In 2006, I was a big Wilson Betemit fan. I hated the idea of Marcus Giles batting leadoff, and I always felt more comfortable whenever Bobby Cox decided to have Wilson Betemit start at second base. I always felt that Betemit was the better player; he ran faster, his frame was lean, athletic and taller than Giles, he switch-hit, and he had noticeably more power than Marcus Giles.
My last memory of Wilson Betemit on the Braves was a game against the Phillies. The Braves had a big lead, but the 2006 bullpen emerged once again, and before I knew it, two two-run homers in two innings cut the Braves lead to one. With the momentum visibly on the Phillies' side, in the top of the ninth inning, Wilson Betemit drilled a home run to tack on the essential insurance run. With the crowd hushed, Bob Wickman was capable of getting the save, and preserve the win for the Braves.
My first reaction to this move was NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!
Since none of my friends like sports, I turned to the internet to seek commiseration. I found myself at the AJCsports/braves page, and like me, there were a lot of textually-pissed Braves fans unhappy with the idea of unloading the indispensable Wilson Betemit. However, after seeing all the NOOOOOOs and all the caps-laden flammatory remarks, I began to feel silly about my reaction. Knowing that no amount of bitching in the world would make the Braves and Dodgers suddenly be like "maybe that wasn't a good idea, TRAID CANCELLED," I moved on. I wanted to know more about these new assets the Braves got from the Dodgers.
I posted a remark on the comments, "does anyone know anything about Willy Aybar?" but within three refreshes of the page, my inquiry went unanswered in a sea of NOOOOOOOOOs and more knee-jerk complaints. This is where I realized that maybe the AJC wasn't such a good idea.
It was a Google search for "Braves news" that actually led me to Talking Chop in the first place. Even back in the pre-SBN days, gondeee had done a good job of jiggering the site to where it popped up high on Google searches. Upon clicking the site, there was a post about the Betemit trade, and more importantly, what the Braves got back. Danys Baez, I was familiar with since I've always been fascinated with relievers, but the cool thing was all this readily available information about Willy Aybar. He switch-hit like Betemit, played all infield positions like Betemit, and was one year younger than Betemit. His core numbers weren't as impressive as Betemit's, but essentially I deduced that the Braves traded Betemit for a slightly smaller version of himself, and got a middle reliever in the process, something they direly needed that year. From a team-need standpoint, it turned out to be a pretty logical move.
In the end, Danys Baez pitched all of ten innings for the Braves before an appendectomy shelved him for the remainder of the year, and Willy Aybar ran into all sorts of drug problems before Chipper Jones forgot he even existed and then became a contributing member to the 2008 AL champion Rays, but that's beside the point. This was the story about how I found Talking Chop.
A lot has changed since then.
It didn't take long before I stopped going to AJCsports/braves outright. In fact, after discovering Talking Chop, I stopped going there at all. I only go there whenever I get Rick Roll'd into it, or whenever Terrence Moore made another poorly-veiled racist rant. But with Talking Chop, I found a pretty level community, that was a fiftieth of the size it is today, but people that really seemed to like the Braves and talk about the Braves.
Like a true noob, I went off on a FanPost spree, before they were even called FanPosts back then. And as god as my witness, I got blasted. Knee-jerk reactions. Cherry-picking. No understanding of how options, roster-moves, or artificial service time preservation. No idea of what might be lurking in the minor leagues. No idea of statistics not on the scoreboard. Had my fandom called out, been asked who the hell I thought I was. The Really? REALLY?? REALLYYY??? treatment. Y'know, the typical lumps any old school noob goes through, when they're eagerly excited but lacking understanding, and wants their voice to be heard.
I learned the error of my ways and curbed back a lot. I lurked more, spoke less, and the more baseball I watched, the more my natural desire to justify my observations with tangible facts grew. I wanted to see if what I saw were statistical anomalies and deviations from the norm, or if they were just falling in line with what should be expected. But at the same time, I made social observations of other members, and typically in the relaxing limelight of a post-win thread, shot the breeze with some folks here and there.
When the SBN Transition occurred, it created a platform where socializing became easier. With a live-time commenting system, it allowed for people to communicate without having to hit refresh, ctrl/cmd+R or F5 on a regular basis. Live game-threads literally became alive.
It was during these times where discussions deviated from just in-game action. People critiqued commercials, others exclaimed they couldn't see them because whatever cable provider didn't show them. We got a glimpse of the expanse of Braves Country by how many people actually were, outside of "the region." It got to a point where Open Threads turned into a place where participants spoke about whatever they wanted and then OH HEY LOOK, CHIPPER/ANDRUW/FRANCOEUR JUST HOMERED WOOO! Sometimes, often times, the game action took a backseat to the conversation, especially in that one year where the Braves lost 90 games.
But something happened; the casual/candid relationships and camaraderie being formed in the relaxed atmosphere of Open Threads leaked out into the Game Recaps, and Game Previews. Instead of discussion about Braves baseball, there were discussions about discussions. The phrase "wading through crap" began to emerge here and there. The birth of inside jokes and memes are a sign of community in some way, but not everyone understands, or appreciates them, when they have something Braves-related they actually want to discuss, and feel like they can't.
And when people don't like something, they either dispute it, voice their discontent, stop posting, stop coming, or never come back. And often times, it's all of the above, because not everyone has the desire or energy to get into lengthy internet arguments, and then they disappear altogether.
This is a cycle that has repeated itself several times over, throughout the last four years. There are Talking Chop members who I've enjoyed the online company of who don't come around much these days. Some simply just lurk and make cameos, and there are some who outright don't even bother visiting anymore. I've met some of these people in person, and some of these people I would have liked to have met and have beer with. But with little to no interaction these days, it's probably unlikely. I've lost contact outright with several members I can honestly say, I miss seeing.
Admittedly, obviously, I've been/am one of the perceived delinquents, whose propensity for off-topic nonsense, and non-baseball conversation have driven "more serious" members away, I'm pretty sure of it. Even still, I've made thinly-veiled remarks in the past about how socially, "things get worse every year." Now, I personally feel it's gotten to a point where something needed to be said. And the fact that this post is coming from me says a lot.
I'm not naïve and believe that Talking Chop is some capsule, immune to the influences of the times, and I do understand the importance of moving and evolving. But in an era where reddit, 4chan, social networking, memes and the numerous popular geek culture sites are commonplace, and the act of internet trolling and bullying is often championed as some sort of anti-heroism, where people pridefully admit they know they're assholes or dicks, it makes me cringe and wince to see so much of it here at Talking Chop.
I love Talking Chop. I've learned so much about the Braves, and so much about baseball in general from this site. I didn't think I'd care about minor league baseball, and be content to only be concerned about the big club, but nowadays, I love and prefer going to minor league games than an MLB game. I didn't think I'd ever understand statistics beyond what was on the back of my 1987 Donruss Rene Gonzalez card, but nowadays I'm amazed at how often I'm going to FanGraphs to fact-check something. I'm thankful to gondeee and everyone who has supported, enjoyed and accepted my style of writing to where I actually get to be a writer for this site.
I don't want Talking Chop to turn into a place where others can't get the same kind of information, enlightenment and enjoyment as I once did, and still do today. But I grow concerned that it could, every time I click into a thread, and see a battle of gifs, a trade thread that immediately starts with a carried-over argument/grudge instead of a single baseball player's name, a thread where every single useless comment is turned green "because it's lulzy," or where people are bullied or deliberately agitated for nothing but amusement or self-gratification. The more Talking Chop deviates from baseball discussion, and becomes more known a place of silliness, trolling, and meme-farming, the worse it is for Talking Chop's future.
There's nothing wrong with the occasional OT thread and various comment threads straying from time to time. But I would like to see people drop their grudges and at least try and be civil with one another, more often. Get over all this anger and animosity. Don't be so judgmental lest ye can handle being judged as well. I know we're mostly anonymous to one another at a higher level, but there's still little reason for people to take their anger out on others here. These days, I see more obvious and clear grudges and agendas between members than ever, and personally, I'm tired of rolling my eyes at seeing the same fights, same snark, same rebuttals emerge over and over again. You don't have to take this under consideration, but I also don't have to explain myself if/when I exercise my right as an admin to wipe out obtrusive conversations. As for everything else this crusty old man doesn't like seeing you whippersnappers doing, I'm hoping my point is clear enough.
I know this community is capable of some great stuff. Whether it's great posts about statistics, showing off your Braves fandom in some way shape or form, or congratulating one of our own on the birth of a kid, there's tons of positive and genuinely good heads here. I feel prideful of my fellow Braves fans when in open threads, there's concern for an opponent if someone gets hurt, instead of gleefully thanking the heavens for the elimination of another adversary. The word "class" is flung around overboard in Braves Country, but I know most everyone here is legitimately capable of having it.
This post was written completely on my own opinions. I have not conferred with gondeee or any of the writers or mods about this. But I have requested that gondeee shut the comments off of this post, because frankly, I expect some resistance, resentment and some words to be wanted to be directed to me. And if that is the case, I would prefer those words to be directed, directly at me, via email, so we can discuss matters privately, instead of the awe-inspiring, train-wreck, rubber-neck drama of a public forum. I'd like to know your opinion, and your opinion alone, not one influenced by the prior words of anyone else.