Aaron Gleeman was rejected by the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota's prestigious student newspaper, nine times before dropping out of college, so it was "a little weird," he said, when he was invited back to campus in October to speak to a sports journalism class made up mostly of Daily sports staffers.
"The only really helpful advice I had for [the students] was to do everything," he said. "Learn how to read a teleprompter, go learn how to shoot video, learn how to edit audio and go do a podcast ... because I'm such a good example of that. The thing I thought I was going to do, I've literally never done once, and some of the stuff I've been most successful at, I didn't even know what it was when I first started doing it."
The 30-year-old Minnetonka writer stands out as one of the first sports writers to independently cultivate a massive audience online. He founded his website, AaronGleeman.com, on Aug. 1, 2002, and it will soon surpass 10 million unique visitors. He's also approaching the 100th episode on a podcast he co-hosts with fellow Twins blogger John Bonnes. The podcast, called "Gleeman and the Geek," averages 10,000 to 12,000 downloads per episode and has spawned an hourlong radio show on Sunday afternoons on the sports talk station KFAN 100.3.
"Aaron was a very refreshing voice, because when he started, there wasn't a saturation of statistically minded baseball analysts who could both be a fan of the team and critical of the team at the same time, and that's something everyone has come to expect now," said Craig Calcaterra, who runs the Hardball Talk blog with Gleeman on NBCSports.com.
Gleeman launched his blog after his freshman year at the University of Minnesota. He had just been rejected by the Daily for the first time and needed an outlet for his daily musings on the Twins.
"His posts used to be so long that we invented an adjective for it — 'Gleemanic,'" said Bonnes. "A Gleemanic post would be 2,000 words on the Twins' second-base situation, or something like that, so he's always had that passion you need to be a successful blogger."
As his online audience grew, Gleeman began devoting more time to blogging and less time to schoolwork. He sat in the back and fell asleep in class because he was staying up all night working online, and his professors assumed he was hung over and uninterested, he said. Rotoworld, a fantasy sports site, started giving him lots of work, and eventually he dropped out to write for the site full-time.
After he had written for a few years for Rotoworld (and a smattering of other online sites), NBC Sports bought Rotoworld, and Gleeman helped launch its Hardball Talk blog, which he is still writing for. His dream job of becoming a Twins beat reporter was long dead, but in its place he had found something he was quite good at.
"In all fairness, I think I probably wouldn't have been a great reporter, although I certainly would've tried and put in tons of work," he said. "It's just that I'm not excited about calling somebody, getting quotes, going to practices. ... I'm more of a hermit. I like to react to stuff, then sit down and bang out 900 words on it," said Gleeman.
Opening up to his readers
In addition to enjoying his sports insights, many readers connect with Gleeman through his ability to open up about his personal problems. In a post entitled "How I lost 150 pounds in one year," he wrote about his struggles with obesity and the depression it created. In March of 2011, he resolved to change that, and he went from 355 pounds to 202 pounds in 366 days.
His sense of humor is self-deprecating at times and he often references his introverted nature and difficulty with girls on his blog. Paul Allen, who has Gleeman on his KFAN radio show as a weekly guest, launched a "Girls Gone Gleeman" dating segment last summer where various women vied for a chance to go out on a date with him at the Minnesota State Fair.
However, in person and on the radio, Gleeman is funny, outgoing and loquacious.
"Sometimes I wonder if he's not as shy as he thinks he is, and I wonder if the self-effacing thing is more part of his brand ... but either way, he's a heck of a nice guy," said Keith Moyer, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication and former Star Tribune publisher. Moyer invited Gleeman to speak to the sports journalism class last fall, and he plans on inviting Gleeman back again next fall.
Taking it to the next level?
Gleeman has experienced a lot of increased media exposure over the last few years. He still runs AaronGleeman.com, writes for NBCSports.com, hosts a short weekly radio show, has a half-hour weekly guest spot on another radio show, co-hosts a weekly podcast, contributes to MinnPost and has been a guest on MLB TV, all of which he does during constant tweeting to his more than 16,000 Twitter followers.
"He does such a good job of covering the Twin Cities baseball market, I and others have wondered if he should focus more on carving out a national name for himself," Moyer said. "There's potential for Aaron to take it to the next level, but he would have to want to do it and realize that things would have to change a bit."
For now, Gleeman says he's content to keep blogging and podcasting and let the opportunities come to him.
"Anything I've done, I've stumbled into," said Gleeman. "When Paul Allen has me on the radio, he doesn't have to explain to the audience what I do, he can just say, 'NBCSports.com' and everyone knows, which is huge."
Ben Johnson • 612-673-4499