Probably the first blog that I ever read on a daily basis was Mac Thomason’s Braves Journal. It’s still the first blog I read every day.
When I started college in 2002, it was the first time I’d lived anywhere other than Atlanta. And I was homesick for the Braves. Then I found Thomason’s blog. I started commenting every day (which I still do) and read every word, as Mac taught me about sabermetrics, Bill James, and how to write. He’s the reason I’m here. And for the past three years, he has been fighting testicular cancer, which took a particularly bad turn a few days ago. As he wrote on his site: “The remaining cancer has entered a virulent stage…. I was told that the best measure, if they don’t find a treatment, is months rather than years.”
I’ve never met him, never even talked to him on the phone, but we’ve been friends for the better part of a decade. And I literally can’t imagine following the Braves without him. I’ve exchanged email messages with him for years, and that’s how we conducted this interview. First, he told me what he has: “I was diagnosed with testicular cancer which had spread to the lymph nodes in my torso, which happens pretty commonly,” he said. “I have been treated for this but a secondary type of tumor, called a teratoma, has developed. In most cases, these can be treated surgically, but in my case they have grown back.” The reason he preferred email to the phone for the interview was physical weakness. “Chemotherapy is poison,” he said. “It’s just poison that you hope affects the cancer more than you.”
Braves Journal is the oldest Braves blog on the web, dating back to April 1998. The blog also is among the oldest continuously updated sports sites on the web. (It would be poetic if the oldest continuously operated baseball franchise were graced with the oldest continuously operated baseball blog, but I can’t confirm that.) Since the beginning, Mac has written daily game recaps, written occasional player, and team analyses and other columns that he tags as “Putative Humor.” In other words, Mac is the sort of writer who puts a word like “putative” in front of humor — self-aware and intelligent, with an off-kilter sense of humor. He once wrote a Hamlet parody starring Jeff Francoeur called Franclet, and a parody of the Stonecutter’s Song from the Simpsons about how Braves fans tended to blame Andruw Jones for everything. Another theme was an entire series of short films about oft-injured lefthander Mike Hampton.
As Thomason has noted in other interviews, he started Braves Journal in 1998, largely because he discovered that Compuserve offered free web hosting. “I figured I was paying for it so [I] should take advantage,” he told an interviewer. Before the word “blog” existed — according to Wikipedia, the term “web log” was coined in 1997, and it was first shortened to “blog” in 1999 — Thomason began posting daily Braves updates. He isn’t shy about his biggest influences. “I have never made a secret of the fact that this site is basically a rip-off of Bill James,” he once commented. “My politics site is actually mostly just a rip-off of Dave Barry.”
That political blog, Thomason Tracts, is named after a collection of 17th century documents from the English civil war; Mac is a cataloguing librarian at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the occasional obscure reference will remind readers of his day job. Politics are banned on his baseball blog, but most everything else is fair game. Last year, he insulted each city the Braves visited on a long road trip.
Los Angeles, Spanish for “The Angels“, is technically the nation’s second-largest city and metropolitan area, but is really more of a place where a whole lot of people happen to live than an actual municipality. The borders of the L.A. metropolitan area are indistinct and at times reach into several adjoining states and the sovereign nation of Mexico. This explains why the city’s other baseball team is in Anaheim and its football teams are in Oakland and St. Louis.
Philadelphia, known as “The City of Brotherly Love” ever since Benjamin Franklin invented sarcasm in 1767, is the largest city in Pennsylvania and a suburb of New York.
Cincinnati’s principal sports teams are the football Bengals and the baseball Reds. The Bengals were once known for losing Super Bowls to the San Francisco 49ers, then for being comically inept, but in recent years have turned their attention to crime. The Reds sometimes claim to be the oldest team in the majors, but they’re not, it’s the Braves, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Mac is an Alabaman and a proud ‘Bama fan. During the college football season, he writes his predictions of game scores and he patriotically always picks Tennessee to lose — but he has a nuanced view of his home state. “The political culture of Alabama is best understood if you realize that we are working under a state constitution that was passed in 1901 by Jim Crow lawmakers whose primary goal was to make it nearly impossible for the government to do anything,” he told me. But when writing about Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, he once wrote, “It’s not necessarily meaningful that these two dominant figures were born in my home state, I just like to point it out.”
Since writing on Monday about his latest diagnosis, Mac has been the subject of a fair amount of praise on Twitter and the blogosphere. I wrote a piece on Yahoo, and encouraged other bloggers to do the same; Craig Calcaterra wrote a touching post at NBC’s HardballTalk; JC Bradbury made a mention on Baseball Primer; and the Braves beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted encouragement. Yesterday, the Braves’ director of public relations conveyed her sympathies when I talked to her on the phone. “I have been surprised, and I appreciate the support,” Mac told me. “Emotional support is very important to me right now.”
Mac is still fighting, and the future is far from clear. “Maybe it’s just the drugs talking,” he wrote Monday, “but I don’t expect to go any time soon.” We’re all pulling for him, too. I have spoken to several people in the Braves organization and asked them to consider recognizing his contributions to the team and supporting him in his fight, and we’re still waiting to hear their answer. In the meantime, we’re all sending him as much emotional support as we can.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.