Sunday, September 2, 2007

Israel Baseball League founder ignores Elli's exposé

Our Man Elli in Israel's no-holds-barred report on the potentially-fatal failures of the just-completed first season of the Israel Baseball League has reverberated around the world. As it is reposted and published in various forms online and in newspapers, there has been outrage from diehard fans of baseball and Israel-- and praise from observers like this Tabloid Baby commenter:

"Elli has just 'scratched the surface' of the problems with the IBL. The IBL is intended as a profit making enterprise and the positive spin is also designed to attract investors. Many of the issues have nothing to do with 'typical start-up' problems but have to do with a lack of experience, common sense, and professionalism of management-- regardless of good intentions."

So what impact has the expose had on the ones who ran the league long-distance from the east coast of the United States? Elli's article and sidebar debuted on this site on Tuesday. This weekend, league founder Larry Baras sent out an urgent post to supporters, investors and subscribers.

"A Message from the Founder Larry Baras" doesn't refute a single word in Elli Wohlgelernter's exposé. In fact, Mr. Baras' message makes no reference at all to the story that laid out the mistakes and was full of warnings for the future:
A Message from Larry Baras
Greetings once again.

It is so hard to believe that the first season is now in the books. We have already held our first tryouts for next season and have already selected five new players to join us next year. We hit the ground running upon our return from Israel and look forward to improving upon what we accomplished this past year.

This missive is meant to be a note of thanks to those who contributed so much to the launch of the IBL. But I find myself re-writing it over and over again, trying to find the right words, hoping not to omit anybody. It is proving to be impossible. How do you sufficiently show appreciation to people who worked doggedly day after day, week after week, at little or no pay, to make this all happen? You just can’t.

This union of two distinct concepts – Baseball and Israel – is one that has been resonating for over a year now. I have been trying to make sense of it all, and now that I have personally witnessed a whole season unfold, interacting with fans and meeting with players, I think I finally have gotten it.

Last summer in Israel, it was the Summer of the Lebanese War. The summer before that was the Summer of the Disengagement. In the three summers before that, it was the Summer of the Intifada.

For the baseball fraternity, it has also been a period of turmoil, dominated by Barry Bonds’ quest for home run supremacy under the cloud of steroid abuse. The game has become as much a business as it is a sport in many ways, with ticket prices often serving as a barrier to entry for the most avid fans.

What Baseball in Israel became was a return to innocence and idealism for both Israel and for Baseball. If you were lucky enough to go to a game, especially at the magical Gezer Field in Kibbutz Gezer, what you experienced was a throwback to earlier times for both baseball and Israel. Parents were there with their kids, explaining the game or sharing the nuances. Once a week, I noticed two men well into their twilight years, sitting together and watching the games, clearly reminiscing about times and players past. They probably hadn’t seen a ballgame in 40 years. You saw kids gawking at their new role models -- sports heroes resplendent in their uniforms, displaying physical prowess the likes of which dreams are made.

There is a popular phrase in Hebrew that has become the refrain for many different tunes. Hineh Ma Tov Uma Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad. How good and sweet it is, brothers sitting together. That wistful phrase became personified at the baseball field in Israel. Grandparents and grandchildren, Americans and Israelis, religious and secular, men and women…it didn’t really matter. Everyone was there as one community, regaling in the splendor of baseball being played in Israel.

Thanks to everyone -- those who worked tirelessly, those who played the games, those who watched, those who cheered from afar. You made this summer the Summer of Baseball in Israel. It was good and it was sweet.
Stay tuned for more exclusive coverage of the Israel Baseball League fallout here. And send your comments to the founder Larry Baras at

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