Sunday, January 27, 2008

Major league snag for meeting to decide baseball future in Israel: Officials want new league to pay Larry Baras' debts before first pitch is thrown!

Whoever wants to pick up the ball and carry on with professional baseball in Israel will first have to pick up the tab left unpaid by the Israel Baseball League, that’s been run out of the Holy Land because of its staggering debts and wailing wall of silence.

And that just might be the dealbreaker, as the future of professional baseball in Israel is decided far from the Holy Land, at a meeting in New York City on Thursday morning.

The summit will be led by former IBL commissioner (and US Ambassador to Israel and Egypt) Daniel Kurtzer, who quit, along with most of the IBL’s distinguished advisory board, the day after Our Man Elli in Israel revealed that the debt-ridden IBL founder Larry Baras was facing a federal lawsuit charging IBL-related securities fraud (that and the fact that Baras wouldn’t release any financial information-- as in showing where all the money went), and attended by potential investors in Israel’s baseball future.

Yesterday we told you that Israel’s governing body for baseball, The Israel Association of Baseball canceled its contract with Baras and his embattled IBL, citing “its unpaid bills from the 2007 season, and the clear inability… to produce a baseball league in Israel in 2008.”

And that’s the twist. Will the successors to Larry Baras have to pay his debts? We spoke with Elli Wohlgelernter to get the latest.

TABLOID BABY: Do you realize it's five months to the day that we ran your original exposé on the IBL's first season?

OUR MAN ELLI: Who'd have thought it would lead to this?

Not us. So?

So, we’ll know everything this Thursday. January 31st at The Penn Club in Manhattan. With five months to go until an Opening Day-- if there's gonna be an Opening Day-- the main principals are going to meet.

Do you think they’re going to serve Unholey Bagels?


At the meeting. You know, the Baras bagels at the heart of the lawsuit.

Should I hang up now?

All right. We’re serious. We know Kurtzer will be there. Who else?

Marvin Goldklang will be there. He’s minority share-holder of the New York Yankees and former member of the Advisory Board of the IBL; Marty Appel, the Yankee PR legend who was the head of public relations for the IBL; Jeff Rosen—- he was an IBL investor and head of the new Israel Professional Baseball League; Michael Rollhaus, a former IBL investor of the IBL and current IPBL investor; Jeffrey Royer, IBL investor and a general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and Martin Berger, the president and COO of the IBL. He’ll be representing the IBL.

Should be quite a meeting.

Oh, yeah.

What do they hope to accomplish?

Marty Appel released a statement saying they’re discussing the future of baseball in Israel with current and potential investors, and that they hope to play ball this summer. Sounds like they’re looking to pick up the pieces and get a new league rolling.

The official statement released by Martin Appel:

“It is a meeting to discuss the future of baseball in Israel involving a number of current and potential investors, as well as people who have experience and advice to contribute. It is not an IBL meeting, although issues related to the IBL's experience will be discussed. It is an in-person meeting, not a teleconference. All the participants are hopeful that professional baseball will return to Israel this summer.”

So what’s this with the new league being forced to pay the vendors and players that the IBL stiffed?

Yeah, the main issue is dealing with the enormous debt. Look, like I told you yesterday, there’s a general sense that in principle at least, any new league-- most likely the Israel Professional Baseball League shouldn’t be forced to pay Baras’ bills, but on a practical level, they’re going to have to offer some kind of partial relief.

We thought the IAB is demanding it.

They are. Peter Kurz, the IAB’s secretary-general told me, and here’s the quote: “Our policy is that whoever wants to run pro baseball and wants our licensing has to pay the debts of the IBL.” And also, remember on a PR level, this whole enterprise will be getting bad press, as others catch up to what we've been reporting. The word “failure” will be appearing in every story about baseball in Israel with the same frequency that the word “change” appears in every speech by a US candidate for president.

At least they’ll finally be getting some press.


So how much of a debt are we talking about?

My sources tell me that in Israel alone, it’s $420,000, spread out among at least twenty-three people and places, including Kfar Hayarok, where the players stayed, the bus transportation company— it goes on from there. And that doesn’t include expenses in the United States, where the IBL is based, let alone the money still owed to Berger and Dan Duquette, the league’s baseball operations director.

So Thursday’s meeting is the day before February, five months before the season should start. A little late for 0-8, no?

It's late. Very late in the game, true enough, and while the game of baseball has no clock, the business of baseball certainly does. But the good thing is that the people coming to the meeting are honest men with their heart in the right place-– they all are looking for way to make baseball happen in Israel in 2008.

Throw in the word “change” and you’ll sound like one of those presidential candidates. Very inspiring.

Hey. It is inspiring. Kurtz told me, quote, “We’re definitely trying to bring all the parties together so that there is baseball in 2008.” He also said the number of kids now playing baseball in Israel is up 30 to 40 percent.

Again, I quote: “If they can come together in any way, we are interested in meeting with them and moving forward with them. I’m optimistic there will be pro baseball in Israel this summer.”

Think the meeting will succeed?

As one participant told me: “Well, if the former Ambassador to Egypt and to Israel can't bring about some small accord here…” We’ll know more at the end of the week.

We’ll be waiting.

Right. And one more thing. Those pictures you ran yesterday, supposedly showing people mourning the death of baseball in Israel— very bad taste. There’s real suffering here that you can’t imagine back there in Los Angeles.

Hey, we have to remind people they’re getting their news from Tabloid Baby. If they want taste, they can go to the New York Times or Jerusalem Post—oh right, they can't get their news from those places, because they’re following us a week or so later...

Settle down, Beavis.

One more thing in this end— any truth to the rumour that after they’re done taking testimony on steroids from Roger Clemens, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is planning to take testimony on fraud from Larry Baras?

Good night.

Stay tuned...

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