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SSTN Interviews Daniel R. Epstein, Co-Director of IBWAA

SSTN: Today we are here with Daniel R. Epstein who writes for Baseball Prospectus, Off the Bench Baseball, and Bronx Pinstripes. He is Co-Director of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. He is also an elementary special education teacher and President of the Somerset County Education Association.

Welcome to SSTN. We’re glad to have you here.

Please begin by telling us about the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (of which I am a proud member).

The IBWAA is a membership organization of more than 700 baseball content creators, including writers, podcasters, authors, YouTubers, and just about every other medium you can think of. We have members from all over the world wherever people love baseball. Most importantly, we’re open to EVERYBODY! Our goal is to promote and uplift the content community however we can.

You assumed a leadership in the IBWAA about two years ago. Please tell us about how that came to be and some of the changes you made to the organization.

The IBWAA was founded by Howard Cole in 2009, who built it from scratch, but he started looking for a successor sometime around 2019-2020. My friend Jonathan Becker and I expressed interest in taking over for him last year and officially took the reigns in May 2020.

The last 15 months or so have been a whirlwind. we started Here’s the Pitch: the IBWAA Newsletter, which is a daily subscription newsletter written by a different member each day (except Sundays). It’s a great way to check out different writers’ perspectives every day while exposing the writers to new audiences and paying them a little money for their work. We also started regular virtual meetings, expanded member voting opportunities, initiated the Women in the IBWAA Hall of Fame Committee to develop a comprehensive list of women whose contributions on and off the field deserve our highest honor, established partnerships with cool organizations like SABR, and lots of behind-the-scenes stuff like revamping the website and email systems. It’s been a lot of work but the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve gained about 150 members in the relatively short time we’ve been involved.

Where do you see the IBWAA going over the next five years? Do you believe this organization will eventually be seen on equal footing with the BBWAA?

So much has happened in just the last year or so that it’s impossible to project the next five. Certainly, we’d like to start some in-person events, such as an outing to a ballgame, but we just got started at the beginning of the pandemic which curtailed that idea for a while. We’re always looking for new ways to support our members. Often, those ideas come from the members themselves. When someone comes to us with something they’d like to see, we do what we can to make it happen.

I don’t actually view the BBWAA as competition. They’re a professional association with stringent membership standards, and they have their reasons for them. Our members are roughly 1/3 professionals, 1/3 semi-professional, 1/3 hobbyists, and that’s the beauty of the IBWAA! Everyone is equal and everyone is welcome. In fact, we have several mutual members who belong to both the IBWAA and BBWAA. Anyone who thinks they belong and can benefit from being part of the IBWAA is invited to join. The BBWAA isn’t able to function that way. That’s not to say that they’re better than us or that we’re better than them. The way I see it, we serve complementary purposes.

How did you get involved in writing about baseball?

I started writing about baseball in 2017 for a site called Banished to the Pen, which was formed by members of the Effectively Wild Facebook group. Things progressed for me from there, and I’ve been fortunate to write for a lot of my writing bucket list publications. I’ve been with Off the Bench Baseball the longest. It’s a great site run by cool people who let me take a lot of literary risks. I wrote and edited for Beyond the Box Score for about a year and a half, and my “I quit” piece was nominated for a SABR Analytics Award, which was a career highlight. I currently write for Baseball Prospectus as well, which still gives me major imposter syndrome. I focus specifically on the Yankees at Bronx Pinstripes. I also co-host the IBWAA Podcast, which is a ton of fun.

Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?

There’s a different answer to that question for every single fan! One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from running the IBWAA is that there are nearly infinite subgenres of baseball. I’ve met writers who cover Negro League history, the Cape Cod League, baseball analytics, fantasy baseball, baseball equipment, baseball finance, la Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana, rural Maine high school and Little League, 19th-century baseball, baseball-themed prose, baseball prospects and the MLB draft, Vassar College baseball, Australian women’s baseball, a Hoyt Wilhelm online museum, baseball uniforms, and even the Pittsburgh Pirates (sorry). There’s no wrong way to love the game. I don’t plan to ever write a book, but if I did, it would be a collection of stories from everyday people about their unique connection to baseball. We all have one and they’re all fascinating to me.

You and I have similar professions, I am an elementary school principal, you’re an elementary school teacher, what advice would you give to children who wish to write professionally or for web sites, blogs, etc.?

Here are two pieces of advice:

1. Write! The only way to become a writer is to start writing. Start your own blog or find someone else’s and start practicing and publishing. It doesn’t matter if your work is great or not, or even if a lot of people read it (they won’t, not for a while anyway). The more you write, the more you’ll improve as a writer. Take writing risks. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but either way, you’ll grow and learn.

2. Read! Where would you like to write? Whatever the answer may be, read what other writers publish there. At the same time, it’s just as important to diversify your reading. Read about baseball analytics, history, economics, interviews, prospects, and whatever else may interest you. Read writers who come from different racial, gender, sexual identity, geographic, or socioeconomic backgrounds than you do. Read smaller blogs too. Every writer has something to share.

There’s a lot of talk about baseball needing to be “fixed.” Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?

Baseball on the field isn’t broken. I don’t think it ever can be broken. Sure, we might squabble about seven-inning doubleheaders or the DH, but in the end, it’s still the beautiful game we all fell in love with.

MLB off the field is completely broken. It’s an $11 billion annual revenue industry with minor leaguers earning less than minimum wage and sleeping in their cars. Billionaires coerce governments into squandering tax money on stadiums with no appreciable financial benefit to the taxpayers. Ownership is about to shut down MLB this offseason over their insatiable greed in labor negotiations. Children in third-world countries who happen to have baseball talent are victims of human trafficking by buscones with MLB’s complicity.

Baseball is NOT the same thing as MLB. The majesty of the game on the field is all the more reason why we should demand better stewards.

Let’s get to some Yankees talk. This year’s Yankees team has seen periods of greatness and periods of very disappointing play. What is your overall assessment of the team and the manager, Aaron Boone?

Boone has made some head-scratching decisions regarding bullpen management and lineup construction. I think he will be on the hot seat following the season. I don’t know how far the Yankees will go in October (if they make it there at all), but Brian Cashman is going to have to reckon with a lot of players he expected to be cornerstone franchise talents who simply didn’t hit: Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andújar, Clint Frazier, and to a lesser extend Luke Voit. The two highest-paid lefty relievers in baseball are Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, who haven’t been consistently good at all. They’re going to have to overhaul their infield, starting rotation, and bullpen in ways they wouldn’t have expected back in March.

If you were the GM of the Yankees, what would be your biggest focus this coming off-season?

There are a lot of superstar shortstops hitting free agency, including Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and others. They don’t necessarily have to get rid of Gleyber Torres, but they need to shift him into a part-time utility role until he proves otherwise. The biggest upgrade they can make is by signing an elite shortstop.

Would you be willing to give Aaron Judge an extension to keep him away from free agency? If so, what would be the maximum amount of years and dollars you’d be willing to go? If not, why not?

They ought to make Judge a Yankee for life. I can’t predict dollars because a lot of MLB’s financial structure could change with the next MLB-MLBPA collective bargaining agreement, but my question with regard to contract length would be, “How long would you like to play, Aaron?”

In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?

Most of them already have books written about them. I’d like to read a biography of some of the nonplayers who were involved with the team forever. For example, Gene Monahan was the team trainer from 1973-2011. He shared clubhouses with everyone from Horace Clarke to CC Sabathia. Can you imagine the stories he could tell?

In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?

Mike Trout is the best I’ve ever seen at playing baseball the conventional way, but Shohei Ohtani broke the mold.

Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…

What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

Yankees

Who was your favorite player?

Mariano Rivera

What is your most prized collectible?

When I was a kid, my grandfather made me a stained-glass depiction of Jim Abbott throwing a pitch during his no-hitter.

Who is your favorite musical group or artist?

I’ve been a drummer since high school! My favorite band is whichever one I’m in, haha. I listen to and play a lot of different genres, but if I had to pick only one, it would be The Beach Boys.

What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?

Of course it’s pizza! Lombardi’s Pizza Kitchen in Martinsville, NJ.

Please share anything else you’d like with our audience –

In the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.

Daniel, this was so much fun. Thank you for joining us here at SSTN and thank you for all your work with the IBWAA. Please keep in touch.

#IBWAA

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