We Didn't Know What The F--- We Were Doing: Fire Joe Morgan on Fire Joe Morgan

Fire Joe Morgan was one of baseball's angriest, smartest, and best-loved blogs. That was never the idea.
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Fire Joe Morgan (2005-2008) has a cult reputation that can seem intimidating to those not already in the cult. Like Mystery Science Theater 3000 in more ways than one, the short-lived, much-beloved baseball blog took aim at subpar sports journalism, heckling bad math and lazy received wisdom with a call-and-response format that many others still imitate. The writers of FJM were never looking for their site to be influential, successful, or even read by anyone outside their close circle of friends. But they were way too good at what they did—and way, way too funny—for the site to stay undiscovered. Though the site is now dormant, the three statistically inclined baseball fans who wrote the majority of the posts are all now writers for NBC's Parks and Recreation. I took a trip to the offices of that show, where Dave King ("dak"), Alan Yang ("Junior"), and Mike Schur ("Ken Tremendous") filled me in on how FJM became an unexpected hit.

This is Part 1. Parts 2 and 3 will run later this week.
 

1. THE BEGINNING

Mike Schur (“Ken Tremendous”): The way I remember it is that [Dave] sent us an email that if we started a blog that it would save us all a lot of time. Because were sending so many e-mails with statistical analysis and things, and saying, “Can you believe what McCarver just said?” Why don’t we just start a blog, and we can just post stuff?

Dave King (“dak”): And then, eventually, I set it up, and sent the link, and said it’s pretty easy.

MS: Anyone can join. So at the very beginning there were eight or ten people who had screen names on this Blogger, this shitty Blogspot account. Spinoza is current CNN news reporter John Berman, a buddy of mine.

Alan Yang (“Junior”): He never posted.

MS: He never posted once.

AY: There was a guy named Board Administrator.

DK: That’s Steve Lookner, professor and philosopher.

MS: Chester McJesterton was Mike Stone, he used to work for some kind of financial place in New York, and now he lives in New Orleans. Coach is Eben Russell. America’s Sweetheart was Seth Meyers. Never posted. He chose that name because that’s what he and I used to refer to David Ortiz.

DK: He would comment sometimes.

AY: Anthony Baseball was Craig DiGregorio. He posted once or something. Murbles posted like, ten times.

DK: Murbles was my friend Matt Murray. He’s a writer.

AY: He used to write for SNL, then he wrote for Community.

MS: It made me laugh when everyone decrypted our names, that everyone was like, “These guys write for South Park and The Office! That’s crazy!” And I remember thinking, if you only knew that one of us was Seth Meyers!

AY: I remember not thinking it was a big deal. My name was set as Junior because I had previously just written a fake Blogger account for an NBA player named Junior Harrington, who was like an eighth-string point guard for the Denver Nuggets. And that blog was just, he would just write jokes every day. For no reason. And then people started writing that account and thinking it was him. And being like, “Hey, I hear you’re playing in the Ukraine now.” I’d feel so bad for them. They were just jokes about pop culture and stuff. So I didn’t even change my name for Fire Joe Morgan.

MS: That’s an even bigger waste of time than Fire Joe Morgan.

ON EARLY FJM

AY: We started writing on it a lot pretty quickly. I remember I was living in New York when it started.

DK: Yang and I shared an office at the time. I remember turning to Yang and being like, “Alright, it’s up! We’ll see …”

AY: “No one’s ever going to work on it.” And we just started obsessively writing on it every day, every night.

MS: It’s so embarrassing to look back at those first posts. The Blogger template was so bad you couldn’t even bold things.

AY: I was using italics.

MS: Or we did those two carets.

AY: Two carets a lot. I think Ryne Sandberg was one of the first things I wrote.

DK: Who knew it would evolve into the perfectly stylized …

MS: The design award winning website it became.

AY: We won a few Webbys, right? For design?

ON THEIR PSEUDONYMS

DK: It wasn’t even psuedonyms at first. It was just screen names.

MS: It cannot be overstated how little we ever thought anyone would read this. We put no thought into the name at all, we put no thought into our screen names or anything. All that stuff came later, when people actually started reading it. But at the beginning it was like, we had no reason to believe that any of this would ever matter.

AY: [“Ken Tremendous”] was on 30 Rock! He’s a character on 30 Rock!

MS: It’s my Twitter handle, and it’s just, like, my internet name.

AY: It’s a catchy name.

MS: I came up with it when I was walking down the street when I was, like, 22, and I came up with that name, and it made me laugh. And I was always like, “I’m going to write a short story someday about a guy named Ken Tremendous."

AY: It’s served you well.

MS: My guy was kind of a character. He has a job. He’s a pension fund manager for an insurance company in Partridge, Kansas. Which is where Ortho “The Darkness” Stice is from in the book Infinite Jest, which is why I chose that. [Ed. note: Schur is a very big fan of the novel.] His company was a little shady, Fremulon is a little shady. It was always about to go bankrupt.

AY: Did he like his job?

MS: There were credit default swap problems.

DK: I always assumed he was just kind of a clock-watcher.

MS: Yeah, he’s punching a clock. I think in some weird way the persona was about Bill James. Because Bill James’s story of working as a night watchman or whatever in Kansas. That was sort of somewhere in my brain, I think as like, this weird dude, punching a clock in a weird cubicle somewhere, and also using it as an outlet to vent his frustrations. But now you can buy Fremulon mugs.

AY: Oh yeah, we started selling shirts and stuff. That was another funny thing, people would take pictures of themselves in Fire Joe Morgan shirts, in ballgames and stuff.

MS: My wife and I took a trip, I think, to Buenos Aires. And we were in the airport… we were getting on the plane and a guy came up to me and said, “Hey, I just want to tell you that I’m a big fan.” And I was like, “Oh, thank you.” And he said, “Yeah, I read the site all the time.” And I was like, “You’re not talking about the TV show The Office?” And that was the first time my wife was like, “What the fuck is going on?”

AY: It didn’t happen often, but there was a tiny element of a Fight Club style thing where people knew who you were. That happened to me a few times. I was in an elevator going to a meeting or something, and a guy was like,, “I know you write for that site.” And I was like, “What? That’s crazy!”

DK: Or I remember people who were kind of acquaintances, but not friends, and then you’d see them again, and they’d be like, “Wait, you’re dak?” I’ve been reading the site and I didn’t realize it was you!

AY: And I cannot stress enough what a low level it was. It’s like they were, not at all—

MS: One person per—

AY: One nerd per billion.

MS: But it was still fun.

AY: And occasionally that nerd would be someone like Brandon McCarthy, who wrote us years ago, when nobody knew who he was. He was just a fan of the site, and he was pitching for the Rangers at the time. And he became a big fan of the site, and would write us all the time, and would tell us stories that we frankly can’t repeat. And we went and saw him when they played the Angels, and stuff. We keep in touch with him, and he came by Parks recently, after he got hit in the head. He’s better now.

ON OBSCURE REFERENCES

DK: We were thinking of each other, or ourselves.

AY: And that’s why, also, as opposed to writing for a TV show … you can never do that on a TV show. So why not do it?

MS: Although we do it on this show, because we named the lot “Lot 48.” Lot 48 is the lot that Leslie Knope is trying to build the park on. When I wrote the pilot, I made it Lot 49, and then I was like, this is ridiculous. So I changed it to Lot 48.

AY: But that’s what’s nice about a blog where you absolutely don’t care who’s reading it. You’re not trying to get an audience. So you can make a joke about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

DK: I think I once quoted some obscure thing from Alice in Wonderland, and then went back and looked at it and was like, “This, man, I was just jerking myself off.”

MS: Some of them you go back and you’re like, ugh, this. The best example of that, which is to say, the worst example of that … I wrote a joke about a specific thing in the book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, for one of the Deadspin pieces, which [Alan] referred to, when we were going over them, as a .000001 percent-er.

AY: There are things you call one percent-ers, and this was like, no one. Even people who read that book—someone who’s just put that book down and started reading the piece—that one guy. Like it was, just, past that part. You got that guy! That guy’s super-psyched! That guy’s almost spooked!

DK: He’s freaked out.

AY: I would describe the blog as self-indulgent.

MS: So self-indulgent.

DK: And beautifully designed.

ON THEIR WORKING RELATIONSHIP WHEN THE SITE STARTED

MS: It should be noted: we almost never talked. Alan and I barely knew each other at the time.

AY: We totally barely knew each other. We had probably met twice. And we just had this weird epistolary relationship, where the letters we were writing each other were about baseball and statistics. For years!

MS: For a long time.

AY: He was in L.A., we were in New York, and then I moved here. And I didn’t know Mike until this show, basically.

MS: No one ever conferred with anyone. The only times we ever conferred about anything were going public with our names and allowing public comments.

AY: And then later, when we did the Deadspin stuff. I guess that was after the site. No one edited each others’ stuff. No one looked at it. It was always just a treat.

ON HTML AND WEB DESIGN

DK: I struggled with it a lot, and just tried to keep it to the bare minimum.

MS: I knew how to make things bold and make them italicized.

DK: Anything we did, we did through the Blogger template. I used the simplest Blogger template that was out there, and then we learned enough about HTML to adjust it to what we wanted it.

AY: Sometimes we’d put a picture or video. Once every month. “There’s a picture?” It would be stunning.

MS: It was very special.

AY: “Oh, a picture!”

MS: There were a couple YouTube videos we got in there. The one I remember was when I was reading some terrible article, and the guy got to the point where he said that bloggers live in their mothers’ basements. And it was like, the ten millionth time that they had said that bloggers live in their mothers’ basements.  And I didn’t know what to do. And I was like, “You know what I wish could happen? Is when I got to this point in the article, a giant marching band could march through, like a celebratory John Philip Sousa thing,” and I just found a John Philip Sousa thing and embedded it, and after he got to mother’s basement, it was just like, “Hit play,” and it was like, “[singing marching song].” and that was as technologically advanced…it probably took me two hours to figure out how to embed that video.

DK: We didn’t know what the fuck we were doing.

MS: That should be the title of this article.

Tomorrow: Fire Joe Morgan blows up.


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Comments

Great stuff. I once sent a picture I took of a kid dressed head-to-toe as Eckstein to KT/MS direct from Spring Training (early intelliphone era). To see it on the site a couple days later made me feel like I'd crashed a Skull & Bones meeting or some such.

This is seriously amazing and I'm very much so looking forward to Parts 2 & 3. That being said I'd literally give up an arm to get a FreeDarko oral history.

This 1000x

Read this while listening to Pop That. Trust me. So essential.