A Gleeful Interview With The New Aaron of Baseball
Up until the summer of 2002, if a baseball fan mentioned "Aaron," you knew they were referring to baseball's all-time home run king. Well, things have changed over the past 16 months. Online baseball fans now know that the name "Aaron" is none other than Aaron Gleeman, the proprietor of Aaron's Baseball Blog. Aaron's blog is one of the most widely read and entertaining of them all.
Aaron was born and raised in Minnesota. He is an undergrad student majoring in journalism at the University of Minnesota. In addition to maintaining his blog, Aaron has written articles for Baseball Primer, InsiderBaseball.com, and is currently working with RotoWorld.com on its fantasy baseball annual.
I corresponded with Aaron by email and instant messaging during the past week during his winter break. Not surprisingly, Aaron responded with a Gleeman-length interview.
RWBB: How long have you been a baseball fan?
Aaron: I really wish I had a cool story to tell, like how I went to my first game and saw Kirby Puckett hit a game-winning homer and I fell in love with the sport or something, but I really don't have a good story.
My mom's side of the family is really into sports and so I guess I just got into it that way. I do remember my grandmother (on my dad's side) buying me my first baseball cards. 1987 Topps, with the borders that looked like wood paneling. I had three stacks, held together by rubber bands.
In my early days as a sports fan, baseball was probably #3 on the list, behind basketball and football. My uncle, who is the biggest baseball lover I have ever met, used to always tell me that one day I would see the light and see that baseball is the sport to fall in love with. Sometime around my 15th or 16th birthday, I saw the light.
RWBB: Being from Minnesota, what do you remember about the 1987 and 1991 Minnesota Twins world championship teams?
Aaron: Sadly, I remember absolutely nothing about 1987. I was only four years old then. I'm sure I watched (or slept through) the games, but I have no memory of them.
1991 is right around the time I started to follow baseball, which is pretty convenient. I remember I used to watch the playoff games with a notebook in my hand. I would keep my own stats for all the players, a stat-head from the very start. I have fond memories of watching Game Seven in 1991. I remember how incredibly happy everyone around me was and I don't think I quite grasped it at the time. As far as I knew, winning championships was a yearly thing for the Twins.
RWBB: Who is your all-time favorite Twin?
Aaron: I go back and forth on this one. The easy answer is Kirby, but he stopped playing when I was 11 and it turns out he isn't such a wonderful guy. I took a liking to Torii Hunter after Kirby, because he seemed to me to be sort of a similar guy. Outgoing, funny, full of smiles, exciting on the field. Hopefully, Torii doesn't chase his wife around the house with a power-saw like Kirby.
But really, if I'm being honest, I'd say my favorite Twin is Johan Santana. I sort of feel like I have watched him grow up, which is funny for a 20-year old kid to be saying. But it's true. I am proud to say I was on the bandwagon right away and I am very excited to see how his career plays out. Plus, Johan seems like a pretty good guy, and I like his demeanor on the mound and the fact that he can make hitters look absolutely ridiculous at times.
RWBB: You list Ted Williams on your "about me" page as your favorite ballplayer of all time. That's heady stuff for a 20-year-old.
Aaron: For whatever reason, I tend to take a liking to guys who are portrayed as jerks. To me, there is something interesting about someone like that. Someone like Cal Ripken or A-Rod or some other "perfect" guy just isn't that interesting to me. But Ted Williams? That's a guy I could read about forever. And really, what does it matter if we hear he wasn't nice to the media or that he didn't tip his cap to the fans in Boston? Kirby was loved by the media and fans like no other player I have ever seen and he turned out to be 100 times the jerk Ted Williams ever was.
I like personalities, good or bad. Plus, the man can flat-out hit and, beyond that, he has thoughts about hitting that are incredibly interesting to hear/read about.
RWBB: Barry Bonds is another one of your favorites.
Aaron: See, Bonds is just like Williams, another guy I love who is supposed to be a jerk. I like a guy who wants his own recliner in the locker room. I like a guy who hits a ball 500 feet and stands at the plate admiring it. If you hit the damn thing that far you should be able to do whatever you want. We need more Jeffrey Leonard doing one-flap down, if you ask me. If the pitcher doesn't like it, tell him not to let him hit it that far.
RWBB: Let's say you're putting together a team and you need a left fielder. Who would it be, Ted Williams or Barry Bonds?
Aaron: I don't get a DH? This is really tough, but I think I would go with Barry for his defense. If you ask me next week though, I may give a different answer. It's like asking me to pick between Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba. I'd rather let Heidi DH and not have to make the choice.
RWBB: Did you play baseball as a kid?
Aaron: Yeah, I did. I played Little League until I was like...I don't know...I think maybe 15 or so. When I started I couldn't hit at all, but I was a good fielder. Then, as I got older, I still couldn't hit, but I wasn't absolutely horrible at the plate. My final year I batted fifth and played second base. We had a couple of future Golden Gophers on that team.
I hit right-handed and my offense was all singles. I'd love to say that I walked a lot, but I honestly don't think that I did. My specialty was blooping singles into right field. At second, I had very good hands, very little range and zero arm.
RWBB: Sounds like the Twins could use you.
Aaron: Trust me, the Twins have all the no-range, no-hit second basemen they need as it is.
RWBB: Good point.
Aaron: I actually got beaned right in the forehead when I was like 13 or so. The ball was thrown way behind me and I instinctively jumped back, which actually was really dumb. If I had just stood there, it would have hit my back or maybe missed me completely. Instead, it went under the brim of my helmet and nailed me right in the forehead. I had a really good bruise/egg for like a week. After that, I was scared of the ball in a lot of ways, which is just about the worst thing you can be in baseball (besides Neifi Perez).
RWBB: Other than to rag on poor Neifi, what made you decide to create Aaron's Baseball Blog?
Aaron: Well, I was home for the summer in 2002 and I started checking out some blogs like David Pinto's Baseball Musings, Mike's Baseball Rants and Only Baseball Matters. One day David posted something about how some of his readers were creating blogs and he showed how to sign up for one. So, I went and did it and had my first post up that night. It was about A.J. Burnett and how I was worried about his health, which turned out to be a pretty good little prediction! As for why I did it, I have no idea. I guess I was just bored one summer day and I wanted to talk baseball.
RWBB: You have received over 300,000 hits since your blog's inception on August 1, 2002. That's a lot of clicks of the refresh arrow.
The fact that the site cracked 300,000 is absolutely unbelievable to me. I remember that first week or two, I would sit around all day and stare at the "Site Meter" thing, just waiting for someone to show up. I think I got a plug on Pinto's site after a few days and I got 35 hits. I was in heaven.
Now I am averaging somewhere around 1,500-2,000 per day. Some days it reaches over 3,000. It's pretty crazy. I still get a kick out of seeing the visitor counts everyday and I love finding out where people are coming from, what sites have linked to my blog. I am a night-owl, so it is fun to check the visitor count at like 2 am and see that 243 people have already stopped by. Hopefully that will never stop giving me a thrill.
RWBB: What do your Mom and Dad think about it all?
Aaron: At first my mom loved it, because it was something to take up my time. I think parents' #1 goal in life is to get their child to do stuff, no matter what it is, just so they aren't sitting around doing nothing. She's very supportive of what I do. She's always telling people to go to the site, people I have never met before.
My dad thinks it's cool, I guess. He asks me about it once in a while, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't read it. He is not a sports fan at all, but he tries to fake it sometimes. He'll often ask, "Did you watch the game last night?" I'll say, "Which game?" He'll sort of confess and say, "I don't know, I just figured you watched a game."
RWBB: How is college life at the University of Minnesota treating you?
Aaron: It's not bad. I like the whole living on my own thing. I'm not such a fan of the going to class everyday thing though. My main problem with school is that someone like me, who has known for years that he wants to do nothing but be a writer, is forced to take math classes and science classes and foreign languages classes. That's fine for people who want a well-rounded education or for people who don't know what they want to be, but I want to write and I want to do nothing but take classes on writing. A journalism class here is 3 days a week. A foreign language is 5 days a week. It doesn't make sense to me.
RWBB: Habla Espanol or sprechen sie Deutsch?
Aaron: I have enough trouble with English as it is. Trying to get me to master another language is like trying to teach Rey Ordonez a better home run trot. It's just not needed and there are plenty of other areas to work on first.
RWBB: You're majoring in journalism, you have one of the most widely read baseball websites in the entire blogosphere, and yet you have not been able to land a job with the student newspaper. What gives?
Aaron: Kind of weird, isn't it? I'm a little limited in what I can/should say, because the MN Daily is already very angry at me, apparently.
But I will say the bare facts, which is that I applied for an entry-level position in the sports department at the all-student newspaper here at the U of M on four different occasions, spread over three years. Sometimes, I applied for an unpaid internship, other times for a low-paying beat writing position covering one of the lesser sports like volleyball or track and field or gymnastics, etc.
Twice I went in for interviews with the sports editors and another time I did a phone interview. And I didn't get the job any of the four times. There are some other details that make the situation more frustrating for me, but I should probably keep my big mouth shut for once. I wrote about getting rejected for the 4th time on my blog some time ago, because I was upset that they didn't even let me know that I hadn't gotten the job. Over a month had passed and I hadn't heard anything from them, so I wrote about my frustration on the blog. And then, wouldn't you know it, I got an email from them the very next day.
It's very frustrating, because all I want to do in life is write about sports and the MN Daily is a very good and respected student paper. My aunt wrote for them and she loved it, and it was a big part of my plans when I started school here. Plus, it sucks getting asked all the time if I write for the student paper and having to say no. It's a great paper and I would be honored to write for them. For whatever reason, they don't want me.
RWBB: Have you ever had a real job?
Aaron: Sort of. When I was in junior high and high school I used to do sports card and memorabilia shows all across the country. I did shows in all over Minnesota and in California, Georgia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois - all sorts of places. They were on the weekends and I would buy a booth and set up my merchandise. It was a lot of fun and very good money for a young kid. I think it was a good experience, having to manage a little business. You had to invest in product and you had to manage your resources.
After that, I worked for a little while recording stats for NBA games for STATS Inc. Of late, I wrote prospect reports for InsiderBaseball.com last season and am planning on doing that again this year.
I've had some jobs. No 9-5 stuff and no stuff that isn't related to sports. I'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible.
RWBB: What year are you and when do you plan to graduate?
Aaron: I am officially a junior, but more accurately I am in my third year. I plan on graduating at some point in the next 10 years. I'd say I'm on the "five-year plan," but that might be kind.
I'm in no hurry to leave. I've heard the real world is kind of scary. I'll say this though, if someone were to offer me a nice job doing something interesting, I would accept it immediately and quit school. It's the same reason I am in favor of high school players going to the NBA. If you have a chance to do something you want to do, don't wait around because of school. You can always go back to school.
RWBB: What would you like to do when you "grow up"?
Aaron: There have only been three jobs I have ever wanted in my entire life. One was to play major league baseball. That was done as a possibility when I was born, pretty much. The second is to write about sports, either for a newspaper, magazine or website. As long as I can remember, I would reply "sports writer" to anyone who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. It has never changed. No "fireman" or "astronaut" or anything like that.
And then the third thing would be to work in an MLB front office. I think that's the dream of anyone who follows baseball like I do. You want to be the guy making the moves, instead of the guy talking about the guy who made the moves. If there are any teams out there, I will work for free. Seriously. Zero pay and I'll quit school immediately.
RWBB: You turn 21 on January 3rd. Do you have any plans to celebrate your big birthday?
Aaron: Oh yeah! I'm heading to Vegas on the 4th for a week. My first trip there. I can't wait. If anyone reading this is out there, look for me at the MGM Grand sports book. I'll be the guy with the blue Twins hat and no money.
RWBB: Maybe that PayPal button you have displayed will come in handy between now and then. By the way, are these donations treated as income for tax purposes?
Aaron: (Nervous laugh) I don't know what you're talking about...
Actually, that Paypal thing is basically just there for the look of it. I figure if I keep it there maybe some rich baseball fan will decide to give me a million bucks some day. But it's not exactly a money-maker, which is fine. I mentioned it one day and asked for donations and I was incredibly surprised by how many people donated. But I feel wrong bringing it up on a regular-basis, so I have just done so that one time.
RWBB: To your credit, you list some of the negative as well as positive comments about your blog in the sidebar.
Aaron: I actually just added that a couple weeks ago. I thought it might be funny and the blank space on the sidebar was bugging me.
RWBB: Will Carroll has said, "Gleeman is prolific, yes, but a factory that churns out lots of crap is still a crap factory." Do you care to respond?
Aaron: Will's quote is the reason I thought to add that stuff. Will and I have become good buddies over the last few months. We are both usually up very late, so our paths cross at like 3 am a lot of the time. He's usually the only guy on my buddy list at that point and I suspect I'm probably one of the only guys on his too, so we've become friends. That quote was from a year or so ago, when we didn't know each other so well.
I like it, mainly because it is a really awesome line. And then also because I think it's somewhat truthful. I have a bit of a rep for churning out lots of "stuff." I talked about it with Will the other day and I can't remember exactly what he said. I'm glad he didn't try to take it back or something like that. I like a guy willing to rip someone and then stand by his ripping.
RWBB: Al Bethke, on the other hand, calls Aaron's Baseball Blog "the best baseball weblog out there".
Aaron: Al is a good guy, despite being a Brewers fan.
My favorite quote on there is from the Chicago Tribune, just shortly after I started the blog back in the middle of 2002. The article was about various baseball blogs and there was a description of www.TwinsGeek.com that was very glowing and complimentary. And then there was a quick mention of my site that said it was, "Nearly as prolific but less intriguing."
On one hand I was likely holy shit, I just got mentioned in the Chicago Tribune. It's the sort of thing you tell someone about, but leave out the actual quote. If Aaron's Baseball Blog were a movie, I would use that quote in the preview and it would say, "The Chicago Tribune says it is Prolific....Intriguing..."
RWBB: Others have compared you to a young Rob Neyer.
Aaron: That is a huge compliment. Rob was probably the first sabermetric writer I came across. Either him or the Prospectus guys. Even before Bill James. Rob does what I try to do, which is blend numbers into baseball, while maintaining a conversational, informal style.
Rob has my dream job, without a doubt. He writes about baseball for a great website, he (presumably) gets a nice chunk of change, he can work on other projects, and he has the freedom to write about whichever subjects come to mind. He's a lucky man and he deserves it.
RWBB: You've got a great knack for it all, especially being so young.
Aaron: I used to be young. Now there are a whole bunch of bloggers out there younger than me! Blogging is a kid's game, I think. Who else has the time to spend on baseball everyday? Has to be someone with no life or family. Someone who can skip their biology lecture so they can write about Mike Cameron.
RWBB: What do you say to those who think you are cocky or arrogant, especially for someone your age.
Aaron: Hmm...Well, as you can probably tell by my liking guys like Williams and Bonds, I don't necessarily think cocky and arrogant are horrible things to be. That said, before I started this blogging thing, I never would have guessed that I came off cocky or arrogant. I think people would get a very different impression of me in person. I have never, in my entire 20+ years on this earth, been said to be cocky, arrogant or anything at all like that by someone who has actually met me. At least not to my face.
I'm not entirely sure where I get that rep from. I suppose it has to do with having strong opinions or my willingness to "pick on" other writers? I don't know. A weak opinion isn't interesting and how can you resist Joe Morgan? I mean really, Joe is so wonderful, but he is just asking to be ripped apart sometimes. And people have ripped me plenty. It's only fair.
RWBB: Speaking of Li'l Joe, you love to give him and Tim McCarver a hard time.
Aaron: Yeah, I do. I try not to sometimes, but it's really difficult. With Joe it has to do with what he writes for ESPN.com and what he says in his ESPN.com "chats." I don't have a problem with him as an announcer or as a player. When he is asked to put his opinion down on paper, that's when I think he gets in trouble.
With McCarver, I have no idea whether he is able to even put his ideas down on paper, but I have heard him speak enough so that my ears begin to bleed at the very mention of his name. I am told that at one point people thought McCarver was a pretty good announcer. Having been forced to listen to him do the most important baseball games of the entire year, year after year, I have to wonder about that. At this point all he really does is repeat tired cliches, kiss certain players' asses and make what he thinks are brilliant points about things that don't particularly make much sense.
If Saturday Night Live were to do a parody of an old announcer, McCarver would be it. The one thing McCarver and Morgan have in common as announcers (and it isn't much, which is a compliment to Morgan) is that they both subscribe to the "everything was better when we played" theory. I'd say about 95% of all their thoughts and opinions come from that starting point.
RWBB: You recently created the Gleeman Production Average or GPA. Please explain.
Aaron: My stat of choice for measuring offense is Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average (EqA). The stat of choice for more and more casual fans these days is becoming OPS (on-base % + slugging %). I find OPS to be somewhat useless and in fact hardly ever use it. At the same time, I found myself wanting something that was simple to calculate and use like OPS, but that added more value and told me more. So, I came up with GPA, which fit what I was looking for perfectly.
It is like a cross between EqA and OPS, giving you some of EqA's value and some of OPS' speed and simplicity. You can not only use it for full-season numbers or career numbers, but also stuff like lefty/righty splits, home/road splits and stuff like that. I have found it to be very handy for me to use.
RWBB: Don't you think we have enough baseball metrics for evaluating performance already?
Aaron: Yeah, we probably do. Part of the reason I love baseball so much is the numbers though. I think the numbers in baseball can tell you more about the game and about the teams and players than the numbers in any other sport.
GPA is definitely not here to replace EqA or Win Shares or Linear Weights or any of that other stuff that is good to use. It's just here because I couldn't find a stat to use in some situations that I found myself in, and GPA fills that void for me. If other people also find it useful in similar situations, that's a bonus.
RWBB: I'm as guilty as the next, but I fear that it's all beginning to look like alphabet soup to the more casual fan.
Aaron: Definitely. The casual fan, for the most part, isn't even ready to use OPS yet. GPA isn't for the guy who argues about who the MVP should be by using his batting average and RBI-totals. It is for guys like me, the Baseball Prospectus/Baseball Primer/Bill James crowd, who like to look beyond simple stats.
RWBB: Having said all that, who would comprise your all-GPA team?
Aaron: Here's the starting lineup from last year, using the best GPA at each position:
If we're in the AL, you can stick Albert Pujols (.364) in at DH.
RWBB: Which players show up as the most undervalued?
Aaron: The guys who show up as undervalued are the high-OBP guys, which is how it should be. The 27 outs in a game are like a team's currency. Once you spend it, you're done.
If you ever find yourself saying "Yeah, he gets on base a lot but he doesn't hit for much power" about a player, he's probably undervalued.
RWBB: Who would GPA identify as overvalued?
Aaron: I would say the overvalued guys with GPA are the same guys who are, for the most part, overvalued in baseball. Guys like Juan Gonzalez or Juan Encarnacion or Shea Hillenbrand or Jacque Jones. Basically, guys who are very good hitters for average and power and everything like that, but who simply make a ton of outs.
This is part of the problem with OPS. If you say there are two guys who each have an .850 OPS, they are equals. But if one of them gets his .850 OPS from a .330 OBP and a .520 SLG, he isn't nearly as valuable as the guy who gets the .850 OPS with a .400 OBP and a .450 SLG.
RWBB: Multiplying OBP by SLG works better than adding them and, in fact, would identify the latter player as more valuable. In any event, who is your best bet as a breakout player this year?
Aaron: Mike Cameron, without a doubt. I've been singing his praises on my blog for some time now and I think he is set for a big year, simply because he'll be away from Safeco Field, which has destroyed his offense.
Some other guys who I think could breakout in a big way this year: Mark Teixeira, Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson. On a lesser scale, I think Michael Cuddyer, if given the playing time, will finally have the year I've been waiting for with the Twins.
For pitchers, it's definitely Johan Santana, although I guess his "breakout" came last year. The big breakout pitcher this year might be Rafael Soriano, who looks like "the next" Santana to me. If he gets a chance to start, he could be incredible. Other pitchers I like to breakout are Jake Peavy and Grant Balfour.
RWBB: You were an early supporter of Bobby Kielty. Do you feel vindicated given J.P. Ricciardi's and Billy Beane's subsequent interest in him?
Aaron: Well, I think they see in him what I see in him, which is a switch-hitter who plays good defense at all three outfield spots, has incredible plate discipline and some good power. Now, Kielty definitely had a sub-par year last season, but I still think he can be a special hitter.
He's the type of guy the Twins almost never have, which is maybe why I took a liking to him immediately. And, of course, they only had him for a little while. It was tough to see him go, but the deal (for Shannon Stewart) has turned out about as well as the Twins could have hoped. I still think they should have kept Kielty though.
Aaron: Yeah, I think Joe Mauer is going to be very special. Maybe not immediately, because the guy is actually like 6 months younger than I am, but at some point. Everyone seems to think his defense is great, right now, and his offense has been spectacular in every area except power. I think his pessimistic projection is someone like Jason Kendall - a high AVG/high OBP/low power guy with good speed. His high-end projection? Who knows? There aren't a whole lot of Gold Glove catchers who hit .330 with good power and tons of walks.
I still think about Mark Prior and Johan Santana in the same rotation though. Hopefully Mauer will make me forget all about that.
RWBB: What do you see for Justin Morneau?
Aaron: Hopefully a lot of home runs. Morneau is the first Twins prospect in a long time who has a chance to be a legit slugger. Since I've been following the team and actually long before that, they've been built around batting averages and gap hitters. The Twins haven't had a 30-homer season from anyone since 1987, which is pretty amazing considering the rise in homers that has gone on of late.
Morneau has a chance to be an elite offensive player. He's not ready to do that right now, but I am hoping he'll be starting at first base in 2005.
RWBB: Very enlightening, Aaron. One final question: Which teams are you going to place bets to win the World Series when you go to Vegas next month?
Aaron: The Twins, of course. I might go with Boston, just because I like to suffer along with them and because I think they are the best team right now, on paper. For a sleeper team in the mold of Florida and Anaheim the last two years, I think maybe Toronto or San Diego, or maybe even the Mets.
I have no patience for long-term bets though, so I'll probably just stick to putting ridiculous amounts of money (for me, at least) on whatever college basketball game happens to be on the big screen while I'm there.
RWBB: If Vegas would book it, I would load up on a long-term bet on Aaron. Now.
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