Internet who come across columns like yours and learn something," Porter said. "They then bookmark them and study them daily. That's what I did this year."

As much as bloggers often disdain the mainstream media - a disdain, it should be noted, that is admired by some readers and ridiculed by others - the mainstream media's acceptance of a blog is vital to hastening its must-read status among a wider audience.

Those sites currently on the move from fringe to mainstream, like Baseball Prospectus, are taking an occasional but important glance at the blog world as well.

"Several of us at Baseball Prospectus do take notice of the better bloggers out there," Keri said. "And we have reached out to a small handful of the best bloggers for some piecemeal work. Jay Jaffe's done both some very solid articles for us, as well as a bit of design work. Alex Belth has done a couple of excellent Q&As for the BP Web site. There have been a couple others too."

As 2004 nears its end, the strengths of baseball blogging, however outside of the mainstream the bloggers reside, are fairly clear.

"Blogs deliver at the speed of the AP wire but with deeply-informed analysis behind it," Greene said. "Throw in the forum for feedback with like-minded addicts and you've got the perfect drug.

"Bloggers have the opportunity to form more indelible connections with their audience than in any other media form I can think of," he continued. "Bloggers ... put their heart into their columns, reveal personal thoughts and memories, and most importantly interact with and know their readers."

Timmermann added praise for the "diverse opinions and willingness to embrace new ideas," noting that many do it with a sense of humor.

And for good measure, Markowitz offered this: "There have been a lot of smart people out there who did their own research about baseball history and statistics, but they never had the means to disseminate their work before. Now they're willing to share it with all the rest of us and give us the opportunity to comment on it, mostly for free. It's wonderful."

However, there remains an unmistakable immaturity to the medium. There are logistical drawbacks, as Greene pointed out, such as not having press credentials or frequent interviews that lead to scoops. There are also the limitations that arise largely from the average blogger's age.

"What's come along in the past year or so is a ton of young kids in their early 20s who have the enthusiasm, but haven't necessarily developed a distinctive angle or voice," Jaffe said. "The ones that do survive are better for it; they've shown themselves and their audience a skill and a devotion which leads people to invest time in following them. But what's lacking from these kids is a longer historical view of things. I want to see more 40-, 50-, 60-, 70-year olds blogging and providing us a different perspective.

"A guy that immediately springs to mind is Steve Treder, who's older than the average blogger and who's done some great historical work on the Giants, Dodgers, and Cardinals of the '60s over at The Hardball Times. Rich Lederer, with his series on the old Baseball Abstracts, is another great example. As blogging becomes more respected and more mainstream, we might see more of those types who will add a needed diversity to the mix. I mean, how many blogs do we need to cover the personnel moves and on-field results of team X?"

Indeed, some of the genre's deficiencies are simply quality and attitude issues. In Timmermann's words, it's about baseball blogging sometimes being "too hip for its own good." As Markowitz put it, it's "the shrill but phony omniscience that some bloggers convey through their sites."

Markowitz also pointed out that blogging is too inconsistent.

"Newspapers and magazines have editors," he said, 'but most bloggers don't."

Whaa? Bloogers neeeed editorz?

"It takes some work sifting through the lower-quality sites to find the few that warrant attention," Keri said.

And there's the Jose Offerman, otherwise known as the Catch-22. Like many other endeavors, it takes about as much work to go from D work to A- as it does to go from A- to A.

In the end, what motivates baseball bloggers to do even the flawed work they do?

"I just enjoy commenting on baseball," Pinto said. "It's just wonderful to have a voice. I had many motivations for starting the blog ... but the main motivation was that I had hosted Baseball Tonight Online for a year, and liked being able to get my opinions out, rather than working to support other people's opinions. I think that will always be the motivating factor behind the blog."

Jaffe's motivations are oriented both to the community and personal.

"The connection I feel to my readers and to other bloggers, the desire to focus on something that I'm knowledgeable and passionate about yet can stomach contemplating 365 days a year (unlike, say, politics or even music), and the hope that eventually I'll be able to support myself at least in part with my writing," he said.

"Now, as my blog has grown in popularity and I've gotten the opportunity to occasionally make a buck from my work, I'd like to write a baseball book. Actually, I'd like to write several baseball books, and I've got a proposal that's in the works. I believe that the stuff I've done with the blog has shown that I'm a viable candidate to do a book-length project."

Without a doubt, blogging has generated some fond memories for its brethren - and community has played a large role. The reaction and interaction can prove addictive.

"One time," Gunn said, "I did a post on Albert Pujols right after a game in which he downed the Cubs with three home runs. I put up the post, noticed a small error, corrected it, and by the time I returned to the main page - seriously, a 10-second process altogether - there was already a comment from a fan. Within 10 seconds! I'm a screenwriter during the day, and in my job it can sometimes take years and years for something to go from idea to screen. With Redbird Nation it was instantaneous. That moment after the Pujols game reminded me just how closely connected I was to this community of Cards fans sharing in my excitement."

Said Pinto: "The day the A-Rod to Boston trade fell apart was a great example of what blogging can do. I started off the day angry at the (players') union, but discussion in the comments, letters and other articles moderated my views by the end of the day."

And there is always the tantalizing possibility that you can become more significant than you would ever have dared daydream.

"My other favorite blogging memory," Gunn said, "is when Jeff Luhnow, VP of Baseball Development for the Cardinals, asked me to assess, on my blog, the signability of Edgar Renteria. I thought, man, it's not just my mom reading this site anymore."

Nope, it's not just Mom. But these are still Mom and Pop shops in the baseball blogging corner of the universe, and if history has proven anything, it's that Mom and Pop shops can so easily disappear.

"I take a very Darwinesque view," Jaffe said. "There will always be new talent to fill various niches, though whether they measure up to what came before is up for grabs. I like to think that the best of us have unique, inimitable styles, but there are scores of other great writers out there who could take up blogging and quickly be among the best."

For some, baseball blogging remains simply a good time, and that's plenty. But for those who care to pay attention not just to the content of the baseball blogs, but the blogs and bloggers themselves, the next chapter could be a pivotal one, as some of those fighting the replaceability demon scores some knockdown punches.

"I imagine that's the goal of any writer worth his salt," Keri said. “No one's irreplaceable, but make a unique legacy for yourself in your writing, so that people can look back on your body of work and say: 'There will be plenty of good writers who'll do great work in the future, but no one quite like that guy.' "

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