The next installment of Camden Chat's blog spotlight focuses on The Loss Column. I've been a fan of TLC for years as the creator, Neal Shaffer, writes regularly about Baltimore Sports, especially the Ravens and Orioles. With it being football season most of the current articles focus on football, but there's plenty to be found about the O's as well. What's refreshing about Neal's writing is that it's rare you'll the the "woe is me" mentality that can be prevalent among a lot of sports writing that's done by fans. On the "About" page, Neal points to an entry about Mark Teixeira that encapsulates the attitude and philosophy of TLC. I highly suggest giving it a read (and the rest of site as well).
See below the jump for my Q&A with Neal.
1. Let's set the scene. It's August 2006. The Orioles are stumbling to their 9th consecutive losing season. The Ravens are in pre-season, coming off of a 6-10 season and heading to their 13-3 season with Steve McNair. You decide to start The Loss Column. What was the story behind it getting started?
The Loss Column emerged from conversations. I talk sports with friends like everyone else, and at some point my pal Chris suggested starting a site (he gets credit for the name, too). My background is in writing, and sportswriting had always interested me. I had done a couple of pieces for PressBox by then and I was hungry for more. The idea of having my own site hit me in the right spot.
It's different now from what it was when I started. It took probably a year to really find the voice. And beyond that, it's a living thing. My ideas about what to do with it change and grow all the time. For example, I'm going to start incorporating more content that isn't explicitly sports-related.
There wasn't ever an "a-ha!" moment at the start, and there's no road map for the future now that it's established. It's pretty organic.
2. How would you pitch your blog to someone who knows nothing about it?
It's a place to go to get a nuanced take on sports. A place where yelling and name-calling and blind "your guy sucks, my guy rules" approaches aren't encouraged. A place where multiple viewpoints are welcome and considered. A place where stories tend to matter more than stats.
My approach to sports writing and commentary has been called "NPR-like." I choose to take that as a compliment even though I'm not sure it was always meant that way.
3. The Orioles record since TLC started: 220-309. That means that about 42% of the time you're writing about a loser. Do you ever find it hard to come up with new things to say about this team?
It's not hard to write during the season about what's happening game-to-game, and this past season in particular I think I fell into the trap of doing that too much. It can be fun but it's important to me that the site be about more than just that. So, yeah, it's sometimes very hard to come up with things to say.
Given the fortunes of the team it would be easy to just bitch and moan. In the site's early days, before I found the voice, I was more inclined to indulge frustration. That fizzled pretty quickly. I write something for the site, even if it's something quick, about five times a week. The idea of filling that time with anger and negativity seems insane. Some people have managed to make a living off of doing just that but it's not for me.
That said, I don't think things would be much different if the O's were winning. I think I'd still face the same challenges in trying to come up with quality content and I'd probably still fail and succeed as often as I do now. The judgment on the ratio is, of course, up to the audience.
Part 2: The Orioles
1. Short term - who's going to play third base for the O's in 2010? Is that different from who you think should play 3B for the O's in 2010?
I think we'll end up with a solid veteran on a one or two-year deal, maybe somebody like Joe Crede or Troy Glaus. There's also a chance that Wigginton gets the spot -- we should be prepared for that possibility, even though I don't think it's anyone's first choice (MacPhail included)
The important thing, whoever ends up at that corner, is to not block Josh Bell. He's steadily earning his opportunity and I think that's as it should be. He's the guy eventually. Not to start 2010 and maybe not even in 2010 at all, but he has to get a shot. That's why the trade was made.
On a broader level, what we're really getting at with the third base question is the larger point about MacPhail's massive challenge this offseason: to improve the club without sacrificing the past two years spent amassing prospects and building a stronger organization. I wouldn't want that job.
2. Long term - who ends up the best pitcher of Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta, Britton, Bergesen? Which one ends up a bust?
I don't see any of them ending up a bust. They obviously won't all be #1 or #2 guys, either. History says that if one true star emerges from that group then it's a win. I think that will happen and I think it'll be Matusz. He's very, very impressive. I'm almost tempted to think of him as a left-handed Mussina-type, though it's way too early for that. Great attitude and very coachable as well, from what I hear. I can see him heading the rotation in 2011 or 2012.
I think Bergesen will be a workhorse #3-#4 type, a guy you can count on every five days to give you a damn good chance to win even if he's not typically dominant.
I don't think we know enough about the other three guys to say one way or the other, but all signs point to them being good enough to at least contribute.
3. Do you think there is anything the Orioles can do to legitimately compete in this division over the duration? If not, should we all just pack it in and call it a day?
Hard as it may be to imagine, these things are cyclical. The Yankees and Red Sox figure to be in the mix most years, sure, but it would be going too far to say that nobody can compete with that. And the good news is that the Orioles are in a position to do it. They have a beautiful stadium and they play in a great market (the mid-Atlantic, which is still huge even though they now share it). Winning will bring fans back, and that can/will turn into a revenue stream significant enough to keep them competitive. They have to undo a lot of mistakes and get a little lucky before it can happen, but they seem to be on the right track.
2010 is the year where they have to start showing us just how possible it is. If next season doesn't go down the way we all expect it to -- if we don't see the measurable improvement of which MacPhail spoke -- then I honestly don't know what I'll say. That would be a worst-case scenario. If they lose 90 games, ask me this question again.