Almost eight years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Hoch, who covers the New York Yankees for MLB.com. Of course, longtime Met fans remember Bryan as the creator of MetsOnline.net, the first and perhaps the most influential sports blog of all time.
During the era of dial-up internet, Mets Online would set the standard for all team blogs that were to follow. Back when the internet was just scratching the surface of what it would eventually become, thousands of Mets fans like myself would flock each day to Bryan’s site to get the latest rumors, news, rants, and raves about our beloved team, but also to get his take on everything.
I was addicted to it and as a matter of fact the “Online” part of Metsmerized Online is actually a homage to Mets Online.
Unfortunately, Mets Online grew so big in size, popularity and influence, that MLB (which was trying to launch Mets.com and other team sites) had no choice but to serve Bryan with a cease and desist order. That legal action immediately shut the site down for good, thus ending its glorious run. But in the process, it paved the way for sites like MetsBlog, Metsmerized Online, and a few others.
By the end of 2005, you had as many as two dozen brand new Mets sites as the internet craze exploded and almost every household was now connected. Most of them are gone now, but this site and of course Mets Blog withstood the turbulence of that era. It was a fascinating time to say the least, but none of it would’ve happened without those early transformative years of MetsOnline.net.
Here is the original interview I conducted with Bryan in 2010. Enjoy.
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Joe – I can only imagine how painful it must have been when you were forced to shut down Mets Online. Does it still bother you when you think back, and were there any positives that you were able to take away from your experience?
Bryan – Well, those days in the summer of ’02 certainly weren’t fun – getting cease-and-desist orders never is. In fact, looking back, it all seems a little surreal. I mean, MLB shutting down my site made headlines on the front cover of Newsday, was run across the AP wire and generated thousands of supportive e-mails, all for a Web site I started in my parents’ house at age 14! Obviously Mets Online grew bigger than I ever thought it would be when it was launched in April 1996, just an excuse to write about something I was passionate about.
Really, it grew not because of me, but because the Mets fan base was so devoted and thirsty for any kind of outlet like that, and it really did take on its own life. By the end, though, I was struggling to balance a full college workload and keep the site up to speed, and it had already been running for six years – now with the help of several unpaid volunteer writers. I don’t know how much longer I could have continued had MLB not made my decision for me, but I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason. I didn’t necessarily think that clearly at the time, but I’d like to believe those six years creating and operating Mets Online led to bigger and better things.
Joe – I was an avid reader on Mets Online right from the start. For me it was exciting to go online each day and see what the latest Mets news was from your perspective. I know you were a student back then, but somehow you managed to keep the site constantly updated. How did you balance managing the site and going to school, and what was the biggest challenge?
Bryan – I have no idea how I balanced it, honestly. My high school years were 1996-2000, which was really when the site had its biggest impact – there was no Mets.com until 1999, and even then it left something to be desired in its infancy. We gave a different and unique angle, the fan’s perspective, and I was really proud of being able to do that. I remember thinking that the writers in the press box couldn’t possibly see the game the same way I did from my $5 seat in the upper deck, and that’s funny because I’m now one of those writers and spent a lot of time in those chairs at Shea. But my perception was right.
As a professional writer, you’re more balanced and even-handed. There’s no cheering in the press box, as they say. Anyway, I can remember getting home from school and spending untold amounts of hours updating the Rumor Mill, creating new site images, altering the layout, moderating the message board, creating club history pages … it was quite an undertaking, and I’m sure it cost me a few nights when I could have been out doing something other than sitting in front of a screen. But it was a labor of love, there was instant feedback from people who appreciated it, and certainly that was more interesting and important to me than tackling my physics homework (you can ask my teachers about that — sorry). I never operated the site thinking that it would lead anywhere, but when I did land that internship with the Mets in 2000, it did seem like that work all paid off.
Joe – What is your opinion of Mets fan sites and blogs today?
Bryan – I’m a big fan of what Matthew Cerrone has done with MetsBlog.com, having seen him launch it and grow it into something great. Knowing Matthew a little bit online and later when he came to write for me at Inside Pitch Magazine, I know he’s just as serious and devoted to what he’s doing as I once was. It’s fantastic that he has latched on with SNY and that the Mets organization is now so receptive and aware of the influence blogs and the Internet carry among the fan base. He really has become a must-read for fans of baseball.
Joe – Knowing what a tremendous Mets fan you are, it must be interesting to balance your loyalty to the Mets while covering the Yankees as a beat writer for MLB.com. Was it difficult at first and what were your feelings about the Yankees before you took on the job and now?
Bryan – Well, I feel a need to clarify a point here. I spent an early part of my life rooting for the Mets, and I wouldn’t take away anything I did at Mets Online. I might not be covering baseball if I didn’t launch my career that way. But you cannot do the work we are assigned on a daily basis through the eyes of being a fan, which – let’s face it, is a biased viewpoint. You ‘root, root, root’ for your team, and that’s great. It’s fun to be a fan, that’s why you watch the games, wear jerseys and buy tickets!
But things change. I went to college and began seriously pursuing journalism, and I got to cover the Mets on a semi-regular basis for MLB.com, Inside Pitch and various other outlets through 2006. Even though I was still around the Mets, I wasn’t a fan anymore then – you can’t be, you’re too close to the action and the players. The emotion leaves. You don’t get excited about wins and losses, you begin rooting for good stories. I still enjoy watching baseball when it’s well-played, but a game honestly does not affect my day if a certain team wins or loses.
Yes, I realize that if I was still a fan in 2002 reading some writer saying this, my reaction would probably have been skepticism. But it’s true. By the end of ’05, I knew I definitely wanted to work for MLB.com and it didn’t matter in what capacity or what franchise I was assigned to (at one point, I thought I was headed to Baltimore). Luckily my path led me somewhere even better, to a team where I not only wouldn’t have to relocate from New York, but where the audience and fan interest is gigantic. It really is one of the premier beats in all of sport.
So, to answer your question, no, it wasn’t difficult to adjust outside of learning how to work a different clubhouse, going head-to-head with some of the best reporters in the business and gathering contacts in the organization, which is something I hope I’m continuing to get better at.
Joe – Should the venerable Marty Noble ever move on to another position or job, would you love the opportunity to become a Mets beat writer?
Bryan – I don’t look at other people’s jobs and think about taking them, so that’s not something I’ve really considered. I think we’re very well set on the Mets beat between Marty and Anthony DiComo, and I’m extremely happy covering the Yankees. There are often no bigger stories in the game than the Yankees, and you know people are always interested in what you’re writing – like they proudly say, you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. This job has opened opportunities for me that I never dreamed of, and I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else right now.
Joe – Speaking of Marty, he’s not to keen on some of the latest advanced metrics such as UZR and wOBA. What are your thoughts and do you feel sabermetrics is essential in analyzing players for the purpose of team building?
Bryan – I definitely understand the importance of the advanced statistics in the game today, even if some of them are a little over my head. Keep in mind, the baseball cards I used to stash in boxes lived and breathed on BA, HR and RBI, which seem absolutely prehistoric these days. But if there was no value in these advanced statistics, you wouldn’t see most every team hiring front office personnel whose only task is to crunch numbers and produce reports on statistical player evaluation. UZR was interesting this year to me in trying to figure out how much better Derek Jeter was playing defensively than in ’07 and ’08, but I still scratch my head at how it rates Mark Teixeira – maybe the best first baseman I’ve ever seen, and a major reason why they won the World Series – with a negative number. I do side with Joe Torre about the claim that you can’t forget the game has a heartbeat, and I don’t think you can reduce players to simple numbers. But there’s no doubt that sabermetrics are an essential tool in evaluating players. They don’t give you the whole picture, but it helps open it up.
Joe – Until last year, most baseball fans spent their hot stove season waiting for sports journalists like Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman to post a blog so we could get the latest baseball rumors. If we were lucky, we we’d get 2-3 updates a day. Today, social networking sites have completely transformed the way an average baseball fan gets their news. The information is abundant, ever-changing and has a 30 second turnaround time in how quickly it’s reported. How has the popularity of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook changed the way you perform your job and has it been good for the industry? If there was one thing you could change about it what would it be?
Bryan – It’s definitely quicker, that’s for sure. I don’t know how much more immediate the news cycle can be. This isn’t even 24 hours anymore, it’s a 1,440 minute cycle thanks to the Internet – and trust me, since we’re MLB.com, we know all about the necessity of getting things online immediately. It’s amazing to think that only a few decades ago, writers actually had the luxury of covering a day game, grabbing dinner, then taking a train and filing their stories for the newspaper from the hotel! Those days are certainly gone forever.
Facebook hasn’t really changed my job at all, but Twitter is another tool in our belts to disperse information even quicker than the blog, as well as interact with readers directly. The only caveat I have about Twitter is that there seems to be such an emphasis on being first with breaking news, you get a lot of erroneous reports as accuracy suffers. Maybe you’re tweeting a one-source item instead of the multiple confirmations you’d need to publish a full article. But that information is attributed to your name, and to me, tweeting something is the same as reporting it. I’d rather be second and correct than first and wrong.
Joe – Finally (you had to know this was coming), what is your opinion of the Mets offseason thus far, and have they done enough to contend for NL East title in 2010?
Bryan – I think I side with Darryl Strawberry, in that the Mets could have put a few more pieces into the mix to improve their chances. It definitely would help them to get a healthy Jose Reyes back, and maybe David Wright doesn’t suffer as much at Citi Field in Year II. I just think they needed some parts they didn’t get, and I’m not sure why. Jason Bay should be a good fit in left field, but losing Carlos Beltran early is a big blow.
Pitching help would have been nice as well, though so would turnaround seasons from guys like Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez. I guess we’ll see, but the NL East has produced the World Series team the last two years running and the Mets aren’t exactly favorites. You know what, though? It’s no fun if you consider yourself out on Opening Day. It’s the story of that franchise, being a lovable underdog. After all, I shouldn’t need to remind you what Tug McGraw used to say, right?