Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Prediction: No pro baseball for Israel in 2008

2008 has dawned with a big question mark and Joe Btfsplk cloud over the future of baseball in Israel. And if we may go all Carnac on your asses, we will take a leap of cynicism and predict there will be no professional baseball in Israel this year, thanks to the mess left behind by the Israel Baseball League in the summer of ’07.

And don’t blame Our Man Elli.

He merely reported (and a monumental report it was) the facts of a debacle of a season that somehow everyone took seriously only after New York Times columnist Murray Chass took all of Elli’s droppings and stepped in last week to report that the IBL owes a lot more than a few bounced paychecks and ice cube bills— a debt that reaches, and by our sources’ accounts, surpasses, one million US dollars (more on that to come)-- and badwill that guarantees that embattled IBL founder Larry Baras will not be involved in an IBL sophomore season whenever and if ever that may take place, or for that matter, set foot in Israel, where the ankle above that foot would probably be clamped with a shackle as soon as he steps out of the jetway.

Yet, the charade continues, with an announcement of a 2008 IBL schedule, followed by bobbled IBL tryouts in Miami a couple of weeks back, under the watchful eye of league president and local attorney Martin Berger and his operations director Dan Duquette. About thirty hopefuls showed up. Our scouts tell us about two players displayed an inkling of talent, yet none is destined to get an El Al coach ticket to a summer of fun.

And, yes, Larry Baras was nowhere to be seen.

The coalition of the wishing described by Chass last week (“mediators” led by former IBL commissioner Dan Kurtzer and former advisers Marvin Goldklang (a minor league team owner and limited partner in the Yankees) and (Smith College economics prof) Andrew Zimbalist hope to pull together all the potential movers— and derail the rival Israel Professional Baseball League rebels in the process—in a meeting later this month.

They also want Baras out. Sources tell Tabloid Baby that the Boston businessman who’s been hit by a federal securities fraud lawsuit connected to his IBL startup and who bounced paychecks to players and left vendors hanging, is claiming he’s been out of pocket to the tune of 90,000 US dollars.

The ones trying to restart the league may pay him off and send him back to his bagel-stuffing business. But sources say Baras may hold out for more. Don’t fall for his woe-is-me act, they tell us. Baras will look to leave with his pockets stuffed with cash the same way his UnHoley Bagels are filled with cream cheese.

But in the wake of the IBL’s first season, the biggest problem will be getting anyone in Israel to cooperate with mercenary carpetbaggers looking to skim more shekels from Holy Land (baseball) diamonds. Right now, it’s safe to say that just about no one in Israel trusts the IBL, nor will they do business with it-- not Gezer, not Baptist Village, not vendors, not landscapers, not television channels-- not anyone, even in the unlikely scenario that Baras raises the money to get out of debt and start fresh. In fact, most every Israeli will likely be gun-shy about working with anyone who utters the word beysbol (baseball).

Meanwhile, another question many have been asking is why Berger and Duquette are still tied in with Baras. We know Duquette lost out on the Pittsburgh Pirates GM gig, which would have sent him packing from the IBL faster than spoiled baba ghanoush through a digestive system. But he can't now. Duquette owns about a quarter of the league, and is owed a lot of money, and so is Berger. Lots.

So for now, think Bagelstock and Bloom. And Bloom. That’s where we're all standing, and where the future of baseball in Israel is not.

Stay tuned here, and thanks for all the tips and a tip of the Tabloid Baby hat to you all.

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