The Power of Baseball Blogging

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work as a journalist.

Jayson Stark, a columnist for ESPN.com, loves blogging. He loves how blogging is a “cool, flexible medium.” Stark has been writing columns for ESPN since 2000, after spending 21 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. You would think he prefers articles that show up in print, or on the Internet in typical print form. You would be wrong. He loves blogs because it includes “stuff that was slipping through the cracks before,” says Stark. “Now it all just fits right into the 24/7 texture [ESPN has] woven.”

Millions of citizens are using the power of blogs, Internet journals, to make their voices heard and change history. Political blogs, an influential part of politics nowadays, have already been successful in bringing down Congressman Mark Foley in a sex scandal in 2006. Baseball blogs are also an influential part of the sport now, and the blogs serve as a way for fans to voice their opinion on anything related to baseball, and there are many fans doing so. There are 1,441 baseball blogs registered with SportsBlogs.org at the time of this writing, and thousands more read them every day. Not only read – but comment. This means there are a staggering amount of people out there writing, reading, and thinking about baseball.

In blogging, other fans can comment on a blogger’s opinion by leaving a comment under every article a blogger writes. This causes a horizontal flow of information to occur, where people are talking to each other. Instead of newspapers and other media companies talking to readers on a vertical line in the flow of information, now they find themselves on a horizontal line with bloggers and their commenters. Sports journalism is being changed in a profound way because now newspapers and sports companies have started blogs of their own to have their columnists speak with their readers, not to their readers. The media benefits from this because they still maintain the power that being the media gives them to find out news when it happens, something that very few bloggers enjoy.

As a result of blogging, fans are becoming far more informed about the game. In the old days, fans picked up the local newspaper and read the opinions and news of sports columnists, and then talked around the water cooler with their co-workers. Today? Today, fans can reach millions across the world with their own opinions and information. Information is flowing in many different directions, and some bloggers have parlayed that into a paying job with a sports corporation. We know far more about baseball today than we did even five years ago. The amount of detail and opinion on each player, both with statistical information, scouting information, and opinion of that player is staggering. A lot of that can be attributed to the explosion of baseball blogging.

There are many different ways one can approach blogging about baseball. Blogging about baseball can be an enormous task, and can spin you off in a million different directions. The reasons behind baseball blogging vary widely from doing it as a hobby to marketing oneself, to doing it for a job or to get a job. The one common theme that unites all baseball bloggers, despite their intentions is passion. Jamie Mottram, the director of AOL Fanhouse, the AOL sports blogging network, believes passion is a large part of baseball blogging.

“If someone is getting paid to blog … that passion has to be there,” Mottram says. “If someone is blogging because they want to turn it into a paid position, then they should still really know and love what they’re doing. If it’s just for kicks, then it should be all fun, all the time,” he says.

One such company that has embraced blogging is ESPN, the dominant sports media corporation in America which has turned all its prominent columnists into bloggers, including the aforementioned Jayson Stark. “At ESPN.com, we’re interested in exploring every form of communicating with our audience that we can utilize,” says Stark, who happens to be paid for blogging. “Those blogs are a great device to do things and communicate in ways that wouldn’t work or fit anywhere else. Blogging just fits right into that picture.” There are concerns that big media corporations, including ESPN, are seeing blogging as a fad that they are utilizing to be more popular with readers and gain money while the fad lasts. Stark disagrees, saying that ESPN’s style is to be innovative; the idea is to be “at the forefront of all technology and all media, not to follow.”

Stark goes on to explain that his blog, called “Useless Information,” was originally designed to incorporate his “Useless Information” columns into a blog-style form, but that it was expanded to make it “more wide-ranging and free-form.” He continues, saying that “since Peter Gammons and Buster Olney [ESPN baseball columnists] are writing more serious blogs, the idea was for mine to be a different kind of blog whenever possible.”

Any baseball fan who goes to ESPN.com to drink up the latest baseball news knows that the blog section is where one should go to get the best opinion and analysis. The aforementioned Gammons, Olney and Stark combine with ex-Toronto Blue Jay assistant general manager Keith Law to make baseball blogging a powerful force at ESPN.com. Indeed, baseball blogging has many people from many different walks of life involved, not only at a sports media company, but across the world.

One such person is Christian Ruzich, a devout Chicago Cubs fan. Ruzich, the founder of All-Baseball.com along with Mark McClusky (which got bought out by Most Valuable Network, owned by this author, in March 2005), got his start in the late 1990s. He started writing about the Cubs before any popular blogging tools such as Blogger.com started up, but lost interest. When baseball blogs started gaining interest, he jumped back into the fray and has been blogging since at The Cub Reporter at MVN.com.

Stark and Ruzich come from vastly different backgrounds. Stark is a baseball writer for ESPN, while Ruzich has no baseball ties whatsoever other than being a fan. What tie these two together are a love for sports and a love for writing. Blogging is a tool to get opinion out in the Internet and it is made far easier by the sport they blog about, baseball. Baseball is such an easy sport to blog about and much of that reasoning has to do with the fact that baseball is a year-round sport. People always have something new to talk about, thanks to 162 games per team being played almost every day in a baseball season. In the off-season, there are winter leagues being played with players from all organizations. Free agency and trades continually keep the “hot stove” burning and through it all, people are listening, reading and writing. As Ruzich explains, “People have been writing about baseball for as long as there has been baseball, which is a long time. It is such a part of the fabric of American society people who watch it and talk about it feel compelled to write about it.”

In addition, he cites the revolution of sabermetrics as an important contributor to blogging. Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence and was popularized by statistician Bill James, who currently works for the Boston Red Sox. As Ruzich explains, this revolution now enables people to argue about not just baseball in general, what moves the manager or general manager should make, but also “arguing about statistics as well as arguing about arguing about the statistics,” Ruzich says. “It’s the only sport that’s achieved this level of meta-discussion.”

In addition to baseball blogging allowing no shortage of baseball material, another aspect about blogging that people love is that a blogger is their own boss and can write what they want when they want. “There’s a lot of freedom to it and if you do it well and write about an interesting subject in an engaging way, you’ll develop a loyal readership,” says Chad Finn. Finn, a former columnist for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, now is an editor at the Boston Globe. He started blogging because he missed the voice he had with the Monitor and decided to start up a blog at touchingallthebases.blogspot.com to replace that missing voice.

Tyler Bleszinski, a blogger at AthleticsNation.com, agrees. “It’s great to know that there are people out there who are just as obsessive as I am about the Oakland (Athletics),” he says. “It also gives me an outlet for writing, as I have always loved writing and wanted to make it my career. With blogging, I get the best of both worlds. I get to be a fan and write about the team I love from a biased viewpoint.”

Finn and Bleszinski also believe that while blogging is slowly becoming accepted, it still has a long way to go. Finn has received freelance opportunities from his blogging work, but as an editor at the Boston Globe, can see firsthand how reluctant people are to give credibility to a blogger. “In some circles, it’s almost like ‘blogger’ is an insult or a dirty word,” says Finn. “It just takes some time to convince people you’re not an angry dude sitting in his mom’s basement spouting opinions.” ESPN adding bloggers has dramatically increased the credibility of bloggers, but Finn notes that the only true blog that ESPN does is by Buster Olney, who usually writes a lead about the news or hot topic of the day. Olney then collects links from around the web and disseminates them with comments. The other blogs on ESPN tend to be regular columns or “watered-down notes columns that you’d read in the Sunday newspaper,” as Finn describes them.

Bleszinski agrees on ESPN adding credibility to blogging and also helps get the word out about blogs. “People who haven’t discovered blogs yet might find out about them through the more traditional means and then look for the best quality ones,” he says. Bleszinski has suddenly been making multiple media appearances and says that baseball blogging can gain universal acceptance by getting “acceptance from the media then acceptance from the mainstream then acceptance from Corporate America which wants to reach the mainstream.”

As blogs gain in popularity, so do the aspirations of bloggers. Nowadays, it is common for people to start blogs with an eye towards financial gain. A question then arises on how blogs should be treated or viewed – as a hobby or a job? It is Stark’s job, it is Ruzich and Finn’s hobby and Bleszinski approaches it as a job. Finn cautions that it is very hard for a blogger to attain riches, although it is a commendable goal to have, while Bleszinski says it all depends on the desires of the blogger. In the end, a blog should be approached as something that one has passion to write about and shouldn’t expect a job to materialize out of it. Doing anything with passion will get one noticed, and baseball blogging is no exception.

For John Vittas, a blog got him a job. Vittas wrote a blog on the Texas Rangers on Blogger.com before being recruited by Most Valuable Network to be its Rangers’ correspondent. Vittas approached blogging as a hobby until December 2005, when he gained press access to the baseball winter meetings, where most free agent signings and trades occur as general managers hunker down for a week in a hotel that changes venues every year. Vittas decided at that point that whether or not others viewed blogging as a job, he wanted to be taken seriously and be appreciated for his love of writing. It allowed Vittas to reach the next level of writing and get an offer from Scout.com to become its Texas Rangers’ correspondent. “Writing for the Most Valuable Network was a great way to garner more exposure and I doubt I would have ever been given the opportunity to expand my horizons at Scout had I not been a part of MVN,” Vittas says.

For John Sickels, it is a job because he makes it a job. Sickels, long known as a respected minor league columnist, worked at ESPN from 1996-2004. After ESPN decided not to retain Sickels’ services as a minor league correspondent due to entering into a partnership with Baseball America, a famous minor league Web site, Sickels needed an outlet for his work. He read about SBNation.com, a sports blog network, starting up and decided to become the minor league correspondent for them. Unhappy with ESPN’s creative restrictions, he loves blogging now because it offers him complete creative control. “Blogging ties in with my book and my newsletter, sort of a free outlet to get people interested in the other stuff that I do,” says Sickels. He goes on to say that it is extremely difficult to pull off making blogging a full-time endeavor and you must love the subject matter to be able to do it.

A negative to blogging is that if one is successful enough, a blogger could feel indebted to readers to continually post columns. Aaron Gleeman, who has been blogging since 2002 and subsequently landed jobs at NBC Sports, Fox Sports, USA Today and Rotoworld.com, feels indebted to readers. “I’ve long passed the point of doing it every day for fun,” he says. He pegs the number of blog entries he writes as an obligation at 90 percent, especially because he feels something should be written “instead of leaving the readers with an old entry at the top of the page when they show up the next morning.” Without that obligation, he says, he would have long ceased blogging.

Those interviewed for this article were polled on the hours they spend on the blog per week, the amount of articles a week and words per article. The average answer came out to roughly 20 hours a week, five entries a week, of about 500 words. The most common answer to each question was spending 10 to 18 hours a week, writing five to 10 articles a week, of words ranging from 300 to 900 words. The most hours contributed was by David Pinto, a former Baseball Tonight Online host, who moved to blogging after Baseball Tonight Online was not renewed for the 2002 season. He spends an estimated 50 hours a week on the blog, writing about 20 entries, but the word count ranges from one sentence to multiple paragraphs. Among those who blog regularly, the least blogged is Chad Finn, the Boston Globe editor, who spends about three hours a post on his blog, penning three entries of about 900 words each. The most words cited is by Gleeman, who currently writes 1,250 words per article, down from 2,500 plus in his heyday, writing five times a week and spending 10 hours a week on the articles.

Pinto believes that the key to starting up a baseball blog is to write as consistently as possible. “After a while, I tend to stop reading (blogs that don’t write consistently),” says Pinto. “If you develop a fan base, give them a reason to keep coming back.” Another step towards building a well-known baseball blog is to link to as many other blogs as possible, as they will notice and link back.

Baseball blogs were the first to corner the market on the sports blogging craze and still have the market cornered. The long season filled with many games and active off-season means there are no shortage of topics to write about. There are many baseball blogs out there, and a baseball blog is a great way for an aspiring baseball journalist to begin honing his craft. A baseball blogger could also be a 40-something passionate baseball fan looking for that outlet that has been missing all along.

Whether one writes or reads baseball blogs, it is undeniable that baseball blogging has revolutionized the way that baseball is approached and viewed. The massive amounts of information have helped to propel baseball into a new era of discussion and analysis, both at the fan end of the spectrum and at the baseball operations end of the spectrum. ESPN blogger Jayson Stark helps explain why baseball blogging is so interesting and popular, saying “I find it liberating to have an outlet like this, where I can take a quick detour and express myself on something that rises up out of the daily baseball soap opera.”

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