Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Exclusive! Inside the big Israel baseball meeting: No decisions, and most likely, no 2008 season

All the major backstage players in the first and last season of the Israel Baseball League-- bar one (or should we say "Bar-as one?") got together in New York City Thursday to hash out plans to get the game back on track after the disastrous organizational and financial morass that was first revealed by Our Man Elli in Israel within days of the field crew pulling up homeplate for the final time.

The meeting was meant to be secret. The participants were told specifically to not talk to the great journalist and baseball lover Elli Wohlgelernter.

Guess what? Most of them did talk. And we talked to Elli about an hour ago:

Tabloid Baby: Where the hell have you been?

Our Man Elli: Trying to separate the-- what was that you said last week? The wheat from the Chass? That was a good one.

Let’s get to the meeting.

You can imagine, with an eight-plus-hour meeting, there was a lot to digest, especially working with the handicap of participants being told not to talk to me.

Cue the violins, Woodstein.

But a lot of them did.

Ha ha.

Right. But the bottom line, today, is that we don’t know. We don’t know anything about anything.

We waited five days for that? For that we could have called That Putz Greenberg

Well, listen. It was a long, detailed meeting. And there were a lot of agendas—four basic ones: The Israel Baseball Leagues, the Israel Professional Baseball League that wants to take over, the ones who want to see the IBL debts paid and don’t care who pays them, and the ones who wanted everyone to agree on a league under new leadership, figuring out a way to address the old debts.

It was sometimes a little heated and it there was even some anger— but it was productive in that everything was laid out as to where things stand now, on every issue. Past, present and future. But at the end of the day, nothing was resolved.

Fewer teams & games?

So is there going to professional baseball in Israel this summer?

I don’t know. They don't know.

Isn’t it getting late for “they don’t know”?

Oh yes, very late indeed. And as this drags out, and as we get closer to the summer, one solution being contemplated is to reduce the number of teams to four, and to reduce the number of games, to make it easier to manage logistically in the time that remains.

Okay. Any surprises at the meeting?

One big surprise. Guess who showed up?

Osama bin Laden?


Jackie Mason.

Dan Duquette! (
The Israel Baseball League’s Director of Operations, at right). No one told me he was coming.

Duquette got some good press last week. The LA Times ran a big story about how he was ridiculed for letting Roger Clemens go from the Red Sox in '96--

Right. In the "twilight of his career."

But now that Clemens is accused of using steroids and human growth hormone in the years that followed, Duquette's been vindicated.

Yeah. Okay, Red Smith, you want I should continue?

The Participants

Right. Who was in the room— in the Penn Club in midtown Manhattan, so long ago?

Watch it.

It was last Thursday. It was a long time ago.

Just so happens, I have the names of the fourteen participants. It was mentioned on the original press release. I say "original" because they couldn’t even agree on the language of the release, so it was scrapped. But I have a copy.

Anyway, here’s the list:

1) Marvin Goldklang, minority share-holder of the New York Yankees and former member of the Advisory Board of the IBL, who chaired the meeting;
2) Dan Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel & Egypt and former commissioner of the IBL;
3) Marty Appel, former head of public relations for the IBL;
4) Jeff Rosen, former IBL investor and head of the newly-created Israel Professional Baseball League;
5) Michael Rollhaus, a former IBL investoraand investor in the IPBL;
6) Andrew Wilson, a facilitator on the ground for the IBL, who’s now working for Rosen and the IPBL;
7) Seth Cogan, financial adviser to Rosen, on the phone from Israel;
8) Martin Berger, president and COO of the IBL;
9) Dan Duquette, director of baseball operations of the IBL;
10) Jeffrey Royer, general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the largest individual investor in the IBL;
11) Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, on the phone from Israel;
12) Mitchel Rosenzweig, chief financial officer of the Jewish National Fund, the single largest investor in the IBL;
13) Ami Baran, manager of the Netanya Tigers;
14) Jeff Goldklang
, son of Marvin, and a former member of the IBL advisory board.

And you’ve told us that Larry Baras, Boston bagel baron Baras, the IBL founder, was not in attendance.

Uuhhh, don’t think there would have been any meeting had he attended. There’s too much animosity toward him.


Rosen, Rollhaus and Cogan expressed their deep loathing and bitterness, to say the least, towards Baras. They also expressed their sadness at the state of affairs brought on by Baras’s lack of transparency.

Was there any other anger at anyone else?

I’m sure there was.


What are you getting at?


Yeah. Someone at the meeting referred to me as “Wohlge-
liar.” I’m trying to find out who.

Excuse me a second.

(NOTE: Do you know who in that meeting
called Our Man Elli “Elli Wohlge-liar?”

If you do, or if you can think of
any other funny takes

on Our Man Elli’s name,
email us here and we’ll send you a prize!)

Okay, where were we?

The meeting. The meeting itself held some promise. Everyone reasserted their belief in the concept of professional baseball in Israel. But Jeff Rosen’s group—the IPBL-- expressed strong opposition to paying any of the outstanding Israeli debts accumulated by the IBL, except the ones that are absolutely necessary to a continued operation.


How did the rest of them feel about picking up Baras’ debt?

Most all the other participants felt it was morally right-- and practically beneficial-- to pay most of those obligations in that they owed people who had placed their faith in the concept of professional baseball in Israel.

The IAB took the position that it was willing to consider working with any group that was willing to address the Israeli debts in a reasonable manner. And according to a confidential internal memo-- a copy of which was leaked to me by a recipient--


-- Jeff Royer urged that the debts “be addressed in a proper manner."

But is it their problem?

To these guys, it’s a matter of establishing the financial credibility and image of the professional baseball game in Israel. Many players are still owed money. And so is Kfar Hayarok, where the players stayed. And there are other creditors who placed their trust not so much in the IBL, but in the concept of professional baseball. One of the participants told me that paying the creditors is the right thing to do, regardless of whether it's legally required of anyone other than the IBL and Baras.

Rosen, meanwhile, trued to attract additional investors for the IPBL, but everybody brushed it off. They want him to clarify his position on the debts and his proposed business plan. Rosen said he’d talk to his partners and report back.

What about the money the IBL still owes to Berger and Duquette?

Not a word. Neither Duquette nor Berger, nor anyone else talked about the money they’re owed. Although Cogan did complain at one point about the money he'd lost with the IBL.

How much?

I hear around $40,000.


Oh, and get this! Martin Berger indicated that Baras was working with a couple of prospective investors to bail out the IBL.

That must have went over really well.

No. It didn't go over well at all. From what I'm told-- and this is a quote: "Five people wanted to jump up and scream, 'STOP THE BULLSHIT!!!!' The others in the room were just too numb from over a year of hearing continual bullshit."


And by the way, if you go to the IBL website, you'll see that Berger's name is no longer listed among the executives. (UPDATE: Berger's name was back on the IBL site the next day-- they read us!) There's only Baras, Duquette and Baras' son, Jeremy, the "Director of Game Experience," whatever that means.

How long until Duquette's name is down?

Hey, he's got his good baseball name back. Why sully it further?

Any other controversy?

Well, there was some disagreement on whether they should push for a season in 2008 or push it back until 2009, when improved facilities will be available and leaving more time to build a more professional organization and raise lots more money.

So it looks like 2009 at the earliest.

Look, the real question is whether any league is capable of mounting a serious marketing effort in time for a 2008 season. Right now, nobody has enough boots on the ground.

Get your boots back on the ground and get us more.

Later. I'm in a restaurant. A friend just walked in.


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