April 21, 2022

Article at Steven on Authory

Where’s Maris?

I’m referring to the (former?) poster on BJOL known as MarisFan61, who stopped posting just about the same time I did, though for vastly different reasons.

Or so I speculate. The last I heard, no one understood what happened to Maris. He just stopped posting, after more than a decade of perhaps being BJOL’s most prolific poster in Reader Posts. (Someone tallied posts at one point, I believe, and MarisFan61 stood atop that heap.) He stopped posting so abruptly that those of us who noticed his absence went straight to “puzzled” and then very quickly to “fearful,” assuming the very worst.

Our fears were made worse by his anonymity. No one ever knew his real name, so we had no way on earth to inquire if he was okay, or sick, or (as we soon speculated) dead.

Being unable to find out his real name was something of an online rarity. Some of us, like me, just posted under our real names, of course, and others under a close approximation of it, like rgregory, whom we referred to as “Bob” because he wasn’t at all shy about letting us know that his username stood for “Robert Gregory” and he was from Indiana, and a load of other information that would allow anyone who wanted to contact him privately to have his real-world contact information. (Known as “Meat-world Continfo” in some internet circles.) Others used slightly more elaborate disguises, such as “ventboys” whose name turned out to be Terry Vent, and who was routinely addressed in Reader Posts as “Terry,” which was a little confusing to those entering Reader Posts in medias res (Latin for “in mitn d'rinan”).

And when Bob Gregory passed on, it was a sad day on BJOL, but we knew it was coming (he gave us regular updates on his health and lack thereof) and we heard from his widow, and were encouraged to post notes at his funeral home. So while rgregory’s demise was upsetting (he was a notoriously kind fellow) we accepted it as a sad event that we understood too well.

The third kind of Meat World Continfo some of us had was individual. The whole website didn’t necessarily have everyone’s information, but some of us had a way, usually a real-life email address, to get in touch with a few others, some of whom we actually befriended in the Meat World. Terry Vent was in personal touch with Bob Gregory, for example, and organized the virtual funeral arrangements for Bob on BJOL. And over the years I’d gone to ball games with some of you, and others of you have met me offline. Just last week, one of the posters I’ve been friendly with on BJOL posted on Twitter that he was planning to be in the town next to mine in Florida, and I offered to have a beer with him. (I actually hate the taste of beer but I would have ordered something.) So if someone stopped posting, there was some method available for someone to check in with him, or with his family, or something.

But with Maris, we just hit a wall.

(It occurs to me that he may have surfaced in the 11 months since I’ve gotten fired from BJOL, so if you’ve heard from him, by all means let me know. I asked about him for a month or two, and I assume that someone would have told me if he showed up on BJOL, but it’s not exactly everyone’s duty to keep me up-to-date, either.)

We hit a wall. He was sort of fanatical about keeping his identity secret. Early on, like 2009 or so, I thought he’d let it slip that his first name was “Mark,” but he denied that when someone addressed him, as we do, like that online--maybe remembering “Mark” was just someone’s hazy memory. (Or maybe it was “Kevin”—I forget.) Far as I know, no one was in touch with him off BJOL, though he did tell personal stories, or refer to his wife, or mention that he was from the NYC area but spent a few years living in Milwaukee, but none of these mentions narrowed it down much for someone wishing to contact him.

I had a slight cause to contact him once, which is how I know. When I was leaving my office in Manhattan a few years back, I had to winnow a gross number of books that had piled up, and one of those books that I decided I didn’t have the space for in Florida, nor the interest in packing, shipping, and keeping, was a rare, quirky biography of Roger Maris that I thought he’d appreciate. I PMed him, asking for an address to send it to, and he declined my offer.   

No skin off my ass, but I thought it was a bit extreme to protect your identity from a harmless old coot who was offering to mail you for free something you’d enjoy having.

Of course, I’d had my Meat World Continfo out there on BJOL for years, and it occasionally came with a cost, but mostly it was benign. One particular dick on BJOL looked me up on “Rate Your Professor” when I’d annoyed him about something, and made a project out of spreading the word that my students sometimes wrote nasty things about me in their anonymous evaluations online. Well, according to him, it was more than “sometimes.” He looked up every negative student eval out of the thousands I’d gotten and notified everyone that Goldleaf was “arrogant,” “unsexy,” “a sarcastic son of a bitch,” and any student who wanted not to be exposed to Goldleaf’s terrible, droning, boring voice only to receive a failing grade for their efforts should “run away from his classes like their hair were on fire.” (As if any of them were capable of grasping the correct use of the subjunctive mood!)  This was termed “doxing” by a BJOL admin, and quickly put to an end, but it did illustrate why most people opted for a little more privacy than using one’s real name, and work info, would allow.

The dick in question protested that the admonishment he’d earned was unfair, in that I’d put my real name and work info out there for all to see, so he hadn’t had to do more detective work than just googling my name to pull up the “Rate You Professor” site, which was true. What the dick in question did not grasp, however, was my plan in case the BJOL admin deemed his doxing okay: he, unlike Maris, wasn’t so scrupulous about hiding his real-life identity. He had let slip over the years where he lived, some jobs he had held (specific positions on various political campaigns, for example), his family name, and other bits that opened him up to a merciless, intrusive roasting online. I was reluctant to expose someone’s private life—too much work, and too little joy in turning up and publishing data he preferred to keep private—but fortunately BJOL forced him to stop exposing mine, and something like civility prevailed. Might have been fun, though.

Anyway, an odd thing about my concern over Maris’s disappearance is that I didn’t really like him very much. There is a certain contentiousness on BJOL Reader Posts, as there is on most internet comments sections where people bump up against each other, and the bumping sometimes turns into shoving and finally into a full-on flame war. I suppose BJOL is no worse than other sites, though some other sites are moderated more actively and flaming is discouraged very quickly. Bill James himself sets a poor model in civility sometimes, since he can be dismissive and occasionally cruel in his remarks on the “Hey Bill” section of the site, which makes the posters feel in Reader Posts that they can match, and sometimes exceed, Bill’s unkindest wisecracks.

And people can certainly be annoying. I know I can be, in my certainty and in my strong voicing of my quirky opinions. But Maris tended to bug me, particularly in the “Comments” section of my published articles, where he felt free to naysay my more controversial assertions while refusing to back up his negative responses. I might assert that “X was a very stupid baseball player” and provide a few paragraphs of examples of X’s stupidity, and Maris would chime in “You’re wrong, Steven—X was a baseball-playing genius” but refuse to support his claim. I would ask for his support, and he would say something like “I gave you my support already.” When I would ask “Where did you give it?”, he would say, “You know where I gave it.” So I might ask, “No, honestly, I have no idea what you mean. Can you provide a link, or a hint at least, so I can review your supporting evidence,” and he would write, “I’ve already given you this information,” and we’d go around and around until I’d finally ask him to bow out of the discussion if all he was willing to do was repeat himself without providing anything additional.

So I was not a fan of his. To his credit, he didn’t seem to take our head-buttings personally, and always returned quickly to a neutral tone in our next encounters, which was why we continued to interact with each other for years online. And now he and I are both gone from BJOL, almost simultaneously.

I had a wacky idea recently, with no clear idea how to pull it off: I thought I might try to spread the rumor that I was MarisFan61, and that all our online head-butting episodes were the ultimate example of the online phenomenon known as “socking,” a term derived from “sock puppetry,” in which someone sets up a phony second account and then proceeds to stage false (but real-seeming) arguments with his sock puppet. The idea that I would have perpetrated such a fraud for over a decade makes me out to be a bigger fool than I’ve ever been taken for on BJOL, but the central conceit was irresistible: MarisFan61 last posted on BJOL late in May of 2021, Steven Goldleaf last posted there at the same time, and when one of them suddenly disappeared (or WAS disappeared, banned, banished, fired, call it what you will) the other one willy-nilly also disappeared as suddenly.

I did engage in some actual sock-puppetry, albeit unintentional, as some of you may know. I first started posting under my real name, and expressed some thoughts that seemed to bug some other posters, as is my wont (I’m an irritating fellow, apparently) but then something happened on BJOL, or it may have been merely my impatience at typing out my full 14-characters-plus-a-space-with-two-capitals name that impelled me to switch user-names to the much shorter “337” (which is just “LEE” upside-down—my password was “7718” which is just “BILL” upside down. I like the Spaceman.) But another annoying dick on BJOL caught on to a similarity in posting styles, subjects of interest, syntax, between 337 and Steven Goldleaf, and he accused me of being ashamed of my positions as Steven Goldleaf and of seeking the anonymity of 337, and I didn’t want to give him the courtesy of telling him my real reasons for the switch, so I simply never answered his accusations for years.

Then when I got offered the column in 2015, I needed to publish them under my real name, mainly because I wanted to put them on my real-life Curriculum Vitae. In the academic world, I got released from teaching two courses every year simply by publishing a number of articles. Strangely, however, I could work on a book, which might entail roughly 100 or 1000 times as much effort as an article, and find my dean reluctant to give me my released time for the effort because books usually take several years to write and then more years to appear in printed form. So crazy as it sounds a couple of quick articles might pass muster, even though they sometimes took me under a half-hour to write. (Rarely, but it happened. I remember writing one BJOL article on Roberto Clemente hitting MLB’s only Walk-Off Grand-Slam Inside-the-Park Home Run while waiting for my airplane to complete boarding its passengers. Usually, they took a day or two to write.) My thinking was that I’d been hired at Pace originally to teach journalism, so how could my dean claim that publishing a sports column was insufficiently academic, or wasn’t substantial, or wasn’t related to my teaching? I thought “Worth a try,” and sure enough, I was credited with writing 25 articles my first year, freeing me to work on a book and still keep my released time.

Which was how I justified putting in approximately ten or fifteen hours per month for the chicken-feed Bill agreed to pay me, btw. It wasn’t the 85 bucks per month that was my motivation, but the released time which was, in some ways, valuable to me beyond money. I was getting burned out by academe around that point, and if I had had to teach a full load, I doubt I could have stuck it out as long as I had. As it was, I decided in 2017 to retire, and taught part-time for the next two years as the terms of my retirement package dictated. So in 2019 I lost all of my incentive to keep writing for BJOL, especially since I had a new book project to work on that required my complete attention through 2021. I’m now trying to get that book published, but if I’d kept up my BJOL work, I think I’d be stuck somewhere around chapter 7 at this point. (Very little baseball in this book—it’s set in Washington D.C. in 1963, so all I have is a fleeting reference to a Senators-Twins series that got moved around so MLK could give his “I Have a Dream” speech in chapter 29.)

I might go on in this fashion, explaining things that you might or might not care to know, but I’m getting paid even less to write these things than Bill was paying me. (Oh, one other little detail—sheer coincidence, but I was paying my cleaning lady the exact sum every month that Bill was paying me to write what worked out to be a bit over two columns per month, and it was pleasing to think that Bill was, in effect, paying to maintain a clean apartment for almost six years straight.)  I think he got much more than his money’s worth out of me, and much as I enjoyed writing for BJOL, I’ve hardly missed it at all.  It is good to keep in touch with so many of you, though. Now that I’ve finished posting most of the columns I had stored up, half-finished or three-quarters finished, and I’ve finished inquiring if anyone has a MarisFan61 update for me, I may be close to done here.

I did, however, recently discover that I’ve suddenly regained access to the full library of “Hey, Bill” columns, dating back to 2007, and I have at least one more article in me on the inconsistencies (I dare not call them “hypocrisies”) I’ve found in the “Hey Bills,” so you can expect these articles to continue for a little while longer. Thanks for your attention, and the occasional kind words some of you see fit to email me from time to time.