Friday, April 25, 2008

Israel Baseball: It's over, but not over til it's over

Picture this: players under the banner of the Israel Baseball League and recruits wearing Israeli Professional Baseball League jerseys playing dueling exhibition games in the Holy Land— because neither league could get it together to get off the ground, but the machers behind each want to keep their name brand alive.

Welcome to the wacky world of professional baseball in Israel!

Here’s what we’re hearing:

There won’t be a season of professional baseball in Israel this summer, and for that we truly mourn. We weep. We rend our garments. We sit shiva. We take no pleasure in the news. But we do manage to giggle inappropriately when we hear what the machers behind the IBL and its wannabe successor, the IPBL, are doing to keep their claws in the Israel soil.

Where to begin?

The Israel Professional Baseball League, a rebel band born of the controversy and conflagration surrounding the IBL’s financial scandal, still hasn’t gotten the certification from the Israel Association of Baseball that would allow it to do business. One reason is that the IPBL has not agreed to pick up the million dollars in debt left by Larry Baras and his IBL. We hear that Miami Magnetix maven Jeffrey Rosen (the guy who can’t get Our Man Elli in Israel’s name right) has offered a payoff of $50,000 for the rights—for 2009!

“Fifty grand— and that wasn’t to pay off the debts,” says our source under the olive tree. “That's for next year-- and fifty geezels is mighty cheap to lock up rights for 2009, when the bidding could go higher.

“Nobody else was willing to operate a league in 2008, and that was where the IPBL always had the advantage. But if that is no longer the case, there will probably be real competition for 2009, and license rights will have a significantly higher value. Think about it. 2009? They’d have a year to plan and do it for once the right way. To option future rights for $50,000—even seventy-five— acch! Such a deal!”

Meanwhile, a source at our favorite falefel stand tells us that the IPBL had been negotiating for playing fields— to little avail. The city of Bat Yam got cold feet, perhaps because the IPBL hadn’t gotten that IAB approval, and Rana'ana backed out because the city didn’t want to give up the field for an entire season. Why not?

They wanted to let the grass grow before soccer season in the fall!

In Israel, soccer is always king. Don't step on the grass.

As a result, Rosen was forced to go back to try to work out a deal with Gezer and Baptist Village, which initially he did not want to do. Ultimately, with no venue to market—and no revenue-- the IPBL couldn't launch a marketing plan.

End of season. Dream deferred.

But how to stay alive in the minds of the sabras?

As Our Man Elli told us earlier this month, the IPBL floated a plan to play exhibition games in Israel this summer, with teams comprised of players born in the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, and possibly, Europe.

And now we hear (as a helpful commenter pointed out yesterday) that the IBL is pushing a similar plan. Word is that IBL President Martin Berger has been phoning former players and inviting them to come to Israel this summer to help conduct baseball clinics. And if enough players show up, why not put on some exhibition games of their own?

The only catch: The players must pay their own way!

“It’s to laugh!” says our spy at a Via Dolorosa souvenir stall. “Who would come to see their games? Feh! It’s a PR stunt to show that the IBL has its feet in the ground still. But how funny would that be? The IBL and IPBL both! Showing off!”

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