Why We Write: Introductory Notes

While I’ve never met Will Leitch in person — and have certainly never posed with him like in those disgusting, poorly Photoshop-ed pictures of us floating around the internet — there’s a debt of gratitude I’ll always owe him for his performance on a certain, now pretty famous, episode of Costas Now.

It’s not the way his presence there turned Buzz Bissinger into a rabid, frothing mess — although I certainly have no problem with that. Rather, it’s the way he (i.e. Leitch) was able to articulate, more or less on the fly, the merits of sportswriting in the electronic age.

For it’s during that discussion that Leitch says:

One of the nice things about the web is [that] it’s a meritocracy. Sure, anyone can start a blog, but to get a readership you have to be serious, you have to be consistent — it’s hard goddamn work doing a blog.

As an unabashed classist, democracy is something about which I’m inherently skeptical. When left to their own devices, the teeming masses rarely seem to make good decisions. (I mean, seriously, the Toronto Raptors?)

The thing is, it works on the internet — or, at least with baseballing analysis it seems to. Craig Calcaterra, Dave Cameron, Rob Neyer: these guys are, by and large, products of the internet. Without the benefit of electronic print, there’s a good chance that we, as readers, are never introduced to their voices. Even Joe Posnanski, though he wrote for the Kansas City Star — well, he wrote for a paper in Kansas City.

I invoke that Leitch thing here, because, a couple days ago, I was corresponding via something called “G-Chat” with MC Jonah Keri. After performing the secret handsake of the Mutual Admiration Society (yes, you can do it over the internet), we somehow got to wondering: What is it that motivates the sporting blogger? Fame? Cash money? All the Cristal a man can drink?

Mind you, it’s not just the big guns we’re talking about, either. The “we” in the title of this post refers to anyone who says to him- or herself, “I’mma write me some words.”

The question is: Why do it? If, as Leitch suggests, it’s hard work, why do it? If, as I can tell you personally, it provides very little in the way of fame and/or cash money, why do it?

Well, you shouldn’t expect to find the answer here, today. But it’s my intention, over the course of some posts that’ll be coming out over the next couple days, week, whatever, to harass some smart guys — some guys who’re articulate enough to express their feelings on the topic — and approach some answers.

Before I bring the current post to a conclusion, it’s only right to share some of Jonah’s own thoughts. Here they are, however incomplete, in their original G-Chatty form:

10:11 AM me: Do you have any one-line answers as to why you, in fact, write?
10:11 AM Jonah: I can tell you why (and you can note it publicly, or not, up to you) but it’d be slightly longer than one line)
10:12 AM I write because I have no other discernable skills
I write because I like creating
I write because I’m a social animal and producing something tangible and public engages others to come talk to me about it
10:13 AM I write because as a kid, I thought Ring Lardner and W.P. Kinsella and Bill James and the Sports Illustrated crew were really cool.
10:14 AM I write because I love sports, and realized by age 12 I’d never be good enough to play in the NBA
I write because the Expos roped me in, and I became so attached to them that I had to tell people

Tomorrow: why Bryan Smith writes.



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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nothingxs
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Sounds about right. I became enthralled with the Marlins, and having loved reading SI as a kid (when I could get my hands on one, as the Sanborns in Mexico where I lived did not have them), I loved reading what they wrote, and thought at some point that I’d try doing it too.

I don’t have anywhere as much success, but I blame that on lack of publicity (and lack of non-old Cuban interest in the Marlins).

Dan
Guest
Dan
6 years 4 months ago

K.C. may produce some of the worst baseball, but it inspires some of the best writing.

Writers feed on pain and misery like a sci-fi succubus, and the Royals are a smorgasbord.

KC Star rules!!!

Evan
Guest
Evan
6 years 4 months ago

My memos at work never contain a section about why I do science. While I might love my trade it isn’t important why I love my trade. The end product is what matters. Writers have a habit with writing about themselves and/or their craft, instead of writing about a topic of interest. Am I alone in finding this less than compelling?

Maybe I should write a blog about my Gchats, since they seem to be deemed interesting topics. It would mostly be ascii pictures of genitalia, which I’m afraid has been done to death. :(

Dan
Guest
Dan
6 years 4 months ago

If you don’t think about why you science then the robots have won. Purpose is one of the keystones of communication, if you don’t have a clear understanding of purpose then you don’t have a clear message.

Matt
Guest
Matt
6 years 4 months ago

I think this topic comes up with all manner of arts because the reasons are not as self evident. Like you said Evan, with science, the end product is what matters. No one wonders why someone invents a vaccine or builds a house, it’s fairly obvious. But creating something without an obvious functional purpose is a bit muddier. Maybe your scientific mind skews your thoughts to the more pragmatic and functional, but I for one do find this piece compelling.

philkid3
Member
6 years 4 months ago

I don’t think you’re alone. I’ll bet most people who would be described as scientists would be on your side.

As a writer, I find it extremely interesting.

dlb
Guest
dlb
6 years 4 months ago

While I agree that the endgame of a craft is the reason for doing it, I see C.C.’s point–Why are there so many people who feel the need to write about sports on the internet? Probably because everyone wants a voice. Or Catharsis, which weaves in nicely with what Dan posted. Maybe the question is more along the lines of: Why do so many people want to read about sports?

Also, scientist often do write about why they study what they do….

Chris
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

The answer is a simple one for me: I write because I love the game and because, even though I have great friends, I’m alone in my love for baseball. I need an outlet and the internet it is.

Bill Blatzheim
Member
Bill Blatzheim
6 years 4 months ago

I think we write because secretly, we all know that beat writers have the coolest job in the world. We’ve all been to ballgames, and paid a lot of money to go to them, cheer on our team, and chat with the fans around us about the ins/outs/ups/downs of the game. Before the internet, however, we thought that the newspaper writers had some mystical power given to them that not only empowered them to fly to every away game with the team, but to get to meet with them in the locker room before and after, and, here’s the kicker – GET PAID for it.

We all wanted that job. But there were, at most, only three or four per city and we didn’t have the quick means to try researching, typing, refining, etc. So we took what the beat writers heard from the manager about why he sac bunted his three hitter in the 8th inning with one out as gospel. After all, who were we to question the magical baseball gods and their messengers?

The internet changed most things — our ability to access information, our ability to analyze the game, our ability to interact with other fans who might also secretly be second-guessing “the old wisdom.” But what it didn’t change was the fact that there are still only three or four of those jobs per city — where someone will pay you to fly to every game. And we still all WANT that job. The difference is now we read the beat report and think — “BS, I could write a way better article. He totally missed the fact that the player’s 90 RBI season still clocked in with a below-average wOBA.”

And somehwere, deep down, we think, “hell, if I write enough snarky Bill Simmons-like articles on Fangraphs, THT, or (insert random sports blog here), someone will notice me and then I’ll get paid to do what the beat writers do.” Isn’t that all of our dreams? That someone will read our writing and lift us up to Baseball Heaven from the hell of our everyday lives?

It sure is mine. {sigh} Until then…

PS If you read this post, like it, and happen to edit for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, call me. I’m cooler than Patrick Reusse and won’t eat up as much with my expense account at restaurants…

Ken Arneson
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

I wouldn’t generalize the beat-writer desire to everyone. For a time, I had a certain amount of success as a blogger, but I haven’t for a moment ever wanted to be a beat writer. Maybe that lack of desire was why I didn’t succeed more than I did. Nonetheless, the reasons that I wrote, whatever they were, were not motivated by dreams of a career.

Gilbert
Guest
Gilbert
6 years 4 months ago

It’s not just sports, occasionally you will see excellent writing in restaurant, travel, book or product reviews by people who take care to write well and have insight. We were thankful for someone who posted videos of repairing a dryer on YouTube, I don’t expect he will be getting a royalty check anytime soon.

With sports as well as any other research field, probably some of the thrill is when someone you don’t know links to your article, or when you write a post about fielding and the first comment is from Tom Tango or someone you have read and respect.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron
6 years 4 months ago

I misread the title and thought this was going to be about the predominance of Caucasians in the sabermetric community.

Larry Smith Jr.
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Twinsrulemlb is absolutely correct. I actually wrote essentially that same thing in the very first post when I began my own blog. That’s definitely why I began blogging, although there are other reasons as well:

* – Facebook statuses allow only roughly 420 characters and I was tired of confining my musings to that space and then commenting my own statuses.

* – For years — Literally, many years — I wrote articles on baseball as the mood struck me. Having a designated space for them made the most sense for me. It also gave me a place to put them so I didn’t have to carry along the paper copies to work or a friend’s house or anywhere else to show people who might be interested in them.

* – A point similar to one Jonah brought up; In addition to hoping to get discovered, writing/written communication is the most discernable skill that I have. Even in the likely event that I never get discovered and never get one of those coveted jobs being paid to write about baseball, by maintaining a blog on a topic that I’m enthusiastic about on a subject that I know alot about and enjoy, it inspires/motivates me to continue producing material. In so doing, it gives me writing samples in the event that I could present them to someone to get a job writing about something else. My current job has nothing to do with writing, and I likely could do it without the ability to write in English at all. I would take a job writing instruction manuals and warning pamphlets if I could get one. No place that pays people to write things will hire you without samples. Maintaining the blog gives me continuous, current samples.

* – I’m always writing things anyway, why not put it in a blog format?

* – I like giving my opinion. I like knowing that my opinion is being heard. The best way to do that, is to present my opinion in the best way I know how.

* – I also agree with Chris to an extent. While I know others that love baseball, nobody I know loves baseball as much as I do. Writing about it, taking to the internet, visiting places like this, brings me closer to those who share my interest to such an extreme extent.

3FingersBrown
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Your 3rd point strikes a chord with me and I find myself falling into the same category. I write freelance and make a few dollars here and there, writing about a myriad of subjects (from TV promo copy to travel pieces). I’ve worked in just about every field imaginable and find that the only thing I find particularly satisfying is writing. As a creative person, I need an outlet and if it can lead to something financially rewarding, great, but I’ll be doing it anyway, since it’s what I’ve always done.

The obsession runs in the blood, as I come from a family of many baseball “almost were’s.” From my father, who starred on a HS team that produced Eddie Kranepool, to a cousin who until recently, would travel down to the Caribbean to play winter ball well into his 30’s. I’ve never been that good, but I’ve always enjoyed playing, no matter how fat my “fastball” is. What I’ve been told I am good at is writing, so baseball blogging mitigates some of the pain of not being able to jack a 400 foot homer.

As for the subject of baseball, it’s been an obsession of mine for as long as I can remember. While I follow other professional sports to lesser degrees, there is no other sport that lends itself so thoroughly to a continuing narrative. Every season, game and plate appearance writes a story and creates a debate. What fan doesn’t love sharing that story and having that debate with other baseball enthusiasts?

Jared Norris
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

I write because I spend hours upon hours watching baseball, researching baseball and now playing fantasy baseball like it is my job. I don’t know why I feel inclined to share all of my findings or opinions with the world, but I feel like it gives me some sort of reasoning or purpose to spend as much time as I do on the subject.

It becomes my scapegoat when my girlfriend or friends ask how or why I spend all afternoon/evening watching baseball. Writing the daily small sample of player notes I do for sites allows me to respond to those critics and simply say “It is my job.”

They don’t know that I make close to nothing doing it, but they never inquire. Bottom line our society loves to share their opinions. We do it daily through the 40 social networking outlets provided to us, we do it at our job, we do it in our relationships and sports is a topic everyone seems to have an opinion on.

We as writers are just the driven group of individuals who have actually took it upon ourselves to do the extra work to get our voices heard.

Eric
Guest
Eric
6 years 4 months ago

It’s the only way for me to communicate with the outside world from my mother’s basement.

B N
Guest
B N
6 years 4 months ago

“I write because the Expos roped me in, and I became so attached to them that I had to tell people”

This has to be tied for the least common reason to write in history.

Torgen
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

The ten finalists in the Raptors naming contest were:
Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers
Scorpions? Tarantulas? In Canada? I think Raptors is the second best of those, and Vancouver ended up using Grizzlies anwyays.

Torgen
Guest
Torgen
6 years 4 months ago

Grizzlies being the third best, by the way.

J
Guest
J
6 years 4 months ago

Thanks for this…

James
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

What a wonderful write-up! I have no clue how you wrote this text..it’d take me long hours. Well worth it though, I’d assume. Have you considered selling advertising space on your blog?

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