Internet Tough

Jeff Pearlman, “online haters,” and the art of Internet self defense


Jeff Pearlman has a column up over at CNN today that’s getting a lot of notice. Seems he tracked down and confronted some people who went after him over at his personal blog, leaving obnoxious or obscene comments or otherwise acting like jerks.

I won’t defend the jerks for a second. People were linking awful porn and calling Pearlman every name in the book. Totally juvenile and totally unwarranted, no matter what you think of whatever Jeff is writing about. It’s the kind of stuff that, if it ever shows up here or showed up at my old blogs, I immediately delete and, if it happens again, I ban the commenter.  Two clicks, and he gone, Hawk Harrelson-style.

But it does make me wonder about how an environment in which such comments can happen is created in the first place.

I say I delete and ban, but really, I’ve had to do that less than five times in the nearly four years I’ve been blogging.  And I write thousands upon thousands of posts a year, many of which are pointed and critical and — in the case of some teams’ fan bases — sometimes intentionally baiting.  Yet I don’t have people going after me like Pearlman has. The comments sections for the places I write aren’t an insane asylum of people linking nasty garbage like Pearlman describes. My comments sections are actually pretty congenial places where a lot of smart stuff gets discussed.

I don’t think it’s because I’m better or that I have a better class of readers or anything like that. When MSNBC links something from HardballTalk on its front page there are millions of eyes who come through here that aren’t “regulars.” It’s a pretty wide cross-section of America. There’s no systemic reason why — when I defend hated figures like Roger Clemens, for example — people aren’t telling me to go die someplace or worse.  But they don’t.

I think it has to do with the fact that one truly has to work at cultivating and managing a blog community. And it is a community, as is any blog with a comments section, whether the writer intends it to be or not.  My stuff in the post goes on the top of the page, but reader comments below it are every bit a part of the work as a whole. When someone finds the post later, they can read it all as a piece.  And a responsible blogger has to take responsibility for the stuff above the page break and below it, and not cultivate an an environment where the readers feel there’s a distance between themselves and the writer. A distance which provides the commenter cover, he thinks, to leave all sense of civility at the door.

How do you do it?  By commenting yourself.  By responding to reader criticisms in the thread.  By acknowledging when you’re wrong and making edits to the original post showing that your product and logic is as transparent as can be and that you’re listening.  When someone comes into a comment thread with sharp elbows, you make a point to engage them. Positively if possible, but by arguing back if necessary. And of course, you do so by making it crystal clear that your comment threads have standards. Mine: no racial, misogynistic, homophobic or otherwise bigoted baloney. Fight hard for your points but don’t attack others.  No spamming.  That’s about it.

Ultimately, it’s the same lesson your dad taught you about dealing with bullies: stand up to them and they quickly back down and skulk away. Let them do what they want without fear of confrontation or retribution? They get out of control.

None of which is to say that Pearlman has created such an environment over at his own blog. I don’t read his blog that often so I don’t know.  But I disagree that the bad behavior he is now confronting is merely a function of “the anonymity provided by the internet” and that online spaces are, by design, destined to be home to jerkish behavior.  It’s a function of a lot of things, but mostly, I think, it’s a function of commenters who feel like no one is really minding the store or reading what they write.  The people Pearlman contacted for his column said as much themselves.

Bad commenter behavior can be nipped in the bud before it starts.  I’ve done it here. A lot of other blogs I read have too.  It just takes a little work. And some engagement. Show that you’re not an easy mark, and you won’t become one.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.