Charlie and the Pirates


This week, a Pittsburgh Pirates blog steals the scene, led by Charlie Wilmouth, one of the few baseball bloggers who’s played in a symphony orchestra.

Born a week before the Pirates won their last World Series in Wheeling, West Virginia, a city of 31,400 located about an hour outside Pittsburgh, both baseball and music captured Wilmouth’s interest early on. Growing up, he went to games at Three Rivers Stadium and played in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony.

He’s still pursuing both interests.

His Pirates blog, Bucs Dugout, is the top-ranked one on Google. Here’s a sample from Bucs Dugout in which Wilmouth compared A’s GM Billy Beane with then-Pirates GM Dave Littlefield.

Finally, Beane was successful because he had a core of talent that arrived at the big league level at around the same time. The Littlefield Pirates haven’t demonstrated that they have any plan for when they want to be able to compete.

(Note: The Pirates fired Littlefield on September 7, 2007.)

The same day Littlefield parted company with the Bucs, Wilmouth wrote this in his blog:

The Littlefield firing is as long overdue as it is a relief. There were so many reasons to fire the guy, from the Pirates’ record during his tenure, to the way he handled the draft, to the way he dumped young players like Chris Young and Bronson Arroyo in seemingly minor transactions, to his reliance on veteran retreads, to his handling of the 40-man roster, to his negligence in Latin America.

Besides blogging about baseball, he’s scoring with his music. Wilmouth’s teaching music and finishing a Ph.D. in music composition at the University of California, San Diego. Plus, he regularly tours the East Coast and Midwest as a singer and guitarist with his rock band, FOX Japan, and plays fiddle in an experimental country band called the GO Duo.

Which is he more passionate about, baseball or music? In my interview with Charlie, which begins now, you’ll find out.

Question: You started writing about the Pirates in your previous Pirates blog, VORB (Value Over Replacement Blog), which you began on June 29, 2004. Why did you start VORB? Why did you give it that name?

Wilmouth: I started VORB because the Pirates were doing so many things that were so outrageously stupid and wrong. I felt compelled to write about these things, and I had to find someone to read my writings. I think the name “Value Over Replacement Blog” came from my friend Ryan, who wrote for VORB in its earliest days. It’s a joke about Baseball Prospectus’ Value Over Replacement Player stat, so it’s a pretty geeky name to begin with, and on top of that there was already a writer who had a site called Replacement Level Yankees Weblog. Also, I think one thing that appealed to us about the VORB name was that it was a way of identifying ourselves as people who think about baseball in a particular way (that is, from a statistical perspective). These days, it seems silly to even try to pick a side between statistics and scouts. They’re both important. So, with all due respect to Ryan, I was pretty happy to move to Bucs Dugout and ditch the old name.

Question: Was VORB your first venture into blogging? Tell me about your blogging background.

Wilmouth: I’d never blogged before VORB, but I was (and continue to be) a writer and editor for a music website called DustedMagazine.com. I also wrote for All Music Guide before I started a blog.

Question: How did VORB evolve into Bucs Dugout?

Wilmouth: I asked Sportsblogs Nation if I could write for them as their Pirates blogger, and they said yes. I’d wanted to change the name of my site, move from Blogger to my own domain, and get a site redesign, so moving to SB Nation was a good opportunity to do all those things without paying for them.

Question: In Bucs Dugout’s two-year life, you’ve succeeded in spiraling it to the top. When I searched Google using “Pittsburgh Pirates” and “blog,” Bucs Dugout ranked #1 out of 1,810,000 results. How were you able to achieve that?

Wilmouth: By winning a truly epic paper-rock-scissors tournament. No, I don’t know — for all I know, that has to do with SB Nation. It hasn’t been any kind of conscious effort on my part and I don’t think it means much. When people write and ask to exchange links, I’ll usually do so if the links are relevant. And I’m always interested in boosting my traffic. But I haven’t found many lasting ways to do that besides just posting a lot and writing as well as possible.

Question: You been blogging about the Pirates since 2004. What lessons have you learned about writing a baseball blog? What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a baseball team blog?

Wilmouth: Write because you want to. Your writing won’t be good if you feel like you’re writing as an obligation, or if you feel like you have to look for things to write that day. At the same time, though, your website will attract more visitors if it’s the sort of place people want to check every day. I feel lucky to have a good community of readers who post comments and diaries even when I’m not around, and I think that helps keep people coming back to the site.

I have to say, I feel a little weird giving advice. I don’t have any secrets or any record of spectacular success. But I have been around for a while, and if you write about the same team almost every day for three years, some people will notice.

Question: What effect has blogging about the Pirates had upon you as a Pirates fan?

Wilmouth: I get less upset than I used to about the dumb things the Pirates do, both because Bucs Dugout is an outlet for my frustration and because I now have a written record of the way history repeats itself. If you can see dumb moves as part of a pattern, it’s easier to understand them, even though it’s still impossible to excuse them.

Question: You’ve written a lot of blog entries over the past several years. A number of other bloggers have burned out. What’s the most challenging part of writing blog entries? What keeps you going?

Wilmouth: I used to ask myself that question a lot because Dave Littlefield was running the team into the ground and there seemed to be no end in sight. There was a time when I thought it might literally be 20 more years before the Pirates had another winning season. Fortunately, Bucs Dugout had some readers when I was thinking that. If the site was getting 20 hits a day like VORB did, I probably would’ve quit.

Now Littlefield, Jim Tracy, and scouting director Ed Creech are gone, and Kevin McClatchy is out of the picture, and we have a new front office in place that is showing signs of competence. If Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington do, in fact, turn out to be good at their jobs, it’s going to be a whole new era for the Pirates, and I can’t wait to write about that as it unfolds. I’m 28 now, and the Pirates haven’t had good management since I was in middle school. This is a really exciting time, and I don’t think motivation to write will be a problem for a while.

Question: How is your Pirates blog different from the other Pirates blogs?

Wilmouth: Well, Bucs Dugout is the only Pirates blog that has diaries, so anyone can sign up for an account and post their thoughts about the Pirates, and people will read them. So a lot of the content of the site is generated by its community, and not just by me. It’s a place where fans can really interact with each other.

Beyond that, though, a lot of Pirate blogs are similar in some respects. The Pirates really aren’t like any other team, and Pirates bloggers aren’t like other teams’ bloggers. Until recently, all the big Pirates blogs, including mine, could be read as incredibly elaborate attempts to deal with feelings of hopelessness about the team. As for me, my writings at Bucs Dugout are probably a little more detached than at some of the other blogs. I still make emphatic arguments and I still love the Bucs, but they don’t make me as angry as they used to — I’m more likely to smile ruefully at the absurdity of a terrible move than to flip out.

Also, I write a lot about other teams, and I especially like analyzing transactions. That kept me going for a while — until recently, there were times when I felt like blogging the Pirates was like being a character in a Kafka novel.

Question: You’ve done interviews for Bucs Dugout, added diaries, even included a poem by Shel Silverstein. It appears that Bucs Dugout has opened a “creative door” for you. What else could be beyond that door for visitors to your blog?

Wilmouth: I don’t know. I don’t really think of Bucs Dugout as a creative venture. I have plenty of creativity in my life and don’t view the blog as part of that. To the extent that some of the blog entries HAVE been creative, it’s mostly been in response to absurd situations. Sometimes the only proper response to absurdity is more absurdity.

So I guess the future depends on the new management. If they’re absurd, I’m probably going to be absurd right back. If they make reasonable decisions, I’m probably going to act more reasonable. But there will always be strange posts sometimes — fortunately, it looks like two other teams from the NL Central, the Reds and Astros, are entering periods where they’re going to do some silly things. It’s going to be fun to chronicle those.

Question: If you could work for the Pirates, what would you like to do?

Wilmouth: I don’t think I’d want to work in baseball. I would miss music too much if I didn’t have time to make it, and even if I needed to pick another career, it wouldn’t be in baseball.

***

2,060 Web pages link to Bucs Dugout.

You can learn more about Wilmouth from his Web site.

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