February 12, 2004
Schilling and Atrios

Those of you who don't read baseball-oriented blogs are probably unaware of a recent kerfuffle involving Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. Schilling, who's always been an outspoken player, recently revealed that he has been a regular poster on a Red Sox fan board called the Sons of Sam Horn, using the handle Gehrig38. Everyone, myself included, agrees that this is a Good Thing, as how could it not be cool for a star player to interact with fans in this way?

A little while back, baseball blogger David Pinto quoted from a thread on SoSH in which Schilling was critical of ESPN's sabermetric columnist Rob Neyer. This sparked controversy because Schilling has said on the SoSH forum that he would prefer that what he says there not be quoted elsewhere, and the SoSH founder left a comment on Pinto's post which called it unethical. There was much todo to follow, with the heat level ratcheded up by Jay Jaffe, who defended Pinto and reprinted the Schilling quote that Pinto had since taken down.

I bring all this up not because I'm terribly interested in the ethics debate. It seems clear to me that Schilling ultimately can't have what he's asking for. Bloggers and chatboard posters may restrain themselves, and Schilling can certainly exercise some influence over the beat writers who need to talk to him as part of their jobs, but who's to stop someone like Rob Neyer himself from reprinting words recorded in a public forum? Should such a thing happen, I'm sure the local ink-stained wretches would feel much less compunction about weighing in on it all.

What interests me in all this is that Schilling started out on SoSH as just another pseudonym with an opinion and the wherewithal to post it. The fact that he eventually revealed himself is, in my opinion, the inevitable outcome of someone with genuine insider knowledge speaking up in public under an assumed name. Sooner or later, everyone's going to want to know exactly how it is that NoName2345 can speak with authority about what kind of aftershave Manny Ramirez uses. There's only two possibilities - either the unknown expert comes from a very small subset of the general population, or the unknown expert is a fraud. They must eventually prove their bonafides, or they risk being seen as just another barstool blowhard. (Or worse, another Mary Rosh.)

Which is why the other recent brouhaha, about Atrios' secret identity, is so much baloney. Can you think of any single thing that Atrios has posted where one needs to accept that he does in fact have access to information that you don't? I can't. Atrios deals in publicly available data, stuff that anyone could find. Surely by now if his identity were material to his blogging, someone would have pointed to one or more of his posts and asked "How do you know that? What is your source?" If you mentally substitute "Dominic Scarpetti", or "Jerome Horwitz", or "Yon Yonson from Wisconsin" wherever you see the word "Atrios", does it change your perception of the veracity of his words?

But what if he really is Bob Shrum, or Sidney Blumenthal, or (gasp!) HILLARY!?!? Well, then I'd say Atrios has done a better job than Curt Schilling did of not dropping any hints to his identity of the "only a few people could possibly know this" kind over the past few years, going back to his pre-blog Table Talk days, the kind of hints that a Mickey Kaus or Andrew Sullivan could pounce on with a gleeful "Aha!" Indeed, the fact that Sully has no clue who Atrios is after all this time - and remember, we've had the chance to hear Atrios' voice, too - is to me the strongest evidence that his real name wouldn't mean anything to Sully anyway. And if I'm wrong, and Atrios truly is an insider of some kind, he's doing a pretty excellent impersonation of someone who isn't. In either case, who Atrios is has no real bearing on what Atrios says, and that's what really matters.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 12, 2004 to Other punditry | TrackBack

Good points. The author of Primary Colors didn't remain anonymous too long, because people recognized his writing. The fact that nobody has fingered him, suggests that he isn't known by anybody important. That could be wrong, but it's still the way to bet.

Posted by: AST on May 23, 2004 12:40 AM

Usted habla espaņol

Posted by: Jim on November 5, 2004 4:29 PM