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Imagine, if you can, a world without Baseball America

By Jayson Stark

PHILADELPHIA–It is time now to contemplate a question that would shake our civilization at its very foundation: Suppose there had never been any such invention as Baseball America?

Wow. It’s hard to imagine a world like that. But we’ve always had kind of a sci-fi mindset in our back pages of this esteemed publication, so we think we can envision such a world. And it isn’t a pretty sight.

The draft. There’s no truth to the rumor that before there was Baseball America, there was no draft. But before Baseball America, word of which teams had drafted which players used to circulate in a manner similar to the way Americans received news of the Battle of Bunker Hill: A messenger would leave the battlefield, or in this case the draft room, and climb upon a horse and gallop toward the next town. He’d enter the nearest tavern and tell the drunken patron next to him about the draft pick he’d just witnessed. Then word would pass, from mouth to mouth, until it made it to the commissioner’s office.

A press release would circulate. Word would reach the newspapers on approximately Sept. 26. No. 1 picks would hold out for the exorbitant fee of, say, $2,500. Then everyone would haggle for about 20 minutes, and they’d go play ball.

So obviously, those were simpler times. And without Baseball America, those times might well still exist today. There would be no handy-dandy lists of the Top 50 Middle Infield Prospects in Eastern South Dakota. There would be no four-page retrospectives on Whatever Happened to Kash Beauchamp. There would be no features examining why the Mets should have drafted Mark McGwire instead of Shawn Abner in 1984.

But most important, clubs would have no idea who to pick. Oh, sure, those scouting directors claim they figure those picks out on their own. But we know the truth. Our own Allan Simpson has actually made every selection since the founding of Baseball America–all 786,412 of them.

Uh, wait. We weren’t supposed to reveal that. We meant to say it was just darned good reporting. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

The prospects. Suppose it’s May 23, 2002, and without warning, Barry Bonds tears his ACL, MCL and AOL instant-messaging ligaments. Fans wonder: Gosh, who will the Rangers call up to take his place?

In a world with Baseball America, everybody knows. They simply thumb through their American League West Top 10 Prospects issue, or their spanking new Prospect Handbook, or their Top 100 Prospects list, or their Top 10 Prospects in Every Minor League on Earth issue, or whatever other Baseball America reference material they have on hand.

They keep going until they find the name of hot prospect Kevin Mench. Then they check out his stats on Baseball America Online. Then they ask, "Hey, why did the Rangers sign Barry in the first place?"

But suppose this injury occurred, and there was no Baseball America to answer these questions. Imagine the panic in the Metroplex by a fan base still reeling from the retirement of Troy Aikman. This is as frightening a thought as any of us baseball fans could possibly have.

But this brings up a deeper question: How do we know there would even be any prospects if there was no Baseball America to discover them, point them out and list every darned one of them in our spanking new Prospect Handbook, our online Prospects Plus site, our Top 100 Prospects list, our Top 10 Prospects in Every Minor League on Earth issue or very special features such as this week’s exclusive list of the Top 100 Prospects Who Never Made our Top 100 Prospects list?

OK, we know there were prospects before Baseball America. But we doubt there were 100 every year, or 10 in every league, or 10 in every organization. If so, how come there were no lists to prove it?

The lists. Finally, was there any such thing as a list before Baseball America? We can faintly recall that there were grocery lists, mailing lists and best-seller lists. But there were sure as heck no baseball lists. And we can’t imagine how this sport ever scraped by without them.

No one is exactly sure what Baseball America’s first list was. We’ve shot down reports it was the Top 10 Misspellings of Ed Vande Berg’s name, or the Top 10 Best Guesses of Julio Franco’s Real Birthdate.

No, we’re fairly certain it was a simple Top 10 Prospects list. And the response back then was overwhelming–from both of our original subscribers. So buoyed by that response, we’ve moved on.

So here we are 20 years later, and not a Baseball America edition goes by without some list or other: Top 10 Traveling Secretary Prospects in Short-Season Leagues, Top 10 Prospects in the Mota Family, Top 10 Teams Odibbe McDowell Wouldn’t Sign With, and one we vaguely recall cooking up: Top 10 Rich Donnelly Quotes on Four-Hour Games at Coors Field.

Those lists are now part of our way of life, embedded in our baseball souls, as much a part of our regular routine as inhaling and exhaling. So be grateful we don’t have to imagine a world like that.

Be grateful we have a Baseball America to call our very own, to preview and review the draft and every darned 20 that came before it, and to rank and profile the prospects we’ll be ranking and profiling again in numerous future issues.

And of course, be grateful you can get even more of this in our spanking new Prospect Handbook, or by signing up for Baseball America Online, or by renewing your subscription with one of the Top 100 Operators Standing By, who will be ranked and profiled in yet more exhaustive detail in an issue just down the road.

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