Talking With Baseball Bloggers Alliance Founder Daniel Shoptaw

This blog is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, an organization that started in April of 2009, and began robust growth that September, with about 230 members as of December 10, 2010. The BBA has chapters covering every MLB team, along with a handful of other chapters covering topics such as history (this blog’s chapter) and fantasy baseball. Baseball Bloggers Alliance Day, on Dec. 10, is an occasion for BBA members to talk a bit about the Alliance, its mission, and how its members are involved with the BBA. To mark the day, I talked with BBA founder and president Daniel Shoptaw, a Cardinals blogger in Arkansas. Our exchange covers the start of the BBA, a variety of subjects related to running the Alliance, and the BBA’s goals.

Q: What was the impetus for forming the group? Was it directly patterned on the BBWA, in terms of having award voting be the public centerpiece of the group?

A: Really the reason that I started up the BBA was to increase contacts and assistance throughout baseball. I’d done a “Playing Pepper” series that spring where I contacted bloggers from each team to talk about their squad and thought it’d be great to have this one place to go to, with contact info and a chance to develop some personal relationships. Springing out of that, I thought that the bloggers could do just as good of a job, if not more so, voting on the traditional post-season awards. Bloggers were more likely to embrace the modern perspective on these things and dig a little deeper than win-loss record and home runs. I did want the results to be comparable to what the writers did, so I set up the voting along the same lines that they do.

Q: How do you keep your personal interest in the Cardinals separate from the goals and issues involved with running a broad group of baseball bloggers? Do you get grief from Cubs/Royals bloggers in the BBA?

A: It’s not really that big of an issue, since my rooting interests and my administrative duties (as it were) don’t usually come into conflict. I pride myself on my fairness, to some degree, so I don’t think that if there were ever a conflict between, say, a Cubs blogger and another blogger, I’d automatically side against the Cub blogger. In fact, with the BBA I’ve been able to interact with some Cubs and Royals bloggers and have a friendly rivalry-type of relationship with them. They’ll tweak me on Twitter, I’ll do the same, that sort of thing.

Q: How does living in Arkansas, where you’re not really close to any mlb team, influence your work on the BBA, and for that matter, blogging about the Cardinals?

A: Well, obviously my blogging is not a first-person kind of thing. I get to watch games on television, of course, but that’s not the same as being at the park and the family obligations usually keep me from seeing a complete game anyway. So I may rely more on media reports for my blogging than some others.

I’m not sure that it’s been an issue for the BBA. With the great technologies of the internet, anyplace is a great place to run an organization or to stay in touch with the membership.

Q: What are your ambitions for the group? In terms of influence, changing the nature of baseball blogging, and the impact the award voting might have?

A: I’d love to see our awards widely reported. I never expect that the BBA awards would supplant or even rival the BBWAA (no matter what their cease-and-desist letter from last year might imply), but I could see them getting the same type of coverage as, say, the Players’ Awards or the Sporting News’ awards.

I’d also like to see this group be a force for breaking up stereotypes on blogging, for recognizing great writing, and maybe becoming an organization that has the cache, as it were, that the BBWAA has. Covering baseball has changed a lot since the formation of the baseball writers’ association. Back then, the only way you knew anything about the game was to read it in the next day’s paper. Now, you can watch almost every game live, you can watch post-game press conferences, you can do your own research. Not to say that the writers aren’t important in this–they most certainly are–but it does allow you to draw your own conclusions, which may be just as insightful and relevant as any printed in the paper.

Q: Did you have other organizing experience before forming the BBA? If so, how has it been similar to other groups/businesses you’ve helped organize?

A: Actually, the BBA was a cross between that Playing Pepper series I mentioned and a group I started back in 2007. Soon after I got into the blogging game, as it were, I started rounding up other Cardinal bloggers to do projects with. We call ourselves the United Cardinal Bloggers and we typically do a project every month or so. Some of them are done every year, some rotate in and out. It’s a good chance to link to each other for traffic increases plus see how different people tackle the same topic. The UCB is a pretty active group, with a weekly show at Blog Talk Radio and many members having a strong Twitter presence. I think doing that helped immensely in the setup and administration of the BBA.

Q: What have you learned from the BBA?

A: I’d say I’ve learned how much passion is out there for all teams. If you’d have told me that Toronto and San Diego would be two of our largest members, I don’t think I’d have believed it. There’s some great blogs following Kansas City and Pittsburgh as well. All across baseball, fans are writing about their teams and having a great time doing it.

Q: Has it changed your attitude toward baseball and toward online baseball writing/blogging?

A: I don’t think so. Being that I’ve been blogging for three-plus years now, I had already gotten past the pajama-wearing, basement-dwelling meme that tends to follow bloggers around. Of course, there are always some that are needlessly provocative or are written by people with great intentions but perhaps lesser skills, but on the whole baseball blogging is a great thing to be a part of and the BBA hasn’t changed that opinion in the slightest.

Q: What have been some key moments of satisfaction/accomplishment you’ve felt since starting the group?

A: Whenever we hit any sort of membership milestone (100, 200, etc.), it’s a great feeling. When I started up the BBA, I sent out a lot of e-mails asking if a blogger wanted to be a part of the group. It was nice when the e-mails started coming the other way, from people who had heard about the organization and wanted to be a part of it. It was also nice last year when our Florida chapter’s ROY ballot was picked up and discussed by a media member in that market.

Q: What are some of the obstacles to trying to gather together a range of bloggers under the BBA umbrella: people with different goals for their blogs, widely varying numbers of visitors, differing levels of technical and/or baseball knowledge, and, I imagine, widely varying ages?

A: The biggest obstacle is just making sure you penetrate through the clutter for people. I do a lot of the BBA organization and discussion on e-mail, even though we’ve tried various other things. While usually there’s a good response, you always wonder if the ones that don’t respond are still interested, are even reading the e-mail, or just don’t have anything to say. Often it’s the latter, but it’s one of the reasons I try to remind again and again, hoping that it’ll get through.

Probably the other obstacle, as it were, is that not everyone has the same amount of free time to do things. I don’t want to add to anyone’s burden or list of things to do more than I can help it. If people aren’t enjoying being in this completely voluntary organization, they aren’t going to be in it for long. That’s why I tend to put out deadlines well in advance, so people can work up posts in advance, whenever they have free time. I try to keep people informed of what’s going on in the BBA without putting undo hardships on them. How well I succeed at that, well, that’s a question for those in the membership!

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