Meet Daniel R. Epstein, an internet baseball writer and podcaster helping to give a louder voice to others like him, as the co-director of Internet Baseball Writers of America.
Once upon a time, I had a baseball blog.
Well, actually, I had multiple baseball blogs…or attempted blogs. Since rediscovering my love of writing around 2008, I attempted to create numerous baseball blogs, before getting bored writing about how awful the Mets were.
There was, “The Last Row” on MLBlogs. Then I was a “Featured Columnist” for the Mets in the early days of Bleacher Report. Then there was Spit Balls, Almost Hall of Fame, and finally The Nose Bleed Section.
What I discovered was, while I love baseball, I also love lots of other things and have plenty of other interests. Writing about baseball was great, but I’d get bored because I just wanted to write about so much more. I didn’t like feeling boxed in.
It was my last iteration of my baseball blog, The Nose Bleed Section, where I discovered the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, or IBWAA. It was a group originally created by writer Howard Cole to be an alternative to the official Baseball Writers Association of America, a group that never made room for internet writers, despite an ever shifting focus on digital media.
The group was easy to get in, inclusive, and fun. We had our own awards and Hall of Fame voting, and many times, in my opinion, we were much more in touch with how baseball fans viewed our nation’s pastime (like putting both Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in our Hall of Fame, or awarding Corey Kluber the 2016 Cy Young award over Rick Porcello).
I joined the IBWAA in 2016, and even after I went from writing about baseball regularly to writing about baseball occasionally, my membership was never in jeopardy. More importantly, I met some great people, read some really great articles, and realized just how informed and savvy baseball fans who wrote about the sport could be.
Not long after I joined, however, Howard Cole announced that he wanted to pass the torch to some new blood. Having created the IBWAA in 2009, Cole wanted to move on, but to his credit, held on until he felt the organization would be left in the proper hands.
Personally, I worried what would happen next. I loved what the IBWAA stood for, and worried that would all change with new ownership.
Well, earlier this year, it happened, when Daniel R. Epstein and Jonathan Becker took the reigns of the IBWAA. While they did make changes, they listened to the membership, and expanded on the original values set forth by Howard Cole. Today, the IBWAA continues to only get better, so it felt only right that I had the new leadership here in The 10 Spot.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Daniel R. Epstein, co-director of the IBWAA.
The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, or IBWAA, was created in 2009 by Howard Cole. He had shown interest in passing the torch in recent years but nothing materialized, until you guys took it over earlier this year. Were you members prior to running the organization? What are some of the things you’ve worked on that may have led you to becoming co-directors of the IBWAA?
Daniel: I first started writing about baseball in before the 2017 season and joined the IBWAA later that year, so I’ve been a member for a little while now. I’m not sure exactly what “prepared” me to do this, and I still don’t feel totally prepared, I guess, but I do have some similar experiences in my background. I’m a teacher in my day job as well as president of my county labor association, representing over 7,000 educators. I’ve also been involved with several political campaigns as an organizer or campaign manager. I think having worked with people in those roles and learning how to set goals with detailed action plans carries over to the IBWAA.
As far as why we took over the IBWAA, it’s because we enjoy it and we feel like we can do some good for the baseball community. Writing is my favorite “downtime” activity, which is why I started doing it in the first place. That’s still true today, even though it’s more of a side job than downtime these days. More importantly, I really love the baseball writing community and I’m grateful to play some small part in it. We wanted to run the IBWAA because we saw an opportunity to uplift the members of that community and bring people together a little more while helping them promote themselves. That’s really what we’re all about.
In less than a year, you guys have made plenty of positive changes to the IBWAA. Things like Here’s The Pitch, the IBWAA newsletter, and Baseball Writers, the IBWAA podcast. What other changes have you implemented, and have you seen an increased or renewed interest from IBWAA members with these changes? Are there more changes or additions on the horizon?
Daniel: It’s definitely been a busy eight months! We’re really proud of the newsletter and podcast because those directly highlight our members and their work, and the newsletter gives our members an opportunity to write original content and get paid a little bit. We also started regular Zoom meetings on various baseball topics which is a lot of fun and allows for some natural networking.
I’m particularly excited about the partnership we’ve developed with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The impact SABR has had on our collective understanding of baseball is immeasurable, and it’s so cool to be working with them. We’re one of the sites hosting the SABR Analytics Awards voting early next year, which is one of my favorite events on the baseball calendar.
Other than that, there’s been a lot of backend work, such as redesigning the website and a bunch of bookkeeping stuff that no one really sees. We also took time to survey our members when we first took over to guide the direction of the association. We’re looking at some of the functions of the IBWAA that predate us and putting our own spin on them, such as awards/Hall of Fame voting and our social media presence. We want to create new voting opportunities as well (voting is fun!) that might have to do with honoring baseball content creators and contributors, preseason predictions, All-Stars, things like that. We’ll see how much capacity we have and how much our members are interested.
IBWAA creator Howard Cole was never given membership to the BBWAA, despite writing for Sports Illustrated and Forbes, amongst other media outlets. He made it a point for the IBWAA to be welcoming and accepting to those who wanted to join. Not only have you guys continued that, you’ve expanded on it. How important is it to you that the IBWAA continue to be inclusive to everyone who feels they belong?
Daniel: I believe the two associations serve complementary purposes, not competing. The BBWAA is very exclusive by necessity of the functions they serve for their members, and that’s fine. The IBWAA is happy to have anyone who wants to join us. We’re pretty up front about what we’re all about, which is spelled out clearly on the front page of IBWAA.com. If you think IBWAA membership is worthwhile for yourself, we’re thrilled to have you. It’s that simple.
One of the “good” problems we’ve experienced is that we’ve sort of outgrown our name. Baseball looks a lot different than it did when Howard founded the IBWAA in 2009. Now it’s more like this:
Internet (or wherever else you produce content)
Baseball (usually, but also other topics)
Writers (and podcasters, broadcasters, YouTubers, Twitch streamers, bloggers, authors, reporters, and other mediums we don’t even know about)
Association (this one’s still good)
of America (and Canada, Central and South America, East Asia, Europe, Australia, and anywhere else people love baseball)
As you can see, we’re trying to make sure everyone knows they’re welcome and that the IBWAA can be for them, too, even if they aren’t classically or exclusively a writer, don’t live in America, or cover baseball beyond MLB.
The IBWAA has its own votes for yearly baseball awards, as well as it’s own vote for the Hall of Fame. I’ve been voting in these since I became a member in 2016, and one thing I’ve noticed is, for the most part, the yearly awards are usually similar to that of the official awards handed out by the BBWAA. The Hall of Fame voting, on the other hand, has at times differed greatly. Most notably, the IBWAA has already elected Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, while the BBWAA have yet to enshrine the two biggest names associated with baseball’s steroid era. Why do you think there is such a difference in opinion there, and do you think we will ever see Bonds and Clemens in Cooperstown?
Daniel: I think there are a few reasons why the IBWAA already inducted Bonds and Clemens whereas the BBWAA has not. One of them might be that we allow up to twelve selections on the ballot and the BBWAA only allows ten, but that’s probably not the main deterrent. I doubt Bonds and Clemens are anyone’s 11th and 12th place picks. I would guess our voter base trends younger and reflects the feelings of fans more than players and MLB officials. We don’t have as many people who submit blank ballots, I suppose. Perhaps it just comes down to BBWAA members vote out of privilege but also obligation, while it’s more voluntary for IBWAA members. Then again, maybe it’s just random variation in the two different electorates.
What is the greatest baseball game you ever attended in person? Who is the greatest player you got to see play in person?
Daniel: The most memorable games I ever attended were part of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium in 1995 when I was 12. Mike Stanley belted three home runs in the first game, then Darryl Strawberry hit his first homer as a Yankee in the nightcap. Ironically, Cleveland won both games. Honorable mention is when Marcus Thames took peak Randy Johnson deep in his first major league plate appearance in 2002. No one in the stands had any idea who this guy was, wearing #18 and trotting around the bases!
The greatest player I ever saw in person is pretty easy: Mike Trout. I watched him hit a home run in Houston in 2019. I also saw Barry Bonds at Shea Stadium in 1999 (I think?), but he was obviously on the downside of his career at that point… or so we thought!
Is it possible to make a ” pro-Harold Baines belongs in the Hall” argument? If so, let’s hear it.
I wrote an article at Baseball.FYI a few days ago about the dumbest Hall of Fame arguments, and one of them was about “If… Then…” statements. For example, if Jim Rice is in the Hall, why not Matt Holliday? The answer is that neither of them belong, and there are a whole lot of inexplicable Hall of Famers. Anyway, someone replied to the article on Twitter and said he knew someone on the Veterans Committee that inducted Baines. The main reason was that Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Famer and Baines had 600 more hits. Take that story with a grain of salt, but if true, it’s diqualifyingly stupid on several levels. Baines is supposedly a great guy, and I’m happy for him, but he has no business in the Hall. (If I can plug something, Baseball.FYI is a free weekly baseball newsletter. There is literally no good reason not to subscribe!).
I’m a Mets fan. I grew up the only Mets fan in a family full of Yankees fans. Please tell me Steve Cohen is going to turn the Mets around and make NYC a Mets town.
Daniel: Steve Cohen is going to turn the Mets around. That’s the best I can give you. Cohen is a pretty reprehensible human being, so I chafe a little at all the hero worship, but he looks like he’ll probably be a good baseball owner. That’s a HUGE improvement over the Wilpons of course, but making NYC a Mets town is a tall task. He may deliver the Mets to glory, but I doubt he can sink the Yankees low enough to bring back the 80’s.
You guys have expanded the IBWAA into a podcast. Any other IBWAA sponsored podcasts in the works? Any plans on doing anything with video, like maybe a YouTube channel?
Daniel: Those are all ideas we’ve talked about. It’s all possible. We would have to think about the best way to do that and we try to be deliberate before jumping into things because we want them to work. If that does happen, I doubt it will be me or Jonathan hosting because we’re already stretched about as thin as we can get, but we haven’t been shy about reaching out to members for help. We’ll see!
Would you rather be a respected player from the early part of the 20th century who made the Hall of Fame, but didn’t make great money and had to work after retiring, or a PED user from the steroid era who retired with generational wealth, but fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year?
Daniel: That’s an interesting question. I could spend all day on this one! There are some presuppositions that play important factors. Let’s start with the respectable early 20th century HOFer. I’m Cy Young or Christy Mathewson. Those guys had no idea there would be a Hall of Fame someday. The Hall didn’t open until 1936. I don’t know how much it mattered to Young, who was destitute at the time. It certainly didn’t matter to Mathewson, who died in 1925. This kind of illustrates my biggest issue: a lot of those dudes didn’t lead very pleasant lives and life expectancy was pretty low. By today’s standards, there wasn’t a great quality of life. Mathewson dealt with mustard gas poisoning in World War I and spent most of his final years in a tuberculosis sanitarium. I don’t know what that is exactly, but I don’t want to live in a time period in which it exists.
Besides, “respectable” is a relative term. There was no one more “respectable” than Kenesaw Mountain Landis at the time, but he was a vicious racist who delayed integration for two decades almost single-handedly. There were plenty of ways to cheat back then that were just as bad as PEDs if not worse. See Scandal, Black Sox.
Now let’s look at the modern PED user. There’s a lot of variability here, too. Mark McGwire grew up in suburban California, attended USC, and played in the Olympics. All that happened before he made a dollar off of baseball, but even if he hadn’t, he probably would’ve been relatively okay, albeit not nearly as rich as he is now. Sammy Sosa grew up in incomprehensible poverty in the Dominican Republic. Baseball wasn’t just his ticket off the island, it completely changed his family’s life. Presumably, he used it to give back to his community. Does that make it okay to cheat at baseball for Sosa? For McGwire? Maybe and maybe not, but I think if the choice was between abject poverty and millions of dollars, most of us would have done the same thing Sosa did.
Putting wealth, career, and legacy aside, I would easily rather be the modern PED user, mostly because of the time period. I don’t mind hard work, but I’ve grown too accustomed to modern conveniences like antibiotics, HVAC systems, electric guitars, and the Internet. Call me spoiled.
Baseball is more about swinging for the fences than ever before, and it looks like that’s not going to change anytime soon. With that in mind, how do you think Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs would be viewed if they came up today? Would they still be Hall of Famers, or would do you think they would have had to change their game to stay on the field?
Daniel: They almost certainly would have changed their game to some extent and hit for more power. How much more? I don’t know, but opposing teams wouldn’t have let them hit .350 every year by slapping the ball in the third base hole. They’d have shifted the infield over and taken away a few hits. I still believe they’d be Hall of Famers though. Gwynn and Boggs had elite, elite hitting skills. The game had changed by the time Ichiro came to America, but that didn’t stop him from being who he was. D.J. LeMahieu had a very Boggs/Gwynn type season in 2020 and was an MVP finalist. In 2014, José Altuve hit .341 with seven home runs and 56 stolen bases. In 2019, he hit .298 with 31 home runs and six steals. Those two Altuve seasons are probably the ends of the spectrum of where modern Gwynn and Boggs would perform, but that’s pretty special no matter how you cut it.