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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Congratulations Allan!

David Rawnsley        

(Rawnsley has known Allan Simpson since approximately 1994, worked with him twice, including the last four years with Perfect Game and PG, and credits Simpson with being the most influential person in his professional career)

When Allan Simpson called me last week and told me that he had been elected into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, I was absolutely thrilled.  He and I had talked frequently about Allan’s candidacy over the years but not as often recently, as I think Allan had given up hope after narrowly missing election a couple of times.

Allan has always worn his Canadian heritage with pride, although he has lived in North Carolina with his wife Jill for 27 years and raised two sons and a daughter here in the United States. 

Most people know the story of how Allan started Baseball America from his garage in British Columbia, initially driving the issues across the border to mail them at cheaper U.S. postal rates.  He eventually moved to Durham when he sold the publication to Durham Bulls owner Miles Wolff and has lived there ever since, although he does travel back to B.C. a couple of times a year to visit family.

Fewer people know the Canadian twist to Allan’s interests, though.  While he is perhaps the most fanatical and  knowledgeable baseball person I’ve ever known, he actually follows hockey more closely and would rather watch a hockey game (he co-owns a set of season tickets to the Carolina Hurricanes NHL team) than a baseball game.  His son Jeff says it’s rather amusing to see Allan hunkered down in his home office working on lists or a story while a hockey game or hockey talk show is blaring in the background.

It would be impossible to understate the influence Allan has had on the way the sport of baseball is understood by not only a great deal of the public but baseball insiders as well. It’s easy in today’s internet world to just assume that there has always been extensive coverage of the baseball draft, college and minor league baseball and baseball “prospects” in general. But when Allan founded Baseball America in 1980 it was in response to the fact that there was virtually no national media coverage of baseball at anything except the Major League level.

What Allan had to do essentially was invent a new way to cover a part of baseball that he was deeply interested in but that most people had no exposure to.  But he felt that the interest was out there if the information could be gathered and presented.

Aside from his own energy and dedication, perhaps the most important early step creating this new coverage was convincing a number of like-minded national baseball writers such as Peter Gammons and Tracy Ringolsby to write for this start up publication. For years Gammons’ famous “notes” column could be read in only two places, the Boston Globe and in Baseball America.

But the thing that Allan can do better than anyone I’ve ever met, and probably as well as anyone in any industry, is gather information.  He is as tireless as the day is long when it comes to working the phones, almost to a fault because it sometimes leaves him with little time to type out stories with his effective but old fashioned 2-fingered style. 

One thing, though, stands out even above his energy and dedication.  There is no person in the baseball industry that I am aware of who is more respected for his integrity than Allan Simpson.

Back in the 1990’s when I was working in the Houston Astros front office and Baseball America was a one of a kind source of information, there was almost a palpable sense of anticipation every two weeks when the issues arrived at the office. Worked stopped and every word was digested, and otherwise unattainable information (including such mundane present day things as minor league statistics) was analyzed.

There was also a constant undertow of questioning minds going “Where did BA (i.e. Allan) get that information?”  No one wanted to be fingered as the source of particular piece of information.  And no one ever was.  If you said something to Allan as background or not for attribution, that’s the way it stayed.  If he wanted to quote you, he asked your permission.

It remains that way to this day.  Allan and I were talking about the early 90’s and I asked him about the source of the draft lists (note:  Major League Baseball did not publicize the draft lists and treated them as private information until Allan and Baseball America dragged them into the information age by finding and publishing them).  I guessed the person that I and others had often speculated might be the source (a Very prominent GM type) and Allan gave me this “you have to be kidding” look.  Understanding that Allan and I have virtually no professional secrets, he wouldn’t give up his source to me 20 years after the fact.

Allan has had to make some adjustments the last 3-4 years while working for Perfect Game and but it hasn’t changed him a bit.  He’s been able to publish even more information than he was able to previously because of the nature of Perfect Game.  His State by State prospect lists remain the most unique thing in my opinion in this part of baseball information industry and his coverage of junior colleges and collegiate summer leagues is way beyond what anyone else in the baseball media world is doing.

But one thing stands out for me that summarizes most people’s feelings about Allan and which is being so appropriately recognized by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

I get copies of much of the email correspondence that Allan has with college coaches in collecting information on college prospects and for team rankings.   There is one phrase that is repeated over and over again in a significant number of those emails.  At the end of the email is almost unfailingly:  “Allan, thank you for everything you do for baseball……yours…..etc.”

I think that says it best.  Thank you Allan for all that you’ve done and continue to do for Baseball.  Enjoy, with your family, this wonderful honor.









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