Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Exchange Of Ideas

I wanted to share the following email exchange between two bloggers and a reader and frequent commenter without further introduction:

Beerleaguer: I should be more excited about this year's team than last year's (Better starting pitching, we've seen what Howard and Utley can do). I'm still learning, and if last season taught me anything as a baseball writer, it's to temper expectations of young, unproven talent.

Swing & A Miss: Agreed. I also have learned something over the last several months. Some non-professional observers can be quite insightful and intelligent about baseball and its practitioners, but if they (and I include myself here) aren't standing around the batters' cage or behind the mound, they really cannot know what is going on in depth. There are professionals and there are amateurs. Remember, the word "amateur" has two meanings: 1)The English meaning which is to love a thing, and, 2) The American meaning which is somewhat derogatory generally and means someone who operates at a lower, less sophisticated level. Historically, many of the great English authors and naturalists and scientists were amateurs as they understood the word.

Anyway, there are so many subtleties and nuances that are literally beyond us. I am forever being reminded of our limitations, especially in evaluating talent and in seeing things that need work to say nothing of knowing how to correct them. I am also forever being reminded of the Rocky Bridges quote I love that “Every man in America thinks he can do three things better than every other man, run a hotel [clearly, he was living in a different era], build a fire and manage a baseball team.”

I have read so many comments and posts throughout the blogosphere about so-and-so's backdoor curve (player in question did not have one; he had a sweeping curve) or some characteristic or tendency of another player that were just pure crap, that I have stopped reading all but a few people and virtually none of the comments. And when it comes to insight into personality, I find the noise out there even more deafening.

You know how much I respect and value what Beerleaguer brings. I almost had to post a comment last week kidding you for even putting a link to your Eagles summary on Beerleaguer. I was going to comment, "Uh oh, Jason. There goes your innocence!" Anyway, I am beginning to see why the guys who cover teams every day for a living and are professional find it hard to take a lot of blogosphere seriously. There are clearly some very smart people out there with things to say but there are a lot who should stay home.

I was also struck yesterday how many of us "reported" the Utley signing. I am not trying to defend myself, but I usually take the tack of looking at the meanings not the facts. Beerleaguer tries to balance both. But I realized that every blog in town weighed in right away, as if we were reporting the news when, in fact, that is already done and much better elsewhere. Not too many bloggers or commenters added anything to the new worth reading. We should be emphasizing other things.

Rambling...but this reflecting might show up at Swing in some form including a reduced number of posts until there are things to say.

Beerleaguer: You should post that as-is; it's a spectacular essay.

You don't need to apologize for what we do, or make it seem that it's beneath the professionals. They're better at breaking news, uncovering the real story, and are probably more knowledgeable about the nuances of the game. But who cares? They represent 0.00001 percent of the population, and I didn't start Beerleaguer to become part of that group.

If you want to get down to the nitty gritty, we're all in the same business. It's a fantasy. The difference is, blogs make the fantasy interactive, communal, instantaneous, uninhibited. It was never about the backdoor curveball. Red Smith would probably agree.

Here's what RSB said after the season, on what Beerleaguer is all about. I re-read this often. This is the kind of return I set out to receive when I made the initial investment.

"If we're evaluating Beerleaguer in this thread as well, I have an altogether different assessment where that is concerned. Beerleaguer is easily the best thing that's happened to this out-of-area Phils fan since mlb.tv. There are a number of others who host very worthy blog sites, but Beerleaguer stands alone for up-to-the-minute gratification, often with new subject posts and updates multiple times a day. You stay on top of this extremely well, JW, and I think you're really onto something here. I think the word is out that Beerleaguer is *the* place to come online during a game, much less before or after. It's like a virtual sports bar, where Phillies fans from around the globe can hang out and argue and high-five; in some ways it even makes me feel like I'm part of the crowd at the game. It's been a blast spending this 2006 season with everyone here - the quality and the intelligence of the people who post are a good part of the reason I was drawn to use this site in the first place - and there is more consolation in being a Phillies fan than ever, now that we can live it live with other diehards. Beerleaguer has become part of Philies baseball for me, and that is the ultimate tribute I am able to extend."

Nice words, but the real reason I keep a mental note of this is to remind myself to stay on the cutting edge, about blogging, not baseball.

RichSchuBlues responds: I think you and Jason are excellent commentators, and there can't really be a saturation of disparate and thoughtful opinionation where any public matter is concerned. There are some decent columnists in the 'official' media, yes, but why should the public stop there? What if all we had, for instance, to rely on was the irresponsibly self-infatuated dribblings of Bill Conlin for commentary? The more voices, the better.

True, the 'blogosphere' does open up a forum for lamebrains and know-it-alls, but it's not so difficult to seek out and identify the real quality from the truly 'amateur'. Bloggers aren't beat writers with access to the clubhouses and batting cages, but so what? What happens on the field is out there for anyone to observe, and the quotes are there afterwards for anyone to dissect. I disagree that so many subtleties and nuances are lost on us. Like what kind of beer Charle Manuel chugs? How Brett Myers wasn't invited to Rich Dubee's birthday party? I think it can be said that sportswriters may have additional insight as to why a GM is more or less willing to part with a certain player for reasons such as these that go below the surface, but if you mean nuances *on the field* I don't feel fans like you or I are a single bit less informed than any television, radio, or print media figure. In nearly all case, we have access to the same information which managers and coaches use to dictate their strategies, their defensive positionings, their personnel selections. I check your site and Jason's daily, along with philly.com. I honestly feel I get at least as much information and insight from the blogs as I do from the 'professionals', especially during the season when I find the game recaps so lacking and incomplete. Journalists have time and space crunches, editors to appease, players and management to co-exist with. They might have the most complete access, but they're also more restrained in what they can write. The spirit of the internet is to give voice to those who have just as clear and legitimate a perspective, who may see things a different way. It's the difference between fixed statements and dialectics: reacting, clarifying, considering, weighing, comprehending are aspects of blogs which newspapers can't provide. And it's a far better medium for insight than talk radio, where people have roughly thirty seconds to posit a question and get hung up on. That's not really a dialogue. Blogs allow a participant to amend, debate, and clarify without constraint. The 'professionals' might resent the bloggers because they feel a sense of encroachment on their turf from upstarts who didn't work their way up to where they are in their professions; they're the ones who do the grunt work of having to extract quotes from often indifferent or uncooperative athletes, and so they feel entitled to a hard-won badge of authenticity.

But the observations of those who have closely watched and followed a sport for a long period of time *ought* to be taken seriously. In my eyes, is Tom Goodman any less of a qualified commentator (or writer) than Bob Ford or Rich Hofmann because he doesn't have an official press pass? *Absolutely* not. And if wasn't such a threat or perceived affront to their paid staff, these papers would do well to take the best bloggers seriously and commission them to be part of their business. I don't see why 'Swing and a Miss' or 'Beerleaguer' (although I believe this is affiliated with the Reading Eagle) should have to be considered, or have to be in the first place, separate entities. The papers have a few people doing these blogs on general subjects on philly.com, but not when it comes to sports. That's a mistake, and at a time when newspapers should be doing all they can to keep up and strive to maintain their relevance to an increasingly electronic readership, it's a rather unfortunate one. What is the difference between the horrifically bad 'forums' which are linked on that website, and the better blogs? A quality moderator; a starting point which presents a perspective in a clear, insightful, and rational fashion. There are a lot of idiot sports fans out there. Most of them will be content to insult each other like scarcely literate children. But those seeking out a higher standard have places to come where higher standards exist - places where you're going to get mocked if you can't bother to use reason or decent grammar in your posts. In this sense, enlightened bloggers are providing for an enlightened community of fans in a way newspapers have not even attempted, and as such serve a highly useful and appreciated function.

1 comment:

Tom G said...

I agree with a lot of that. What really resonates with me is when Tom reminds us of the English meaning of "amateur".

But there is a little bit more to it than that for me, and it is only because of the emails and comments I've received over the past few years. Often, I've heard things such as, "this site is the first place I go to for news and discussion." Because of that, I sometimes feel a sense of responsibility to regurgitate news to a certain extent.

I know one thing, if you had tried to explain all of this to me 3-5 years ago, I would have said, "wait, I'll spend all those hours doing what?!?!"