|The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)|
Friday, December 23, 2005
your family and your work over blogging. (However, that statement contains the somewhat unwarranted assumption that my blog was ever popular.)
Another way to kill off your website is to let obsessive or unpleasant parts of your personality get out of control. The Oakland A's fanblog Elephants in Oakland used to be one of my frequent haunts, but during the past season its author succumbed to bitterness and disappointment. There were two last straws, for me: The author's jeremiads against manager Ken Macha (he compared the A's reunion with Macha after a contract dispute to a woman getting back together with the boyfriend who beat her), and his insults directed at Eric Chavez' first failed marriage and his newfound religion. There are several teams for whom self-loathing fandom is de rigeur, and I'd prefer that the A's not be one of them. If your team causes you that much pain, get a new team or follow a different sport.
The world record for calling in fire on your own position must belong to the USS Mariner weblog. USSM is a four-man weblog which covers the Seattle Mariners. Two of the authors have written for Baseball Prospectus, and sometimes they contribute to the Seattle media. The blog is filled with erudite and witty posts. Like most blogs, USSM has a commenting system, and the comments are often filled with lively discussion. A member of the Seattle baseball media is one of the frequent commenters.
Yet those same comments are the subject of endless hand-wringing posts. The authors (Derek Zumsteg seems to be the most offended) are so put out by the occasional silly comment that it makes one wonder if they have ever used the Internet before. Most baseball website discussions consist entirely of l33t-speaking yahoos:
USSM hasn't been entirely free from such dross. But goofiness probably constitutes less than 10% of the comments. Even in the threads that are relatively saturated by silly assertions, there's an easy workaround for the fed-up reader: Look for posts longer than two or three lines.
And even the silliest post can spark useful discussion. When the Mariners were rumored to have interest in Carl Everett, Zumsteg wrote an article on "Carl Everett alternatives", listing players who could perform as well as, or better than, the dinosaur-denying veteran. If everyone who commented at USSM believed in the gospel of sabermetrics and echoed the general opinion that Everett was a waste of money, Zumsteg might not have bothered to write anything. Similarly, after Jarrod Washburn was signed, Cameron wrote an article on Washburn's gaudy stats ("Any article you read on the signing of Jarrod Washburn, and any comment defending it, is going to reference his 3.20 ERA last year") examining in detail Washburn's pitching performance last year. Sabermetroids hate ERA as much as Phyllis Schlafly; had the commenters been an amen chorus, would Cameron have bothered to create a more accurate measure for Washburn's performance?
USSM's vigilance against improper commenting has led them into paranoid dictator territory; any day now I expect to see a comment deleted because of "contacts leading to suspicion of off-topic commenting." For instance, in a recent post discussing the Matt Lawton signing, a debate broke out on the merits of Mariners centerfielder Jeremy Reed. The combatants were Bela Txadux and USSM author Dave Cameron. Dave didn't like Bela's disdain for Reed's defense:
Here is Bela's rebuttal:
Which of these posts do you think is more "abusive"? If your dictionary is like mine, you'd say Dave's. And yet when "Revenant Edgar" pointed that out in a subsequent comment, his comment was later replaced with this text:
(Just another humanity-saving day at the office of the Passive-Aggressive League of Justice.)
One of Bela's later posts was also replaced with
I don't remember what Bela said -- another reason why I dislike aggressive deletion, as you can only discuss whether it was appropriate if you read the site before Zumsteg happens by the bridge of the USS Mariner with steel balls rolling in his palm. But it certainly wasn't abusive or off-topic. I wrote my own comment pointing this out:
After a few hours, this comment was replace with "" (I don't even rate a "Sigh", but as an A's fan I guess I shouldn't expect much).
Do I have any right to complain about USSM's comment policies given that it's a private site? Well, I haven't called for the Attorney General of the State of Washington to shut down USS Mariner, or to force its authors to attend mandatory sensitivity training. Zumsteg, Cameron, et al have a right to run their site the way they want to, and I have a right to criticize them when I think their conduct is unreasonable. I think it's unreasonable to offer comments to the general public, and then to suppress comments that are on topic and not abusive.
Not only is this conduct unreasonable, but it's just plain self-defeating. Demanding that others comply with your preferred ontology, and your idea of perfect demeanor, is just going to send would-be readers somewhere else. I like and respect the authors' baseball knowledge, but I've often been puzzled by their unwillingness to communicate it with others. Recall Cameron's snide dismissal of Txadux above ("we've discussed why you're dead wrong ... what a lame thing to say"). This isn't the first time I've noticed such behavior. Last year someone questioned USSM orthodoxy, I think on the subject of whether Randy Winn is a good center fielder. He was told that the issue had already been discussed, and that he could use the site's search function to find out why he was wrong.
I realize that educating people who know less than you about baseball might be tiresome, and you might be busy that day, but what's wrong with an approach like this:
But that would require some amount of humility, which commodity appears to be in short supply at the USS Mariner. Can you remember the last time one of the authors talked about how he was wrong about something? Me neither.
It would be unfair of me to ignore this admission of error in a comment by Cameron:
On the other hand, what kind of person turns off comments to a Happy Festivus post?! Sheesh.