Monday, January 29, 2007

The Bill Ladson Controversy

Hurricane Farid

Media commentary is part of what I contribute to Curly W, so here is some.

Today, Brandon brought to my attention the blogstorm started by Farid's excellent interview of Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson. I don't really read Bill, but you can bet I'll add him to the list of voices I troll in this upcoming season. Farid's piece set off a storm of comments, then a reaction from Ryan at Distinguished Senators > storm of comments, then an epilogue from Farid with comments.

Farid's interview began with a lengthy introduction highlighting his big takeaways from the interview. I don't really know what Farid is talking about when he says that bloggers can cause intentional or unintentional damage. To what? Bill's rep? The team's prospects? National security? Although I tend not to go straight for the Constitutional argument like Ryan did, baseball consumers are the paying customers. Whether sitting in a seat that you paid for with your own money, watching a game on TV or wading through a commercial website like the Washington Post, it's entertainment for our consumption and we can pretty well say whatever the hell we want about it. That goes for the people that bring us baseball. That goes for the people that cover the people that bring us baseball, and the people that cover them and so on and so forth. Obviously if anyone is out there giving out Bill's home address and where his kids go to school, that's legally actionable and if anyone is trying to damage his career that writing may be subject to libel or defamation suits.

But is implying that by virtue of his employment by MLB he may have some level of access not granted to other writers harmful? I guess that depends on who's answering. As a commenter on Farid's post mentions, Bill is a credentialed reporter, and therefore is an insider relative to us schmoes on the street. And no matter how many times the league denies it, I'm always going to be skeptical of beat reporting on a league franchise by the league sponsoring the franchise. That doesn't mean he's a bad writer, it just means I don't think it's totally independent on any subject matter. If that's what you think is harmful Bill, I apologize. It's not you.

Fourteen spacebars down, we get back into the red meat when discussing bloggers. Bill's comments about bloggers hacking his computer, printing lies and knowing it all are on the border of obsessive. I don't know if he is referring to specific blog entries or just hysterically generalizing, or if his skin is just too thin but Bill, all this talk is happening in bars, over watercoolers or at games anyway so is your beef that it's in print or that it happens? Baseball is a source of emotion for some people, a source of frustration for others and a source of humor to others. Besides, in comments, Farid mentions that three blogs were called out specifically. Hmmm, wonder which ones? By naming the blogs and reporting on what Bill said, that's not biasing against the blogs, it's reporting what was said in an interview. By not mentioning the blogs, Farid is inserting himself into the story.

Farid, are you repeating your sense of the interview when you lament our lack of editorial oversight, or are you putting forth your viewpoint? Blogs go too far? Are unfair? What are you talking about? This is baseball. It's a game. Fairness and personal-ness are in the eye of the beholder. Accuracy is to be prized, but accuracy in baseball really comes down to what transactions happened when, markers in time. Everything else but the W-L is opinion.

Farid, your style is not to agitate, and that's one of the things I like about it. You are landing these interviews, which is incredible and adding a depth to Nationals coverage that we would not have otherwise, and for that I am grateful. Personally, I have little desire to get big interviews. I am a Nationals fan, but I want to remain independent. I'm not loyal to anything but the laundry. A bad play deserves to be pointed out, a bad move deserves to be mocked and good things deserve to be pointed out. My sense of fairness is exactly that, mine.

Ryan's response on Distinguished Senators was a little rough, but not necessarily out of order. When you start making generalizations about specifics, those within that brushstroke are going to get a little edgy. I don't think Farid is enabling, I don't think this interview is cover for some covert culling of Nationals blogs by shaming them into writing shiny happy things. I think Farid was deferring to Bill by showing him the respect any of us would (or should) a serious journalist, and he obviously promised to to represent fairly Bill's positions on blogs when he went live with the intervew.

Farid's style is not as acerbic as others, and he should not be disrespected for that. As I indicated above, Farid has inserted himself into the story by dropping that Bill named names, but I do not believe Farid owes anyone anything.

Farid's follow-up piece contains one specific item that was alluded to in his interview, but not made clear until the follow-up: Bill thinks it's ok to disagree with him as long as we email him first...presumably to get his take and allow him to justify himself? Unless we are talking about the basic verification of fact, that's not how it works, especially when he gets 200 mailbag emails a week. I'm not waiting around for Brandon to return my email before I go live with a piece, much less a guy that gets 50 emails a day. Opinion writers air their differences, and apologies in print. That Bill does not have the time or charter to rebut every blogger's assertions in print is his problem, not mine.


Farid, I hope everything is ok with you.


JammingEcono disagrees with Bill's assertion that defense was the reason the Nationals finished in last in the division. By Bill's standards, that's an attack.

William Yurasko reminds us the last time two blogs fought for real, they both died.

Dave at Nats Triple Play says opinions are as opinions do.

Harper agrees that Bill is probably not totally independent, possibly no moreso than any other beat reporter relying on the team info for material.

Hurricane Floyd image from here

Sunday, January 21, 2007

5 Questions with Chris

Whoa. It's almost February. A long offseason is coming to a close at last, so it's only fitting that we close out our long-running offseason feature with one last round of Natosphere 5 Questions. We're following the recent trend of hard-to-get exclusive interviews by trading questions with Chris Needham of the much-loved Capitol Punishment, one of the first Nats blogs on the scene in 2004.

You can read our answers to Chris's questions over at his place.

Here's what Chris had to say:

Curly W: One only has to attend a series at RFK against the Cubs, Mets, Cards and others to see that there are a lot more baseball fans in the D.C. area than there are Nats fans. Why do you think this is and what does the team need to do to win them over?

That's Stan Kasten's million dollar question. It's an easy answer: Win! Much is always made of the transient nature of DC fans, and it's certainly true. There probably will never be a proportionate share of Nats fans in DC as there are in other places because so many people come from somewhere else. But, if the team is cranking out wins (remember back to June '05, and the 40K a game they were getting?), the people will come. Even if you're not a diehard like us schmucks, you want to see the local 9 do well. You probably won't be able to drain the blue out of a Dodger fans' blood, but Kasten would be more than willing to be road trip groupie on the side.

Curly W: You are one of the original Nats bloggers from way back in 2004. Did you ever expect the team to generate so much blogging interest and what has been the biggest surprise along the way?

Needham: I'm not sure that I had any expectations when I started way back that October, and the number of blogs has fluctuated wildly since then. We've got what? 7 or so that are updating on at least a weekly basis? I guess that's good, but I'm not sure that that's particularly 'strong'. My biggest surprise? I guess that I've kept going for as long as I have, and that a small percentage of Nats fans seem to enjoy my wordy rantings.

Curly W: What was your favorite gameday experience at RFK so far?

That's a tough one. I'm not one of those oldsters who had a part of them die when the team moved to Arlington, and I'm not even a DC guy, coming from the woods up north somewhere. So the opening game was a great experience, but it probably didn't mean to me as much as it did to the kind of person who's likely to object to me using the world "oldsters" a sentence or two ago.

The best two ballpark experience I've had in the last two years were in Philadelphia and Baltimore, so they don't count! And I gave away my tickets for the Zimmerman walk-off against the Yankees this year. Hmmm. And I left during the rain delay of the Soriano three homer game. Hmmm. I dunno. I remember lots of moments, but I can't definitely point to one game as being 'the best.'

(Oh, the brisket stinks and is overpriced, but the chili nachos rock.)

Curly W: You are probably the foremost sabermetrician among Nats bloggers. What is it about statistics that attracts your writing as opposed to more human-interest/gameday/unfounded speculation pieces found on Curly W and other blogs?

Needham: I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not! (Ed.: it is!) I'd hesitate to call myself a stathead, but I'm stats conscious. But, I also think I've made it clear through my writing that I'm not a stats-at-all-costs kind of person, and that I actually have a pretty low tolerance for those who reflexively parrot back numbers that they don't really understand.

I know enough about the numbers to know that I don't know the numbers. I can't calculate -- or even be creative enough to devise -- most of these formulas. But the best stats are intuitive and can be understood in a qualitative sense, if not a quantitative one. I try not to say that the stats definitely prove one thing or another when I use them, but they (especially the Batting Average/ On-Base %/ Slugging Ave one that I use most frequently) can strongly hint at certain things.

I think there's too much of a tendency to look at numbers as the realm of math. To me, they're adjectives. You can say that Tony Gwynn is a great hitter, or you can say he batted .330. They mean the same thing. When used properly (and lots of people don't), they're just another way of describing or explaining what we're seeing.

Curly W: What is your most treasured piece of Nationals paraphanalia?

Well since I lost the Red W hat that I bought at the name unveiling, it's gotta be my score book. I love keeping score at games. I'm not meticulous about totaling everything up, but I like recording the pitches, counts and hits for memory's sake. I can look back at some of my old score sheets and remember specific plays.

Before the Nats came, I'd either buy a program or print one of those generic ones off the internet. But when they came, since there's obviously some mentally unstable compulsions within me, I ended up designing my own sheet with the features I like, and having it bound at Kinkos. It looks like hell at this point, thanks to rain, beer, sun and lots of summer sweat, but it'll be treasured for a long time. It's got the first game in Philly, the first game at RFK, and a bunch of others that'll bring a smile to my face once the pain of '06-'07 wears off.

Curly W BONUS QUESTION: Complete the analogy: Manny Acta is to Frank Robinson as ______ is to _____.

Before this past week, I'd have said "parsnips" to "postage stamps" since I didn't think you could compare the two of them (What, you were expecting John McGraw is to Buddy Bell?).

But since he's opened his mouth
, declaring Nook Logan the CFer (even though, more than last year, there needs to be a Spring Training competition) and Cristian Guzman the #2 batter, I'll say: Manny : Frank :: Beige : Off White.


You know, I would have pegged Frank as an Ecru kind of guy. Thanks, Chris for those great answers! And thanks to everyone who participated in the offseason version of 5 Questions. Click on the "5 Questions" label at the bottom of this post to view the full archive. We'll be bringing the feature back in April with interviews from bloggers who cover Nats' opponents.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Things

It's the dead of winter, and hardly anyone is thinking about baseball. But if you're like me, April is always just around the corner. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can picture myself at RFK on a warm summer evening...there's nothing better.

Wearing my Nats gear all winter long helps me keep those baseball fires burning. Throughout the fall and winter, when it seems that all of D.C. is sporting Redskins gear, you'll find me in my Nats hats. Now those of you who have met me or seen pictures of me know that I don't exactly have a thick mop of hair to protect my dome from the quasi-harsh D.C. winters. Thus, I almost never leave home without a Nats hat on, unless I'm on my way to work. Even then, I found myself in a suit and Nats hat one rainy morning while waiting for a Metrobus.

You'll also find my wife and daughter in Nats hats on the weekends since I keep buying them new ones at every opportunity. There are 2.33 Nats hats per capita in the Kriner family. Two belong to me. I got the replica away cap early in the 2005 season after losing my first ever El Cheapo Nats hat in a paintball war. I kept it flat-brimmed, Chad Cordero style throughout the duration of the game in which it was purchased, whereupon I curved the bill after watching the Chief blow a save to the Astros. The 1963 Senators hat is a treasured Christmas gift from my wife.

The Mrs. is the proud owner of the two hats in the middle of the above picture. She prefers the soft hats with space for her ponytail in the back. I just got her a new one because her original from 2005 (third from left) is now sporting a sweat ring that would make a frat boy proud. The red one was a gift from a fellow season-ticket holder. He got it when he bought his season ticket package but is a Mets fan so doesn't want it. I'm holding onto it to give to visitors to my house that I drag to games this summer. (Hey Nats Ticket Office...where are my hats? I bought season tickets too!)

Finally, the small hat on the right belongs to my 14-month old daughter. She isn't too keen on the whole concept of wearing hats yet, but it's a miniature replica of the hat her mother wears, so it will be pretty great on gamedays. The Little One is also the proud owner of a pink Nats stocking cap. It even has a baseball with pink stitching at the top. It's a bit too small for her growing noggin, but I'm hanging onto it in case we have another girl someday.

I always think it's great when I see people wearing Nats hats around town, especially in the offseason. There are far too few of us, and we need to show some love for a home team in a town dominated by Yankees and Mets caps. So who cares if it's January? Put your Nats hat on and hit the streets of D.C.. Let 'em know that there's a baseball team in town.

What's your favorite Nats item? Drop a comment and tell us about it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Nationals Bloggers Land Exclusive Interviews

Say goodbye to the chicken

I know just about everyone else has pimped Screech's Best Friend's exclusive interview with Stan Kasten, but I wanted to be sure everyone reads it, and I wanted to point out a couple of exclusives obtained recently by Farid at The Beltway Boys and Brian at Nationals Farm Authority.

Screech's Best Friend landed the exclusive with Stan Monday January 8 and posted it in three pieces.

Part 1: Chatting with the President, wherein Stan never agrees 2007 is a lost cause and confirms something we all knew: MLB ran the Expos down to the nub, to a little bonsai tree in a mature forest. The farm system has to be rebuilt from scratch, and the team fully intends to resist the urge to restock quickly with expensive free agents. Hrmm...Stan already has experience with MLB, NBA and NHL...wonder if he could spare a few hours this offseason with the Redskins...

Part 2: The Interview Continues. Highlights:

  • Manny Acta doesn't have to worry about his inexperience hurting player recruitment because players sign with teams that give them more money and not teams that sign the greats of baseball management.
  • Starting pitching is a worry for Stan. 37 pitchers will report to spring training and it is presumed five will be installed as starters.
  • Screech's Best Friend, like me, is a big Chad Cordero fan, and he told Jim Bowden so, directly. I bought a Chief hat for gameday. The brim is flat as two day old soda.
  • Stan on the new stadium: "It's kind of a bland design, which will require an awful lot of sprucing up." Sounds great.
  • Stan loves the loyalty of the Redskins fans in Washington. This is worthy of its own post on Curly R as many Redskins fans in town are looking around wondering why they are being loyal to a bad team.
  • Kiss Screech goodbye (when he is finally 'retired,' he will lie like Lenin in section 320 forever). Get used to the big-head presidents which means the Nationals are going to be a President's Day used car commercial for the forseeable future.

Part 3: The Final Chapter with Stan Kasten, wherin we learn the Nationals were never offered matching value for Alfonso Soriano. Considering how upset Stan was in this section of the interview, I still wonder if the team's demands at the end of the trade window for a guy about to become a free agent were not so high (ie, a 'king's ransom') there was just no way to get a deal done.

An excellent interview. Thank you Screech's Best Friend. Now I editorialize: I never saw Ryan Zimmerman's name in this interview. For some reason, that guy has been on my mind lately.

Meanwhile, back on December 23rd, Farid posted an exclusive with Vermont Lake Monsters General Manager CJ Knudsen. The Lake Monsters are the Washington Nationals Class A Short Season affiliate, based in Winooski, Vermont. Prefacing the interview, Farid summarizes the past decade for the former Vermont Expos, and if you were at all skeptical as to whether MLB really killed the Expos on the vine, have a look at the Expos/Lake Monsters performance. From the beginning of their affiliation with the Expos in 1994 through 1997, the Vermont Expos were 129-86, with a league championship. Since then: 104-193. We also learn the Lake Monsters have one of the oldest ballparks in all of baseball. It's a good read and we should all go and buy Lake Monsters hats. Great get, Farid.

Over at Nationals Farm Authority, Brian has landed three interviews in the past month. On December 28, Brian published an exclusive with Potomac Nationals Vice President and General Manager Bobby Holland. The Potomac Nationals, or P-Nats, are the Washington Nationals Class A Advanced affiliate, based right down the road in Woodbridge, Virginia. Bobby has experience with Stan Kasten from his time working with the Richmond Braves, or R-Braves, the Atlanta Braves AAA affiliate. I hope to catch a few P-Nats game this season when John Patterson is there on rehab (doh!).

On January 2, Brian published an exclusive with minor league analyst Deric McKamey, who generally thinks the Nationals are on the right track. He gives a sneak preview of the Nationals' top ten prospects. Then a day later on January 3, Brian published an exclusive with Aaron Fitt of Baseball America. He also thinks the Nationals are headed in the right direction prospect-wise. Money quote:
It’s easy to blast [Jim Bowden] for holding onto Soriano and then losing him to free agency, but he insisted to me that there was not an offer on the table that was better than the pair of first-round picks Soriano will yield in free-agent compensation. So that might end up being the best long-term move for a franchise in long-term rebuilding mode
Great gets, Brian. It's true what Brandon told me while I was busy chronicling the Redskins: Nationals bloggers are taking it up a notch this season.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

5 Questions with Brian

Well, my key still works, so Brandon hasn't changed the locks. I've been away most of this offseason covering the Redskins for The Curly R, our blogtwin, and now it's time to start ramping The Curly W back up to daily Nationals coverage. Before we go hog wild, we have a little unfinished business to do in our offseason 5 Questions circuit with our fellow Nationals bloggers. Our latest victim is Brian from Nationals Farm Authority, your one-stop shop for Nationals minor league news. You can find my answers to Brian's questions here.

And now, our questions.


Ben: Why the focus on minor leagues and the farm system? Your readers are no doubt very grateful for your insight, and as the Nationals become more of a Washington institution, a wider range of readers will become accustomed to the players you write about today appearing on the major league roster later. But how did you become a devotee of minor league baseball? Are you a minor league baseball wonk that happens to focus on the Nationals system, or are you a Nationals baseball wonk that happens to cover that team's farm system? Were you covering or following the minor leagues before the Nationals arrived in Washington?

Brian: My interest in the minor leagues stems from a couple of events. Back in 1993, I was going to the University of Delaware when the Kansas City Royals relocated the Peninsula Pilots to Wilmington, DE. My roommates and I spent quite a few evenings at games. In 1993-94, I got to watch guys like Jon Lieber, Michael Tucker, Sal Fasano, and Johnny Damon play as unknowns. It really caught my attention. The second part was starting to play fantasy baseball. I immediately saw the value of watching the minors for the future guys who could be had cheap, it led me to following minor league information closer.

My focus on the Nationals farm system started when they arrived in Washington. I knew enough about them from the Expos day. Primarily that most everyone of "prospect"y value was either in the majors or traded away.

Ben: How did you get started blogging and why do you do it? Has NFA been your project from the beginning or has your work changed over time? Do you have any changes planned for your site, or for new features, expanding/refining coverage? What can we expect from NFA in 2007? You've landed some serious interviews lately and NFA has a decidedly 'straight journalism' feel. What are your plans or aspirations for this outlet? Where do you want to go with this?

Brian: It got started innocently enough after the 2005 draft. I started to track how the players the Nationals had selected were doing in their first exposure to professional baseball. I asked around on-line if anyone would have any interest in looking at the same information on a daily/weekly basis. The response was stronger than I expected. I figured that I'd have 5-10 people/day who might be interested, but it ended up with 40-50 people/day from the get-go and now it's around 170-200/day. This might not sound like a whole lot of hits, but it was the type of hits I was getting that surprised me. I saw that there were visits from MLB team servers and more interesting, I started to hear from the relatives/acquaintances of the Nationals prospects. I apparently offered them access to information they couldn't or didn't find elsewhere. I tried to act as a sort of clearinghouse for Nationals minor league news/analysis. And when Nationals minor league pitcher Shawn Hill agreed to answer some questions for me, it actually added something I didn't expect, direct access to the source.

In 2006, Scott of NFA went down to Nationals spring training where he ended up asking for and receiving media credentials. This was a really cool development. It encouraged me to try and reach out to the Nationals and their affiliates for increased access. I made some contacts with the Nationals who graciously added me to the Nationals MLB transaction/news distribution list, giving me access to the news as they released it rather than waiting to stumble on it by chance. Additionally, the minor league affiliates were nice to enough to give us credentials in Potomac and Harrisburg. It was access I never thought that a blogger would get (hence the ongoing "citizen journalist" jokes).

But the thing I will remember most about 2006 was the access the Nationals gave me to the press conference announcing their 2006 draft picks. It was actually really cool to sit in on a press conference with Jim Bowden, Bob Boone, and Dana Brown; and actually getting to ask a question.

Thanks for the compliment regarding the 'straight journalism' feel. That's what I was going for. (ed. note: sorry fellas no such luck here. We're shitdisturbers. -Ben) There are plenty of sites out there that are primarily opinion driven, but I wanted to try and do something a little bit different. As for 2007, yeah, my plan is to try and branch out some more with interviews and ideally more in person reporting from the minor league games. Right now, the interviews are with the off the field people. I have some stuff planned with another affiliate's GM, a couple of the radio guys from the affiliates, and one with another guy who does prospect analysis. I have plans to head down to spring training this year where I hope to get some interviews with the Nationals prospects. Ideally, talking to some of the guys that don't typically draw the interest of the Post or the Times.

This is a cliche, but NFA is a labor of love. I really don't see this turning into anything more than it already has. I've told my wife that I'll keep doing this as long as it's fun.

Ben: If you could give unvarnished farm system advice to the Nationals brain trust, what would it be? What is the brain trust not doing now with the farm system that they should be doing? Where would you tell the team to start looking for talent, why and what advantage would that give the team?

Brian: I'd tell them to keep doing what they are doing. The hiring of Mike Rizzo was great. It added a guy with a proven track record to assist in the rebuilding process. The trades of Stanton, Majewski, Ward, Anderson, and Livan were all really good moves to add talent to the farm system. And the addition of the slew of scouts definitely will allow the Nationals to improve over the shoestring staff they had before.

There are two things that jump out at me that I'd hope management would do. One is to forgo MLB's unwritten aspect about slotting bonuses in order to acquire the premium talent later in the draft. As an example, in 2006, it would have been nice for them to land Dustin Dickerson (drafted in the 15th round). I don't know whether he was willing to sign but it would have been a boon for them to try and convince him to skip Baylor and join the Nationals. The other thing I'd hope they do isn't my idea originally. Doug Chapin, one of the few of us in the Nationals on-line community who doesn't have a blog, came up with this. I'd seriously consider buying the Pulaski franchise in the Appalachian League. I know the Nationals might not have enough warm bodies to roster it, but such a commitment could be used to both expand the Nationals presence into southwestern Virginia as well as allow for the addition of more players in an effort to expedite the rebuilding process.

The one thing that Stan Kasten said when the new owner were selected was that he wanted to capitalize on their presence in Washington DC to make the Nationals popular around the world. I'd hope the Lerners would be willing to spend the money to turn over rocks in places that MLB is still in its developmental stages. Places like Europe or South Africa or China. Try and find the next pipeline like the Astros did in Venezuela.

Ben: What is your take on the Nationals' new ownership and management? Are we seeing the beginning of a solid MLB franchise taking shape, or are the games before us this year fodder for so much excuse-making?

Brian: I am cautiously optimistic about the new ownership and management. They are saying the right things from a developmental standpoint. But I'd caution that words are one thing but actions are more important. They've re-established themselves in the Dominican Republic with the signing of Esmailyn Gonzalez, but they cannot stop there. Keep working to put the Nationals in the same class in the DR with teams like the Yankees or Red Sox. They had a strong 2006 draft. But it cannot stop there. Draft premium talent not signability picks in 2007 and out and sign them. They've brought in more scouts. But they need to ensure they utilize them to their maximum, make sure they understand the organizational philosophy and listen to them if they have ideas. I honestly believe 2007 is going to be tough at the major league level. A rational investment in a few arms for the major league team really should not be ignored to focus on the rebuilding effort. Both can be done concurrently.

Ben: What are your expectations of the Nationals vis a vis the farm system for 2007? 2008? The health of a farm system is the barometer of the team's health, so give it to us straight: is it getting better or worse for the Nationals?

Brian: It still is going to be an uphill battle in 2007. The Nationals had only one affiliate with an above 0.500 record in 2006 (New Orleans was 72-71). While wins are not necessarily an indicator of overall organizational strength, it matters some. They have started the rebuilding process, but there is still a ways to go. The Nationals know there are no quick fixes, that a steady rebuilding effort takes time. I think there will be flashes of the future in Hagerstown in 2007 with reportedly Chris Marrero, Colton Willems, Glenn Gibson, and possibly Stephen King or Esmailyn Gonzalez. I hope that 2007 will also allow guys like Clint Everts and Ian Desmond to bounce back. 2008 seems more likely for stronger overall on the field performances. If they've put the right instructors in the right locations, it should begin to pay dividends. The Nationals are getting better. From when they arrived in Washington in 2005 until today, they have made tremendous strides. But there are many more to go.

Ben BONUS QUESTION: Almost half the newspapers in the world are printed in the US and Canada. Does it ever seem like half the baseball blogs in the world cover the Nationals?

Brian: I've noticed that. Part of it is the newness factor. But it is mostly the fact anyone can come up with a clever blog title containing with the word National(s).


Thanks to Brian for playing. I'm a little sore from this post, but hey, spring training is for getting back into gameshape, right?

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Tale of Two Blogs

Happy New Year, everyone! I apologize for the extended hiatus on the site. I've been dealing with a 5500-plus mile holiday round trip adventure, work, and the chronic illnesses of myself and my entire family. I don't know what the hell Ben's been doing.

Ha! Just kidding- he's been pounding out posts at our Redskins blog, the Curly R, and I've been dabbling over there as well. Now that the Redskins' season is over, Ben and I may have the distinction of being the only bloggers to have covered complete seasons of Washington's baseball and football teams. When we started the Redskins blog, I assumed that covering the beloved football team would be a lot like covering the Nats on the Curly W. To my great surprise, I could not have been more wrong: football blogging is a completely different animal.

We started the Curly R in August just as the Redskins' preseason games were about to start. Ben is a huge Redskins fan, while I have remained a Bengals fan despite my 10-year residence in the D.C. area. We were having so much fun with the Curly W that when Ben asked me to co-produce a Redskins blog I was happy to come along for the ride. After all, maybe a season of really focusing on a team I'd largely ignored would be the tonic I'd need to catch the Redskins fever that envelopes this town all year long.

The name "Curly R" was my idea. I assumed that co-branding the new blog with our existing, moderately successful Nationals site would jump-start interest and generate crossover traffic. After all, it stood to reason that many of my readers would also be Redskins fans, right? Wrong. We have several loyal Curly R readers, but not a single one of them is also a regular on Curly W, as far as I can tell by the comments people leave. The converse is also true: Curly R readers aren't Curly W readers either (shame on all of you!) I think this is more than just a coincidence; it seems clear to me now that each blog is serving a separate market with distinct tastes. More on that later.

The logical connection between the two blogs was only the first of several assumptions that would prove to be flawed in the end. I believed that the immense popularity of the NFL in general, and of the Redskins in particular, would lead the Curly R to quickly dwarf its Nats counterpart in terms of readership and "competition" from other blogs. After all, this town goes positively berserk for the Redskins, even in the most terrible of seasons, while there may be people out there who still don't know that D.C. has a Major League Baseball franchise. In more general terms, the NFL has positively spanked MLB in terms of public relations, marketing and popularity over the last 15 years or so. If 150 people per day wanted to read what we had to say about the Nats, surely 1500 would want to read about the Skins, right?

To my surprise it didn't work out that way at all. In fact, the Curly R netted only about 50 hits per day throughout the entire football season despite an at-least-daily posting schedule. This is only about half to one-third of the hits that the Curly W was pulling down in July. In fact, Curly W is getting almost as many hits in the offseason as the Curly R does in-season! This discrepancy wasn't due to competition, either. There are only six tracked Redskins blogs on (the football counterpart to StrikeTwo) while there are twenty-two tracked Nats blogs out there.

In light of these experiences, it would seem that the Curly R is unsuccessful. Again, to my surprise, this couldn't be further from the truth. All season long, the Curly R, despite getting 50 hits per day and being about one of the worst, stinking teams in the whole NFL, was consistently ranked in the top ten of all NFL blogs on I mean we unfolded some lawn chairs, cracked some beers, and hung out at the top of the football blogosphere from August through December. The only other Redskins blog to come close was our SBN counterpart, Hogs Haven (a great blog), with all of the inherent structural advantages that network brings. Meanwhile, Curly W, with thrice the traffic, gets stomped like a grape by megasites like Hardball Times and The Beltway Boys.

There's no question that the baseball blogosphere is much larger and more sophisticated than its NFL counterpart. There are 688 sites tracked on StrikeTwo, and only 224 on FairCatch. There just aren't that many people writing about football teams right now. Even the mighty SBN can't find takers for all of its NFL slots. The writing on the football sites (on the whole) isn't nearly as good as the prose on many baseball blogs. Sure, you'll find lots of droll accounts of games, but you hardly ever see gameday experiences, off-the-cuff commentary or incredible insight that graces the front of Nats (and other teams') baseball blogs every day.

This isn't a slam on football bloggers, per se. I think that baseball, with its unique rhythms and style, is a more attractive subject for the kind of wonky, stat-addled intellectual who is likely to start a blog in the first place. Football is bludgeoned to death in the mainstream media and at America's water coolers by sweaty-palmed fantasy football geeks, while baseball's wealth of statistics lends itself more handily to a wider scope of analysis. I dunno, it's just different, that's all.

All in all, I had a great experience branching out into another genre of sports blogging, and I'm already looking forward to next season. The weekly format of the NFL lends itself well to recurring features and leaves breathing room during the week for more long-view posts. The Redskins blogging community, while not yet as strong as the Natosphere, has really come together this year. Bloggers often promote one another's posts and we've even just established a Google Group of our own for sideshow banter. It's been a great experience being a part of both blogging worlds. It certainly wasn't what I expected, but it's been a terrific ride.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Test Pattern

This is a test of the Nationals Emergency Broadcast System. The authors of the Curly W, in voluntary cooperation with Federal, State and Local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the case of a complete lack of Nationals news.

This concludes this test of the Nationals Emergency Broadcast System.

The Curly W will be back to regularly scheduled programming next week. The editors are busy wrapping up the Redskins season on our sister site, The Curly R. Thanks for sticking with us...we'll see you soon!