Originally, blogging inherently meant not only being an outsider but an amateur. Now that the idiom has been co-opted by professionals in the mainstream, it is something different. Or, a blog can be many things–started by an amateur at home, or part of a reporter’s job. Being an amateur means anything goes and so a lot of blogs are not memorable, and many don’t last, but being an independent blogger also grants you a freedom that professional journalists don’t enjoy. I’ve found that the best bloggers have standards and are at least professional in their amateur approach.
In the baseball world, there is a select group of guys who were blogging when I started Bronx Banter back in 2002 that are still going–Geoff Young, Jon Weisman, Aaron Gleeman and David Pinto to name a few. Rich Lederer is one of that crowd. Ah, Rich. Woolly Bully himself. The man who relishes a good fight, a guy who isn’t afraid to piss people off. He’s got chutzpah, I’ll tell you that. We began an on-line friendship in 2003 when we both brought our blogs to all-baseball.com. And Rich has been campaigning for Bert Blyleven’s Hall of Fame candidacy ever since.
A bunch of the all-baseball crew met at the winter meetings in Anaheim back in 2004 (that’s Rich as the Incredible Hulk). Here is how Alex Ciepley described Rich, a big, middle-aged guy who was the very opposite of the nerd-in-the-basement-blogger stereotype:
Rich’s Weekend Winter Meetings Beat was in full effect again Saturday morning. Fresh off an evening in which he had managed to both raise and lower Scott Boras’ ire, Rich was all smiles, eager for another day of baseball highs.
SI’s Tom Verducci was apparently a Lederer target, and I joined Rich, Jon, and Verducci in mid-conversation. Verducci has the glow of an athlete, a rare claim among the writers in the room. Steve Finley had the glow when walking through the lobby on Friday night. Matt Williams, standing alone outside the hotel’s glass doors, has the glow. Even the old-timers, Lou Piniella and Felipe Alou, have it. Verducci, too — if you didn’t know his gig you might think he was a retired outfielder looking for a job.
Verducci might not have known Rich’s gig, either, as Rich directed the conversation towards Verducci’s Hall of Fame ballot. I knew there was trouble ahead as soon as Verducci admitted he’ll only vote for a couple guys this year, and that some of Rich’s favorites weren’t among them.
Sandberg? Close but no cigar.
Blyleven? (Now the kicker.) Not even close.
For those who aren’t familiar with Rich’s player fetishes, Blyleven may top the list. He wrote a beautiful and memorable piece detailing Blyleven’s qualifications last year, and I braced myself when hearing Verducci say Blyleven was “never dominant” during his career. Did Rich’s hair just stand on end? Dum-dum-dum-dum-dee-du-wah. Here it came: 5th in career strikeouts. 9th in career shutouts. Top 20 in a host of other categories. Was Rich able to convince Verducci of the case for Blyleven, or is Rich himself only the lonely on this one?
(For what it’s worth, Verducci thinks Blyleven will get in today, though I don’t know if he was personally influenced at all by Rich’s arguments.)
I remember calling Rich at one point, maybe in 2005, and told him, “Hey, you might want to give this Blyleven thing a rest. You don’t want to be just known as the Blyleven guy.” But I was thinking about Rich as a professional writer and he never had any such aspirations. He is a hobbyist, albeit one with roots in the professional game (his father was a journalist as well as a public relations man for both the Dodgers and Angels). Rich took on the Blyleven cause because he honestly felt that the voting process for the Hall was not completely kosher.
“The only problem I have with the word ‘campaign’ is that it makes it sound like this was orchestrated with Blyleven’s blessing, and that couldn’t be further from the case,” Lederer said over the phone this week. “I’ve talked with Bert, and I’ve emailed with Bert, but we’ve never even met in person.
“I’m not even sure how to describe it. I don’t know if ‘campaign’ is the right word or not — I’m kind of at a loss. It’s just something I got behind, because I felt he was very deserving. And this is a way for me to follow in the footsteps of my dad, to put to use my love of baseball and analysis. It’s been fun.”
…“The Internet flattens the world a little and allows someone like me to have a say, an audience, and indirectly participate in the discussion,” Rich Lederer said. “I enjoy that. If not for the Internet, it would be next to impossible for me to have an impact on those types of things. It’s been a great vehicle. People say there have been more words written about Bert’s candidacy than anyone else in the history of the Hall of Fame.”
Lederer is one of the spawn of Bill James (as are many contemporary baseball writers from Rob Neyer and Joe Sheehan to Joe Posnanski), using reason and data to build his case. He has been tireless in his advocacy of Blyleven–something I hope the pitcher appreciates. But I think Rich is after something more than just building a case for his guy, he wants the fundamental voting process to change, to be more considered and thorough. And because of the Internet and places like baseball-reference.com, the information is available. It’s foolish to think that all of the baseball writers will change their approach but some of them might.
Rich is not alone–Jay Jaffe, Jonah Keri, and Craig Calcaterra have helped lead the charge. Still, Rich put in the work and deserves kudos for his efforts. I was wrong when I told him to back off stumping for Blyleven. Not bad for a rank amateur!