On Friday afternoon John Sickels announced that he was retiring from baseball – baseball writing, that is. If you’ve been around RedsMinorLeagues.com for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen me reference Sickels work before. But if you aren’t aware, I’ll do my best to try and give you a short recap.
When it comes to writing about minor league baseball, John Sickels has been around nearly as long as anyone out there. He ran MinorLeagueBall.com for nearly a decade and a half before SB Nation pulled the plug on it. He then moved on to The Athletic in 2019 to continue his work there. Along the way he published his own version of a prospect guide, ranking and grading 20+ prospects for every organization in the game, for two decades or so. He worked with Bill James beginning in 1993, worked at ESPN.com from 1996-2005 before moving to SB Nation with MinorLeagueBall.com.
My journey of covering minor league baseball didn’t really start until 2006. Sickels was around at that time, but I was unaware of who he was or the work that he was doing. I was just a 22-year-old who just had major knee surgery and was out of commission for a while, looking to try something new on the internet after eight years of running a BMX website that I had started as a freshman in high school that grew into something that taught me a lot of strange multimedia-related skills that I never could have imagined would get me to where I am today.
I didn’t exactly have a long term plan for writing about baseball, or the Cincinnati Reds – I just knew that I had the passion to do it, but that covering the big league team was going to be a tough market to break into. But growing up I had collected baseball cards, and as the industry had evolved it meant that I needed to know a bit more about prospects than your average fan in order to capitalize on the value of rookie cards. I, stupidly, thought I had what it took to be smarter than anyone else, and went for covering minor league baseball from the Cincinnati Reds system.
I certainly don’t recall the first time that I came across MinorLeagueBall.com – though I imagine it was directly related to Red Reporter since they were both SB Nation sites. What I do know is that it was before April of 2007. Unfortunately I know that time frame because a prominent commenter at the time at the blog, Brian Bluhm, was one of the people murdered in the Virginia Tech shooting and I vividly remember learning about it there as the comments section that day was, sadly, trying to figure out if Brian was ok.
John was doing something that very few were doing at the time – solely covering Minor League Baseball for a living. If you didn’t write for Baseball America, I’m not sure anyone else actually covered the minors for a full time job beyond John Sickels at that point in time. There still aren’t very many of us who have that going on, but there are a few more of us now. I can’t speak for anyone else, but John indirectly showed me the way, and showed me it was possible.
While all of this baseball writing stuff is my full time job now, and it has been for about a decade, that wasn’t always the case. When I was still working a 9-5 and doing the baseball writing, my best friend once asked me about the baseball stuff. It was basically a “what’s the plan here?” kind of thing. Not sure he quite understood what I was doing, what the goal was – and I get that. But I do remember telling him that “I kind of want to do what John Sickels does, but for the Reds organization.”
That statement didn’t mean much to him, so I explained who John was and what he did – covering and writing about minor league baseball from a statistical and scouting perspective. My end goal has changed a lot over the years with all of this. At one point in time I wanted to transition to be a scout for a Major League Baseball team. I’ve been approached about it a few times by people that work for teams, but that’s at some point I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Not so much because I wouldn’t love the job, but that the job simply isn’t stable enough and if I took it, I’d also have to give up everything I built writing on the internet and wouldn’t easily be able to come back to it if the scouting landscape changed – and boy did it change.
The idea that I could just continue to have a career writing about baseball, instead of working for a baseball team just seemed more stable – even if it meant that I had to kind of do everything on my own rather than working for a corporation who paid me. My lack of college and journalism school put me well behind the 8-ball on landing any of those kinds of gigs, at least in my mind (though also in reality). What John had done had shown that it was possible. And hey, if he could do it, I might be able to, right?
Fast forward to today, and writing about baseball is my full time job and has been for a while now. I’ve spent time writing for national publications like The Athletic, and currently at Baseball America. And I even contributed a few pieces at MinorLeagueBall.com for John over the years.
All of those words above are basically me saying thanks John. Thanks for all of the work you did in the past to show all of us that it could be done. Thanks for all of the chats over the years. I’m not sure how many other lives you impacted with the work you did, but it had a real impact on the outcome of my career – even if I didn’t truly understand where it would all lead me at the time it was happening.