The Web is fairly groaning with baseball blogs. Scroll down the right column of Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits, itself one of almost a dozen weblogs on the Primer site, and you'll find links to 87 other baseball blogs. The Baseball News Blog links to 155 of them, including some overlap with Clutch Hits. If it happened in baseball, it's on a blog somewhere.
But searching for football blogs is like looking for Metallica fans at a Clay Aiken concert. There might be a few around, but you're not tripping over them. After quite a bit of searching, I know of more blogs devoted to the Detroit Tigers than to the NFL.
That surprises me. Football, aside from being massively popular, seems ideal for the blogosphere. It's highly technical and complicated, yet it can also be followed and understood on a "Did you see that hit?!" level. It seems to me that brainy programmer types can appreciate the intricacies of strategy, blocking schemes, zone coverage and quarterback checkdowns at the same time that the, shall we say, less complicated among us can appreciate the game on a more foam-finger-in-the-air level.
"It's rather odd, since football is clearly much more popular as a spectator sport," says James Joyner, who with Steven Taylor blogs at dallascowboysfootball.com. "Football also seems to lag in other things, like card collecting and fantasy leagues."
The bloggers and webmasters I asked, all via e-mail, cited four main reasons for football's lag in blogging popularity: Baseball's literary tradition; the length of baseball's season, almost twice that of football's; baseball's daily schedule as opposed to football's weekly clashes; and the popularity of sabermetric statistical analysis in baseball, which is not as developed in football.
"I suppose there's the stereotype that baseball fans are in general more 'blank' than football fans," says Doug Drinen, who runs the encyclopedia-style site pro-football-reference.com. "Insert 'smart' or 'literarily inclined' if you're a baseball fan, 'nerdy' or 'inclined to bury their nose in a book instead of watching the dang game' if you're a football fan."
"I wouldn't want to suggest that football fanatics are less literate, but I don't know that football lends itself to literature and writing in the same way that baseball does," agrees Alex Belth, who blogs the Yankees and related subjects at Bronx Banter.
Among sports popular in America, baseball is rivaled only by boxing among sports with a proud literature. In a famous 1987 column in the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell listed "99 reasons why baseball is better than football." One of those was "More good baseball books appear in a single year than have been written about football in the past 50 years." And just last month in the same paper, Bob Thompson wrote, "Baseball is a fat Victorian novel, replete with colorful minor characters and discursive subplots, into which a fan can disappear for months; football is a series of quick-cutting TV cop shows."
Edward Cossette, who writes Bambino's Curse, a blog about the Red Sox, points to a connection between his favorite team's famous literary following and its presence in blogland. "There seems to be far more baseball blogs devoted to the Red Sox than to any other team," he says. "A part of this of course is due to the passion of the fans but I also think it has to do with so many 'men of letters,' if you will, who are die-hard Red Sox fans."
But I don't think of blogs as literature, necessarily, do you? They can be literary, but there are plenty of blogs about Linux, a subject that has hardly made a big splash in the world of great books. And anyway, as Doug Hutchinson of the baseball Giants blog Westwood Blues says, "Most of the baseball weblogs are sabermetrically oriented, at least the ones I've come across, and bloggers may feel the need to give commentary which isn't given in other, mainstream outlets."
Sabermetrics, which can be roughly described as applying the scientific method to the analysis of baseball, can get pretty technical. Calculating VORP is not exactly "Green fields of the mind" type stuff, although being a stathead and enjoying the game's lyrical beauty aren't mutually exclusive. Technical, and even technocratic, as football can be, the only football blog I know of that takes a sabermetrics-type approach to football is Football Outsiders, which is excellent if sometimes impenetrable to us liberal arts majors.
"In football, statistics are a lot simpler, and mean less, because the situations are a lot more widely varied," says Sean Smith, whose Purgatory Online blog is about the Angels. What he means is that while baseball is built on a straightforward batter vs. pitcher competition, everything that happens on a football field is dependent on the performance of teammates and opponents. "Compared to football, it's easier to figure out which [baseball] statistics are meaningful," Smith says.
Some bloggers say it's baseball's dailiness that lends itself so well to the form.
"The blog format is essentially an online diary, and therefore lends itself to daily installments," Belth says. "Like Earl Weaver once told Tom Boswell, 'This ain't football. We do this every day.'"
"I always go back to the daily nature of baseball," says Ed Kubosiak, who writes the Red Sox blog Out of Left Field. "There is a different cadence, a rhythm that is more conducive to writing. More to talk about. Second-guessing is second-nature in baseball. The history is well known and often celebrated. Football, for me, is tied to one day. Any given Sunday. Friday night lights."
Eric Justman Reichert, one of the Baseball Boys who blog about the Pirates and Twins, also says there isn't much to say about football on weekdays, "unless there are rubes out there who really care to read a page and a half about someone's hamstring injury."
The football fans I know discuss the game constantly. There are games on Sunday and Monday, which means you spend the first few days of the week on postmortems -- "You have to kick a field goal in that situation!" "He was not pushed out of bounds!" -- and the next few days on previews. Baseball is by far my favorite sport, but at this time of year it's a bit of a struggle to keep my daily column from becoming all football all the time, and that's without even spending much time on college ball. It seems to me that baseball fans are busy watching games during the week, while football fans have nothing to do but talk.
And then there's the fact that football is national, rather than local. Baseball fans tend to follow the home team. Football fans do that, too, but the rarity of the games and the nature of the television schedule make it easier to follow the league as a whole. I would bet that on the East Coast, there are more football fans who can talk about the Chargers than there are baseball fans who can talk about the Padres.
Maybe more than the frequency of games it's the length of the season that makes baseball better suited to blogging. Chris Noble blogs about world affairs at the Noble Pundit, but contributes football commentary to a general sports blog called, fittingly, SportsBlog, which is at the moment dominated by pro football. He says the long football off-season discourages bloggers.
"The baseball off-season is really only about four months long, which lends the sport to consistent reporting," he says. "By contrast, football starts in July and runs through late January/early February. This means that the football off-season is, at minimum, five months long and for most teams that don't make the playoffs, it can be as long as seven months ... I tend not to touch on it during the off-season because, outside of the draft and some new signings, there really isn't a whole lot of football happening."
Whatever the reasons, it looks like football blogging is a market waiting to be tapped. Football fans with a Web connection, a little spare time and a few things to say can quickly launch themselves to the forefront of the football blog universe. Fame awaits!
Although if Hutchinson, the Westwood Blues baseball blogger, is right, the mainstream media isn't leaving much room to operate. He can't say the same about the baseball press, he says, but "As far as football media goes, I'm perfectly satisfied with Ira Miller [of the San Francisco Chronicle] and John Clayton [of ESPN.com], so I really don't feel the need to seek out other outlets to get football commentary."
A sports fan satisfied with the job the media is doing. Now that's something that's hard to find.
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