Monthly Archive for June, 2009

Poem Of The Week: Baseball

This week a poem by a guy you may have actually heard of. “Baseball” is from John Updike’s final poetry collection — Endpoint.. The poem lopes along nicely, like a midweek summer day game somewhere in the middle of America. “There is no hiding from baseball,” Updike writes. Whether sitting on a barstool, or standing in center field, I doubt truer words have been said about the game. Enjoy:

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not—those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop’s wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball’s
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It’s easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody’s right,
beginning with baseball.

The Definitive Unsourced Milton Bradley Timeline

Update:  As history unfolds, so must our recordings of it change. Here is the world famous Milton Bradley Timeline with an update for recent events:

I meant to say something intelligent and original about the recent Milton Bradley/Lou Pineilla fracas.  But the more I tried to write, the more I found myself thinking back on just how this ridiculous and completely unsurprising situation came to be.  What began a cursory glance at the wikipedia page of one of baseball’s most fascinating outfielders unraveled into the following:

1860: A restless printer/lithographer in Massachusetts invents a board game called The Checkered Game of Life and forms a company in his own name to release it. He accumulates vast wealth, and his name, Milton Bradley, comes to personify joy in the form of wholesome family fun. He will die an old and happy man, blissfully oblivious to the suffering his own name will one day cause a young man from Southern California.

1978: A healthy baby boy is born in Harbor City, CA just outside of Long Beach. The boy’s father goes behind his mother’s back to fill out the birth certificate, covertly passing his own name down. Thus is born Milton Obelle Bradley Junior. Said Junior’s duped mother of her husband’s deception: “He wanted a Junior, and made damn sure he got one.”

Milton Bradley has 11 career sac bunts.

Milton Bradley has 11 career sac bunts.

1996: Milton Bradley is drafted by the Montreal Expos out of Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Bradley graduated from Long Beach Poly with a 3.7 GPA, and was kicked off the baseball team only once (briefly, his sophomore season for “combativeness”).

2004: A busy year for our hero begins in February when he is sentenced to 3 days in jail for allegedly driving away from the police after being stopped for speeding. Mere weeks later, in March, he is pulled out of a Spring Training game by Cleveland manager Eric Wedge for failing to speed…down the base paths that is! The two exchange words after Bradley allegedly doesn’t run out a pop fly. He is promptly traded to Los Angeles.

2004 B: Bradley’s tenure with the hometown Dodgers  finally gets interesting. On a cool June night, Bradley is ejected at home plate after words with the umpire. He screams a lot, is sort of restrained by gangly manager Jim Tracy, and finally lays his helmet, bat, and gloves in the batter’s box calmly and exits the field. All seems right in Chavez Ravine until a moment later, when our hero emerges from the dugout with a bag of baseballs, emptying balls onto the grass and haphazardly launching dozens into the outfield. Five tool player indeed.

2004 C: A fan in Dodger stadium throws a bottle at Milton in the outfield. So he picks it up, strolls over to the stands, and slams the bottle down in the front row, treating fans to a colorful lecture on the fourth amendment and his rights to privacy and not getting beer thrown at him.

2005: Our slightly less angry hero calls teammate Jeff Kent a racist. Nobody really doubts him, but the Dodgers opt to stick with the healthier, more productive Kent. Milton Obelle is dealt to Oakland over the winter for food blogger Andre Ethier. “We got along as best as we could,” said Bradley of his imperfect relationship with Kent, “It didn’t work for me.”

Or maybe hes the only sane one left.

Or maybe he's the only sane one left.

2007: Milton Bradley is now a Padre. In a fervent late-season argument with an umpire, Bradley is restrained by his manager Bud Black. Somehow their legs tangle, and Bradley spins awkwardly to the ground, tearing his ACL. But wait, there’s more! In a Zinedine Zidanian twist, Padres’ First Base coach Bobby Meacham claims that Bradley was baited by the umpire, who uttered ”the most disconcerting conversation I have heard from an umpire to a player.” Either way, the Padres’ playoff chances spiraled to the ground with their center fielder.

2008: Bradley has his best and healthiest year as a big leaguer. As a DH, he leads the American League in batting average and OPS, and makes his first All Star team. He even writes a poignant guest entry about family, faith, and baseball on the New York Times Bats blog. Oh yeah, he also chases down a Royals’ TV commentator after a game over some comments made about his behavior issues. Thankfully, our hero is intercepted before reaching his target, allowing him to redirect the beating toward AL pitchers.

2009: Milton signs a 3-year deal to play outfield for the Cubs. Immediately the Chicago media calls him names. One columnist goes so far as to suggest that the Bradley signing is a mistake, because a player who once accused a teammate of racism might not get along with too well the charmingly racist fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers. (No, don’t examine the racist fan base; question the Milton Bradley for the speculated possibility that he might be sensitive to racism.) He bats terribly and has a rocky relationship with equally charismatically destructive manager Lou Pineilla. Somewhat more surprisingly, Bradley is responsible for a Phil Jackson-esque moment of charming high road Zen. The exchange, courtesy of Saturday’s Chicago Sun Times:

According to sources, Piniella then shouted at Bradley, ”You’re not a player! You’re a piece of sh–!”
Bradley then said, ”I have too much respect for you to respond to that,” a source said.

2009 B: Hitting .257 in September, Milton Bradley is suspended from the Cubs for the duration of the season after blaming Cubs fans for the team’s failure to win a World Series (you would suspect a GM would be thankful for that sort of comment). The suspension leaves Bradley and the Cubs in a sort of purgatory, as it is clear the team does not want him back and he does not want to be back in Chicago. How will this glorious soap opera end? Fear not. Evidently a graduate of the Nothing is Fucked school, or completely unaware that the goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain, Hendry reassures Cubs fans: We don’t anticipate any problems. We’ll have it all worked out in the next few days.

*Editor’s Note: I made a slight edit to the title of the post.  The old one was kind of pointlessly mean.

The Stillness: Anatomy of a Moment

Navy divers assist Gemini 6 crew to open hatches after landing

Right off, I knew that Pitchers and Poets was on to something. It may have had to do with Fernando up there glaring at the heavens or a baseball mitt.  And now I’m glad to be a part of it, and what will hopefully be a long, winding baseball conversation, which is all any of us should think to ask for. So, on with the conversation.

Baseball is a game of moments, a fact which from one perspective makes the game tedious for the less obsessed, and from another perspective enables statisticians to parse the broader game into a series of incidents, mincing the events of an afternoon into malleable data bytes, yielding otherwise imperceptible insights. It is, in fact, a great pleasure of mine to fall almost asleep around about the 6th inning of an afternoon game and have one of said moments jolt me teary eyed from my near-slumber. This in direct opposition to another great pleasure, which is scoring the game, which requires a consistent level of attention-paying, from which derives the payoff of a completed scorecard in the back pocket on the way home, as satisfying as a completed tax return.

There is one particular moment that I will ruminate upon here, which I call The Stillness. This is the one- or two-second swatch of time after the pitcher accepts the sign and comes set on the mound, just before he starts into his motion. All attention is paid him, and he will soon rock forward and set the play a-reeling. It is the proverbial calm before the storm, which if you took a snapshot of it would look like a guy standing on a pile of dirt, but would in fact be a pastiche of potential energy, of muscles loosened just before they contract and expand. (The Stillness is best enjoyed via television viewing, as it allows for that rare batter-pitcher-umpire POV, and you can watch them all at the same time, gearing up as they say.)

Witness the moment of Stillness, in which, simultaneously:

a. The pitcher comes to his set position, with the ball-hand-in-glove at the waist or the chest, looking in at the catcher, already having accepted the sign, with the posture of a stuntman about to leap from a building.

&

b. The hitter has completed whatever stylistic waggles he prefers, and settles into his true ready-to-hit position (example: after the journeyman Tony Batista completed his absurd face-the-pitcher-completely-with-bat-on-shoulder routine and actually rights himself to perpendicular). The hitter, like the pitcher, leans only just perceptibly into destiny.

&

c. The umpire has lowered himself into his preferred crouch, and stares at the pitcher’s throwing shoulder like a lion on the hunt.

&

d. The announcer hushes. There is nothing more to explain, only life and the living of it.

&

e. The fielders inch forward and put their gloves out in front of them, again–and I hate to repeat myself but it’s true–lean into the gaping maw of fate.

&

e. Some dude in the stands is almost asleep, dozily ignorant of the lion’s share of these most tense, coiled moments.

master-and-commander-the-far-side-of-the-world-3

One of my favorite movies is Master and Commander, and one of my favorite scenes is the first one: a shifty midshipman thinks he sees an enemy ship through the fog. In case there is in fact a ship out there, Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey beats to quarters, meaning he prepares the crew for battle. Once they are all prepped, at their guns with the decks swept, they sit, waiting, in total stillness. In the distance several soundless flashes momentarily brighten the mist, like fireflies far away in an evening meadow. Captain Aubrey cocks his head at this silent apparition. All is still. After a beat, Aubrey realizes that the phantom ship pursuing them has released a broadside from within the mist, and bellows “down!” and his decks explode. That still moment between the flash and the terror, Aubrey’s questioning, anticipatory glare into the gloam, the held breath before the cork pops: that is The Stillness.

Every baseball pitch provides this moment, before the strategies are enacted, when the pitcher and the hitter rest on an even plane, and each eyes the other, and everyone else eyes them.

Hitters

Every player approaches the Stillness moment in a manner consistent with his style and temperament. Whereas pitchers are required by edict to come to a stop–an imposed stillness–hitters regularly defy my terminology. David Eckstein, for example, channels his anticipation into manic tics, juddering the bat about and stamping his feet like a little kid waiting for the john. Gary Sheffield pummels the Stillness over and again, in open defiance of calm expectancy, pulverizing my papier-mâché cliches.

There are those hitters, though, who own the Stillness, and command it like the Dog Whisperer with a pit bull. Ken Griffey, Jr., waits like a boat gently rocking in the tide; Lance Berkman sits low and gently taps his shoulder with the bat; Alex Rodriguez cocks his left foot, like a sprinter at the starting gate before the gun.

Taking the cake, though, for the most impressive, and well the stillest Stillness, is the greatest hitter of this generation, the Machine himself, Jose Alberto Pujols. He spreads his feet terribly wide, and the terribly high position of his hands forces his chin up into a royal downward peer towards the pitcher. This optical illusion–that Pujols in the batter’s box seems to actually look up at the pitcher on the mound–is at the core of his mondo Stillness quotient. And when he pumps his arms up and down just as easy as you please, that moment before the pitcher goes into his motion and throws seems to offer only one conclusion: powerful, purposeful contact.

Pitchers

As noted, pitchers are required to stop before starting up again. Given that, there’s a more subtle manner by which pitchers express themselves and the Stillness. Roy Oswalt, for example, doesn’t seem to come to a rest at all, such is his blistering pace, as though he met the Stillness in a nightmare once as a child and vowed never again to allow it purchase. A quick militaristic nod to the catcher, a poker face, and he fires forward. Mike Mussina, with a man on base, would bend low at the waist and shimmy back up to the still position; Greg Maddux, may his career rest in peace, eyed the catcher’s sign with not a poker face but a sort of non-expression, like he was watching reality television, veiling his well-recorded analytical prowess. The pitcher’s participation in the Stillness moment is in essence to stand still and look in.

The Stillness moment is infintely applicable. Each player must face it down, whether from the mound or from the batter’s box, and it can–with the right doses of presumptuousness and armchair psychology–tell you a lot about a player and the way that he approaches the pitch, the inning, the game, the season.

So look for it, the next time you’re watching a game. Chances are good that you already feel it, especially in the later innings, maybe in a tie ball game, perhaps in the playoffs; that tight feeling in your gut that wants more than anything for the guy to throw the damn pitch already, and let’s see what happens.

A Step Towards World Domination

After months of harsh negotiations friendly emails, I’m pleased to announce the arrival of Ted Walker to the Pitchers & Poets cohort — now two members strong. Ted blogs about baseball at one of my favorite sites,  Waiting For Berkman, and has been known to outsmart my posts here with witty and pointed comments.  He’s  an Astros fan, and former backup catcher on a Division 3 college baseball team (which means he’ll make a great manager one day).  No doubt you will find his perspective nuanced and his writing really, really good, but I’m inclined to let those things speak for themselves. You can look forward to his inaugural post very soon.

Welcome Aboard!

Welcome Aboard!

The Union Forever

I recently caught my first ever episode of Studio 42 with American Treasure Bob Costas® on the MLB Network. Costas interviewed Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver for the whole hour and had me fascinated from the get-go. Gibson is disarmingly genial for a guy who threw 96 mph fastballs at opponents just because, and McCarver is as great an interviewee as he is awful an interviewer/commentator. Credit to Costas for covering everything from segregated Spring Training facilities to losing World Series efforts against the Yankees and Tigers.

One topic they hit on was Curt Flood, who played center field for those sixties Cardinals teams. It was the rare discussion of Flood purely as a ballplayer. His teammates asserted – and Costas backed them up on this – that Flood was among the best defensive center fielders of all time, with better range than Willie Mays. As Gibson chatted about Flood the teammate, and Flood the player, I realized that before this interview I knew next to nothing of Curt Flood playing baseball. I knew Flood the Martyr, Flood the Patron Saint of Free Agents, but not Flood the baseball player.

This realization sent me down a thought-spiral on memory and legacy and all that stuff. For me Curt Flood isn’t so much a ballplayer as a symbol, a historic figure, a memory. Because he challenged the reserve clause, Flood represents something way bigger in baseball history than his contributions on the field. But maybe instead of complementing a fine career, the legal battles have caused Flood’s achievements to be overlooked.

Hell, between 1963 and 1969, Curt Flood, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente won every National League Gold Glove for outfielders. Then, in 1970, it was Flood, Clemente, and Pete Rose. Flood was a decent hitter, but not a superstar like those guys. He wasn’t winning these awards because his offensive production prejudiced voters. Flood made a couple of All Star games too.

From what I’ve read, Curt Flood was a hell of a guy. You have to be bold to take a baseball contract dispute to the Supreme Court, risking your own career to prove a point for your fellow ballplayers. He wrote (not recited to a sportswriter, but really wrote) a book, part autobiography and part critical essay on the commercial realities of baseball as run by the freewheeling and unchecked owners of the time. He owned a bar in Spain. He was commissioner of the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association. And sadly, Flood died young, of throat cancer at just 59 years old.

I wonder what a guy like Curt Flood, whose interests and perspective extended far beyond the diamond, would think of his legacy. I wonder if he’d feel overlooked as a ballplayer, or proud to be something more. Let’s face it, you don’t get rock songs written about you for just tracking down lots of fly balls in center field.

Curt Flood is to baseball players as Cesar Chavez is to farm workers?

If Curt Flood is to baseball players as Cesar Chavez is to farm workers, what does that make George McGovern in this picture?

Then yesterday, obviously due to his concern with my current-train-of-thought, Donald Fehr stepped down as head of the MLB Player’s Association. Fehr came up as a lawyer, general counsel to the MLBPA, and prodigy of former Flood co-conspirator Marvin Miller. The first reaction I read to Fehr’s retirement was from Darren Rovell on CNBC.com. Rovell framed the story, and Fehr’s career in about the least surprising way possible:

“Does Don Fehr Get An *?”

I thought it was cool that Rovell, who is generally more interested in the businessy and right-now side of things, jumped straight to a piece on legacy. But the way he framed Fehr’s legacy, as either all-about, or not-totally about steroids leaves no room for nuance. Steroids will be a part of the discussion for a long time, but maybe the immediacy of it all makes these issues hard to process.

I recently swore to myself I would stop writing about steroids, because nothing good can come of it anymore, but this is only tangentially related. Fehr ran the MLBPA during the “steroid era.” Until the end, when public suspicion grew into public outrage, he defended the players from accountability on the issue of performance enhancers. But as head of the union wasn’t that his job? Wouldn’t it be fairer to see Fehr in the same light we see defense attorneys? For there to be dialogue, doesn’t somebody need to argue the less popular point? It only got interesting because Fehr was so much better at it than Selig and his cohorts.

Did people know in 1972 that Curt Flood would be the Reserve Clause Guy? Maybe, but if the Reserve Clause wasn’t overturned three years after Flood struck the opening blow, that battle might have been a mere footnote, a triviality.

Then again, what else has Don Fehr really done? His wikipedia page is terribly short.

*Bonus video: Billy Bragg, Power In The Union:

Poem Of The Week: Along Came Ruth

I’ve been wanting to get into more of the early 20th century genre of baseball poetry as written by sports writers. None of the vague stuff, no complicated metaphors or symbolism. Nope. This is fun, this is baseball poem as offshoot of game recap. Anyway, we start with Ford C. Frick, former newspaperman, NL president, and MLB commish:

You step up to the platter
And you gaze with flaming hate
At the poor benighted pitcher
As you dig in at the plate.
You watch him cut his fast ball loose,
Then swing your trusty bat
And you park one in the bleachers-
Nothing’s simpler than that!

For those of you in the market for more modern day poetry, just change the title to Along Came Albert.

The Mulder Collective

Something really weird happened to me this afternoon. I got all nostalgic about Mark Mulder. I was thinking about pitching, preparing to write a post about the rise of a new wave of aces, when all of a sudden there he was. Mark Mulder, free agent. He was sitting in an empty dugout, gazing out on some nameless field, arms crossed, gangly legs kicked out.

Mark Mulder is only 32 years old. He’s got a career record of 103-60. He has started an All-Star game. He has won big in the playoffs. He has led the American League in wins. And now he is all but forgotten. He is not on a big league roster. He is not on a minor league roster. And he is definitely, definitely not among the National League’s ERA leaders.

That list belongs to a different generation. If in some alternate universe Mark Mulder was among the top ten pitchers in the NL in ERA, he would be the second-oldest pitcher there. Once again, Mark Mulder turns 33 in August.

As of today, June 17, 2009, 33-year old Ted Lilly is the elder statesman amongst NL ERA leaders. Next is Dan Haren, 28. After that it’s a bunch of guys aged 23-26. Their names are Johnny Ceuto, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Chad Billingsley, Josh Johnsen, Jair Jurrjens, Yovani Gallardo, and Zach Duke.

ERA is a clumsy metric and stats in mid-June don’t mean a whole lot. But that’s not the point. The list above provides a rough snapshot of the next few years of NL pitching excellence. Surely some of these young guys won’t maintain their current paces, and some guys who aren’t in the top ten will surpass them. If you look beyond the photo’s borders (pardon the extended metaphor), you’ll find unsurprising things: Johan Santana is 11th in the NL in ERA, Roy Halladay is dominating the American League, and CC Sabathia is doing his usual.

But stay within the borders for a moment. Examine this snapshot in detail, ye nostalgic baseball fans, and despair. For soon, none of the old arms outside it will remain. In other words, classes of stud pitchers rise and fall. They rise in exciting waves, cresting like Ceuto and Cain and company right now. Then they fall as pieces, each pitcher alone in success or failure. Some linger, immune to gravity and time like Greg Maddux. Others go the way of the Mulder.

Consider, for a moment, the wave of the early 2000’s. We can call it the Mulder Collective and take 2003 as the year it crested. The American League saw big –or at least very promising – efforts from Roy Halladay, Barry Zito, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, Joel Pineiro, and Mulder himself. The NL saw big things from Brandon Webb, Javier Vazquez, Roy Oswalt, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. (At this point, Cubs fans are excused). It’s worth noting also, that a year later Jake Peavy and Ben Sheets emerged as aces.

The members of the Mulder Collective didn’t necessarily rise as a monolithic entity. They all entered the league at different times and ages, surrounded by varying degrees of hype and expectations. In the six years since, each member has found his own unique level of success, and they’ve combined for 25 top-5 Cy Young finishes. But at one point, before their destinies unfolded, an air of mystery surrounded the group. Who would climb Mount Olympus? Who would tempt greatness, but ultimately fly too close to the sun?

It’s all fairly arbitrary isn’t it? The Mulder Collective is my invention. It’s how I make myth out of men, because in the end they are just men. That these men happen to be the first pitchers I watched consciously as they entered the league and matured in it is coincidence. That their arrival coincided with the peak of my late-adolescent fantasy baseball obsession is also coincidence. For somebody a few years older, that first class of pitchers might be called the Millwood Collective.

I have no proof statistically that great pitchers arrive in clusters. They probably don’t. If the Mulder Collective is just projected out of my imagination, then the current state of the pitching leader board is an anomaly caused by small sample size, or just a sign of years passing. I’m looking for something meaningful in a relatively meaningless data set.

If the national pastime is baseball, then the national pastime of baseball fans is building up myths and debunking them. Baseball, more than any other sport, is defined by the tension between the truths we believe emotionally and the truths we understand intellectually. It’s about myths and symbols vs. facts and figures; guts and instincts vs. cold competence. In its current form (tools vs. stats, Joe Morgan vs. rational thought), the quarrel has escalated almost to the point where it undermines the fact that its own nature as a pastime. The joy of myth and the joy of fact need one another. Together, they buoy the Game.

In 2003, when the Mulder Collective began to assert itself, I did not have the burden of perspective. There were many great young pitchers and I watched them and I followed their performances and that was it. I would never have bunched them together as a unit like I do in retrospect. I would certainly never have named them. But at the same time, I was excited about them and amazed by them. There was so much joy in Barry Zito’s soul-crushing curveball, in Mark Buehrle’s robotic consistency that I feel ridiculous just typing about it. But it was there. I expected all of them, even Joel Pineiro, to be great.

Now the wave of pitchers dominating baseball is my age or just a few years older. Maybe that’s why I noticed them in the first place. But regardless of how good they are – and they are damn good – the myth seems a little less elevated. I know more about these pitchers as they rise than I did about the members of the Mulder Collective, and I certainly know more about baseball. I know with dead certainty that some of these guys will flame out, or go the way of the Mulder. But a couple will pitch like heroes long enough that they become them.

There is no back-story compelling enough to preordain success. Nor does any past achievement guarantee a future one. The Mulder Collective is breaking, piece by piece into the individual stories of its members. And it will be replaced by these new kids, with new stories. The real magic is in that cycle, those stories, and the mysteries of their unfolding.

Poem Of The Week: The Buddhists Have the Ball Field

Here’s a poem from James Tate.

The Buddhists have the ball field. Then the teams
arrive, nine on one, but only three on the other.
The teams confront the Buddhists. The Buddhists
present their permit. There is little point in
arguing it, for the Buddhists clearly have the
permit for the field. And the teams have nothing,
not even two complete teams. It occurs to one team
manager to interest the Buddhists in joining his
team, but the Buddhists won’t hear of it. The teams
walk away with their heads hung low. A gentle rain
begins. It would have been called anyway, they
think suddenly.

Blogging Econo

I went to Blogs with Balls this weekend, the first ever sports blogging conference. There was some early trepidation about going, but I’m glad I bit the bullet. It was a lot of fun, the food was decent, and I met some exceptionally cool people – more on them later.

More importantly, the conference allowed me to flesh out some ideas on blogs and blogdom and the broader sports media landscape that I had been unable to previously articulate. The panelists were a mix of blogger/writers, new media moguls, and miscellaneous white people. I learned a ton.

I didn’t realize I was learning anything groundbreaking besides how to be good on Twitter until the last panel of the day. It was supposed to be on why the old guard media hates bloggers, but devolved into a sort of free-for-all. FreeDarko’s Bethlehem Shoals worked himself up into an existential, expletive-filled frenzy over what we were all doing there in the first place.

“A blog is just a fucking platform,” he said at one point.

That hit home. I don’t blog because I want to make a million dollars in ad revenue or because I believe in blogging as some sort of movement. I write a blog because blogs are stunningly effective at getting words from one person’s head to another’s line of sight. If this were the 1700s, and the most effective way for me to share a thousand word essay on racism, nationalism, and fan identity was by printing up pamphlets and handing them out on the streets, I’d probably be doing that.

In the 1700s not all pamphleteers were doing the same thing, and today not all bloggers do the same thing. Some pamphleteers wrote angry screeds about the Quartering Act and others collected funny jokes about King George III’s fish-like facial features. It’s unfair to lump those two together content-wise because they both  happened to choose the most effective means of distribution.

I was sort of irked by the notion of the blog as a genre and bloggers as a monolithic entity. The platform is still new and its conventions are still being defined. The whole notion of blogger solidarity seems more based on the common recognition of technology’s value (and the whiplash scolding by media folks who don’t) than any unified concept of what we do. Or as Spencer Hall, who blogs for the Sporting News and Every Day Should Be Saturday, so drunkenly put it on Saturday, “we all do different things.”

Many of the panelists, like I said before, weren’t bloggers at all. There were Twitter experts, entrepreneurs, and all kinds of internet gurus. Most of what they talked about was money. How do you turn your passion (blogging, writing, sports, whatever) into cash? How do you grow your audience? How do you become as famous as the guys from Deadspin?

All good questions, but questions that caused me to take a second look at my motivations for blogging and for being there in the first place. I blog because I love to write, and at this point nobody – much less the vaunted mainstream media – is paying me to do it. It’s an outlet and a platform and hell, a bit of a showcase for me. I’m interested in baseball and culture and literature and I think some other people might be too. Hopefully one of those other people works for ESPN or The Atlantic and wants to pay me to write something. If not, that’s alright too. I love the process.

That’s what scared me about that second, businessman type of panelist. I don’t know if he gets or cares about that process. Content might be king to that guy, but only because without it there is nothing to draw an audience, nothing to wrap ads around.

None of this really crystallized until the keynote speaker, a super-rich wine/internet expert named Gary Vaynerchuk took the stage. His message, I thought, was muddled. He said that we should grab life by the balls, define our passion and pursue it and make it our livelihood (key phrase: FUCKING CRUSH IT). Then he said that for every hour we spent on that passion, we should spend twenty or thirty hours on promoting it, on hustling basically. That’s a lot of hours, Gary, and it doesn’t jive with me or my values. I wasn’t the only one who thought so either.

If it’s really about the content, about doing something you care about and doing it well, then that’s what you spend the time on. There was a punk band out of San Pedro, CA in the 1980s called the Minutemen. Their message was simple: We Jam Econo. It’s not about the money or the chicks or the record companies or the egos. It’s about playing the music we love and getting it out there and everything else is bullshit. They’ve got a song called History Lesson, Part II. You may have heard it:

Our band could be your life. Their band was their life. Not because they were out on their knees in front of Capital Records trying to get their demo in the right suit’s hands, but because they put the music first, always. The stage, the radio, the record were just platforms.

Of course I’m not 100 pct idealistic and naïve and I’m not on some futile jihad for artistic integrity. I want more traffic on this blog. I want more attention as a writer. I want to do this for a living. All the passion in the world won’t net you a dime by itself. I’ve got a soap box, and I could stand up here all day and shout for my small audience. But if I don’t step away, that audience won’t grow very fast. It takes networking, hustling, savvy to make it in the business. A Tribe Called Quest puts things into perspective:

Note the last verse from Diamond D. It’s all about striking a balance, and it ain’t easy:

You gotta get a label that’s willin’ and able
To market and promote, and you better hope
(For what?) That the product is dope
Take it from Diamond, it’s like mountain climbin’
When it comes to rhymin’ you gotta put your time in

And that’s the one thing I did appreciate about the keynote speaker, Gary Vaynerchuk. He said we should play to our strengths. If that means joining a blog network like Yard Barker or SB Nation to get promoted and make money and build traffic, then maybe it’s a wise thing to do. If that means asking a friend to help with spreading the word about you, while you help them with something else (note: not sure how helpful I can be, but I’ll try), then do it that way.

I may differ from a lot of the other guys at the Blogs with Balls event. I’m not posting a ton every day, or putting up sports gossip and pictures of hot chicks, or writing exclusively about one team. But that’s okay. There’s a place for what they do and a place for what I do.

In the end, a blog is what you make it: journal, news source, humor venue, platform for silly essays only ostensibly about baseball. It’s really up to us.

I’m going to list some of the cool folks I talked to at BwB.  I’ve spent the last day reading over their sites, and I can say with confidence that aside from being nice guys, they are good writers and worth a look. Some might not be your thing (i.e. I’m a huge Dolphins fan, but spent a lot of the day talking with the proprietor of a Jets blog), but good writing is good writing:

Mike Mader: MikeOnThePhillies.com

Paul Catalano: AndAPlayerToBeNamedLater.blogspot.com

Brian Bassett: TheJetsBlog.com

Bethlehem Shoals: FreeDarko.com

Don Povia*: HuggingHaroldReynolds.com

Jared Wade: BothTeamsPlayedHard.net

Andrew Feinstein: DenverStiffs.com

*Bonus points for organizing the conference

Bad-Search-Term Used-To-Get-To-My-Blog Of The Day:

“jim murray is pretentious