SSTN Interviews Dr. E.J. Fagan
Today we have the pleasure of interviewing the well-known and very popular Dr. E.J. Fagan of the Bronx Beat Podcast. E.J., of course, was also a writer and later the Editor-in-Chief of It’s About The Money, the blog that Start Spreading the News grew from.
E.J., it is great to have a chance to talk to you about podcasting, writing, and so much more. Welcome (back) to Start Spreading the News. It is great to have you here with us.
Thank you Paul. It’s good to be here.
Please begin by telling us a little about your work with blogging and podcasting. How did this all begin?
I started blogging all the way back in 2005. I created a bad blogspot blog named, “Fire Joe Torre.” I’ve always loved to write, but needed an outlet to put words on paper on a regular basis. As a precocious teenager who had recently read Moneyball, I thought that my rudimentary sabermetric opinions were so edgy that the world had to read them. Somehow, it caught on. I was recruited to blog for an upstart network called Most Valuable Network, and eventually found my way to a blog called It’s About the Money.
I started listening to podcasts somewhere around 2011. It’s About the Money was pretty successful, so I decided to start a podcast for the site with Stacey Gotsulius and Domenic Lanza. At first, Domenic hosted while I handled the back end. Eventually, Domenic got a gig at River Ave Blues, so I was running the whole show. We were one of the only Yankee podcasts at the time, so it was exciting.
You were, in some real ways, a pioneer. You were writing blogs when that way of communication was brand new. What made you jump into this and were you surprised with how well you did right from the start?
I’m not sure that I was a pioneer. I read lots of baseball and non-baseball blogs at the time, such as In George We Trust, The Replacement Level Yankee Weblog, and Pete Abraham’s blog. I saw what they were doing and wanted to participate.
I don’t think that I was surprised at the time. Like a lot of 18 year-old kids, I thought I was the best. In hindsight, I don’t know why anyone ever read my stuff.
I decided to start Fire Joe Torre on the advice of an English professor during my first semester of college. He said that I had natural writing talent, but needed practice. He told me to come up with an excuse to write every day, so I did.
After this success, you moved to podcasting. Why did you decided to work almost exclusively with podcasts rather than writing?
I started graduate school in 2014. I was running It’s About the Money, podcasting, and studying 12-15 hours per day. It was too much. At first the extra writing wasn’t too bad. It was a break from reading political science all day. However, once I stopped taking classes and worked full time on research, I was writing all day. I didn’t have the brain space to write when I came home at night.
If you ever have the desire to write any articles, you’ll always have a home here with us.
Heck yeah, although I should mention that I’m technically a Baseball Prospectus staff writer, where I (very occasionally) flex my social scientist muscles a bit.
As you know, I am an elementary school principal. If I were to talk to the students of my school about what it takes to find success in a new industry, as you have, what would you want me to say?
First as a senior graduate student and now as a professor, I often give this advice to new graduate students. I think the advice holds for students of all ages as well. It is difficult to learn a new subject, skill or job. Some people look like they are having an easy time learning, but that’s either because they are great actors or have a head start. That’s okay! If the subject, skill or job were easy, then it would not be valuable. Work hard, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, and keep trying when things fail. Eventually it will come easier to you.
Great advice. It is true that we all fail and that we learn, and grow, from failure.
This is not baseball related, but it deserves mention, please tell us about your new title, Dr. Fagan. Congrats. As part of this, please tell us a little about your research and what you are doing now.
Thank you, Dr. Semendinger.
I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It’s a great job where I get to spend most of my time focusing on research. My research broadly deals with Congress, U.S. political parties and the role of expert information in politics. My specialization is in something called, “Punctuated Equilibrium Theory”, which is a fancy way of researching why sometimes we see really big and unexpected changes to government and society.
Right now, I’m most excited about a paper called “A Punctuated Equilibrium Theory of Policy Disasters”, inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and watching HBO’s Chernobyl mini-series, which finds that robust and vibrant democracies are much less likely to suffer major policy disasters than weak democracies or authoritarian countries.
Back to baseball. You have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to knowing the Yankees prospects. Which prospect were you really high on before he hit it big?
I called my shot on David Robertson. I saw his minor league numbers and developed a theory of what the Yankees front office thought of him based on his usage and success. I didn’t really know what I was talking about, but scouting the stat line can work!
Was there a prospect you missed on?
So many. I thought Jose Tabata was going to be an All Star. I was sure that Jesus Montero was at least a Major League DH. I tried to start a #FreeMikeFord bandwagon.
If you were the Yankees General Manager and could make one move right now, what would it be?
That’s a tough one. I think the team badly needs some left handed hitters. I would have signed Schwarber or Peterson.
In general, I think the current team needs a better bench. The Yankees have an injury prone roster. At the moment, we’re expecting Tyler Wade, Mike Tauchman and Kyle Higashioka to play a lot of games. The Yankees should take a page from the Dodgers and Rays and prioritize playing a full 26-man roster.
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?
Once all the dust is settled and long-retired players are talking openly (or at least on background), I’d love a well-reported book about the steroids era.
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 (at any level)?
I saw lots of objectively better players like Alex Rodriguez, but I’ve never seen a player as dominant at the thing he did as Mariano Rivera.
I regret never seeing Barry Bonds play much, either on TV or live.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
The New York Yankees.
Who was your favorite player?
What is your most prized collectible?
I have a poster with my ticket to the last game at old Yankee Stadium and my first game at New Yankee Stadium. Although one day I’ll steal my parents’ jersey signed by the 1980 Olympic hockey team.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
That’s tough, because I don’t listen to a lot of music anymore. I’ve been listening to a lot of Greta Van Fleet lately.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
My mother’s father fished lobster off the coast of New Hampshire, so I will always love New England seafood. Lobster rolls, fresh fried clams and steamers.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience…
Thanks for letting me talk about myself! If any SSTN readers are interested in studying political science at the graduate or undergraduate levels, hit me up!
Thank you for taking the time to be with us E.J. It was a great pleasure talking with you in this way. The season is just around the corner… Let’s Go Yankees!