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Passion for the game

Baseball America has earned respect because it’s always been a labor of love

By Tracy Ringolsby

DENVER–In the last two decades baseball has seen:

• 184 managerial changes in the major leagues.

• 14 different World Series winners.

• 14 new ballparks.

• Four new expansion teams.

• Two teams threatened with contraction.

One thing, however, has never changed. Baseball America was founded for the purpose of providing insight into scouting and player development 20 years ago. Today it’s still the most respected media source in baseball for information on scouting and player development.

The publication has gone through two ownership changes, and moved its base of operation from the Pacific Northwest to Durham, N.C., but it has never wavered in its direction.

Allan Simpson wouldn’t have it any other way.

A little more than 20 years ago, Simpson made the drive from his home just north of the Canadian border from Bellingham, Wash., to the Kingdome, one of those ballparks that has since been replaced, to talk with me about his desire to develop a baseball publication.

At the time, the market was flooded with upstart baseball publications. The rest have disappeared, but not Baseball America because Baseball America was something different.

Simpson has a passion for the grassroots. He worked for teams in the Alaska Summer League and the Pioneer League.

And when it was suggested that if he wanted to try to make a go of it in the world of publications he needed to find a niche that was otherwise ignored, player development and scouting was the perfect combination.

Crazy Canadian

At the time, The Sporting News was significantly reducing its minor league coverage. It was suggested to Simpson that he could fill that void. He bought the idea.

And he turned it into a publication that has become a necessity for the avid fan, as well as scouts, general managers, agents and anyone else associated with the National Pastime.

It wasn’t easy.

Those early years, Simpson survived on a shoestring budget. He’d typeset each issue in his garage in Canada, and drive across the border into Bellingham to have it printed so he could get United States postal rates.

He didn’t have a big-time payroll, but wanted quality work. Writers were skeptical. They had been burned by fly-by-night publishers who would disappear before checks had been issued.

Simpson, however, was different. He was pursuing a passion, not a business. And anyone who came into contact with him realized that.

Hey, if this crazy Canadian was going to put everything he had into the publication, he deserved the opportunity to succeed or fail.

To be honest, though, Baseball America has never been about money, and nobody became more aware of that than the writers. The paychecks were–and still are–relatively minuscule.

But the payoff is generous.

Baseball America has earned respect in the baseball industry, and it carries over to those who have allowed themselves to become a part of the publication.

Singular Purpose

Over the years Baseball America has made changes, most of which were designed to try to pump up newsstand sales. But no one has ever suggested that it needed to change its emphasis.

Being able to have columnists with the stature of Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark is a bonus. The meat and potatoes of the publication are the rankings of each organization’s top prospects, the preview work on the June draft and the follow-up of the signings, the rankings of the top prospects in each minor league, and the stats and stories from not only the minor leagues, but also independent leagues and foreign leagues.

And they aren’t computer-generated, organization-driven appraisals, provided by the teams to put a positive spin on what’s happening.

Does Baseball America bat 1.000? No. Nobody does in baseball. It’s a game built on imperfection, from the ground up.

It’s why as interesting as this winter’s top 10 lists might be, even more intriguing is to glance back at the top 10s from five years ago and see what has happened to the future stars of the past–which phenoms made it and which ones failed to phenomenate.

And thanks to Simpson’s diligence, the reader gets a chance to look back while the publication takes a look ahead at the world of baseball.

  Copyright 2001 Baseball America. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.