Baseball Digest gets new owner — its third in 79 years

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Norm Jacobs, who took over Baseball Digest in 1969, has sold it to his minority partner, marking only the third ownership change in its 79-year history.

Jacobs is 88 and a silent partner with Jerry Reinsdorf in the syndicate that owns the Chicago Bulls. The new ownership is Pro Scouts LLC, headed by associate publisher David Fagley, who bought a minority stake from Jacobs in 2011.

The bi-monthly publication had taken the unusual step of putting its entire archives online for free when Major League Baseball and all pro sports shut down in late March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

Jacobs said at time he was unlocking the archives “to help fill the void until we can all return to the ballpark.”

Demand was so great that it crashed the servers of eMagazines, which was handling the fulfillment, recalled Jake Zimmerman, the general manager who also has a minority stake in the new ownership of the magazine. To keep it open, Baseball Digest had to bring the management in-house.

“It cost us a lot of money, but people came by the hordes” he said. “Some people wrote us to say, ‘Thank you — you saved my life’,” Zimmerman said.

When MLB decided to start playing again in July, BD’s archives went behind a paywall for $9.95 a year. Nearly half of those who used the archives for free during the four-month MLB hiatus signed up for a one-year subscription to the archives when play resumed, he said.

Jacobs had taken over the magazine in 1942 when it was still a black-and-white, pocket-sized magazine. When he brought Fagley on as a partner in 2011, the magazine expanded to a full-size magazine and went to color.

Zimmerman said there were no layoffs throughout the pandemic and it continued to print every other month. “We published through World War II,” he said, “We were not going to let the pandemic stop us.”

Rick Cerrone, who was the longtime editor-in-chief, remains on the job.

Jacobs’ company, Century Sports, at one time included 20 magazines, including Football Digest, Hockey Digest, Auto Racing Digest, Inside Sports and even Bowling Digest.

“I sold or closed most of them over the years,” he said.

Last year, he sold the mailing list for other remaining Cruise Travel Magazine to Travel + Leisure. 

“I’m 88 going on 89,” said Jacobs. “I think it’s time to pack it in and spend more time on the golf course.”

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