Interview: Dodger Thoughts Blogger Jon Weisman
Dodger Thoughts blogger Jon Weisman
The transition from Baseball Toaster, which recently shut down after Weisman and others left, to the Times, could represent a seismic shift in sports journalism. At once, it shows that the mainstream media is continuing to recognize blogs (and bloggers) as writers to be taken seriously while also giving great credence to the multitude of fans who regularly read Weisman's posts. Or it could mean very little in the scheme of things, if the humble Weisman is to be believed.
I reached the Los Angeles resident from his home last week, where we talked about the move to the Times, the future of journalism and whether he considers himself part of the mainstream now that his blog has gone from the fringe to the head of the class.
For your first post, July 21, 2002, you wrote, "This is where I will vent, and, if I can ever feel so comfortable, exult about the Dodgers and baseball in general." When did you start to feel comfortable to really start venting and exulting?
It was the next day. At the time, it was completely uncertain that people might potentially read it because at the very beginning, I would just send the link to my brother.
So, it was your own personal blog at first, right? It wasn't under the auspices of Baseball Toaster?
Oh yeah. I mean, in a way it still is [personal]. I'd like to think in a lot of ways it still is.
At first, it was a Blogger account. When did you transfer to Baseball Toaster and how did that association come about?
The first move was to [the now defunct] AllBaseball.com and that was probably in early 2004. This was the early days of baseball blogging. About a year after that, we decided to go in a different direction.
Were you the first Baseball Toaster blogger?
I was not the first. I was somewhere in the middle.
In terms of Dodger Thoughts, you've often said you had no clear intention of what you wanted it to be. Have the years give you any clarity?
Besides it being a personal outlet for me, there was just so little published material from the mainstream take of the Dodgers. It's not that I always disagreed with the mainstream, but I definitely sometimes did. The Sabermetric influence-- you almost never found it in Dodger coverage. It's just a different but very rational way of looking at the team. I didn't think I was unique, necessarily. But at the time, I had some time on my hands. Now, it's sort of the opposite, though I still do it. There were a lot of different things I wanted to do at first. I never had any plan as to how often, or how long I would write. But starting roughly form the beginning I found I had something. I almost never forced myself to write something. There were a couple Dodger blogs [when I started], but not much else. Now, I think there might be 20 or 30 of them. A lot of them come at it from the same analytical/fan angle that I do. Sometimes what I’m doing is aggregating links, pulling together interesting things. Some of it is very personal, and some of it I - some of the time I do write things that are being said, but I have to admit that the strength of the blogosphere has grown that it does make it harder to distinguish yourself, I think. I'm hoping [my move to the Times] is good for everybody because there's a lot of good stuff being written out there. Definitely not just me. I'm getting a little time in the sun right now, but there are definitely plenty of [other] Dodger blogs. I'm not the best thing going.
During that first ten days of blogging on Dodger Thoughts, before the Toaster, there were no comments.
Yeah, it wasn't even for almost two years until it was set up to take comments. I'd get emails.
Today, you regularly pull in hundreds and sometimes more than 1,000 comments a post -- many from a small, loyal band of followers. Why do you think Dodger Thoughts ignites so much passion and has such a following?
The watershed moment was the Lo Duca trade in July 2004. I would get 10 comments on a post, maybe 20 [before that]. There was a time when the game chat jacks up the comments. When that trade came, the reaction amongst all Dodger fans was so intense. It sort of goes back to what I said earlier. My site, for what it was - and believe me it had no big audience back then - but it was the most popular Dodger blog. It was the main alternative Dodger blog where all across Los Angeles you had people saying the Dodgers traded their heart and soul and ruined the franchise. The interesting thing was that I wasn't necessarily in favor of the trade. My opinion on the trade was: the trade made sense to me but I would never have had the guts to do it. It was a very risky trade to make from a public profile standpoint. It wasn't like I was all for it, but I guess I was that lone outlet for people who shared that opinion; or liked the trade to actually come and say that they did without being attacked. We had a really healthy debate that day and into the following days. That was really when the community started to form beyond a small circle of friends.
What is your most memorable moment while blogging for Dodger Thoughts?
It's hard to say. What I just told you is definitely one. The one thing that put me on the map even earlier was writing about Shawn Green's injury. I did some research and Will Carroll helped me out with that. [Green] had undergone a serious surgery and everyone said the surgery was a success, which is what everyone says assuming the patient doesn't die on the operating table. I'd read something about his injury and it sounded like it wasn't that simple. So, I did a little research and talked to Will and he helped me. We wrote this thesis, which concluded that Shawn Green would never be the same again, which was a very radical take to have. It was the first entry that was ever linked in a serous fashion. It got outside attention and that did a lot for me. But for all this talk of analysis, I've had the most fun writing about the personal accounts of a game or just something that happened that I sort of try way hard to relate to the Dodgers so it doesn't seem so out of place.
Like in talking about your dogs?
Yeah, exactly. I guess I’ve gotten feedback from my readers, and I’m sure there are readers who only want to read about the Dodgers, but I think people like the personal stuff. If they're willing to indulge, then I want to do it.
If we could delve deeper into that. You are incredibly personal on the blog, talking about your family, your childhood, etc. In my opinion, it is rather refreshing and maybe one reason people keep coming back. But has there been any backlash or reaction from your family about including them in such a public fashion?
No. I’m not disclosing anything that major. I've never even said the names of my family on the site, which is maybe a little paranoid. The stuff I'm talking about...I just haven't crossed that line. My family, though strange as any family around, doesn't have these huge skeletons.
You have three young kids, right?
And you work for Variety full time. How does being a father fit in with having a full-time job and writing Dodger Thoughts?
It's hard to deal. Ultimately, Dodger Thoughts comes in third on that list, if not lower based on whatever else might be happening on any given day. I gotta do my job; I gotta give my kids attention. During the workweek, I only see them [sparingly]. Someone wakes up by six, I might take one of them to school; I’m with them for two hours in the morning; I’m with them for two hours at night. It's not that much in a 24-hour day.
The fact is, during that time I am sneaky. I’m getting ready for work, I’m eating and I am trying to sneak in Dodger Thoughts when I can. It’s really all about sneaking things in. This is how I do it: I stopped exercising. I stopped reading books. I stopped doing a lot of things I just took for granted years ago. When I say I stopped exercising, I don't weight 300 pounds, because that's not my thing. But my cholesterol is up. It’s not good. When other people are out jogging, I’m sitting at my computer. I'm out of the literary world as far as reading books. I do read, I read a ton, but it's all on the computer. I’m reading the equivalent of probably three books a year and I have a master’s degree in English. But that’s how it’s done. Those first three things get what I can give them, but after that, there are definitely things that fall by the wayside.
Is that the most frustrating thing about Dodger Thoughts?
Yeah, it's frustrating, but it's a choice. I can stop Dodger Thoughts at any moment and have all this stuff back. The problem is that I can't seem to stop doing it. And now, of course, this would be a particularly odd week to stop doing it. But I love it and I've made that choice -- I’ve chosen to do Dodger Thoughts instead of reading 12 books a year. Some day in the future, I’ll look back and wonder if that was the right thing to do. Or someday when I'm having gastric bypass surgery, I'll wonder if it was the right thing to do.
So, what is the most frustrating thing about doing Dodger Thoughts?
I do wish I could give more time to it. I do a lot, but I wish I could give more. It's not always rewarding. I'm not always happy with what I've written or the reaction I get. It's a learning experience, but some days are more rewarding than others. It frustrates me that as I am reading bedtime stories, I am sort of aching to get back to the computer. That's sort of a perplexing thing to have because your kids are only going to be young once. When you look back, you'll only regret that you didn't spend more time with your kids. And yet, I still find myself sometimes rushing through my kid time. Not good. I hope what I do do is enough, but I'd be a better parent, at least, if I didn't have Dodger Thoughts. On the other had, Dodger Thoughts has brought a lot for me. Dodger Thoughts helped me get the job with Variety, helped me get the job writing for SI.com, helped me get a book deal, helped me get to the Times, helped me do all of these things are valuable to the household on some level. It's very complex and I think about it all the time. I do. It's weird.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, “The departure of Weisman to the LA times [sic] has led to the shutdown of the Baseball Toaster." Did it shutdown because of you?
I was the last of three major straws. I was the last straw, but not the only straw. One was that the other major site on Toaster, which was Bronx Banter, left six months ago. The other was that Ken Arnesen, who ran Toaster... [left]. He talked about the fact that he set out to make Toaster into a viable outlet. He couldn't stay committed to it and I would never have left Toaster, and he understands this, if Toaster was going to continue to grow. But it wasn't and I don't blame him. He's like me; he has three kids, he has a job and has choices to make. But I couldn't sit there and say I'm going to choose to stay with Toaster and turn down all these offers when I'm sitting here [with] a household of five and living on a journalists' income. As you may know, journalists aren't exactly the richest paid people in the world. I would have loved to build Toaster but it wasn't meant to be.
What other offers did you get?
I had one other offer, but I’m not going to go into that.
Did the Times come calling, did [LA Times blog editor and former LAist editor] Tony Pierce come calling or did you seek them out?
They sought me out, but you'd have to ask [Tony]. From what I can gather, they were definitely aware of me over there. I know a lot of people at the Times from my days working at the Daily News and having freelanced there a couple of times. There are a lot of ex-Daily News people that are now at the Times. Randy Harvey, who’s a sports editor now, was aware of the site. Tony was aware of the site. Apparently, it was something that had been talked about throughout the past year. One day I had gone to have lunch with the bloggers from the Daily Mirror [http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/] who I had become friends with. It was just an informal friend’s lunch. Tony was there and I met him that day. We had a nice time and I thought nothing of it. And then that night I got an email from him asking if I was interested in coming over. To make a long story short, three days after he made the offer...Tribune [Co.] filed for bankruptcy and so it was definitely a weird time. It goes without saying this is a weird time to be an addition the LA Times. But in the end, I decided to go for it.
Panorama of Dodger Stadium during a game against the Cubs. Photo was taken from third or fourth deck during the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers move to the Los Angeles area. Via Wikipedia.
I wouldn't assign too much significance to my little...I'm not trying to be falsely humble, but I don't know if it's making any sort of profound statement that I came over there. I mean, I think it shows that something like me for better or worse can get attention and be considered a voice [for] one of the largest newspapers in the nation.
There are severe problems in journalism and I'd like to think I'm a small part of the solution rather than part of the bigger problem. I don't know that I'll have a big impact, so I'm not sitting here saying it's a big deal. I think it's something that can have an incrementally positive affect on the Times and a similarly incremental positive affect on me. I’ll continue to be linking to all these other sites that I think are valuable and hopefully it will boost their profile. The best thing about it is probably that it will expose a lot of good voices to a slightly wider audience and I think people can sift through that and see what's valuable, or not. But I certainly think it's good to have more voices heard. I think comparing, I mean it can be a metaphor if you want, but just talking about the Dodgers, if you compare what you can read about the Dodgers now to what you read about them seven years ago, I think in this arena it's a hugely better situation now. Certainly when I grew up all you had was a couple newspapers, five minutes of Jim Hiller, Fred Rogan at night and then occasionally you might get some attention on a handful of teams. But that was it. And then you would just wait for the Bill James Abstract to come out and that was it. It's wonderful to have all those options.
You have gone on record in the past as being critical of some of the Times columnists, including Bill Plaschke. Do you think this will change the way those columnists approach writing or change the way people see them now that you are part of the Times?
I'm sure it won’t change how they write and I wouldn't expect them to [change]. I have no idea what the people whom I've criticized in the past think of me or those criticisms. The fact is I don't criticize very often. There are some items when a piece really gets to me and I'll say, look, this is what's wrong with it. I don't believe I ever make it personal. I don't take that style. We're free to disagree. There are plenty of people out there who think what I write is crap. I think one thing that definitely distinguishes Dodger Thoughts is that I can be sarcastic. I’m cynical offline, I’ll curse and can get very angry offline. But online, I really try, try, try to respect other people. I think even when they criticize someone, they know I mean well and it’s not personal. I don't know if I've ever gotten much of a response of anything. For years, people didn't even know I existed I was [blogging]. If someone at the Times writes something that I disagree with and I think is important to point out why I disagree with it, then I'll disagree with it. Like I said on the site the other day, in some ways I think I'll really arrive when someone does that to me. I believe in what I write, but I'm sure I'm wrong some of the time. Like anybody else.
Do you consider yourself mainstream now?
No. I guess not. I mean, I'm not way out there on the fringe now and I'm writing for a mainstream publication. But...that's a good question because I haven't actually thought about it in that way. I guess I don't. Maybe I'm not seeing it yet, but I still feel it’s this little operation…I still feel the independence that I've always felt, even in the first days of the site.
I always tried to write with professionalism and I don't think professionalism is the same as mainstream. I sort of go my own way. It’s not the Weathermen; it’s not a radical thing. But it is independent. Maybe you can say the same thing about the most mainstream columnists in America, but I don't see myself that way.
Do you still have complete editorial control over DT?
I was asked to do exactly what I was doing before; they didn't ask me to change one thing. In that respect, the answer is yes. If I keep doing what I was hired to do, they aren't going to do anything. For the record, they do proofread me now.
Now that the bloggers and mainstream media outlets have somewhat merged, is there room for both outlets? And do you think the Times asking you to blog about the Dodgers for them is deleterious for mainstream baseball reporting?
I think I'm a positive thing for sports journalism. Here's the ironic thing: I'm rigid about sources. People criticize bloggers for [not citing sources]. But you pick any winter of the baseball season and you will see the most prominent sports journalists in America write stories based on one anonymous source. And that will be splashed as the lead story. It's a cutthroat world, I understand. But they are way more fast and loose about their source material than I would ever be. They have more at stake -- this is their full time job. But the idea that bloggers by nature are more careless is a complete crock. There couldn't be a worse example of how journalism should be done than off-season baseball coverage. We're lucky if we ever see an on the record source in a given week.
That being said, when it comes to the beat, I have huge respect for these guys. I couldn't do it. When I got out of college, it was always my plan to do it. I wanted to be the beat writer for the Dodgers and become a columnist some day. I started sensing what it would be like and two years into it, I got out. I couldn't deal with how hard you have to work. It’s a grind and half. Is not just going to a game and sitting and watching. It’s not just going to a clubhouse and interviewing people. You have to be on your toes, not get beat on a story, dig out stories, do all this work, be away from home. It's incredibly difficult. Bloggers have it incredibly easy in one respect: that all these other people do all this work and all they have to do is link to it. It takes these reporters hours to do something it takes bloggers to do in three seconds. I think the combination of traditional journalism and this newer journalism is great because it’s sort of a check and balance. They compliment each other. The idea that one medium is inherently superior to another, I don't believe in that. It’s all about the work ethic and the talent and approach of each individual participant and on a given day whoever is doing the better job is doing the better job.
Manny Ramirez. Are you sick of the coverage and what do you think is going to happen?
I wouldn't say I’m sick of it. I don't need to know what's happened until it's happened. I don’t need the play-by-play of how we get to Manny. I’m not surprised it’s taken a long time given this economy and given what [Ramirez’s agent Scott] Boras said his expectations are. It wouldn't surprise me if it took until May to sign Manny. He doesn't strike me as guy who’s eager to play exhibition games. It wouldn't be unprecedented for a player to sign after the season started. I'm not saying that’s what’s going to happen, but it wouldn't shock me.
Do you have a prediction on what's going to happen with Manny?
At the beginning of the off-season, I didn't think they [the Dodgers] would be able to bid enough. But I hadn't anticipated how the market would go and from what I can tell, there are so few other contenders and none of them seem willing to offer.
I still don't completely believe the Angels are so adamantly opposed that they would never get into it [Ed. note: this interview was conducted before the Angels signed outfield slugger Bobby Abreu, rendering any talk of acquiring Manny nearly moot]. The Giants are lurking and it’s got to be tempting for them even in this financial world.
But in the end, whether it happens next week or in a month, is Boras going to get a better deal elsewhere? One of the things I’ve read is that Boras and Ramirez would take less money [from another team] for making such an insulting offer. That strikes me as illogical. Why would they take a greater insult? It just doesn't make sense. They want to get the best deal they can. If it's a matter of 30 cents between two teams, he might do it, but if it’s a $5 million difference over one year or a $20 million difference over two or three years - he's going to go where the best deal is. I still think the Dodgers are ahead of the pack, but Ramirez hasn't talked to anyone. I don't know if he's done an interview with a reporter since October [Ed. Note: the day after this interview was conducted, Dylan Hernandez of the Times talked with Ramirez]. Everyone makes all these assumptions; I just threw out a supposition, but he hasn't said a word to anybody. My guess would be he’s letting Boras do what Boras is supposed to do and he'll be the sort of [moody] character who has his happy times and his sad times, just like I do. And in the end, he'll be this very, very good but flawed player. But we don't know.
What about a prediction for the season for the Dodgers?
If they sign Ramirez, I think they're the team to beat in the division, which is so not likely to be a great division this year. The Giants have very good pitching, but if they don't get Ramirez, they have a tough, tough offense to deal with. Colorado and San Diego are in retreat. Arizona is not bereft, but they've taken some hits. With Ramirez, the Dodgers are the team to beat. I tend to be more optimistic about Dodger pitching than most are.
Especially given the signing of [left-handed starter] Randy Wolf?
Well, my take is that Randy Wolf adds a body. I'm worried about being perceived as too negative on him especially because he's from here. He’s not someone who's exceptional for a full season. It's great if he can give the Dodgers 15 good starts. But, I mean, I guess I do have a
weakness: I tend to have a bias for believing that you can get that same kind of performance form a guy making $400,000 a year. I don't now how much better Randy Wolf is than a guy like Eric Stults in the Dodger dugout.
Thanks very much, Jon.