BA Becomes Major Player After Initial Humble Beginnings

The first 25 years of Baseball America’s history carry the indelible stamp of Allan Simpson.

After all, it was Simpson who got the crazy idea to start an all-baseball publication back in 1980, when he was living in British Columbia. And it was his vision that influenced so much of what the company did over the next 25-plus years.

It was just after our actual 25th anniversary issue–the one that came 25 years after the first edition of the All-America Baseball News went to press in February 1981–that Simpson left BA. He now works for Perfect Game USA, an organization that runs tournaments, clinics and showcases for high school players.

But back in 1980, he simply wanted to stay involved in baseball. He had worked in the Pioneer League and with the semipro Alaska Goldpanners, when he also doubled as the sports editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, but that was the extent of his background in both baseball and journalism.

Simpson decided with The Sporting News reducing its coverage of baseball, the time was right to start an all-baseball publication, and he saw it as a great way for him to get more involved in the game. So he placed ads in The Sporting News, sent out some direct-mail solicitations, gathered a group of correspondents (with the help of BA founding uncle Tracy Ringolsby) and got to work. He got about 1,500 subscribers and set about publishing the first edition.

Working in the garage of his home, with little help and antiquated technology, Simpson barely got the first issue done, and when he did it was several days behind schedule.

“When that nightmarish first issue was done, I realized I had another one coming out in less than two weeks,” he said. “So much effort had gone into getting the first issue out, I hadn’t even given the second one a thought. It was another monster.”

With that, the AABN became a monthly. The subsequent issues went more smoothly, but a bigger problem was that Simpson was running out of money. He actually reached a deal to cease publication and have the Baseball Bulletin, a rival publication, take over his subscriber list, but he decided a few days later to borrow some money, keep the paper afloat and look for someone to buy it and keep it going.

Bob Freitas, the longtime minor league ambassador who was a friend to so many people in baseball, put Simpson in touch with Miles Wolff, who was in the process of making the reborn Durham Bulls a huge success in North Carolina. Wolff agreed to buy the publication in July 1982 and moved it to Durham six months later, with Simpson in tow.

Soon after that, the publication became known as Baseball America and gradually evolved into the product you know today. The number of subscribers has steadily grown over the years, and with the advent of in the late 1990s, the number of people who read BA content has grown exponentially.

The staff has grown from one to more than 20, with not only a robust editorial department but full-service business and production operations as well. We’ve moved from our original home in Durham–the back of the building the Bulls used as a souvenir shop–to a modest building of our own, to actual real office space in the heart of downtown Durham.

And we do much more than just publish a magazine now. In addition to the Website, which continues to grow and become a bigger part of what we do, we also now have four annual books. The Almanac was the first, followed by the Directory, and they remain the bread and butter for us and our readers. They were joined by the Super Register–a listing of the career statistics of every active player in Organized Baseball–in 1998, and the Prospect Handbook in 2001.

The Prospect Handbook has quickly become one of our signature publications, listing the top 30 prospects for every major league organization, and its 900 scouting reports capture a lot of what inspires such loyalty among BA readers.

We also changed ownership again in 2001, with a group that includes current President and CEO Catherine Silver and Publisher Lee Folger taking over the company. And while Baseball America was always a strong editorial product, the new ownership group has helped to make it a strong business as well.

And beginning last year, BA got new editors in chief, with longtime employees Will Lingo and John Manuel taking the helm.

All these changes haven’t really affected the essence of what Baseball America is. We have always regarded ourselves as the definitive source for people who work in baseball and for hardcore fans to find information on the minor leagues, colleges, the draft and prospects that they can’t find elsewhere.

BA has endured and thrived through several cycles of baseball prosperity and struggles, and we’ve seen a lot of other publications come and go during that time. We’re still around because of hard work and loyalty, both from the many people who have worked at BA’s world headquarters and from our outstanding correspondents, columnists and contributors.

The next 25 years will undoubtedly look a lot different than the previous 25 did. The game will continue to evolve, but more significantly media should continue to go through dramatic changes.

Will BA even exist in paper form in 25 years? We like to think it will. We love holding a magazine in our hands as much as you do, so we’ll keep cranking them out every two weeks until you tell us to stop.

But even if the way you get the information from us changes, BA will endure because of the quality of the writing and the work that goes into producing that information. In that way, BA is more than a magazine, or a Website, or a book. It’s a state of mind, something we’re glad that you have made part of your life.