Last October 19, the Mets lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to the Cardinals. That night, Mets fans and bloggers Jason Fry and Greg Prince posted their reactionswhich were respectful of the Cardinals, appreciative of the Mets' regular-season success and postseason run, and hopeful about the future. These traits exemplify Faith & Fear in Flushingas do the sheer length and imagination of Prince's 3,000-plus-word entry, time-stamped at 3:59 in the morning, imagining how the season would look to fans reflecting back from 2026.
Read Faith & Fear for a few weeks and you will have read a book about the Mets, from the perspective of fans who are just that. Fry (who, separate from F&F, writes a sports column with me at WSJ.com) and Prince, a writer and communications consultant, don't position themselves as stats-experts who know how to run the team better than the front office. ("Whenever I think it might be fun to play around with VORP or ERA+ or something, I remember that I can't do simple addition and leave it to Metsgeek," Fry tells Gelf.) Instead, they share with us the sorts of funny, frustrated, hopeful emails rabid fans might writeif they also happened to be really good writers who get paid elsewhere for their words.
"I think I bought the 'Beat L.A.' T-shirt after this was a physical impossibility, the Lakers having already swept the Nets. I was just thrilled that they weren't their usual 23-59."
In an email interview, Prince and Fry told Gelf why they blog for free, why they've come around on Tom Glavine, and how Royce Clayton can bring unexpected joy to a Mets fan who pays attention. This interview has been edited for clarity. (Also, you can hear Fry, Prince, 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 and/or Sports Illustrated, what are the two things you'd do first? (Or would you just blow the whole thing up and start over?) Explain why.
Greg Prince: I'd make like one of those stickup men from the Underdog cartoons and grab them by their ankles and shake them so all their frigging faux attitude would fall out of their pockets. They do so many good things in terms of their ubiquitous coverage (ESPN) and their ability to go in-depth (SI) that the forced edginess just gets in the way.
Also, I'd fire Steve Phillips from ESPN, hire him for Sports Illustrated, and then fire him from there. I hated Steve Phillips as Mets GM for his rare mix of ineptitude and arrogance. Seeing him play the role of baseball expert on television undermines the credibility of the sport, the medium, and the concept of expertise.
GM: Bloggers are known for writing in their pajamas. What's your preferred workwear?
GP: That's a gross and unfair stereotype. And who gave you permission to train your webcam on me right now?
JF: I'm a Mets fan, so I generally don my hairshirt.
GM: How much do you make from your blog? (Hey, we had to ask.)
GP: We're altruists. Let's leave it at that.
GM: Which athlete has provided you with the most material?
GP: That sounds like a question designed to generate a response of "T.O.," but we only write about the Mets, so not Terrell Owens. A lot of Piazza our first year as we prepared for his exit. Since then, Pedro, Wright, Reyes whoever's coming through or failing at any given moment. But if we're not harping on Gerald Williams, wondering about Al Schmelz, or dwelling on Steve Springer at least every now and then, we're not doing our jobs.
JF: It took us a couple of years to take the measure of Tom Glavine. We started off calling him The Manchurian Brave, because he stank, seemed too stubborn to change, and has this sneaky way of sounding philosophical after games but actually making all sorts of alibis and quietly blaming his teammates. But then Glavine changed his approach, got better, and won us over. So now we call him The Eventual Met.
On a less-complicated note, it's always fun to celebrate the heroics of Jose Reyes and David Wright. Those guys seem to be having so much fun playing baseball that you feel lucky just getting to watch them.
Oh, and Paul Lo Duca cracks me up. He's so intense he's practically a cartoon character. Back in May, in a game against the Braves,
'Paul Lo Duca cracks me up. He's so intense he's practically a cartoon character.'Jason FryGM: Are there any people or topics you won't make fun of? Why are they off limits?
GP: I really wanted to use this line after A-Rod complained that Jeter doesn't sleep over anymore: "All of Rodriguez's at-bats in 2007 will be simulcast by Logo," but I realized that would make me no better than Tim Hardaway. Besides, I'd just as soon ignore the Yankees.
GM: Which post of yours do you regret the most, and why's that?
GP: I regret the error I made after Game Seven of the NLCS referring to the Mets having lost. I regret having repeated that error all through the offseason. I regret that everything I ever post regarding Game Seven will have that error in it. It can't possibly be right.
Otherwise, I regret nothing.
JF: I regret this post, in which I proudly noted that August 9, 2005 was the 7,000th game that counted in Mets history. A bunch of the other Mets blogs picked that up before Greg gently pointed out that 37+27=64, not 54. Which made it the 7,010th game, I suppose, though for obvious reasons I won't even swear to that. On the other hand, it was a moment of clarity. Whenever I think it might be fun to play around with VORP or ERA+ or something, I remember that I can't do simple addition and leave it to Metsgeek.
GM: Would you rather cover the big game from the press box or your couch? Why?
GP: I visited the press box at Shea Stadium in 1979 as part of a high school newspaper promotion the Mets were running. It didn't lure me then, it doesn't lure me now. What we do at Faith and Fear is write about the Mets as fans. If we're in the press box, we're not going to do that. The fan part is fun. Anything else would be work. A lot of effort goes into our blog, but it's never work.
JF: Well, if it's a big game I'd hope to be in the stands. Failing that, definitely the couch. I think the old saw about sausage and the sausage factory definitely applies. I love the Mets and I love writing about the Mets. I can't imagine getting closer to the team making me love either of those things more. I can definitely imagine getting closer to the team making me love either or both less.
GM: What's your favorite sports blog not among those featured at the next Varsity Letters? Why?
GP: Addressing our parochial world because that's where my focus lies, I really like the Mets blogs that have a unique voice and mission to them. Metstradamus is witty and insightful on a nightly basis. Mets Guy in Michigan mixes his family and spiritual life with a burning hatred of every Met opponent. And Mets Walkoffs and Other Minutiae come on, what could be a better topic for a blog?
GM: Who's your favorite mainstream sportswriter? Least favorite? Why?
'Though I remain a loyal newspaper reader, most of their sports sections annoy me. Except for some whispers and inside dope, I rarely learn anything that helps me enjoy baseball or any sport from these people.'Greg PrinceGP: As tiresome as daily columnists can be (perhaps with good reason), George Vecsey and Lisa Olson consistently rise above their cohort and show they still care about what they cover. Vic Ziegel, too. He's skeptical without being cynical. Mike Lupica's a bit of a weather vane but I still like his style after 20-plus years. What I really detest are the hacks who email it in on a regular basis: the Bill Maddens, the John Harpers, the Mark Herrmanns. I can't believe how much space they are given to say absolutely nothing I can't figure out for myself. Wally Matthews, however, is in a league of his own. His stuff is baseless, pointless and just plain horrible. The "look at me, I'm a contrarian" ploy runs out of gas quick. Same could be said for Filip Bondy if in fact he merited any kind of acknowledgement at all. Among Mets beat writers, Ben Shpigel does a wonderful job for the Times. David Lennon with Newsday and Adam Rubin of the Daily News work hard. There aren't any great stylists on the beat, however. Though I remain a loyal newspaper reader (not just newspaper-site reader), most of their sports sections annoy me. Except for some whispers and inside dope, I rarely learn anything that helps me enjoy baseball or any sport from these people. They're paid to tell me what is fairly obvious to anybody who gives the matter a little bit of thought.
JF: I actually like Harper. Definitely a big fan of Lisa Olson. Among writers whose beats include the Mets, I look out for Wayne Coffey, Bob Klapisch, Mike Vaccaro, and Joel Sherman.
Away from Met Land, I think my favorite sports section is the San Francisco Chronicle. Ray Ratto, Bruce Jenkins, Scott Ostler, and Gwen Knapp are all great columnists with great voices.
GM: Has a mainstream journalist ever ripped your stuff off without acknowledgment?
GP: I don't think so, though I've seen similar themes pop up after the fact, leading me to believe there are only so many sports things to think about in this world.
JF: I doubt it. And hey, it's a lot fairer to ask the question the other way round. I don't bother with game stories much anymorethose should just be done by a pool reporterbut plenty of what bloggers react to is built on beat guys and columnists and TV guys talking to players, the manager, and the front office. That work may be unfashionable in our bloggy age, but we'd have less to talk about without the folks who do it.
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?
GP: I probably used to be snarkier about the Mets, both on the blog and in general. Not that sports is sacrosanct to me nowit's just that I must have come to the realization that anything that gives me and others this much pleasure (even the pleasure of agita) must not be altogether terrible.
From a blogging perspective, we play a somewhat unique role in the Metsosphere. We're the blog that doesn't whine at management over orthodox batting orders and the failure to call up this week's minor league studnot as a way of life, anyway. Our readers have told us that they like our heart and soul of the fan approach and, even though we are not overly reverent toward the church of baseball, I think that has affected me. You can find snark in a lot of other places. We actually like what we write about.
To be slightly high and mighty about it, I think we're a bit of a moral compass for our readers as regards the Mets. We set a tone and they feel comfortable and engaged by it. They often tell us they didn't realize they were people like them in this world, people who take the Mets so seriously, and they seem thrilled that we're around to express that emotion. In turn, we've cultivated the best group of regular commenters I've ever read on any Mets blog. The dialogue rarely descends into the petty sniping and cursing that makes reading so many other sites' comments section a chore. Once in a while, with no stoking from Jason or me, they take a thread to new and dizzying heights. They're a joy to read.
All that said, we make lots of fun of the Mets when the Mets are going badly and even more fun of the Braves when the Mets are going well.
JF: I don't mind snark. But a snark-only diet would be awfully acidic. Snark goes better mixed in with sincerity.
GM: Why do you do this anyway?
GP: Jason and I would be doing something like this via email if blogs were never invented. Now, however, we're talking not just to each other but however many thousands of readers we have on any given day. We love the Mets. We love to write. We love to read each other write about the Mets. That there are others who want in on what we're saying, all the better.
In the same way there are people who can't enjoy going to a game if they're not keeping score, I don't know anymore if I can watch the Mets and not be thinking at least on a subconscious level about what I might blog afterwards. It's just changed the way I watch baseball and I like that. It's up to us to make our readers like it as well, to not write what they're going to read somewhere else. So far, so good.
JF: I definitely now find myself rehearsing blog posts in my head as a game unfolds, which is really annoyingsuddenly you're at this weird remove, watching yourself watch the game instead of just enjoying it. But I can't stop doing it.
GM: Is there a particular thought process you go through as you prepare to blog?
GP: I try not to come in with preconceived notions. Sometimes something just hits you.
Last Opening Day, for example, I got all wound up when I noticed Royce Clayton was on deck for the Nationals at a crucial moment at Shea. There was a close play at home on which Alfonso Soriano was tagged out by Paul Lo Duca (who actually juggled the ball, but never mind that). Soriano's slide was made that much tougher because Clayton hadn't moved Ryan Zimmerman's bat out of the way like an on-deck batter is supposed to. Thing is, exactly 10 years earlier, Clayton was involved at a signature play at the plate on Opening Day at Shea. He was gunned down by Rey Ordoñez, throwing from his knees in his Major League debut. Man, I thought, 10 years later and Royce Clayton is still getting kind of screwed around home plate.
Anyway, when this occurred to me, I got all excited and couldn't wait to post it because I thought somebody else was going to have the same flashback, and I had to be first. Actually, no other blogger indicated he or she was remotely aware of the connection. Royce Clayton Then and Now was hardly the big story of Opening Day. But amid 99 "it's Opening Day, oh boy" type posts, damn it made me happy to come up with something completely different.
GM: How does the traditional sports media suit your needs as a fan?
GP: Before blogging and such, I was probably less critical, or at least less consistently critical of what they do. What I can't get over is how much more the professional sports media class doesn't know than me or other bloggers. They rarely explain or illuminate. They just report, and even the reporting isn't that hot. I can read the same press releases that they do. There is little exclusivity in any given interview with any given player. There are no great insights out there. And everybody begins to sound like everybody else after a while.
Mostly, I want to be superserved. The blogs have changed my expectations. The papers aren't enough. The local newscasts aren't enough. SNY, even with programming devoted to the Mets, isn't enough. In our blog-powered universe, as in my head, the Mets are what matters most.
JF: The oddest thing for me is that how my needs are met has changed. I drop by MetsBlog now before I read the daily papers, because I know Matt Cerrone will have plucked all the really interesting stuff, and so if I get really busy and can't get to all the dailies myself I'll be covered. Besides games, I only watch SNY or local New York coverage if I'm desperate for a Mets fixI can go see whatever I need to see on Mets.com or ESPN. I rarely bother watching SportsCenter because if there's some great play or amazing recap I'll find it on ESPN or Deadspin or someone will email me a YouTube link.
So for me it's not so much that the role of the traditional sports media has changed as it is that I now get information from them in a very different way than I used to. It's sliced and diced and reassembled by others, and I get it through them, or from the source, at a time and place that suits me.
Related on the web
Greg Prince's reaction to the evening is worth a read.