Interview: Geoff Young and the Ducksnorts 2008 Annual

Many of you will know Geoff from his exception work here at The Hardball Times and also from Ducksnorts, his blog about the San Diego Padres.

Ducksnorts’ followers will know that Geoff self-published a Padres Baseball Annual last year, cleverly called the Ducksnorts 2007 Baseball Annual. The book was a success and even caught the attention of the San Diego front office. Unsurprisingly Geoff decided to pen a 2008 incarnation, which will be available either by pdf or in print any day now.

I decided to use some the THT expense budget to catch a first-class flight to San Diego, stay a few nights at the Ritz-Carlton, and chew the fat about the Padres with Geoff over an expensive meal and a couple of bottles of wine. Unfortunately the THT expense budget had been raided by the Dodgers to pay for Andruw Jones‘ extortionate contract, so I had to make do with the happy medium of e-mail.

The interview

John Beamer: Writing a book is pretty hard work. What inspired you to write the Ducksnorts Annual?

Geoff Young: After 10 years of writing at Ducksnorts, I figured it was time for a book. It seemed like a natural extension of the website, and I wanted to see if I could actually pull it off. Also, by calling it an “annual,” I committed myself to doing more than one of them.

I love a good baseball annual, but my biggest gripe is that even the best never spend more than a few pages on the the team I follow. I assume that if I have this gripe, then others probably do as well, so hopefully I’m meeting a need for them.

JB: Can you share some of the highlights that readers can look forward to seeing in the 2008 edition?

GY: There’s a recap of the 2007 season (how the team was assembled, analysis of key games, what effect Petco Park has on the team, etc.), statistical profiles of key players from last year’s squad, an overview of the farm system that includes reports on 70+ players, brief sketches of a few
Padres from decades gone by, a recap of my drive from San Diego to Cooperstown for Tony Gwynn‘s Hall of Fame induction (including stops at six minor-league games), and some reference material—best players in club history by position, a register of all 135 trades Kevin Towers has made as GM broken out by Win Shares, and so forth.

Basically it’s a geekfest for Padres fans and anyone else who is interested in learning way too much about one team.

JB: This is your second Annual … that must mean the first one was pretty successful. Did the response to it exceed your expectations? And did you get any interest from the front office?

GY: It depends on how you define success. In terms of sales, the book didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. In terms of completing the project, learning
from the process, and communicating to decision makers, it enriched me beyond my wildest imagination.

Padres CEO Sandy Alderson wrote the Foreword for the 2007 Annual, and several copies made their way into the front office. We also got some nice exposure from the Padres TV broadcasters. I guess the short answer is that the book wasn’t a best seller, but it’s opened a lot of doors for me.

JB: Do you have some sort of vision for the Ducksnorts Annual in, say, five years time or are you just going to see where it takes you and what it becomes?

GY: I do have a vision, although it’s very fluid. My main goal is to satisfy the cravings of the biggest Padres junkies and maybe get some folks who
don’t know much about the team to learn more about what I think is one of the most interesting organizations in baseball. Going forward, I hate to say it, but a lot depends on sales. For as personally satisfying as it’s been to write these books, they’ll only continue as long as there’s a market.

JB: Putting the whole annual together on your own must be quite challenging. Do you have any help or have you thought about getting other Padre blogs/ fans to contribute?

GY: Yes, it’s challenging; fortunately I have a background in publishing and project management, which has served me well. I also get a great deal of help “behind the scenes”—both Annuals have benefited tremendously from critical readings by several people. I think I had 11 people comb through the 2008 edition. As for actual print contributions from other blogs/fans, I’ve definitely thought about it, pretty much from Day 1.

I have no concrete ideas right now, but there are a lot of folks doing good work in areas that are beyond my reach, and it might be nice to include some of that to get a broader picture. Also, it would give people a break from listening to me all the time. My wife informs me that this would be a significant selling point.

JB: Why are you a Padres fan? And have you followed the team your whole life or was it some sort of Damocles conversion?

GY: People seem to find this amusing, but I grew up in Dodger Blue. As a kid, I fell asleep to the strains of Vin Scully on the radio. One year I
dressed up as Jerry Reuss for Halloween, and I’ll never forget Rick Monday‘s homer off Steve Rogers in ’81.

But that was a long time ago. I moved to San Diego in the late-’80s for college and never left. I gradually started following the Padres more, and by the mid-’90s, the transformation was complete.

As for why I’m a fan, I think it’s mainly because this is my home. It kind of rubs me the wrong way when people who have established themselves in San Diego run around town cheering for some team in another part of the country. They’re like the folks who after 20 years are still complaining that they can’t find good pizza “out here.” My instinct is to give them bus money to go back to wherever it is they’d rather be.

Also I’m fascinated by the way this front office operates. Kevin Towers consistently procures excellent talent despite a relative paucity of resources, Sandy Alderson mentored Billy Beane and is a great baseball mind, Grady Fuson was responsible for some fruitful drafts in Oakland, and everyone (except the Dodgers) seems to want Paul DePodesta.

JB: I read about your trip to the HoF to watch Tony Gwynn inducted. What on earth possessed you to make that trip and what was the number one highlight?

GY: Three things inspired me to make the trip.

(1) With all due respect to Dave Winfield, who enjoyed a terrific career in San Diego and elsewhere, Tony Gwynn is the first lifelong Padre to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Getting myself to Cooperstown was the least I could do.

(2) I hate flying and love road trips.

(3) I’d only been to the HOF once before in my life, in the summer of 1989, when a friend and I drove around the perimeter of the United States in 17 days. I thought it would be fun to recapture some past glory. Or pathetic. One of the two.

The number one highlight absolutely was seeing Gwynn inducted and being a part of that crazy scene. Having Orioles fans come up to me and compliment Gwynn was awesome, too. Obviously I have no claim on Gwynn’s greatness, but the recognition filled me with a sense of civic pride, which probably sounds real corny, but there it is. I also loved meeting fellow Ducksnorters out there. Sharing the experience with friends is something I’ll never forget. And really, the entire trip will remain with me for a long time.

JB: I guess the rise of the Internet has made it much easier to publish books. Services like LuLu mean than anyone who wants to get something published can. I guess the issue is that it is hard to publicize your work. A couple of questions:

(a) Do you have any plans to try to publish the annual more widely?

(b) Is the aim to try to get a mainstream publisher (eg, Acta) to pick up the annual eventually and run with it?

GY: (a) Do you have any plans to try to publish the annual more widely? I’d love to get the book distributed at places like Amazon and in
physical bookstores. At the same time, I imagine that the number of people who want to “geek out” on the Padres is pretty small. I think what I’m really hoping is that people will enjoy the book and then tell their friends about it.

(b) Not necessarily, although I wouldn’t rule out that possibility either. I actually worked in academic publishing for many years, so I’m aware of its advantages and disadvantages. Right now I’m comfortable self-publishing, but I try to keep as many doors open as possible.

JB: Let’s talk about the Padres for a minute. How does the Padres team rate against the 2007 incarnation where you just missed out on the post season?

GY: The ’07 team was one of the best in club history, so we may see some dropoff. That said, it won’t be by much. The core is effectively unchanged, with the big questions being how well Jim Edmonds can hold up playing center field in a very spacious park and whether the back-end of
the rotation can contribute. Mark Prior and Randy Wolf are exciting names, but the truth is, neither has done anything in a long time.

If they can’t get the job done, then you’re looking at guys like Shawn Estes, Justin Germano, Clay Hensley (once he’s healthy), and Glendon Rusch. That’s a sobering thought. Still, I’m expecting 85 or so wins out of this team, which is about the norm since the Padres moved downtown.

JB: How do you see the NL West shaking out given the Haren acquisition by Arizona and LA strengthening?

GY: Arizona, Colorado and San Diego still look to be the class of the division, with the Dodgers closing fast. Long-term, the Diamondbacks are
cause for concern. They’ve got terrific young talent and a management team that knows what it’s doing. They could give the entire National League headaches before long.

JB: I guess the Annual is aimed squarely at Padres fans. Is there any reason why followers of other teams should buy the Annual?

GY: Fans of other NL West teams could get to know their enemy a little better. Fantasy players would benefit also from the player commentaries
and minor-league coverage. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but I like to believe that any student of baseball would enjoy the road trip to Cooperstown and the Kevin Towers trade register. The book is definitely aimed at Padres fans, but I expect it to have a broader appeal as well.

JB: San Diego has been rumored to be a potential destination for Barry Bonds (but less so since his indictment). What would be the reaction in San Diego if that happened?

GY: First, it’s important to remember that these rumors have originated from well outside the city, by people who might not fully appreciate the relationship between San Diego and Bonds. Second, I don’t see any way he could hope to cover left field at Petco Park.

As for fan reaction, my guess is that it would be awkward at best. The only time the standing-room-only area beyond the left field fence is closed is when Bonds comes to town. What happens if he’s here everyday, does the team make that area permanently unavailable for their own left fielder’s protection?

Personally I’m not sure how I would respond. I’ve actively booed two players in my adult life: Hideki Irabu for comparing San Diego to an internment camp and Bobby Chouinard for allegedly beating his wife. I don’t think that I’d boo Bonds if he played here. I’d probably just stop going to games until he left.

JB: As for the future you mentioned that Arizona is building a strong team. Do you think there is enough depth in the Padres’ farm system to compete or do you think the team will have to expand payroll? And if they do what is the appetite in the front office for that?

GY: There’s a surprising amount of depth in the Padres farm system right now. What the organization lacks is top-end talent. Beyond three or four guys, there just aren’t any impact players down there. I think the Padres have done a nice job in recent years of restocking what had become a barren system, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them adopt a more aggressive drafting strategy.

As for payroll, I don’t see this front office expanding it for the sake of expanding it, i.e., keeping up with the Joneses. My guess is that they’ll continue to try and sign/trade for guys that the market undervalues, e.g., Josh Bard, Heath Bell, Adrian Gonzalez, Cla Meredith, Chris Young. Last time I checked, only one player (Doug Mirabelli) used to acquire those five guys is still on his
club’s 40-man roster.

So, I guess the incentive to expand payroll would be if the current plan of spending wisely stopped working. But I think the hope is that with smart people making the decisions, that won’t happen.

JB: Before we wrap up I have to take a leaf out of Chris Jaffe’s book and ask you some non-baseball related questions. In your opinion, what’s the greatest rock’n’roll album of all time?

GY: This is an impossible question to answer. Last 15-20 years, I’ll say Radiohead, “OK, Computer”; before that, probably something by the Beatles or Hendrix, maybe Zappa.

JB: What’s the most overrated movie you’ve ever seen?

GY: Being John Malkovich.

JB: Do you have any non-sports related hobbies?

GY:I played guitar and sang badly in rock bands for many years. I enjoy Science Fiction and cooking, though not necessarily together.

JB: Do you have any personal TV guilty pleasures?

GY: Food Network and Myth Busters.

JB: What’s your dream car? What’s the dream car you can reasonably afford?

GY:One that runs on air and requires no maintenance whatsoever. Failing that, a Saturn.

JB: What do you like on your pizza?

GY: Pepperoni and mushrooms.

JB: And I have to ask, why is Ducksnorts called Ducksnorts?

GY: I heard Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek use the term during a White Sox telecast on WGN some years ago and thought it sounded funny. Also, it fit well with my vision of a web site providing information that fell between the cracks of mainstream media outlets.

From a branding standpoint, it’s kind of a disaster because it has absolutely nothing to do with the Padres, but when I first started Ducksnorts in 1997, its focus was much broader than it is today. Plus I had about three readers back then, so branding wasn’t exactly a priority. The name still makes me laugh, so I guess it serves a useful purpose.

And that’s a wrap

A big thanks to Geoff for agreeing to the interview. If you want to get your paws on a copy of the Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual (and believe me you do), then order it here.

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