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Since the publication of the first Baseball Bluebook in 1909, the directory has been all about building connections between players and teams. More than a century later, how those connections are made has been reimagined for the digital era.
Co-owner Eric Wubbena believes Baseball Bluebook is poised to do for scouts and recruiters in the baseball world what LinkedIn did for headhunters and human resources execs in the white-collar world.
This year, Wubbena launched the new Baseball Bluebook app. Available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, the platform is for baseball players of all ages, scouts, coaches at all levels, merchandisers and vendors, such as training facilities, to connect in one place.
Wubbena says the next step is for the app to level the recruitment playing field for aspiring college and pro players.
“If you have money, you get to play in the tournaments,” Wubbena says. “I want to serve everyone.”
The networking platform has about 5,000 users. Wubbena says he recently formed a partnership with the National Amateur Baseball Federation, which is expected to bring on its 150,000 players, along with D-Bat, in Addison, Texas, a training facility with 150 franchises worldwide.
“We are projecting about 150,000 users midyear and over a million by the end of the year,” Wubbena says.
And all of this started because Wubbena’s parents – Dennis and Jodi – were seeking a way almost 30 years ago to run a home-based business while raising their five children.
Wubbena says as a kid, he and his siblings would help their parents update the annual directory. “Back then, it was from fax machines,” Wubbena says with a laugh.
He says the history of the magazine is hazy to him, but the Wubbenas purchased it and the Football Green Book in 1996 from Springfield entrepreneur and publisher Jeff Schrag.
“As kids, we were putting 40 of these books into boxes and sending them to the Cardinals,” Eric Wubbena says.
Wubbena left the family business for his own career in technology. After working as a regional sales manager for IBM on the East Coast, Wubbena returned to the Ozarks with his family about a decade ago. A few years ago, he told his parents he wanted to take the Baseball Bluebook digital.
“After working for IBM and a software company, I understood what it would take, looking at all the social media,” he says.
Wubbena says the family has invested millions of dollars in building out the platform. It functions like many social networking sites, but with a laser focus on baseball. Players can create their profiles for free and upload their statistics, practice and game videos, for instance. They can search for coaching videos and connect with leagues and schools.
Recruiters for junior colleges, universities and Major League Baseball can narrow searches for players by batting averages to pitching speeds, location and even ages.
“Instagram, Twitter – there are hundreds of thousands of amateur players posting videos every day,” he says. “How do you find them? Are you going to sit there all day long searching?”
The revenue, which Wubbena doesn’t disclose, will flow through advertising, promoted listings and premium subscription services.
“If a college coach posts an open roster position, the player would get an alert,” he says.
Wubbena hopes premium subscribers will account for about 10% of users.
Leon Lee is among the believers in Baseball Bluebook. Lee played professional baseball for 17 years – a decade spent in Japan, where he was the first African American manager, in 2003. He also served as the Pacific Rim coordinator for the Chicago Cubs for about eight years.
Now back in California, Lee has started The Dream Fulfillers, a 501(c)(3) that helps finance activity programs for inner-city kids. He says about 75% of income generated at Spoker.com, a fantasy sports/poker platform, will go to the Dream Fulfillers, but he is also committed to financially supporting Baseball Bluebook with income from the gaming website.
“I don’t call it an investment. I call it a funding source, to make sure Baseball Bluebook has the funding to succeed,” Lee says.
Lee says Baseball Bluebook has a shot at creating greater diversity in baseball. If a kid can’t afford to play travel ball or participate in showcases that are heavily attended by recruiters, they may not have a shot at landing a college scholarship or a pro position no matter their talent.
“One percent will play pro ball. Even I played 17 years, and my son [Derrek] played 16 or 17 years and we both were out at 35 years old, and there’s a whole other life after 35. And 99% will be out after 25,” Lee says.
He says when youth players make baseball their entire lives, it’s too risky. Baseball Bluebook, he says, encourages kids to “take your baseball to get you into college and take your college to get you into the world.”
Joseph Guzman is an agent/adviser with Empowerment Sports Group who uses the app for some of the players he represents. “It’s like the LinkedIn of baseball,” says Guzman, who lives in Florida and represents 11 pro players. “What Eric’s doing with Baseball Bluebook, I think that’s going to create a huge network for guys to be seen. I’ve even connected with a player who got on Baseball Bluebook who has a small chance of going to the draft this year, but a huge chance next year.”
Wubbena says the app is aggressively scaling up in preparation for 1 million users.
“We believe by the end of the year, we will have our full e-commerce and e-content platforms built in,” he says.
Lee is bullish on Baseball Bluebook.
“I think if enough people supported him, he could make it something bigger than he’s even thinking,” he says.
The nonprofit moves into its new campus.