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The Dugout, also known as "The Official Chat Room of Major League Baseball", is a parody website that satirizes various elements of Major League Baseball. Presented in the style of AOL Instant Messenger chat logs, Dugout pages depict conversations between two or more MLB personalities, often commenting on topical events in the game, news events, or general character arcs. The series' distinct (and often blue) humor has made it a hit with the blog community and younger fans, as well as more traditional baseball supporters.
The Dugout began as a column posted in 2004 on the general humor site Progressive Boink, written in the style of ESPN writer Peter Gammons, that made fun of the debacle over whether Derek Jeter or the newly-acquired Alex Rodriguez would play shortstop for the New York Yankees in the 2005 season. At the time, the chat parody was only a small part of the column, which spent most of its time displaying a The Sims-based situation where Jeter and Rodriguez were living together and possibly in a homosexual relationship.
Positive feedback from readers encouraged Progressive Boink to give The Dugout a regular place at the site, which they did starting in the winter of 2004. What started as a small section of the website quickly became one of its (if not the) biggest attractions, registering thousands of new hits daily. Three of the Progressive Boink staff writers (Nick Dallamora, Jon Bois, and Brandon Stroud) devoted most of their efforts to the new site, which was soon after shuffled to its own web address--wordupthome.com, taking its name after one of the most popular characters, Jim Thome's, screen name. A fourth staff writer, Mike Westfall, designed the site and served as technical administrator.
As time went by, the site became its own, heavily self-referential culture and domain. Characters were developed, side stories would often be created in the offseason, and a growing number of players, managers or other baseball people would stop being "normal" and would be given definable character traits or speaking styles, such as those listed below. A merchandise site opened in 2006, allowing Dugout fans to buy shirts with their favorite player's number and team colors on it, but instead of their real name on the back, it would have their Dugout "screen name."
The ever-growing community surrounding The Dugout attracted interest from across the blogosphere, and it would only be a matter of time before it would be brought to a wider stage. In March 2007, the first Dugout column appeared on AOL's FanHouse blog, about San Diego pitcher David Wells having to forsake beer due to having type II diabetes. Dallamora, Bois and Stroud would later agree to move The Dugout from Progressive Boink to the highly popular FanHouse for a "sizable sum" of money; however, they would have to bowdlerize the columns, deleting some of the humor that had become, in some minds, The Dugout's trademark. Several more chats appeared on the AOL-run site during spring training: however, for most of the 2007 season, all new Dugout columns appeared on "P-Boi". That changed on September 17, 2007, when the first regular-season Dugout was posted to the FanHouse blog. The introduction could not have come at a better time: it dealt with Jim Thome's entry into the 500 home run club. As a farewell to their old site, The Dugout's editors presented a 19-part series entitled "The Awesome, The Stupid and the More Stupid", in which popular site characters Kyle Farnsworth, Bill Pecota, and the Young brothers Dmitri and Delmon fought to save baseball from the evil clutches of player agent Scott Boras and Royals owner David Glass.
The Dugout posts are presented in the style of a chat on AIM (except for chats involving the Cleveland Indians, who use "Wahoo! Messenger"), including hosts, moderators (of which there was only one, player Mike Sweeney), screen names and profile pictures. All profile pictures are player (or otherwise) headshots, and usually link to information about that player, person or thing. Sources of information include sites such as baseball-reference.com or ESPN.com for players, IMDb for films and television shows, or Wikipedia for older players or baseball executives. Screen names are often puns on the player's name, and often try to work in some reference to popular culture.
The site's humor, especially in the Progressive Boink days, would often tend towards adult topics including what some saw as racist, homophobic or otherwise offensive material, not to mention the liberal use of profanity. However, an astute reader would be able to point out that the humor was not specifically offensive to any specific group, and that almost all characters on the site were broad parodies of their actual personalities.
Especially as the site began to become more of a community, some viewers said that its jokes had become almost incomprehensible to the new reader, who would often have to pore through the site's vast archives to understand a particular character trait. This complaint became even more noticeable after the move to The FanHouse, where some believed that its style would fall on deaf ears.
Depictions of players
As MLB's 30 teams have a combined total of over 700 players, plus a large number of personnel, it is only natural that The Dugout would focus and make characters out of players and executives. Below are a description of some of these characters and their traits:
- Jim Thome (screen name: WordUpThome, a play on the phrase "Word up, homie"), Los Angeles Dodgers pinch hitter/first baseman
A big man with an equally big heart, Thome is depicted as a "loveable lummox." An eternal optimist with a somewhat childlike innocence, his posts are typed in all capital letters, often feature malapropisms, and occasionally unfinished, especially his first name ("HEY THIS IS JI", "JIM THOME").
- Kyle Farnsworth (pr0FF3ss0r_F4rnsw0rth, referencing both Leetspeak and Futurama character Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth), Kansas City Royals relief pitcher
Known for his role in several bench-clearing brawls, Farnsworth's Dugout character is ignorant, egotistical and vulgar, to the point that other characters have pointed out those traits, including his habit of calling players racial slurs for the wrong race. He types in all lowercase, with frequent misspellings and use of chat speak. Farnsworth has been the subject of a number of side stories, including a journey to fight the character King Triton from Disney's The Little Mermaid when the Dugout "upgraded" to AIM Triton, and an Animal House-style attempt to watch the United States women's national softball team sleepover with then-fellow New York Yankees reliever Scott Proctor (DoctorProctor}, which got them both hurt, but enabled Farnsworth to start an oft-troubled "relationship" with pitcher Cat Osterman (Gato). Farnsworth is considered to be the most popular Dugout character.
- Bill Pecota (PECOTA, a nod to the sabermetric statistic named after him), former Royals utility infielder
Introduced as the "protector of baseball's innocence," PECOTA is a mystical, godlike character (most recently depicted as Dr. Manhattan with the Royals hat logo on his forehead) who rides a powerful, seemingly self-aware motorcycle (the Royals Chopper, which Pecota, himself, commissioned from Orange County Choppers in real life) on a quest to bring his former club back to form. He is commonly seen advising the Royals' personnel or assisting players on the team. However, his schemes are often thwarted by team owner David Glass (whineglass), who was shown as an evil, demonlike overlord who only wishes to profit before his character was killed off in 2007 during the Dugout's push to the FanHouse. PECOTA speaks in a heroic cadence — for example, "THIS! WILL NOT STAND!" — and uses flowery speech. The constant appearance of the Royals in the Dugout is a product of writer Jon Bois, a Kansas City native and Royals fan.
Originally shown as a naive man-child while with the Boston Red Sox, Ramirez's speech and mannerisms were very childish. He was devoted to cartoons and candy, and was often seen playing with toys (even using second base as a Sit 'n Spin), playing "spies" with then-teammate Jonathan Papelbon (KingofPap), despite "not knowing what spies do." Many of his posts ended with some pun on his trademark phrase, "Manny being Manny." For example, after getting a new video game system and hitting himself on the head with the controller, he proclaims, "manny wii'ng manny." Upon being traded to the Dodgers, Ramirez's character changed dramatically, becoming arrogant and using correct spelling and grammar, and resembling wrestler Hollywood Hulk Hogan, complete with Dodger blue sunglasses and a feather boa. He treats his Dodger teammates with disdain, going so far as to ban Andre Ethier (EthierOr) from watching his beloved The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and being hit on by Brad Penny (Pennywise), who said Ramirez was "so famous I'd want to date you," in reference to Penny's relationships with actresses Alyssa Milano and Eliza Dushku. However after Ned Colletti threw a sandbag out the window and hit Manny in the head with it, he reverted to his old form and watched some Fresh Prince with Ethier before e-mailing Papelbon to ask if "u wan play spies".
- Dmitri and Delmon Young (SteakGrowsOnDmitri, or "The meat tree"; and DudeYerGettinADelmon, a reference to an ad campaign for Dell computers), real-life brothers who play for the Washington Nationals and Minnesota Twins, respectively
The Brothers Young are depicted as heavy hip-hop stereotypes, peppering their speech with expletives and having violent run-ins with a recurring female police officer (LadyCop). They are often seen fighting over snack food, in particular Fruit by the Foot, and are heavy users of marijuana, which got them into trouble during the Dugout story angle, "The Awesome, The Stupid and The More Stupid."
- Alex Rodriguez (ster_rod, formerlye5_rod, a combination of his nickname, "A-Rod," and the scoring shorthand for an error by a third baseman), New York Yankees third baseman
Shown as a flamboyant homosexual (His pre-FanHouse screen name, homosexual_rod, was a play on the derogatory nickname Gay-Rod), Rodriguez is often despondent about his relationship with teammate Derek Jeter (JetersNeverProsper, formerly JeterJeterPumpkinEater), who is shown as the much more serious comic foil of the couple. Rodriguez types in all caps, like Thome, and also in the written style of a heavy Latina accent (Farnsworth once called him "a gay boricua"), but with a small quirk: He types his nickname, "A-Rod", as "aRAH," as the Caps Lock feature on most keyboards reverses the function of the Shift key. After it was revealed Rodriguez had used steroids, his screen came was changed to "ster_rod".
- Albert Pujols (PujolJunkie, a play on "Pool Hall Junkie"), St. Louis Cardinals All-Star first baseman
Shown as fairly normal among the colorful Dugout cast, Pujols' quirk is his Dominican accent, prefacing many words with the letter "e"; for example, "Will you pitch the ball?" becomes "will you pitch e'ball," and "yes" is spelled as "e'yase." Despite this, Pujols' character is respected as one of best players in baseball and a prominent "straight man," alongside Cal Ripken, Jr. (CalJr2131, in reference to his record-breaking consecutive game streak) and David Ortiz (OrtizItThisOne, "Or is it this one?").
Willis' trademark Dugout quote, "ya trade the Train and ya trade ya brain," sums up his character well: A man with a very high opinion of himself, who believes that all his team's success is attributable to him, and if he were to leave, the club would collapse without their biggest star. Like Manny Ramirez, puns of Willis' signature quote have been frequently used as punchlines.
- Pete Rose (charlie_hustle, his real-life nickname as a player), former Cincinnati Reds All-Star who was banned from baseball for gambling
A well-meaning but ultimately bumbling man with a gambling problem, most of Rose's appearances end after another character says a pun of the statement, "You have engaged in a variety of acts that have stained the game, and you now must live with the consequences of those acts," the closing statement from the John Dowd Report that banned Rose from baseball for life. To add levity, Rose has been placed in situations involving a hip-hop artist, a professional wrestler and the film The Crying Game.
- Ken Griffey, Jr. (elijah_price, referencing Samuel L. Jackson's character from the film Unbreakable), Seattle Mariners outfielder
Griffey made his Dugout debut in a story arc based on the film Unbreakable as Samuel L. Jackson's character "Elijah Price," a frail, injury-prone man, mocking Griffey's injury-riddled career. His character is frequently hurt in situations that would seem otherwise harmless. He has broken his finger while typing, been injured with a baseball traveling 0.45 mph, and fractured his tailbone when he let door hit him on the way out of a room.
- Ryan Howard (InTheMidnightHoward, a play on the line "In the midnight hour"), Philadelphia Phillies All-Star first baseman
Howard's character is occasionally subjected to the same circumstances that befell a similarly-named character on the TV series The Office. This started in 2006, when the Phillies briefly sent Howard down to AAA, then based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is also the setting of the TV show. Howard's character has had a relationship with Kelly Kapoor (SpicyCurry), was the object of Michael Scott's (Michael_Scarn) man-crush, and won the "Dundie" award for National League MVP, while Office characters Pam Beesly and Jim Halpert stared "awkwardly at each other. For, like, ever."
As the site's popularity grew, the Dugout's writers have begun to use their style to parody other sources of popular entertainment. The first Dugout spinoff came in October 2007, when The Village Voice asked the site's editors to parody music via fictionalized chats. The resulting project, called iVoice, featured musical artists of all stripes, such as Radiohead discussing their decision to sell their album In Rainbows for a variable price and Regina Spektor consulting Soulja Boy Tell 'Em as to why her records do not sell, despite similar lyrical quirks. One month later came a vintage series of chats, which Bois produced due to his involvement in an Internet-based version of the Strat-o-Matic baseball card game. Also that December came Football Guys, an NFL-based spinoff hosted on the highly popular sports blog Deadspin. Since beginning work on FanHouse, the Dugout writers have begun writing liveblogs of select baseball games under the banner of "Baseball Is Boring", and analyzing Wikipedia articles of players via "The Dugout's Wikipedia Report".