Fire Joe Morgan: The Exit Interview

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Like many of you, my heart sank last week when I learned that Fire Joe Morgan announced they were hanging up their purple spikes after, as they put it, "21 years, and almost 40 million posts." Fire Joe Morgan was one of the reasons I got into this blogging game — and what a game it is! — and I'm sure I'm far from alone. While your tributes keep filing in, I'm proud to have had the opportunity to sit down with the FJM crew last week and talk to them about their "decision." And by "sit down," I mean, "emailed them questions and waited for them to respond." You know how online journalism works. Anyway, here's my chat with Michael Schur (Ken Tremendous), Alan Yang (Junior) and Dave King (dak). And yes: I did try to talk them out of it. They're hilarious enough in this interview that I feel even worse that I failed. You guys have gone on somewhat extended breaks before. Why now? Did you guys have a big meeting about it, or did it just sort of naturally drift to that conclusion? MIKE: No big meeting. A few months ago we were all lamenting the relatively small number of juicy articles we had turned up. That led to lamenting the feeling we were all having that we had begun to repeat ourselves. There's no worse sin to commit as a comedy writer. So we all agreed that we would wait until after the World Series, talk one last time to make sure, and then shut it down. Alan (Junior) and I [last week] suddenly realized we should have announced it in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series, the way Boras announced A-Rod's opt-out. We were mad that we had missed that one last dumb joke. ALAN: Shockingly, pseudo-sabermetric baseball journalism metacriticism may not be an infinitely sustainable comedy premise. But we'll see. We plan on making at least seven ill-advised Magic Johnson-style comebacks, including one where we return to coach an FJM writing team made up of lovable but underachieving fifth graders. DAVE: Yeah, it naturally drifted there. We were just posting less, and running out of ways to say Bill Plaschke shouldn't have a job. We've had this problem since, I guess, day two. Hard not to repeat yourself on a hyperniched blog. Also, there were things like jobs and a baby, but stuff like that is never that important. One of the things I've always found interesting about your site is how accidental it all seemed. This was something that you clearly started out just to amuse each other, and you seemed almost surprised it found an audience. How much did actually, you know, having readers change the original intention? MIKE: I hope it didn't. We still wrote whatever we wanted, really. There were some moments when we would lazily not post for a few days and a flood of emails would come in — scary, nasty emails, Will — and we would be shocked back into the realization that there are actually people who care whether we write or not. ALAN: I think it might have made the writing a little better, actually. It's great motivation knowing that there's an audience for your writing, even when that writing aspires to nothing higher than calling Skip Bayless a poo-poo head. You take a little more pride in that poo-poo head insult, you craft it lovingly, and you make sure that you spell poo-poo correctly. DAVE: It kind of scared me. Suddenly I felt the compulsion to triple check Kevin Kouzmanoff's WARP3, knowing there would be a small army -– of awesome dudes, mind you -– ready to correct me if I got it wrong. I don't think it changed the intention of the site though. We were really blown away, especially in the early days, when people started writing in supporting us. The best e-mails were from people who said things like "I've been watching baseball for 45 years and until I read FJM I thought batting average was the only stat you needed. You have changed the way I look at baseball. Love, A Beautiful Woman." You guys have been doing this forever. Did the site become more fun, or less, when this whole Bissinger/Blogs Are Ruining Everything business started happening? MIKE: It stayed almost exactly the same amount of fun. That whole thing — and I sure don't have to tell you this — was so overblown and stupid (The MSM does wonderful things the internet cannot. The internet does wonderful things the MSM cannot. Why is everybody yelling?) Ironically, the big unfinished FJM project of my life was: a few years ago, I read all of 3 Nights in August, and was going to post a like 10,000-word review, essentially FJM-icizing the entire thing. There are cryptic references to this Manhattan Project-style project scattered through the site. It just became too unwieldy. But I'm glad I didn't do it, because Buzz might have come after me with a hammer or something. ALAN: I think if Mike had continued with this project his own baby might have come after him with a hammer. It is a strong baby. MIKE: Baby? He's like nine years old now. He runs, which gets like 3.6 million unique page views a day. DAVE: For about four days after that Buzz nonsense, everything seemed less fun. Not just the site. I mean like eating food and being with friends. I know a bunch of people who, this month, are being forced to do things they never imagined they would because of a bet they made a decade ago. Specifically: "If Chinese Democracy ever comes out, I'll eat a pile of dog feces." Something like that. Is this why you're quitting the site? The impossible has happened? MIKE: Yes. In 1991, dak, Junior and I said, "If we ever have a baseball journalism meta-criticism broadsheet," (remember— the internet wasn't around back then) "and then, some time after that, a baseball player wins an award for being the best hitter in the A.L. but somehow doesn't win the award for being the best hitter at his position, we will quit our meta-critical broadsheet/eat dog feces." And lo and behold, Kevin Youkilis wins the Henry Aaron Award but somehow loses the Silver Slugger to Justin Morneau, and now here we are. DAVE: Murbles has bet me $1,000 that Will Smith will win his party's nomination for President of the United States by the year 2032. This has nothing to do with FJM, but it seemed like a good opportunity to get it out there in writing. It's clear more baseball teams are using sabermetrics — or, as a layperson might put it, "trying to make more good decisions than bad ones" — than when you started the site. Do you think the media's gotten any smarter in that time? MIKE: I would hope that everyone who cares about baseball has gotten smarter. The thing that always drove our faux-righteous anger on the site was how gosh darn common-sensical this stuff is. You don't have to be a genius to understand why OBP is a better measure of a hitter's worth than BA, or why OPS+ is more valuable than OPS. You just have to care enough to learn why. Which takes about eight seconds. I should add here that we seek no credit for "making people smarter." We're comedy writers with a decent understanding of very basic SABR stuff. There are many, many people who are far smarter than we, and who have been writing about this for far longer. They deserve the credit for any kind of measurable uptick in national baseball intelligence. ALAN: I think there's less obviously terrible, absolutely infuriatingly dead wrong stuff out there, mainly because Rob Dibble's blog hasn't been updated in two years. MIKE: I actually haven't checked Stephen A. Smith's Internet/Web Web-Blog Internet Blog in a while. Wonder how he's doing with that. DAVE: It has absolutely gotten better, not just in the media but even at the ballpark. Every time I go to a different stadium and see OBP displayed on a giant scoreboard, my baseball heart gets a boner. Again, we had nothing to do with that, but I don't remember seeing that very much when I was young. There are some dudes who are just never going to change their mind. I worry that in twenty years, we will be those dudes. It's just like that song "The Circle Game," I think. Seriously, you're gonna come back occasionally, right? Please? MIKE: We are just going to leave the site lying there, and we have the notion that every once in a while we will meander back ... or maybe start something entirely new in a while. As always, we have absolutely zero in the way of planning skills. ALAN: The site will become a Palin 2012 booster site on December 1. MIKE: And will be shut down by a joint FBI/ATF task force on December 3. Did the site become less fun when you stopped being anonymous? MIKE: It stayed almost exactly the same amount of fun. The only difference was that I would get emails that started, "Yo Mose," instead of "Yo Ken." DAVE: Certainly didn't change anything for me. I think oddly it became a little less fun for some of our readers. While I have you here, Mike, can you please bring back Amy Ryan? MIKE: She's amazing, isn't she? Unfortunately, her schedule only allowed her to do six episodes, and the premiere was an hour long, so that counted as two...I'm officially off working on the new show, the Amy Poehler project that will debut in April, so I can't say anything definitive, but I know that if it were up to the writing staff of The Office she would be back ASAP. Do you love baseball as much as you did when the site started? How much do you plan on missing it? I can say this: You'll miss it more than you think you will, no matter how busy you are. MIKE: Please. What the hell do you know about starting a sports-related website and then deciding to leave it to work on other things and then? How dare you, sir. I'm 100 percent sure you're right, because I already miss it. As for baseball, as soon as I knew what baseball was, I loved baseball, and I have never finished a year loving baseball less than I did the year before. Even 2003, with the Boone HR. After the cursing and crying and misery, the next day I thought: God Dammit, what a game. ALAN: Personally, I love baseball more now. I came late to the sport, and I think my appreciation for the game is still growing. I will definitely miss the blog being the premier place on the Internet where jokes about Marcel Duchamp and jokes about Darin Erstad meet and hold hands. Also, food metaphors. MIKE: Oh, food metaphors. I will miss you most of all. DAVE: Baseball is and always will be the best thing ever. I will miss reading Ken and Junior's posts on FJM. (u guys rock fjm crew 4-eva!!) It just comes down to: there was really nothing else to say that hadn't been said before. But, yeah, food metaphors. That does hurt. Now that it's over, if you could talk to Joe Morgan today, what would you tell him? MIKE: 1. Sorry for naming the site after the idea of firing you. That was short-sighted and dumb. 2. You should read "Moneyball." It's really good. DAVE: And sorry the layout was so terrible.