February 02, 2016

The History of The Baseball Card Blog

Ten years seems like a good time for a recap. Here goes nothing.

The Baseball Card Blog was born in January 2006. My friends and I had been kicking around the idea of blogging about sports cards since summer 2005, but we only started posting after I bought a scanner. Even though we didn't know how long we wanted to write, or really what we wanted to write about, blogging seemed like a fun idea.

I remember being amazed that a Google search only returned one sports card blog (Stale Gum) in its results, and that its writer, Chris Harris, hadn't posted in years. Here was a gigantic, generation-defining hobby with zero presence on the Internet.

After I signed up for a Blogger account (pre-Google acquisition), my friends Rob and Josh helped me set up a template, as well as a commenting interface. I knew that the audience was out there, waiting for something like our blog, but I was not at all convinced that there would be enough traffic to warrant comments.

After posting a few entries, I started emailing other writers to get them to link to me. Guys like Aaron Gleeman and Jay Jaffe were supportive and general sports blogs helped spread the word too. Pretty soon, the blog was receiving almost 20 visitors a week. When I wasn't writing, I was watching traffic come in on my third-party traffic counter. Visitors from all over the country, staying on the site for more than five minutes at a time. It was awesome.

As January turned into February, I knew that I enjoyed blogging, and decided that I could write about pretty much anything I wanted. So I wrote some outlandish stuff with a lot of cursing, highlighted fantastic cards, cards of players with bushy facial hair, funny names and expressions, and generally lived it up for my own enjoyment. Then I emailed Bill Simmons.

I first met Simmons in 1992, at the draft of my dad's fantasy basketball league. My dad has been in that league every year since, and Bill's ascension to noted sportswriter and media star has been a point of pride for many years. (If you want a good time, read Bill's draft diary from 1998 or so; I'm the "Fresh Fish" team. It's still out there on the Internet somewhere.)

I had emailed him for advice on how to approach writing. He was a prolific writer, and I thought a few nuggets of his wisdom would at least point me in the right direction. I also assumed that he was so busy that I'd never hear from him. Wrong. Tucked into one of his ESPN.com Page 2 links posts was a little sidebar about The Baseball Card Blog.

It was like someone turned on a faucet. Within minutes I had more readers than I had in the entire month of January. By the end of the week, the blog had more than 35,000 visitors. It was crazy. I knew that I would have to write more than a couple times a week, or the traffic would disappear. So I decided to blog and rank every major set produced in the 1980s. And tell more people about it. Jamie Mottram at Yahoo!, Will Leitch at Deadspin, and other sites (including something called "Whatevs") all linked, and in June Entertainment Weekly included The Baseball Card Blog on its "100 Websites to Bookmark Now" list. (I had been so excited that I showed the mention to my boss at the small arts marketing firm where I worked. She asked what kind of reward I got from this and I remember telling her that this was the reward.)

There were other media mentions, and more traffic, and I got to do an interview with a Chicago newspaper. I also met with one of the marketing directors at Topps. I remember going into the meeting thinking I could convince him to hire me as the official Topps blogger, then coming out defeated and angry at myself. Visiting the Topps HQ was really, really cool, and I was plied with free cards on my way out. All this attention was nice, but the best part was that I was no longer the only person actively blogging about sports cards and sports card collecting. Other blogs started popping up, and now, ten years later, there are hundreds and hundreds of blogs and social media sites and other new media platforms on which to read and talk about sports cards; it's great.

Two thousand six turned into 2007, and I started to tire of posting so often. And although I loved fielding questions and hearing from fellow collectors, I was also sick of the hate mail, the passive-aggressive missives from other writers, the pleadings of others who needed me to write more often, and the stalkers. (There was at least one guy who would message me every single time I checked my email account; it was super creepy and it went on for months.)

To combat the doldrums, I helped launch a group blog (A Pack A Day) with many, many authors. I also did a short, unpaid stint with Beckett.com (pre-redesign) but the combination of work, blogging, and the endless, angry hate mail I received from Beckett.com readers really turned me off. (I remember getting one email from a Beckett reader who called me "As bad as Michael Vick"—then under investigation for dog fighting—because I didn't think the Canada box-loader insert in Allen & Ginter was that great.) So by the time 2008 rolled around, I was pretty much done with writing about sports cards.

By spring 2008 I had quit my job in NYC and moved back to Boston. I holed up in my bedroom at my parents' house and used my Quark XPress expertise to write and lay out The Baseball Card Book (never published, though I'm convinced it will be a best seller whenever it ends up being released).

In the summer of 2008, I completely, deliberately alienated the bulk of the blog's readers by adding a PayPal donation button to the blog, then actively encouraging people to give me money. It was a gross misstep, and I became a pariah in the now-robust sports blogging community, with an aggressive rival at the front of the pitchfork-toting procession, beating the drum to admonish me. He was right, I deserved it. It was a great way to disappear from blogging.

But then I started to get into custom cards. And after a few months away from blogging, I found I liked working with PhotoShop to create the cards I wished existed. I took a brief excerpt from A. Bartlett Giamatti's Green Fields of the Mind and threaded the text over a few Red Sox cards. It was fun. As a follow-up, I decided to adapt Casey at the Bat in the same style. It was also the perfect "last post" I had been looking for. It went up in December 2008. I was proud of it and promoted the hell out of it. Traffic had been steady at about 400 visitors a day since summer 2006, and with the promotion and links from more prominent sites like WSJ.com, FOX Sports, etc., traffic remained steady for all of 2009 without me typing a single entry.

I had entertained the idea of selling the blog in 2009, but because I never successfully monetized the site, the offer I got was embarrassingly low. And by January 2010 I was itching to write again. The year passed with many posts but not much fanfare. When 2011 arrived, I decided that The Baseball Card Blog would be a group blog. I invited Mike Kenny and Travis Peterson to join up and was ecstatic when they agreed to participate. Both are without parallel in their respective domains: Mike is insanely funny and Travis is probably one of the best custom card artists practicing today. I left Mike to do his own thing, but with Travis I collaborated on a few projects, including custom parody cards of Saturday Night Live cast members through the decades. As validation of our collective work, the blog was lauded as a Blog of Note by the folks at Blogger and Google in April 2011.

The years rolled on. Family life and jobs took precedent and frequent posts from Travis and Mike became occasional posts from Travis and Mike. I kept going down the rabbit hole with more and more custom cards, and then it all just petered out. The Baseball Card Blog welcomed its 1,000,000th visitor and I stopped counting quickly afterwards. Facebook became more important, and I started posting exclusively to the FB page I created for the blog. I made custom sets of additional traded players in the style of 1976 Topps Traded. I made custom 1978 Topps Traded cards. And custom 1965 Topps All-Stars (which were a featured design in Topps Bunt, which I still find hilarious: Topps cribbing a design that I created as a "fix" to their original).

I'm not sure where The Baseball Card Blog goes from here. I'm not going to sell it, but I'm also not interested in posting frequently enough to warrant steady traffic or even relevance anymore. And that's cool with me. That said, a lot of people deserve thanks for keeping this blog alive. People like Josh Mueller, Adam Dorn, Mike Kenny, Travis Peterson, Matt Sienkiewicz, Chris Harris, David Campbell, JayBee Anama, Mario Alejandro, Scott Crawford, Rich Mueller, Mike Smeth, Ryan Cracknell, Blake Meyer, Bill Simmons, Mark Sapir, Dan Hitt, Josh Wilker, Aaron Gleeman, Will Leitch, Jamie Mottram; the list goes on and on. But most importantly, the person who deserves the most thanks is you, dear reader. Thank you for spending your time reading my inane musings about our shared obsession. It hasn't been overlooked.


defgav said...

Crazy how big the blog was back in the day, and now this great post goes over a week before a single comment on it. I suppose that's better than having a stalker, at least! Anyways, I just wanted to tip my cap to a heck of a blog, even if I wasn't around for its heyday, its influence on the cardsphere that we know today is undeniable.

Scott Crawford said...

I've been running around a lot, as I moved recently (not all that far from you, actually), so I'm just reading the anniversary post now, and just saw the "thank you". Hey, thank you, Ben. While I'd certainly collected cards on and off for decades before I found your site, started reading it and started communicating with you, things legitimately changed (for the better) in this hobby, not just for me, but for all of us because of The Baseball Card Blog. I've made friendships, travelled all over the Northeast (strangely, while I've been to other parts in the past decade, I never find cards anywhere else like I do here), made tons of trades (one last week, in fact), acquired things I never, ever thought I would (too many of them, arguably, but I have a sympathetic, understanding partner), and I've spent the last decade engaged in a great, 24 hour a day conversation about cards that started right here. Here's to 10 or many more years of your participation in that conversation, on your terms, here's to the book seeing the light of day someday soon (I am sure it'll be terrific), and here's to continued happiness and success in whatever you do.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the shout out, it's all I ever wanted from you and your site.

Mario A l.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Rowland said...

Interesting to see a blog like this as I have been avid collector for most of my young and adult life thus far. My greatest accomplishment in that area is a complete 1957 Topps baseball set. I am currently working on 1955 but it may take awhile. I quit collecting current stuff in 2007 as I simply had no desire for inserts...nor have I ever had that desire. I started in the early 80's being the kind of kid that drooled over the thought of scoring a Canseco rookie in my 86 Donruss packs. The 90's were cool for collecting and then the new century came and I simply just started buying factory sets. The insert craze simply became too much.