Looking back, the heyday of the Dodger Thoughts commenting section at Baseball Toaster was relatively brief. It’s been nearly 19 years since I founded Dodger Thoughts, but the Toaster era only accounts for four of them, from 2005 when I migrated from All-Baseball.com to 2009 when I left for the Los Angeles Times.  

But those four years, man, they were amazing.

I honestly think during that period, there was no better online chat anywhere in the world than on the Toaster. A good deal of credit needs to go to Ken Arneson, who created a platform that was so welcoming and user-friendly for readers to share their thoughts about issues large and small — with the small ones usually carrying the day. For my part, I did try to nurture that community, trying to keep the conversation constructive even in challenging or tension-riddle times, and backing it up with the good ol’ guidelines … 

Thank You For Not …
1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
7) using sarcasm in a way that can be misinterpreted negatively
8) making the same point over and over again
9) typing “no-hitter” or “perfect game” to describe either in progress
10) being annoyed by the existence of this list
11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn’t allowed when it’s just being disagreed with

There was also an unwritten Rule 13, which I can’t say here because it’s unwritten, but if people violated it I would let them know they had violated Rule 13.

It got to the point where the site would get a thousand comments a day with moderate moderation — occasional troublemakers who were warned or banned as needed. It was about as close to a utopia as I think you could find online, and I felt like I was the mayor. It was truly gratifying. 

It also led to hubris. When I got offers to turn pro with Dodger Thoughts, I assumed the community would make the leap with me. Much as I worried about replicating the community at the Los Angeles Times, in the face of technological limitations there, I was confident that if I brought over my personality and principles to the Times, the community would follow me.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. All the kismet that made Toaster magic seemed to vanish. The commenting program was far less user-friendly, and just interfacing at the Times seemed to demoralize what had been a wide-ranging, bon vivant chat. My community became a shell of what it was. A year later, I migrated to ESPN.com hoping that I could somehow recapture the magic, but it was gone for good. Like a diaspora, they all migrated elsewhere, to places like True Blue L.A., Dodgers Digest and others, which in turn grew their own communities, and it was never the same at Dodger Thoughts again.

Life goes on — a guy has to make a living, so I tried not to spend too much time second-guessing myself, but I did feel I had cut off my nose to spite my face a bit. It took some of the joy out of blogging about the Dodgers — not the majority of it, but some. I liked being the mayor. I loved being in a comfortable place to converse with friends and strangers who would become friends. I tried recapturing that feeling from time to time – with Facebook Live, with a bit of podcasting, with a return to a humble independent website, but it never came back.

About 10 days ago, I first heard about this thing called Clubhouse. As is the case with a lot of technology for me, it exists for months and months and months before I know about it, and then I hear three different people on the same day talking about it. As of three days ago, I still didn’t really know what it was, but it’s basically an iPhone app that hosts chat rooms where people actually chat — they talk instead of type, all audio, no typing or video. Anyone can start a room, but you can arrange it so everyone is equal. 

So after becoming a member of Clubhouse on Sunday (quick note about this later in the post), I decided to try it out. On Monday night, I tweeted that I would be doing a Dodger Thoughts room Tuesday evening on Clubhouse and invited people to come. About a dozen showed up over the hour, and I have to say, it was great — even more fun than I thought it might be.  It was the first thing since before the Times that seemed to capture the Baseball Toaster vibe I had lost.

I talked a lot, first to get the conversation going (not unlike a blog post I would write above a comment thread) and also because it’s easy for me to talk about the Dodgers and then maybe branch out into other things — we ended up talking about The Brady Bunch by the end of it. Some people mostly lurked, but everyone who wanted to speak could jump in without a problem. 

I’m already looking forward to doing it again. As you can see at the top of this post, I’ve scheduled another Dodger Thoughts Community Chat for the upcoming Tuesday at 7 p.m., and if this goes well, we’ll keep going. 

So how do you sign up for Clubhouse? This isn’t something I really want to get into the weeds here about — the app isn’t mine, to be sure — but I’ll give some key bullet points: 

  • Clubhouse is still a new enough technology that it’s not available for everyone yet. You can only access it through an iPhone, not another type of phone or even via an Internet browser. 
  • Technically, you need an invitation from an existing member to join. That said, I didn’t have one. I downloaded the app, signed in to reserve my screen name (jonweisman) and planned to wait for an invitation. But what seems to happen is that existing members who are connected to you (through Twitter, for example) can wave you in, and just like that, I became a Clubhouse member. 
  • Fair warning: Operating a little like a roach motel, Clubhouse apparently makes it extremely challenging to delete your account if you decide you don’t want to be part of the service. 

If you have more questions, I can try to answer them, but know that I’m not an expert. For the meantime, we’ll see if this becomes something that can revive a bit of the fun we used to have here at Dodger Thoughts.  Hope to see some of you there …