Jon Weisman authors Dodger Thoughts for Baseball Toaster. Jon began his blog in 2002 with Blogger and Blogspot. He began posting regularly in January 2003 and eventually moved over to All-Baseball in 2004. Finally, during spring training Jon made the jump to the Toaster.
BB: When did you become a baseball fan? Who were your favorite players growing up?
JW: I first got interested in baseball at age 6 1/2, when I happened to be in front of a TV set the night Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. I’d say I became a hardcore fan in 1977, during the Dodgers’ pennant run. I liked all the usual Dodgers from that era, but perhaps most of all Reggie Smith and Manny Mota, followed by Pedro Guerrero.
BB: Why did you start your blog?
JW: It was a combination of boredom during a transitional phase in my writing and editing career, an increasing (and critically for me, early) awareness of blogs and the possibilities they offered, and a longtime desire to express my thoughts about the Dodgers unfettered and in writing. Really, until e-mail came around, it was a lot of work to quickly share any thoughts on paper about anything with anyone, and until blogs came around, you weren’t likely to engage anyone you didn’t already know. Even though I never knew I’d end up with an audience, it was fun to pretend and write like I had one.
It’s funny – I was surfing the Internet a lot and it really felt like I had gotten to the very end. An old joke, but it rings true for me. I reached a point where I felt I had something to contribute.
BB: In your biography you mention that you were once a sportswriter, and would like to get paid to be a sportswriter again. Is this something that you’ve been actively pursuing?
JW: Well, to the extent that Dodger Thoughts is an ongoing sample of mywork, I’m constantly pursuing it. The site has led directly to some freelance work. But a lot has changed since I was a full-time sportswriter – both in the business and in my personal life. In theend, conventional sportswriting is still reporting-intensive, and I’m not going to be picking up a beat and calling 100 sources a day anytime soon.
Anyone who wants to pay me to blog, I’m going to listen to. However, there’s a strong mentality out there among newspapers and such that bloggers can be generated from within, that blogging is mainly an outlet for material and writers that can’t appear in the print edition because of lack of space. Blogging is viewed simplistically as another means for drawing readers, not as a particular talent. I see very few mainstream publications that see blogging for what it really is in many ways – a home for alternative, intelligent voices. Most of the in-house blogs I see are done either by staff writers or outsiders that are all style, no substance.
So while I inquire now and then with some people that I know in the paid world, I’m not really applying for jobs in the normal sense. I mainly just do what I’m doing and hope things continue to grow, and that maybe someday Clarence will rescue me from the freezing water and earn his wings.
BB: According to your site you have attended 497 Dodger games over the last 15 years. What are your favorite elements of Dodger Stadium (the stadium itself, best place to sit, ballpark quirks, favorite food, etc.)? What was your favorite game you ever attended? Do you have any special plans for game #500?
JW: I love Dodger Stadium like a dear, dysfunctional brother. It is a beautiful stadium to look at, practically a work of art, and so there are moments of pure bliss there that you can really appreciate in between moments of poorly chosen music blasted over the loudspeakers, a segment of fans who boo a home player at the slightest misfortune, and other periodic problems. Nothing beats a great Dodger dog, though you can’t count on getting a great one – that sort of thing. One of the interesting things about last year was how much more pleasant the place became once the Dodgers were eliminated. Pretty much all that was left in the crowd were true baseball fans, and you could just feel the difference between them and the people for whom the game on the field wasn’t entertainment enough. I sound pretty curmudgeonly, don’t I? I used to go to 40-70 games a year; now that I have young children it’s more like 10-20, so it’s more important to me that things go the way I want them to.
Somewhat along those lines, the favorite game I attended was Pedro Astacio’s major league debut, which came during the Dodgers’ 99-loss season in 1992 and during sort of a difficult time personally for me. Astacio pitched a three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout with such genuine enthusiasm that I felt like I had been reborn.
(As for game #500, that’s only game #500 since I’ve been keeping track, so that has no special significance other than making my winning percentage easy to calculate.)
BB: You have a large reader base who comment vigorously. How did you build such a community, especially considering that you’re at your 3rd different URL?
JW: I’ve been doing Dodger Thoughts since July 2002 (regularly since January 2003), so in terms of audience size, it’s just a fortunate matter of people enjoying what I’ve written, linking me and noticing me and telling their friends (and enemies) about me. When the ability to comment was enabled in early 2004, I was extremely concerned that the forum be constructive. So while I give people a wide berth to talk about just about anything, I monitor behavior very carefully. I make sure different views are tolerated. I step in if it starts getting personal, reminding people to criticize the comment, not the commenter. I don’t allow profanity on the site, even though I use it all the time in my daily life, because when it’s out there in a chat room, I feel that even in fun, it risks generating a heated tone. My readers have responded well to this – I think they appreciate Dodger Thoughts as sort of a haven of decorum on the Internet – and 99 percent of the time they self-police the site. And I am tremendously grateful to have attracted an insightful and fun community. They are a blast to read every single day, and I often get jealous because I know some people come to the site more for them than for me.
As far as the URL changes go, it’s just one of those things with a young industry. My audience has been good at following me and Googling for me. And they can always reach me at dodgerthoughts.com.
BB: You recently self-published a book from your blog. What made you decide to do the book? How long did it take to prepare? How have sales been, and was it worth the effort if you don’t mind me asking?
JW: I’ve always wanted to write a book, and when The Hardball Times self-published a book in 2004, I realized that I could fulfill that dream without actually, you know, being asked to write one. I figured three years of daily writing was enough to try to cull the best pieces from.
The actual publishing took no time at all, but putting the book together took *way* longer than I imagined. Choosing the entries, organizing them, and then making them presentable was very time-consuming. The editing, the proofing, the troubleshooting…reading a 300-page book over and over again, you don’t do that in a day.
I’ll be honest with you: Sales have been disappointing. Part of that is my fault, as I’ve devoted not nearly enough time to marketing the book. I was also hoping that more readers of mine would purchase the book just to support the site – sort of like making an NPR contribution and getting this as a premium back. But many people like free things because they’re free, and I can understand that. They can read today’s Dodger Thoughts entry and search the archives any time they want. There is added value in the book, truly, but it hasn’t been easy to convince people of that.
But that’s fine. In a way, it sort of mirrors the origins of the site itself, when I was grateful to pick up just a few new readers. As far as I’m concerned, the book would have been worth the effort even if my only reader was to myself. I’ve written a book. That’s pretty much my version of getting in the game. I’m like Moonlight Graham. Sort of.
BB: What are some of your favorite blogs?
JW: It’s not by accident that I’m with the other folks at Baseball Toaster. I’m pretty parochial in my interests, so Rob McMillin’s 6-4-2 is probably my main baseball read outside of Toaster, along with Baseball Analysts by Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith, two friends and former colleagues of mine at All-Baseball.com. I will say that the two blogs I’m most addicted to are not baseball blogs; they’re L.A. Observed by Kevin Roderick and Defamer.
Many thanks to Jon for taking the time to participate. Jon gets bonus points in my book for referencing both Field of Dreams and It’s a Wonderful Life in a single interview.