Al Yellon

An Interview with Al Yellon

An Interview with Al Yellon

“Would it change the essential nature of being a Cubs fan – I’m not going to say if – I’m going to say when – they win? I don’t know but I sure as hell want to find out.”

“I’m on the site several hours a dayI could use some help but I discovered that I feel kind of personal about this. I want my own personal stamp on it. I’d rather do it myself.”

“I never felt like I wanted to be up in the pressbox, or in the clubhouse. I’m not a reporter – I’m a fan…I’ve never been one to actively seek a credential. In some ways not having one gives me more independence.”

“I would like to think the mainstream beat writer for a team should be a fan of team or at least of the sport – if not why do the job.”

Al Yellon: Interviewed on November 2, 2007

Position: Founder and Editor, Bleed Cubbie Blue

Born: 1956, Chicago

Education: Colgate, 1978, political science; Northwestern, 1980, Master’s in radio and TV

Career: ABC, Chicago 1981 –

Personal: single, two teenaged children

Favorite restaurant (home): Wildfire, Chicago “good steaks”

Favorite restaurant (away): Kona Grill, Scottsdale, Arizona

Favorite hotel: none

Al Yellon, posted on Bleed Cubbie Blue, September 29, 2007, 7:30 AM (Central)

CINCINNATI — In 1984, I was in Pittsburgh with about 5,000 other Cub fans at Three Rivers Stadium when the Cubs clinched the NL East title by beating the Pirates 4-1.

In 1989, I didn’t go to Montreal as it was far too expensive to find a flight there at the last minute, but once again the Cubs won the NL East on the field when Mitch Williams struck out Mike Fitzgerald to nail down a 3-2 win.

And in 1998
and in 2003,
the Cubs won playoff spots (a wild card and NL Central title, respectively) in front of wildly cheering throngs at Wrigley Field.

So it was a little surreal to “experience” the Cubs winning the NL Central title last night with about 100 other Cub fans at the Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Cincinnati when Trevor Hoffman struck out Rickie Weeks in Milwaukee,
eliminating the Brewers and nailing down the Cubs’ fifth playoff spot in my lifetime, and third in the last ten seasons.

That makes this one different already. And so we begin the month of October, again, with hopes and dreams that this time, the postseason of 2007, will end differently than the disappointments and losses of 1984, 1989, 1998 and 2003…

Q. Is there agony in being a Cubs fan?

A. It’s become part of it. Whether it’s a good thing I’m not sure. If you step back from your emotional connection to the team and think ‘would I pick in a rational way to root for a team that never wins anything?’ the answer would be no.

You don’t choose this – you’re introduced to it. My dad took me to my first game in 1963 when I was seven years old. Because the Cubs played day games you could come home from school and watch on TV and that’s how you get hooked. By the time you realize it’s your fate it’s too late to change course.

We want them to win but there are other things than winning. I’ve been slammed for that. In the absence of winning I am not going to not enjoy going to games and being a part of history. Would I like to win all the time – of course. But does it drive everything? If it did I would change and be a Red Sox fan. Would it change the essential nature of being a Cubs fan – I’m not going to say if – I’m going to say when – they win? I don’t know but I sure as hell want to find out.

Q. Is it likely to happen soon?

A. They did well this year, better than last year. They made the playoffs after a 96-loss season, and then they stopped hitting the minute October started. They have a good base to build on, but they need to make changes. There’s hope for the future. I like the job Lou Piniella did. He took a bunch of pieces that didn’t work well and figured out how to deal with them. He wasn’t willing to sit still – when something didn’t work he changed it. I wasn’t in favor of his being hired – he had a reputation of throwing bases and yelling at umpires and the Cubs don’t need that. But that’s not who Lou is. He seems to have mellowed in his old age. I’m very happy with the job Lou did. If they can fill in a few pieces in the off-season they can win next year.

Q. Describe the heart of a blogger.

A. You obviously have to be very passionate. You have to love the team and love writing and meeting other people who are similar.

Q. How would you characterize your writing?

A. I like to put a little more personal stuff in than some others who have a statistical approach. Many are just linking to other news reports about the team. I’m not criticizing that – I’ll do the same thing if there’s an article in the newspaper or on a website that I like. But in the postings I write about the game I’ll put more personal things in. I try to give people an idea of what it’s like to be at the ballpark every day. The Cubs have lots of fans, because of WGN, who don’t live in Chicago – fans who follow on cable and satellite. I like to give them a flavor of what it’s like to be here and go to Wrigley.

Q. Where are your seats?

A. Left field bleachers – by choice. For years I was in right field, but two years ago the right field bleachers were rebuilt. The place where we sat in right field disappeared and we had to pick something new.

Q. What’s your personal background?

A. I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was a kid. I became a fan the way everybody becomes a fan – you take to a team or sport for different reasons. I’m a TV director for the ABC station in Chicago. Ten years ago I started working early mornings – I go to work at 4 a.m and work on the morning news. In doing so I could go to every game. I’m a season ticket holder. During the season I just don’t sleep much.

Q. How did you get started?

A. I always liked writing but I never wrote professionally. Then blogging became big and I thought I would start one. I didn’t intend it to be Cubs specific, but I discovered after two months that 98 percent of what I was writing was about the Cubs, so it became a Cubs blog.

I started getting e-mails from people who had found my site. I got one from Markos Moulitsas, who runs the Daily Kos political blog. It turned out he’s a big Cubs fan and had been reading my stuff for quite some time. I think that’s why I was approached by Tyler Bleszinski, the head of the SB Nation group. His idea was to start blogs that people could participate in. There are 130 of us _ I was No. 6 on the list. I said “why not”. In February 2005 Bleed Cubbie Blue got started.

It’s really worked. I’ve met a lot of nice people and it’s a nice outlet for me. It’s connected me with a lot of other Cubs fans, which I find rewarding.

Q. How much time is involved?

A. During the season I post a game thread every day to get discussion going about the game – that’s about 20 to 30 minutes. After each game I write a recap – usually I’ve been there if it’s a home game and some road games. That might take 30 minutes. The rest is kind of managing it – keeping an eye on comments and making sure they’re not too out of control. I’m on the site several hours a day.

Q. Do you have help?

A. It’s just me. I could use some help but I discovered that I feel kind of personal about this. I want my own personal stamp on it. I’d rather do it myself.

Q. What is your audience size?

A. As the Cubs were heading toward the playoffs I was getting ten thousand hits a day. During the season I get about four to five thousand a day. Even the last couple of weeks it’s been four thousand. Winter is slow, though I had a couple of eight and nine thousand days last winter when Soriano was signed. My biggest days were during the playoffs.

I have just under four thousand unique users.

Q. Your rank among Cubs blogs?

A. Number one.

Q. Do you have a core group of visitors?

A. Yes. You can look through the diaries. One feature of SB Nation blogs is that people can post diaries, which is a blog within a blog. There are probably 10 to 20 people who post on a regular basis and are very knowledgeable in specific areas. One guy is good with statistics, another knows the minor leagues – there are 100 to 150 who comment almost every day. If you narrow it down to a particular week 200 to 250 people are regular commentators.

Q. Does your blog generate revenue?

A. I make some money. Would I like it to be full-time, sure. But it’s never going to make enough to be full-time. My costs are supported. It’s a nice extra bit of income.

Q. Do you have contact with the Cubs organization?

A. Not directly.

Q. Do they read your site?

I know they do. Business, management and marketing people read it – they’ve told me when I run into some of them. As far as the baseball people, the G.M. and the scouting people, I don’t know.

Q. How many Cubs blogs are there?

A. At one time there were over 100. I think there are 20 or 30 active Cubs blogs. How many update on a daily basis? Less than 10.

It’s not easy to do every day – it’s like another job. If you don’t keep up on a daily basis people stop reading. I have a passion for it – I like it. People who read it know it’s going to be updated every day.

Q. Do you take a vacation from the blog?

A. I haven’t. Even when I’ve been on vacation I take my laptop and keep updating. Will I – maybe. But I won’t during the season. If I’m going to be on vacation it’s going to be in December somewhere away from Chicago. I do go to spring training. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

Q. How much Cubs stuff do you read?

A. Everything I get my hands on- daily newspapers articles, other blogs, websites – though not necessarily in great detail. I skim everything and try to be plugged into as much as I can.

Q. Do you want a press credential?

A. I’ve never felt compelled to have one. This is a source of disagreement among SB Nation bloggers – some want it – some don’t. I never felt like I wanted to be up in the pressbox, or in the clubhouse. I’m not a reporter – I’m a fan. That’s not my job. I haven’t done interviews with baseball people – though I wouldn’t mind sitting down with Jim Hendry or Piniella. I’ve never been one to actively seek a credential. In some ways not having one gives me more independence.

Q. Are credentialed media constrained by credentials?

A. In some ways. It’s the nature of their job – they can’t go off on tangents. And they have space limitations.

Q. Is credentialed media less candid with its audience?

A. I can’t speak for them. It feels that way, but do I have specific instances of that – no. But it feels that way for me. Also, they are subject to being edited. I don’t have that restriction.

Q. Does being paid change the perspective of traditional media?

A. It might. I go because I want to. The writers go because it’s their job. Some have great passion for sports, which is why they go into it in the first place. I know Bruce Miles, the Cubs beat writer for the Daily Herald – he grew up a Cubs fan like any of us. So for him it’s both. Would he be at the ballpark if not for his job – I think probably not every day. I don’t know if that applies to everybody who is a sportswriter – for some I think it’s just their job.

Q. Should mainstream media be fans?

A. I would like to think the mainstream beat writer for a team should be a fan of team or at least of the sport – if not why do the job.

Q. Could you blog if they didn’t do their jobs?

A. Yes. I generally don’t use a lot of their quotes unless some player is quoted saying goofy things. Could I do my blog without them – yeah. They’re helpful but not required. I write off of what I see with my own eyes.

Q. You notice I haven’t asked the obligatory Steve Bartman question.

A. Yes. My feeling is that he’s old news – I don’t like to discuss him. I’m tired of hearing about him from the national media. It’s time to move on and play baseball. Leave the guy alone – he made a mistake – let’s move on.

Q. Do you work on a couch?

A. I don’t sit on a couch much. I do work in a basement but it’s my own basement – not my parents’. I have a nice chair I like to put my feet on while I’m working.

Al Yellon, posted on Bleed Cubbie Blue, October 22, 2007, 10:08 AM (Central)

With another couple of days to pass with no ballgames, I thought it was about time to start some discussion here of the next big event regarding the Cubs — the upcoming sale by Tribune Company, or more correctly, by Sam Zell once he consummates the purchase of Tribune Company. Incidentally, just today we learn that this deal may be further delayed because:

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is refusing to grant the necessary waivers that would allow the deal to circumvent FCC rules against cross-ownership of media properties.

So stay tuned.

I have been accused of being an apologist for Tribco. Nothing could be further from the truth. As many of you know, I wrote three paid articles for Vine Line and got paid $180 for them. I can’t be bought for $180 — that’s ridiculous. In fact, all three articles were adapted from posts I originally made here. There have been times when I have defended Tribco, management, and Dusty Baker — far longer than I should have, in the latter case. At this point, that’s far beyond relevance — I know, as do all of you, that it’s time to move on, to get an owner of this ballclub that is committed in every way to winning. I do think Tribco management wanted to win; it simply wasn’t willing to go the extra mile to do so. A very simple way of seeing this is the fact that the Cubs have the fewest full-time year-round baseball employees of any team in baseball. This obviously hurts scouting and player development. I have heard this is going to change this offseason, as Tribco apparently wants to go out on a good foot — or maybe they have an understanding with all of the principal contenders for ownership that they can do so. This might also portend well for possible payroll increases or acquisitions this offseason.

(SMG thanks Al Yellon for his cooperation)

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