March 20, 2011, 11:53 a.m. The Dodgers are big on pioneering. Been that way since before television. So it makes sense that before the Internet would go from fly-by-night to Earth-changing, or most of us knew it could, the Dodgers would be there working. Emphasis on the word before in the previous sentence.
Instrumental in the developing of Dodgers.com, with its roots in the 1994 work stoppage, is Ben Platt, now national correspondent for MLB.com.
Here's the Q & A:
BaseballSavvy.com: You were one of the first to use the Internet to write about the Dodgers, correct? How did you get started, with whom, and what were your earlier challenges?
Ben Platt: "I started out as a long-time fan of the team with sets of grandparents as season ticket holders. I was actually very happy as a television entertainment news producer with Ted Turner’s satellite news service at the CNN Bureau in Los Angeles, right after the first Gulf war, during the O.J. Simpson case and before the Time-Warner merger, MSNBC and FOX News. The place was at its peak. I started writing about the Dodgers for a publication called “The Big Blue Review” out of Connecticut in 1993.
The Dodger liked my writing and asked me to contribute for their magazine the next season. I had already seen the promise of the online world through various Bulletin Board systems, Newsgroups and online services such as CompuServe, Prodigy and AOL where I got a glimpse of this thing called “The Web.” The Mariners were the first site up in 1994, basic news, tickets, merchandise…nice, but not very flashy. When the strike hit that year, I had an opportunity, with some tech savvy friends, to show the Dodger executives, who had a great deal of free time on their hands, a mockup of what I thought a Dodger Online site should look like. They were interested."
BS: Is it any surprise that the Dodgers were in the forefront of a venture like this?
BP: "This was a huge shift for this organization. Remember this was the very staid, conservative, Peter O’Malley Dodgers, with employees, on and off the field, who had been with the organization for 20-30 years. Barry Stockhamer, who was the VP of Marketing and Brent Shyer, who was the director of publications for the Dodgers, stuck their neck out and pushed for the creation of the site.
I remember Peter O’Malley telling me that he had no idea what the Internet was, but, 'my people tell me it’s important, so you will have whatever resources you need to make it the best web site it can possibly be.' That was the company’s philosophy in everything they did. If the Dodgers were committed, they backed you up 100% and if you were successful, they left you alone and let you do your thing.
But the first couple of years were tough. The site was successful from the start, but only a few people in the organization were online in 1996 and ’97. Eric Karros, Todd Worrell and Tom Candiotti were the only players who were on the web and they helped me a great deal to get some of the other players to cooperate with me. The turning point was when Vin Scully got online in ’97 and started really touting the site during his broadcasts. Rick Monday and Ross Porter used the site for DodgerTalk and Jaime Jarrin pushed it on the Spanish side."
BP: "I believe MLB Advanced Media has been in the forefront of baseball writing and technology on the web. Baseball and the Internet are the absolute perfect marriage. A sport with a rich tradition going back over 150 years, mixed with generations of great writing and statistics. As for the future, I believe social media will become an important tool in disseminating information as well as enhancing the baseball experience through baseball blogs and other outlets."
BS: You've spoken about your appreciation for the former Dodger owner. Please tell us more about Peter O'Malley.
BP: "Peter is still a wonderful man. When you are in his extended family, which is how he always saw his employees. You are in that family for life. One of my biggest thrills in recent years, was being on the team that put Walter O’Malley.com together. This was a big deal for Peter to preserve his dad’s memory in such a thorough way with hundreds of pages of documents, photos, audio and video, covering every aspect of the man’s life.
In the summer of 2003 I was on my way to Cooperstown to cover the Hall of Fame inductions and Peter called and asked me to stay an extra day in Manhattan so I could visit the New York Public Library to go over all the personal papers of Robert Moses and get all the correspondence between Moses and Peter’s dad. I made sure in 2008 that I was back in Cooperstown to see Walter O’Malley get enshrined in the Hall of Fame."
BS: Robert Moses?
BP: "Robert Moses was the King of New York [and city planner]. He decided what was and what wasn't built in New York City. Moses hated trains and subways and loved cars, so he wanted the Dodgers in Flushing, not in an area of Brooklyn where O'Malley wanted to build a domed stadium [at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue] and blocked every move Walter tried to make. It was Moses that forced O'Malley to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles."
BP: "Not really mentors, but collaborators. The guys who put on a Hollywood dialup service called “The Vine,” helped me make the first presentation to the Dodgers. Only Multimedia, were the first company we worked with in ’96 and ’97, followed by Creative Edge enterprises, which was run by my good friends Steve Buchsbaum and Mark Stone, who partnered with me for almost the entire 5-year run and together we really pushed the envelope at the time. The designers I worked with helped me hone my technical skills in graphics and photography along with the audio and video editing skills I still work on to this day."
BS: Where has your career path taken you, and what is your current job title? What are your responsibilities now?
BP: "In 2000 I got the word that Major League Baseball was going to take over all the team sites. I remember telling Vin around 1998 that 'this web stuff is going to be a lot of fun until they figure out a way how to make real money on it.' At first I wasn’t keen on the idea of going to this new baseball venture. I even started working with “Entertainment Tonight” on their site and was going to segue back to entertainment news, but Vin and the Dodgers asked me to stay for at least a year and help with the transition.
I then got to meet the new CEO Bob Bowman and Dinn Mann, the editor and chief for MLB.com and I bought in to what they were trying to accomplish. The other thing I realized, that under this new system I didn’t have to babysit dodgers.com 24/7 365 days a week, like I did for five years. Dinn found out about my broadcasting background and made me National Correspondent, which allowed me to do the one thing I really enjoy the most, interviewing people for print, MLB Radio for many years and now with video. I’ve covered nine of the last 10 All-Star Games, eight World Series, playoffs, toured Japan with an All-Star team in 2004, was back in Tokyo two years later for the first World Baseball Classic and was in Beijing in 2008 for the Dodgers/Padres series.
During this time I was able to get married, have three kids and find a personal and professional balance. This past December I was one of 50 Employees of MLB Advanced Media to get an MVP Bat as one of the original staffers who’s been with the company since it started."
BP: "Usually when the kids go to bed and my wife Robin is watching TV, I jump around see what’s going on, on MLB.com, Twitter. I’ll see what Jon Weisman has up. Check out Vin Scully is my Homeboy and Sons of Steve Garvey and yes, even Baseball Savvy. Since part of my job is doing the book stories for MLB.com, I will also be speed reading through more than 40 baseball books publishers will send me during a regular baseball season.
I also want to give a shout out to the good people at Ourdodgers.com. This is a splinter of dedicated Dodger fans who used to be on the Dodger message board that I once moderated. They created their own piece of Dodger Nirvana and I fully support them."
BP: "To be friends with the people I idolized as a kid, Vin Scully, Tommy Lasorda, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey. Vin let me tag along with him in 1999 when he introduced the All-Century Team in Atlanta. I got to interview Sandy, Ted Williams, Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan that night. Since that time I have been able to interview just about every major player, broadcaster, executive and legend affiliated with this great game. I have a very unique relationship with the Dodger organization and even though I have not been on their payroll in over a decade, they still treat me like I’m a member of that family.
One other thing I’m proud of. In 2001 Bill Plaschke wrote about Sarah Morris, a girl with Cerebral Palsey who wrote about the Dodgers, using a head pointer. I knew Sarah as 'Spunky Dodger' on our message boards. After talking with Dinn, we hired Sarah to write her column, 'Sarah’s Take' on Dodgers.com. I was her first editor and I’m proud that this will be her 10th anniversary with us and she’s now branching out giving her take on other teams as well."
BS: How do you respond to the notion that Dodgers.com reporting is company line, and therefore less critical of the club?
BP: "I don’t buy into that criticism. I have a great deal of respect for Ken Gurnick, who covers the team for MLB.com. When it’s on the field, Kenny does a great job of telling it like it is. He doesn’t sugarcoat mediocre play and he gets the facts out. MLB.com didn’t shy away from the Mitchell Report or any other major story in baseball over the past decade. The Bonds trial begins on Monday and my friend John Schlegel of MLB.com will be there to cover it like any other member of the media."
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