When Jon Bois, Nick Dallamora, and Brandon Stroud gather in The Dugout to imagine what baseball figures past and present might say to each other in a chat room, the results are typically perverse and hilarious. During this offseason, J.D. Drew browsed ESPN.com to decide which teams to list in the no-trade clause of his Boston Red Sox contract. (While reading the site, Drew chuckles to himself, "Ha. Gay basketball.") And Braves GM John Schuerholz had to feed money into Mike Hampton (chat name, naturally, O_Captain_Mike_Hampton) to get answers to his questions about what the Braves pitcher was doing last year while collecting baseball's seventh highest salary to sit injured at home. (How many shits per day? "Once every five days or so. I tried my best to stick with my normal pitching schedule.")
But The Dugout guys and their chat-room alter egos also have a heart. No one reacted more intelligently to the death of pitcher Cory Lidle last October than a fictional Thurman Munson, who in baseball heaven (structured like a stadium) told Lidle about sportswriters, "They're disingenuous people who haven't been kids for a long, long time. And make no mistake, they got over their sadness pretty goddamn quickly as soon as the papers started selling and people started tuning in. Just remember that those aren't the fans. The fans will be able to see past all the bullshit, and remember and love you for what you were."
"Ronald Reagan once said that he had so much respect for the Oval Office that he wouldn't even dare loosen his tie while sitting at his desk. With that in mind, I dress impeachably well."
In the interview below, Jon Bois, who wrote the Lidle post, explains why he looks to Reagan for sartorial inspiration, thanks A-Rod for all the material, and argues that even Crohn's Disease can be funny. (Also, you can hear Bois, Dallamora, Stroud, and other online sports writers read from and talk about their works at the free Varsity Letters event presented by Gelf on Wednesday, March 7, in New York's Lower East Side.)
Gelf Magazine: If you were running ESPN, what are the two things you'd do first? (Or would you just blow the whole thing up and start over?) Explain why.
Jon Bois: I like to think I'd be kind of hands-off. I'd probably hire Macaulay Culkin to stand behind the Outside the Lines cameras with a paint can on a string and direct him to let it go into Bob Ley's face and call him a "horsh's ash" whenever he says the word "steroids" or spends an entire episode on the dangers of smokeless tobacco. Nothing unreasonable.
ESPN.com's puff pieces can sometimes be kind of a drag, but to be honest I visit it on a daily basis and we link to it from the Dugout a whole lot. Page 2 is a poorly-executed good idea. Another change I'd make: If Skip Bayless wants to keep on writing about how Babe Ruth was the worst baseball player to ever live or that Pol Pot was on steroids or whatever, more power to him. But as penance for having the gall to think he deserves to write where Hunter S. Thompson once did, he'd have to preface every article with "sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry."
GM: Same question, different media company: Sports Illustrated.
JB: I should be able to open up the magazine and have a Buzz Beamer graphic novel fall out.
"I like to think that we're decent people at heart, so when we deal with something like the death of a player we try to treat it with the gravity it deserves."GM: Bloggers are known for writing in their pajamas. What's your preferred workwear?
JB: Ronald Reagan once said that he had so much respect for the Oval Office that he wouldn't even dare loosen his tie while sitting at his desk. With that in mind, I dress impeachably well. I once lived with B [Brandon Stroud] for about a year. He's not as bad as I am about it.
To be honest I killed Nick in late 2005 and wear his shirts whenever "he" writes. Nick is a little skinnier than I am. Was a little skinner than I am.
GM: How much do you make from your blog? (Hey, we had to ask.)
JB: Until recently, not much at all. Luckily, ad revenue from the people at National Lampoon has given us what we need to make it up to New York and see you fine people.
GM: Which athlete has provided you with the most material?
JB: A lot of our characters (Jim Thome, Kyle Farnsworth, and Bill Pecota to name a few) have been either great extrapolations on or complete re-imaginings of the real thing, so we normally don't need them to create material for us to advance their character along. We do, however, owe a sincere thank-you to a few in particular: Mark Prior and Ken Griffey for injuring themselves on a comically regular basis, Manny Ramirez for trudging about this planet like a bumbling man-child, and Derek Jeter/Alex Rodriguez for hitting double-entendres like a Freudian Craig Biggio.
JB: B just did a Dugout tonight about Xavier Nady's Crohn's Disease, so we officially don't have any sort of line we worry about crossing. I like to think that we're decent people at heart, though, so when we deal with something like the death of a player we try to treat it with the gravity it deserves.
GM: Which post of yours do you regret the most, and why's that?
JB: Speaking personally, it has to be this one. Look at that crap. That day I was very tired and extremely busy, and rather than asking B or Nick to cover for me like I should have done, I threw this together in about two minutes. The result we get is a stupid chat with Kyle Farnsworth inexplicably hanging out in it, and I even forgot to insert his proper screen name. More than that, though, we were set to do a Devil Rays Dugout that day. And as much as I would go on and on about small-market losing teams being ignored disproportionately, I didn't back it up here. We lost all four members of our Devil Rays fan readership that day.
GM: Would you rather cover the big game from the press box or your couch? Why?
JB: I've never been in a press box, so I'm not completely qualified to answer that. To be honest, though, sitting on the couch watching a game with food, beer and friends is very close to as good as life can get.
GM: What's your favorite sports blog not among those featured at the next Varsity Letters? Why?
"We're talking about sports. Watching it and following it is an activity that usually doesn't serve to enrich or improve us in any way. It's purely amusement; in terms of what they can do for us, we're ultimately just spinning our wheels."JB: Honestly, I don't really read any sports blogs apart from what's on the Varsity Letters list. I know Nick likes to visit Boston Dirt Dogs.
GM: Who's your favorite mainstream sportswriter? Least favorite? Why?
JB: My favorite's probably Peter Gammons. He's extremely knowledgeable about the game and almost always makes for an interesting read. On top of that, he seems like a genuinely decent fellow, which counts for a lot with me. Nick's a big fan of Bill Simmons.
JB: My least favorite is Skip Bayless because he's a stupid contrarian troll.
GM: Has a mainstream journalist ever ripped your stuff off without acknowledgment?
JB: To my knowledge, no. Luckily our format is so weird and ridiculous that any attempts to cop our stuff would be hopefully be fairly obvious.
GM: Where does your blog strike the balance between sincere and snarky? Do you worry about being judged by readers based on your tone rather than content?
JB: I think the most effective way to try to overcome that is to make it known that you're not taking things too seriously. I mean, we're talking about sports. Watching it and following it is an activity that usually doesn't serve to enrich or improve us in any way. It's purely amusement; in terms of what they can do for us, we're ultimately just spinning our wheels. If we can communicate that with what we write, hopefully readers will understand that when our tone is a cruel or negative one, it's usually not sincere.