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A Toast

“…we write for each other, for baseball is not a paragraph, and losing, I think, is no parenthesis” — Humbug.com’s “Random Diamond Notes Generator,” after e.e. cummings

Waaaaay back in the day, as a regular poster on Baseball Primer, I was a fan of the mysterious Score Bard, the poet laureate of the baseball blogosphere. Shortly after celebrating his first foray into creating a site to house his verse, and soon after leaving the design job I’d held for nearly six years, I received a touching email from the still-pseudonymous Bard. In it, he talked of his own departure from a dot-com job and subsequent voyage of self-discovery, as well as the connection he shared with his late father over The World Almanac, whose 2002 and 2003 covers I had designed. Obviously, I still have that email.

I’m not sure how much later it was, but one day I was reading his site and stumbled onto a page which linked to some of the Bard’s other ventures, unmasking him as Ken Arneson in the process. I kept this bit of information regarding his identity under my hat for months, finally passing it on to Will Carroll and Alex Belth at the Winter Meetings in 2003 in exchange for some other bit of juicy gossip It was probably the only privileged piece of baseball information I had at my disposal; I had no other chips with which to go “all in.”

Fast-forward a year later, to the 2004 Winter Meetings in Anaheim. I met Arneson for the first time. He was there to hook up with a few of our mutual blogging pals, including Carroll, Dodger Thoughts’ Jon Weisman and the Cub Reporter’s Alex Ciepley; they were all working together at All-Baseball.com and in the process of forming what would become Baseball Toaster, an aggregation of a handful of great baseball blogs, some of which had migrated from the A-B hub, Bronx Banter among them. Arneson, a tech wiz, custom built the site’s blogging software.

Despite my connections to this great gang of folks – and my role in pointing them in the general direction of each other – I never explored the possibility of joining the Toaster group, in part because this site, or at least my vision for it, was more expansive, and in part because I was already headed down the road to becoming a full-fledged member of Baseball Prospectus.

Our voyages of self-discovery would continue in parallel, occasionally intersecting, as I retained a deep connection with the Toaster crew. Dodger Thoughts and Bronx Banter were my chosen houses of worship for my two teams, and I collaborated with DT’s Weisman and BB’s Belth on a few occasions between All-Baseball and the Toaster. I regularly read Arneson/Bard’s Humbug blog, his A’s-themed Catfish Stew, Mike’s Baseball Rants, Carroll and Scott Long’s Juice Blog, and others. Cardboard Gods, which didn’t join up until years later, became one of my favorites as well, with Josh Wilker’s note-perfect style of incorporating baseball cards and the existential revelations they held into the narrative of his own journey through life — a model that via The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book had initially inspired this site, but one that I’ve invoked with decreasing frequency as my own work here and beyond has grown more analytical. The Toaster sites were among my favorite reads in the baseball blogosphere, and they fostered a great sense of community among its reader-fans.

Alas, there’s something about toasters that suggests a built-in obsolescence. After Dark’s Flying Toaster screensavers. Cylon Centurions. The fetishization of vintage kitchen appliances. Hell, the slang usage of the word “toast”: finished, defunct, done.

And so it is with Baseball Toaster. Earlier this week, Arneson announced that he had decided to unplug the Toaster as multiple bloggers go their separate ways. The departure isn’t for lack of interest from readers. Rather, the graduation of Bronx Banter to SNY late last year and Dodger Thoughts to the Los Angeles Times earlier this week — thus removing the two highest-traffic blogs from the site — as well as Ken’s understandably shifting priorities regarding work and family led to a reconsideration of the enterprise. The impending departures seem to have led a few of the other blogs to give up the ghost as well, though I’m particularly glad to see Cardboard Gods land on its feet.

Wilker’s final post on BT concerns Reggie Jackson and the sway he held on those of us fans of a certain age; obviously, I can relate. So can Arneson, who invokes Jackson, among others in the Toaster’s final post, a remarkable epic whose role call also includes Moby Dick, Huck Finn, Billy Martin, Ingmar Bergman, Borg-McEnroe, Sinatra, Dylan, Rickey Henderson, Bono, Battlestar Galactica, the Bash Brothers, Yeats, Billy Beane, Gorbachev, the Berlin Wall, original poetry that doesn’t suck (this is the Score Bard, after all), the birth of Netscape, the dot-com boom and bust, the futility of banner ads, Kos, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, the inefficiency of Nigerian diplomats, Elvis Costello, Kraftwerk, Monty Python, Armed Forces Radio, Radio Moscow, Dennis Eckersley, Kirk Gibson and Jack Buck.

Written in honor of Arneson’s 43rd birthday as a farewell to the Toaster and to blogging in general, it connects the scraps of personal information which I first gleaned via my initial connection with the Score Bard to classic literature, film and music in perhaps the most ambitious piece of web-based writing I’ve ever read. It is Ted Williams’ final at-bat and John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” rolled into one along with so much more. “Well, the internet is over, this post won. Thanks for playing, everybody,” wrote Wilker in the comments section, invoking a previous comment to another epic Arneson post that I somehow missed.

Reading that piece and watching the Toaster go toast leads me to voice the inevitable questions regarding my own blogging. For a few years now, this site has become something of a personal back burner as my Baseball Prospectus work occupies more of my time and carries me into new frontiers (see here, here, here, and here as well if you’ve got a subscription, and know that there’s more of this to come). My audience continues to grow via those venues, but it contracts here as my posts grow more scarce and pieces of the site fall into disrepair. On some occasions I vow to begin posting shorter and more frequent entries, reaping the dividend of my occasionally short attention span and my expansive voyages across the Internet in the service of rebuilding this site’s traffic. On others, I’ll wonder if the blog is a burden to be shed, a childish thing to be put away as my work grows more professional.

In the end, as this site approaches its eighth birthday, I find that I’m still willing to soldier on with Futility Infielder, keeping the pilot light lit if only to illuminate my progress and the occasional bursts of inspiration which wouldn’t otherwise find a home. Maybe I will get that shorter-post thing down at some point. Maybe I’ll move this thing to a self-contained platform where I don’t have to worry about third-party add-ons going kaput. Maybe I’ll let this blog evolve into something that’s less strictly baseball-oriented. One way or another, you ain’t getting rid of me that easily.

In the meantime, I can only offer the fondest farewell and best wishes to my pals at the Toaster as they scatter to the four winds. They’ve brought me community and plenty of inspiration while taking me a few steps closer towards my own personal enlightenment, and for that I raise my glass and offer my humble thanks. Fare thee well, friends.

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