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SSTN Interviews Sportswriter Harold Cole (Founder of the IBWAA)

SSTN: Today we are here with sports writer and columnist Howard Cole. Howard has written for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, and so many other publications. Howard was also the founder of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) which I am a proud member of.

He’s also written for the Guardian, Prevention, Voice of San Diego (covering the Padres for a year) and for five years at Forbes. Born in what is now the Scientology building on Sunset Blvd, a Puig’s throw from Dodger Stadium, he worked in press operations for the 1984 Olympics, in L.A. radio for a number of years and delivered pizza in Beverly Hills with Tim Robbins. Come September 22, he will celebrate 30 years as a kidney transplant survivor.

Howard, it is great to have this discussion with you. Thanks for coming to Start Spreading The News.

Hey, thanks Paul. This is fun.

Please begin by telling us how you became a sports writer.

Back in the late 1990s, I noticed that I was emailing a couple of friends with my thoughts about the Dodgers a lot, and decided to do something more with it. I had an idea for a baseball book, took a class on book proposal writing and went for it. I had a handful of agents and publishers interested, but never did sell the book. I’d also been doing a little marketing communications at the time (emphasis on the “little” part — you know, the starving writer thing) and with the dot com boom starting, thought I oughta try to do some internet writing. So I started BaseballSavvy.com (yes, that’s BS for short and I was thinking about being full of it at the time) in March of 2000, and started publishing.

I posted a ton of work, with some other writers (who I paid a little something) straight through to 2011 when I pestered Keith Sharon at the Orange County Register for a job covering the Dodgers until he finally relented and gave me a spot with something called the Dodgers Blue Baseball Blog.

What is your favorite aspect of sports writing?

Well, I love baseball and I love writing, so you put them together and what else could I do with my life that would be better than that? Generally, though, when I finish a piece which I feel is both nicely written and baseball savvy, and maybe a little different than what’s out there, it’s a great feeling. And my day is made.

You also have written for other publications that aren’t focused on sports, Rolling Stone for example. Is it difficult to write in other genres? What is your favorite topic to write about?

I actually did baseball writing at Rolling Stone, which covered sports for a while in the middle of the last decade. I’ve also done a bit of travel writing, some health care stuff and a couple of articles on politics. I don’t know if these things are easier or harder than any other types of writing, but the challenge is getting editors to bite and pay you to do the work.

You founded the IBWAA. Please tell us how that came about.

Around 2008 or so I tried to get into the BBWAA, which wasn’t particularly open to internet writers at the time, and couldn’t get a sniff. I mean, not even close to being able to apply seriously. I’d also been frustrated as a fan about certain players that weren’t being elected to the Hall of Fame. So I thought I’d start something that could deal with both, even if it was some little thing off to the side, if you know what I mean.

You gave many years to the IBWAA and saw it grow into a legitimate force in baseball writing. What are you most proud of with the IBWAA?

Writing can be a lonely thing, you know? I had a very small circle of friends around the country who were doing what I was doing, trying to make it as a baseball writer, and a few professionals like Tom Hoffarth and of course, Keith Sharon, and I enjoyed making all these new contacts in the industry. And getting to know them through the internet. And learning from them. And becoming real friends.

I feel like I know everyone now. It’s not everyone, in reality, but I have a home with my peers. And I’ve brought people together.

Some people think it’s a cool thing, and I think it’s cool that they think they it’s cool.

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?

Oh boy. That’s a tough one, especially for a lifelong Dodger fan. I don’t know. I remember my brother telling me about Roger Maris and 1961 and think about that from time to time. It’s been covered in books, but has there been a biography? That would interest me.

I admire the Yankees though. And I’m jealous. Thirty-two years without a championship in Los Angeles is just incomprehensible. You don’t have that problem in New York, God bless ya.

I have a couple of ideas for books, one of which I know hasn’t been done. It’s Dodgers-related, but I’d better keep them one under wraps for now.

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?

Ooh, another tough one. I loved everything about Roberto Clemente, and saw him on TV primarily in the All-Star Game, the World Series and the occasional Game of the Week with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. And I still love him. The recent Roberto Clemente Day got me to thinking about him again quite a bit. But if I saw him in person I don’t remember it.

Pretty much the same thing for Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. I was at Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, actually, but have no memory of that either. My brother, who is five years older, and I went with a family friend and we’ve been discussing it for 55 years. And I draw a complete blank. I’ll go with Koufax. The Left Arm of God.

This’ll get me in trouble, especially in L.A. and with him starting tonight on Sunday Night Baseball as I write this, but Zack Greinke is one of my favorite players of all time. He’s a Cy Young Award winner, obviously, and has a fine resume of pitching accomplishments, including being the all time Dodgers franchise record holder in ERA at 2.30. That’s L.A. and Brooklyn. Winning percentage too, at .773.

He hits, he runs the bases and will take out an infielder on a double play. He’d gone his entire career without being caught until late last season with Houston, at 35. He’s nine of 10 now. And he rakes. A couple of home runs off Clayton Kershaw. Dodgers should’ve re-signed him. They’d have won a World Series by now if they had.

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

What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

Dodgers, silly!

Who was your favorite player?

Jim Lefebvre was my first favorite, Willie Davis when I wised up a little and then Bill Buckner, who was playing left field for the Dodgers at the time.

What is your most prized collectible?

Gotta make it two, if you don’t mind. My father passed away when I was very young. He was Brooklyn born and raised. I have his old GE portable radio, the kind that takes big old D batteries. It’s still set at KFI 640, which was the Dodger station in the 1960s. It’s 75,000 watts strong and fans could hear the voice of Vin Scully as far away as Washington and Idaho.

He also kept scrapbooks chronicling the Dodgers. From about 1955 to 1964. Headlines, game stories, stats, Top Batters, etc.

Who is your favorite musical group or artist?

The Eagles, Big Lebowski notwithstanding.

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

Yep, pizza. There’s a place called Bronx Pizza, 3,000 miles away in San Diego, of all places. And I’ve been to New York enough times (and from early on) to have been indoctrinated properly, so you can trust me.

Harold, thank you so much. It was a great pleasure to have this chat with you. Keep in touch, my friend. And, of course, continued success always.

Start Spreading the News is the place for some of the very best analysis and insight focusing primarily on the New York Yankees.

(Please note that we are not affiliated with the Yankees and that the news, perspectives, and ideas are entirely our own.)

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