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Out With The Old, In With The Nuclear

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This is my final post.

I would love to depart with a precious little theme, like As the Nationals truly commit to the future with the Jack McGeary signing, I realize there is not much left to say, nay, to criticize, and so I pack it up and walk into the blogging sunset humming an optimistic tune and bearing a broad smile on my countenance. Actually, that precious little theme would be layered with all kinds of cheese, so I am fortunate it is not based in reality.

In fact, my earliest resolve to give up blogging came last November. My resolve did not sufficiently bond or otherwise become strong enough to pull the trigger until early June, when I notified the good folks at Sports Blog Nation that I could not continue up to the network's expectations. And, if I could not continue up to the network's expectations, then there was little sense continuing on the network's blog. One cannot imagine anybody really cares why I made this decision, of course, and I do not expect you the reader to respond with any particular interest. There is no fascinating or lurid reason. I just couldn't maintain it; something had to go, and blogging was it. I agreed to post sporadically until a new blogger could be found, and found a new blogger was.

As you can tell, the new Federal Baseball blogger is e chigliak, formerly of DC Daily. I wish him the very best in his new endeavor, and I will continue to be a Federal Baseball reader.

* * * *

I'm going to make a token attempt not to drag out this last post - I promise - but I do have something on the order of thirty-one months' experience at Nationals blogging, both here and at the former Nationals Inquirer. This is certainly not the longest tenure in the so-called Natosphere; it might not even be in the top five. But it is a goodly amount of time. A kid born in January 2005 could, by sitcom logic, drive expertly by now; if I had held out six or eight more months, the kid could be performing special ops missions or inventing a hilarious refrigerator magnet. Oh well. At any rate, I figured I could use my remaining time here to impart some final reflections. For your benefit, I won't even reference Die Hard!

See you after the jump.

Hey, Ma! Get Off the Danged Roof!

This blogging thing is a strange activity. I daresay no one who does a Nats blog works in baseball. I don’t. Well, I know some people who work in baseball, and my best friend’s church softball team features an ex-big leaguer. Does that count? I’ve never taken one of those Duncha Wanna Be a Scout? courses, nor have I ever taken one of those Duncha Wanna Be in Sports Management? courses. I know anything above ten-speed in Baseball Stars is pretty darn fast, and I know how to balance a checkbook. Does that stuff count? Though I am an attorney and have seen many lawsuits, I’ve never worked a Major League grievance; though I am on my church’s board, I’ve never negotiated a multi-million dollar player contract or mollified the rare kid who really wants to go to college. Yet, I – and at least a dozen like-minded people at any given time – have no hesitation in opining on any of these matters. It’s strange.

But, at the risk of delving into meta-something, it’s entirely natural. This is merely the way human communication has developed. Up until very recently – recently even in the context of recorded history – Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel had the right idea about the most feasible way to communicate over vast distances: climb up a big object secured in the ground and yell, "Ma! Get off the danged roof!" Lord only knows how Cletus knew Ma was on the danged roof, but he had the right idea on how to communicate this apparent knowledge. In due course, people smarter than even Cletus figured it would help matters to secure big poles in the ground and to attach first telegraph wire and then telephone wire to those poles. To help people like Cletus demonstrate that Ma was on the danged roof, things like the photograph and moving film and videotape were invented. Cletus could point to a picture or display the video channeled through a television and proclaim, "Ya see? Ma’s on the danged roof!" Even more recently still, Cletus could publish the fact that Ma’s on the danged roof over vast, vast distances and to a veritable mob of danged roof enthusiasts via the internet, whereby he could proclaim Heh ma is on Teh Danged roof, lol she is teh suxor!!!111!!!! ::smiley::

This is all to say Cletus could well say the same thing hundreds of years ago as he says today, except he could publish those samesuch thoughts in vastly different ways today. And so it is for sports fans, including fans of the Nationals. What I do – what I did – is little different than a fan sitting on a bar stool in 1947 after witnessing a tough loss and sourly spitting that the whole lot ‘o them’s bums.

I think this fundamental point is sometimes hard to grasp. Maybe it’s because of the Blog Triumphalists, who, it seems, envision bloggers or citizen journalists or whatever-you-wanna-call-‘em replacing the established -- sorry -- Main-Stream Media. Maybe it’s because of the Blog Haters, who, it seems, view bloggers as acne-infested overgrown adolescents who, yes indeed, blog in their underwear out of their parents’ basements. Or maybe it’s because of Bloggers Themselves, who, to be honest, tend to be a bit afraid to reveal the existence of their blogs to co-workers or pretty ladies on the street for fear of being labeled obsessives, dorks, massive dorks, or massive dorks who base their operations out of their parents’ basements. Maybe it’s all of that and more. I don’t know.

I am a blogger minimalist. I love baseball, I love to write, and I live in an age where technology has enabled me to publish my writings on baseball to as large an audience as wants to read them. That’s it, and nothing more. There was a time when I wanted to be a sportswriter, but that time ended at the conclusion of my teen years; I selected my profession, and I am happy with it, even if I know my odds of seeing paradise were reduced by a factor of ten the moment I passed the bar exam. There was a time, when I was in my early- or mid-twenties or so, when I suspected I could do just as well running a baseball team as the guy actually running a team; however, that team was the Baltimore Orioles, and Syd Thrift (R.I.P.) was nominally running it. The moment passed. There was a time . . . well, you get the point.

This isn’t to say that there’s nothing more out there, nothing greater out there, than merely typing in some words and hitting submit. There are some wonderful success stories floating around cyberspace. Look at the Baseball Prospectus people. I was just some college nitwit tooling around on the Usenet group (basically a proto-form of blogging) when those same folks were getting ready to organize and start out. Look at them now; some have media jobs, some have jobs with big league teams, and one guy has been established for so long that he had a job with a big league team and now has a media job. Look at Sean Forman of Baseball Reference fame. Seven or eight years ago, he was writing for the Big Bad Baseball Annual, and I was one of the winners of the player comment competition. I made a joke about a certain reliever winning one of those hoagie-eating contests. My comment was never published owing to some editing snafu, but Sean wrote me a really nice note saying he thought the comment was funny; should’ve saved that one. Look at Aaron Gleeman. I have no quasi-personal story with him, but he’s transformed from some Twins obsessive into a nearly ubiquitous professional writer. Good for him. There are others.

But I don’t tend to look at it that way. I started a blog because a couple friends suggested I start one, because the Nats were a new team (of sorts) and I wanted to learn about them, and because it sounded like a fun creative activity. Curse me the day I regarded the blog as anything other than in the spirit of those reasons.

This isn’t to say I didn’t have pride in what I wrote and that I didn’t take some of the content personally – maybe too personally at times. But, in retrospect now, I am perfectly comfortable with probably ninety-eight percent of what I have written and have no regrets quitting without caring one iota about how many people read those words, how many agreed or disagreed with them, or how influential they were. I reject any attempt to "rank" baseball blogs as pointless, fruitless, and downright stupid (and, if any ranking system does not list U.S.S. Mariner as No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3, then almost certainly inaccurate).

Thus, in the final analysis, I see baseball blogdom being unduly blown up in all directions. It’s not really anything revolutionary (but for the technology), and it’s not anything worthy of fear or scorn (even with the technology). It exists because it’s natural it would exist.

That’s my take, at least. Now, please – Ma! Get off the danged roof!

Never Right, Just Not Yet Proven Wrong

A quick definitional moment: virtually without exception, Nats bloggers don’t report -- or at least don’t "report" as is commonly understood by the journalistic trade. It may sound like a point of semantics, but I think any reference to "So-and-So at [Nationals Whatever] reports" is wholly erroneous.

The Nats blog that comes closest, Nationals Farm Authority, is great at what it does, but, as I’m sure Brian Oliver would agree, it doesn’t "report" things. It’s closer to the vest than other Nats blogs, it tends to play things a little straighter, and it has a more newsy feel. Those are content and stylistic decisions, and good ones at that. NFA is an invaluable clearing house of Nats minor league information, a post-production of performances, an aggregator of relevant news items, and a source of informed commentary on related issues. The one time I can recall NFA truly "reported" something, according to the understanding of the term to which I refer, was when Scott Collins attended 2006 spring training and conveyed that Brian Lawrence would miss the year with arm problems. Scott actually "broke" the story in the sense that he posted it before the team’s beatwriters included the nugget in their notebook articles or before the Associated Press writer had a chance to file the story. That was "reporting," serendipitous as it was for Scott (though, I’d imagine, not for the pitcher), and, to my knowledge, that is the only act of "reporting" that the Natsophere has produced.

I may be forgetting something along the way, but who really cares? If so, it’s beside the point. My point is that, as I blogger, I was operating on second-, third-, or fourth-hand information. I was largely dependent on the team’s beat writers for content – content I could then reframe in other contexts. This is what is known as the creative process. Bloggers, in essence, and to borrow a cliched expression, "stand on the shoulders of giants" and then plop out something a little bit or a lot bit different than what the "giants" gave us, all the while knowing, at least implicitly, that there would be little content upon which to blog without the information and insight conveyed by the journalists. (Incidentally, this is why NFA seems a bit different than other Nats blogs; outside of occasional updates or infrequent key dates, the team’s big league beatwriters largely ignore the minor league system. NFA, in its own way, and using different primary sources, fills that gap.)

Sometimes, I wonder whether the beatwriters -- the Svrlugas and Ladsons and Zuckermans of the world -- understand and appreciate the significance of this arrangement. I hope they do, although maybe the attractive aspects of the arrangement are drowned out when a blogger slams a journalist, with or without cause. When a blogger repeats, parses, scrutinizes, or even slams a beatwriter, a transformative process has occurred. I don’t want to overstate the significance of this event, but it is accurate to say the journalist has become not just a news man (or news woman) but a man (or woman) of mass influence. It is both an awesome responsibility but also an awesome compliment to know your words are analyzed and relied upon long away you have finished composing them. From my own professional experience, I know that much.

I hope we have now established the blogger doesn’t "report" this stuff. Instead, he or she analyzes it and/or opines on it. The task is quite a bit different, and it carries with it far different rules and stakes. As for rules, on the basest level, anything goes; Nats blogs are self-run enterprises and even the content at Federal Baseball, which belongs to a larger network, isn’t scrutinized by any powers that be to any critical degree. Bloggers tend to set their own rules, if only because that seems to be the tidy thing to do, but those rules of operation are moreso implied expectations or functional customs. In other words, they are extensions of the individual rather than products of edicts from above. But, no matter the approach, the stakes are generally the same: you want your work to look smart rather than dumb, wise rather than foolish, and interesting rather than humdrum. No one puts his or her own thoughts on a subject out there for the world to see and settles for dumb, foolish, and humdrum.

How the avoidance of dumb, foolish, and humdrum is accomplished depends on the person or group of persons. Generally speaking, my modus operandi was:

  • write longish (okay, long) essays, preferably using stats and some bigger (okay, tedious) vocabulary, while
  • trying to consider alternative viewpoints (okay, equivocating), never truly locking into one or alienating the other, while
  • throwing in some pretty (okay, hideous) pictures using MS Paint.
It’s a simple formula – except for the long essay part, but at least I’m a very accomplished typist. Strike me down if I spent one minute longer than necessary twirling my musings on this crapbag team steadily improving organization.

But that was only my formula. There are others. I’ve found others tend to bring in more readers, so they must be on to something, I suppose. Anyway, the common thread is that we, Nats bloggers, gain our impressions based on what we know, evaluate based on what we know, and often attempt to predict based on what we know. What we know is dependent on what is reported to us, but what we cannot know, at least with full assurance, is whether what has been reported to us is firmly accurate, whether we have fully understood what has been reported to us, whether what has been reported to us is the final story on the matter, or whether what has been reported to us is free of supposition in the first instance. Human beings are not perfect creatures. What has been reported to us might not be perfect knowledge; what we have done with what has been reported to us might not be a perfect application based on a perfect understanding or free from imperfect preconceptions, either from us or from the beatwriter’s pen.

And so, mistakes do happen. Often, you’re not aware of the mistake until -- you guessed it -- you’re actually aware of the mistake. I use the following story as merely an illustration, not as a Gotcha! moment to unnamed parties, especially since I was part of said unnamed party. Back in 2005, the Nationals had a pitcher named Claudio Vargas. It’s hard to remember this was the case, but it’s true. Vargas was injured to start the year, came back from injury, was lit like Lindsay Lohan with ninety seconds to spare, and then was designated for assignment. Vargas was there, and then he was gone; it was all a very clean hit job. The next thing you knew, he was in Arizona, and no one particularly cared.

Except the Nats bloggers, and I was one of them. Vargas had an option year remaining -- this much seemed apparent -- so why had not Jim Bowden and his crew merely optioned Vargas to New Orleans to work out his issues? Why waste a guy like that? The Vargas debacle, when compounded with a few other transactions, underscored how the ‘05 Nats had been reduced from reasonable rotational depth to a kitchen sink rotation by September. We all remember that part. Stupid, dumb Cap’n Leatherpants.

The only problem, as we found out later, was . . . well, it was all a simple mistake. Vargas was out of options, and that’s why he was designated for assignment, and that’s why he was waived, and that’s why the D-Backs picked him up for nothing. Say what you will about getting nothing for a guy who is at least a capable fifth starter in the National League, but the premise was wrong. Whoops.

Those things happen, you know. And, in retrospect, you’d think the lack of a mention of this purported procedural curiosity would have gotten a mention in real-time. But it didn’t, because there was nothing procedurally curious about it. A blogger’s opinions are only as strong as his or her understanding of the fundamental facts of the team. Without the one, the other fails. Sooner or later, the truth will catch up with the opinion. Lesson learned.

I wrote the preceding paragraphs prior to the Jack McGeary signing, but I suppose they are ever more relevant now. Other than the Vargas affair, I didn’t stick my neck out too far on such things. I’d offer my opinion, because that’s what bloggers do, and I tried my best to support it, because that seemed like the thing bloggers should do. A lot of times, I was wrong. I was wrong about the Soriano trade, and I was wrong about the need for an innings-eater this season. Was it a certainty I’d be wrong about such things? I’d say not. Was it a probability? At the time, I’d guess it was no more than fifty-fifty, but who can really say?

Anyway, I think that’s the process that a blogger takes: Is there a firm basis – perhaps a firm probability – that my opinion on a matter will be correct? I’m not sure any blogger actually does the calculus on this in his or her mind; it’s more of a gut feeling. But I’m pretty sure, impliedly or not, that’s how most of us operate when forming an opinion, on a blog or at the office lunch table.

At the risk of contradicting my earlier comments about the foolishness of ranking blogs, I’m going to note that I’m very fond of the Capitol Punishment blog. I’m fond of quite a few Nats blogs, across a broad spectrum of styles and viewpoints, but CP provides a combination of incisiveness and timeliness that gives it a real bang for the buck. (The cost, of course, being zero.) Chris ended up wrong, at least in some tangible sense, about the McGeary thing. He found that out when he woke up in the morning. To some degree, there was egg on his face, although I imagine he can take it.

The thing is, based on what he knew, his criticisms and apparent prediction (I say apparent because, to my knowledge, he never predicted anything) about what would come to pass were reasonably sound. They just turned out incorrect in the end. In a way, this is like the Kennedy assassination. Yes, bear with me. One of the criticisms from conspiracy buffs is that Oswald couldn’t have made the kill shot. Either he was obstructed by a tree out front of the School Book Depository Building, or the rifle he was using was of poor quality, or the scope was misaligned, or he was a lousy shot anyway. I don’t think much of these observations (except maybe the first; Oswald did entirely miss on the first shot, after all), but beyond that they are framed way too ambiguously to demonstrate Oswald wasn’t the shooter. Even if one would concede for the sake of the argument that his "success" (I use the quotes advisedly) was highly improbable, that means little if an act has already occurred. A lot of stuff happens that is highly improbable.

As most of us went to bed last night, I’d say the chances of McGeary signing with the Nats seemed . . . well, if not highly improbable, then improbable or at least doubtful just the same. That’s certainly what I thought. But it happened. Does the fact that it happened make the prior assessment of improbable or doubtful any less valid? In hindsight, of course, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is at the time of the assessment and based on what an outsider could have known at the time – based largely on media reports.

I don’t think so. I don’t think many people would say so. The team’s website had already reported that McGeary would "forgo professional baseball and attend Stanford University" -- which, as it turned out, was half-right and incorrect in the most significant aspect. I don’t point out this inaccuracy to castigate any particular reporter but instead to note that this report was in the stew of information for an observer, such as a blogger, to consider. On the other hand, at least somewhat, Svrluga was reporting McGeary’s signing wasn’t foreclosed; significantly, it wasn’t about the money but about whether the Lerners wanted to cheese off Bud Selig and completely whomp all over a sixth-round slot expectation.

Now, Chris is pretty up-front in his suspicion that the Lerners tend to talk big but act with a tighter purse string than the talk would indicate. The Ken Rosenthal report earlier this season provided at least some degree of support for this characterization. The characterization no doubt colored the passion with which he assessed the McGeary situation. Which leads to . . .

Know Thyself, and Revel In it

Back when, someone tried to label me but largely came away frustrated. I was a skeptic yet religious, a cynic yet – how was it put? -- not overly so. I suppose part of life is figuring out what you are, while the rest of life is figuring out you are your own person. Anyway, long ago I figured it would be best not to let my emotions go too much on a sports team. I think it happened in the seventh grade when I tore down my favorite poster in a fit of rage after my favorite team lost on a late field goal, and I ended up working on a fishin’ boat right outside of Delacroix. Don’t know how that happened; things are a bit hazy.

Anyway, that’s sort of the tact I took with the blog. There was something special about that first season with the Nationals – it was new and exciting, and I didn’t find them as pointless and Jim Hunter-infested as I had the Orioles. But I was content with sitting back and evaluating the team somewhat dispassionately. I was happy with the team but realistic. I liked some of the players but saw some obvious weaknesses. And so forth. It was no big thing.

Then they started winning, and then they stopped losing altogether. There was the ten-game winning streak and the first eighty-one games at a hundred-win pace. Somewhere along the way, my rational side flipped out, or went on a month-long hunting expedition in the backwoods of Oregon, or something. Because I not only totally bought into the excitement but I reframed all expectations. Suddenly, it was Come and get us, Atlanta!!! I was aware of the one-run wins and that rat bastard Pythagoras and all that stuff, but I didn’t care. I bought into it, I let go, and I even think I quoted Kenny Loggins. Yeesh.

You know what happened next. The Nats trailed off, experiencing a frustrating July, and could never put together a decent enough push in August to stay current enough in the NL wild card race to the bottom. And then there was San Diego. Enough said.

I looked back at my posts from July and August ‘05 and found them to be very bitter. In essence, I was angry that the team had the audacity to return to a reasonable form. I decided never again to let that kind of emotionalism bleed into my blogging. Not that there is anything wrong with emotionalism, either positively or negatively charged. It just isn’t my style.

Neither the ‘06 nor ‘07 Nats did too much to test that resolution, but at times I’ve found myself looking to Harper from Oleander & Morning Glories as an example. [Note: It should go without saying that I’m mentioning particular blogs just for reflective purposes; I’m not intentionally omitting anyone.] In some ways, I’ve observed, my blogging outlook is similar to Harper’s; actually, that’s the case with several blogs (many of us are products of the same general baseball and generational influences and, thus, all the blogs are non-essential in their own way, one reason why me leaving isn’t any big loss, as if it would be for any other reason!), but I notice it a lot with Harper’s work. The only difference is that he’s sufficiently far-minded and committed to his particular style that he rarely strays from it. He tends to look at a bigger picture, rather than any specific moment. Consequently, I doubt he suffered anywhere near the letdown that I did in the second half of ‘05.

There are other styles, of course. Some are enthusiastic, some are skeptical, some delve into the nitty-gritty, and some tend to be more lighthearted. And those are just tendencies; any particular blog might blur those lines over a series of months. The only thing that really matters is remaining true to oneself.

* * * *

Well, that’s that. I’m going to wrap up now. Given this post’s length, I’d imagine the only entity left reading is one of those Google search readers. With that in mind, here:

Don Zimmer thong

Should bring a few hits.

I want to thank the good people at Sports Blog Nation for hosting this blog. Even when I had a blog called Nationals Inquirer, I wanted a blog called Federal Baseball. I was only too dim to realize that I couldn't register a Federal Baseball name at Blogspot because I had already done so (but didn't realize it due to a faulty dial-up connection or something). So thanks to SBN for a dream come true. Among others, thanks to Blez for inviting me over, to Larry and Eric for their guidance, to Al for helping me figure out far more technical things than I was capable of on my own, to Ian for being really kind, and to Grant for making me laugh.

To everyone else, you know who you are. But I do want to thank two people in particular: first, Ryan from Distinguished Senators, whose blog was the first Nats blog I discovered (before the Nats even existed) and who encouraged me to start my own blog on teh internets; and second, the aforementioned Chris from Capitol Punishment, with whom I have discussed probably half the blog entries I ever wrote. This fact would seem unduly burdensome to him had we not also discussed half the blog entries he's written. Oh, and Danny Rueckel, if you're out there: Thanks for not thinking it was utterly creepy that some online weirdo was tracking your performance on a biweekly basis in 2005. I slacked off the last couple seasons, but wherever it is you go next in professional ball, you'll have a fan.

I've been doing this for a long time -- certainly not as long as a handful of others, but long enough -- and now it's time to end it. I hope it's been worthwhile. I hope my posts have provoked even a modicum of thought, a semblance of inspection. If nothing else, I hope they have adequately explored one of life's great questions. So, yes, let's review it together:

Don't you hate pants?