It's not often we get to write about the people that write about the people in amateur baseball, so it was a thrill to speak with Lou Pavlovich about the "family tradition" that is Collegiate Baseball. From its humble beginnings in Arizona to the leading voice it is now and even a death threat along the way, it's quite a story!
Inside Pitch: How old were you when you became aware of Collegiate Baseball, and what your dad did for a living?
Lou Pavlovich: Collegiate Baseball
was started in 1958 by the American Baseball Coaches Association. They wanted to be covered by the newspapers and were having a hard time- They approached the editor of the morning paper here in Tucson, The Arizona Daily Star
, a guy named Abe Chanin, who decided to pitch in. Abe eventually approached my dad, Lou Sr., for some help, and that’s how my family first got involved.
The two of them started in 1958 and they both did it as a part time thing. Collegiate Baseball
came out at that time 12 times a year. Abe got busy with other things over time, so he asked my dad if he wanted to buy it from him for hardly anything, I don't even know what he charged him, but my dad took it over in 1970. I was about 10 years old at the time, and I remember watching him lay out the paper in the evenings after he got done with his full-time job as assistant sports editor. From there I would eventually attend the ABCA Convention, I went to a College World Series, and just became intrigued with college baseball and the publication. As a teenager I had more of an active role in it and I guess things haven’t changed! And it has been a family operation, my mom was heavily involved with it, and my wife is involved with it now.
IP: Have you always been a gifted writer?
Well, as weird as this sounds, in high school I was horrible. My dad would be saying, "You are the worst writer in the history of mankind, it's an embarrassment how you can't put together a sentence." And, it's weird, I had this English teacher who diagrammed sentences and I thought, that's kind of cool, I didn't know you could do that. I kind of learned to do that, and then after being forced to write so much through life, you eventually get a little better.
But it's just a matter of doing it over, and over, and over again. I think the thing with writers that people don't realize is that there comes a time where you get to be pretty good with deadlines, and you have a big story you're doing, and you have to put it together within a day and a half, so you do it. So, it's just a matter of repetition, do it as well as you can, and move on to the next adventure.
IP: I read that your dad got his first job as sports editor because his boss "went out for lunch and never came back." True story?
That’s a great story. There's a small mining community in Arizona, about two hours from Tucson where we're based in, it's called Bisbee. It's a very, very small community, used to be a bustling mining community for copper years ago. My dad got his journalism degree and came back to Bisbee, he was helping out with that paper for a while, and then yeah, I think the sports editor got really drunk one night and he never came back, so my dad had to put out the paper, and he didn't know anything about laying out the paper or anything. So he just did trial-by-fire, and that's how he got in to that. He told me that story several times.
IP: What’s your workload like throughout the year?
Starting in January at the ABCA Convention, I typically get about one day off every other week until the middle of June, when the College World Series is over. Every day I'm pretty much doing something, laying out the paper, writing, communicating with sports information directors and assistant coaches. And the national polls are very time-consuming. I come in at about 4:00 in the morning on Monday to put the whole thing together, and then we do national players of the week after that.
We're doing all of that along with the regular stories throughout the year. So I don’t really get a break until the middle of July. We have an issue in September and in October, and once that’s over, ‘the real fun’ begins, because we send out our preseason forms to every college coach and sports information department in the country, hoping to get those back towards the tail end of October. From there it’s top pro prospects, All-Americans, and everything else that comes with the college preview issue. Then we can enjoy Christmas for a few days before it all starts over again!
IP: Tell me a crazy story about your rankings and people lobbying for their teams.
I've had some really interesting things over the years. It's pretty rare to be honest with you, because most coaches have real pride and they don't want to do that, but there was a coach in California who called me one time. He was a very good friend of mine, he called me and he said, "Lou, I've been given an ultimatum here where if my team is not ranked at any point this year then I'm going to be fired…" So what we did is we ranked them immediately and then his problem was solved.
But honestly, the only time we really get a call from a coach is when they feel that they needed to be ranked because they have some great winning streak, or they're doing something phenomenal that they don't normally do, they're not a traditional powerhouse, which is what we’d want them to be doing anyway.
Now fans are crazy, however. The worst situation that I ever had was a San Diego State booster, who called me up after the pre-season rankings came out and he threatened to fly out here and kill me, and I thought, am I going to handle this dignified or not? Ultimately, I decided ‘nope, that's not me, to be dignified.’ So with some choice words, I invited him over and gave some more details. Luckily he never came over, but my wife was furious at me for escalating that situation. But that's a true story.
IP: How in the world do you handpick those All-Americans when you’re considering every player/school in the country?
Well, for pre-season All-America, we look at what they did last year first and foremost, draft stock, what other coaches say about them. That was really difficult this past year because we only had about 20 games to work with in 2020. There were some really good players that just didn't get on track. That's one of the things you wrestle with. You’re also considering the conference they play in, strength of schedule. Then we try to put it together with good common sense, and even when you do that, you've done the best you can, it’s an educated guess, and really you can do. It’s no different than the rankings.
IP: You've worked hand-in-hand with the collegiate coaching community for such a long time now; what are your observations on how the game is changed, and whether the coaching position at this level has changed?
As far as the coaching group, I think they're the most marvelous people that you could ever want to know as a group. You always have one or two that are interesting, but by and large they're such wonderful people. Jerry Kindall was such a great example of that. His plate was completely full with being the head coach at Arizona, I don't know how many times I heard he would go out and help people who were in need. One year he was leading Arizona to the College World Series, plus he was also going to be the head coach of Team USA in the Pan American games that summer. A fan called him up and said, "Coach Kindall, my eight-year-old son is dying of leukemia, he thinks the world of the Wildcats, would you mind just coming out, it would be the greatest therapy for my son he could ever have," so Jerry immediately dropped everything and went out there and was with that family for hours, he let the assistant coaches handle everything. And every time he was on the radio, this kid was named Jake Bassinger, he would always mention, "Jake, we're pulling for you."
Players would mention Jake in interviews, they would drop by and give him baseballs and things.
People like that is what gets me really excited about college baseball. As far as the baseball goes, it's been so, so different over the years. You had the powerhouse teams of Southern Cal for many years. They stockpiled talent like you wouldn't believe. Then that dynasty stopped when the scholarships were lowered to 11.7 scholarships, and you saw LSU come to the forefront with Skip Bertman, who was making these custom made videos that made the players realize that they could be whatever they want, and come through in the clutch. He was a marvelous hitting coach too, but they dominated for a long time. Now you see a bunch of very, very good teams out there that really aren't dominating, but they always seem to be winning. You can do it with speed, with power, with pitching- you can win multiple ways now.
IP: With the future of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, what are you hoping to continue to do? What kind of legacy do you hope to continue to build with what you're doing?
I really like to do feature stories where people really get recognized for being fascinating, overcoming great odds. I think that's in baseball a lot, whether it's a player or a coach, there's a lot of people that have unbelievable stories. You see great things that people overcome, and that's what I hope my legacy is, rewarding the people who really make this game great. I really enjoy doing that, because there's some great stories each and every year.