Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We talk to Our Man Elli about the woeful news that there won't be pro baseball in Israel this summer

Our Man Elli in Israel kept in touch from the road during his recent lecture tour (and ballpark tour) of America and broke a few stories along the way, but he waited til he was back home in Jerusalem to drop the bombshell— his exclusive report yesterday that the Israel Baseball League nor the upstart Israel Professional Baseball League will be rolling out a season in 2008. Time for a talk.

Tabloid Baby: So, that’s it, huh?

Our Man Elli: That’s it. No baseball this year. And I gotta hand it to you. You called it back in January.

A regular Carnac. But we thought the IPBL had the pedal to the metal.

Too little, too late, too bad. Even before their tryouts, they knew. And then they had the tryouts. The quantity of the players was promising. The quality? Not so. The last I’d heard, the IPBL was talking about setting up exhibition games in Israel among teams comprised of players born in different countries like the US, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and possibly, Europe.

And then Larry Baras surfaces, talking bout the joy of kosher hot dogs. What’s up with the “Lah-di-dah” attitude?

The questions for Larry Baras remain the same as they’ve been since last summer: How much money was raised for the IBL? And how much money was spent. That's it. His problems with his bagel company, and whether bagel money was used to help the IBL, will be determined in that lawsuit brought against him by Natalie Blacher. Whether he used IBL money to help his bagel business is another matter.

More than a year ago, Baras told me that he was budgeting $3 million for the inaugural season, and he said he'd be able to raise it "very easily." “Very easily.” Those were his words. We do know that the American Jewish community went hog wild, you should pardon the expression, over the idea of baseball in Israel, and people everywhere were eager to help in any way they could. And they did. How many investors were there? And how much money was raised? If $3 million could be had "very easily," how about $4 million?

We have no idea, because until today there’s been no accounting of any of it.

Hmmm… You’d think maybe Baras might be hiding something.


You know, we have some interesting anonymous commenters on this site. There’s Scooper 0007 from Haifa—

Yes, a tip of the hat to him. He’s obviously close to an insider, because he does deliver good bits and pieces—

There’s Pooper Scooper—

I thought that was the same guy--


A fine cub reporter—

And then there are people like this guy “Allen” who posted this morning, accusing you of being angry about the idea of baseball in Israel. What’s up with that?

I love and respect your readers. But that kind of talk is beyond stupid. It’s like the schmucks who deliberately spell my name wrong. If I were a million dollar investor, they’d spell it right. But this? I don’t have to prove my bona fides to anyone. What reason would I have for not wanting baseball in Israel? Shooting the messenger is an old tactic. Accusing me of wanting a job is getting old, too.

Hey, you turned down the commissioner job.

Yeah, right.

Hey, we had the campaign going, but you said you wouldn’t accept it.

Like I need those kind of distractions.

We had the hats—

Anyway, again I have to repeat myself: So far, no one has been able to prove or even claim that anything I ever wrote about the league wasn't true. All they can do is spin why it happened. But the facts are still the facts.

And the facts are?

The facts are that the 2007 season was a poorly run effort led by an organizer who lied to everyone with whom he made a deal. And the fact is that 2008 was a non-starter from the beginning, because of poor planning and organization, and an attempt by one rich man to bully his way into creating a new league. The facts? No more baseball because of poor planning, organization and, sorry, greed.

So what point are they missing?

This story has divided everyone into two camps since the season ended. One side swallowed the Kool-Aid, and they still believe that Larry Baras is an honest businessman who may have been in over his head, but was only trying to do the best he could and wasn’t prepared for all the things that came up. Ask them how much money was raised and where the money went, and they change the subject.

And a lot of the people in that camp were some of the marginal players who were just happy to be playing professional ball. They didn’t even care that he even owed them money.

Baras's charm and awe-shucks persona was able to convince that half of his sincerity— and convince them that I was to blame for all his troubles-- that if only I hadn't written those nasty little stories about what happened in the summer of 2007, he would have been able to raise the money from more investors and paid off the 2007 debt and start up the 2008 season.

Me. I'm to blame.

Of course, that doesn't explain why the commissioner and nine others from the advisory board of the IBL quit.


The second camp was more forthright and critical. They didn't shy away from asking the basic questions, including how much money was raised and where it went. And it was that exact question that moved the commissioner and the advisory board members to quit.

If I may borrow a political analogy, it's like the liberals in Israel. No matter how many times you showed them the actions of Arafat, they still believed he had good intentions in him.

Whoa. Mr. International Affairs in La-la Land.

I had another political analogy. With Barack Obama and accusing the working class of being bitter. Are you bitter?

What? Me worry? No way. We’re talking baseball. Not Gaza. This entire experience is the definition of “pastime.” I only wish I had a season to follow this summer.

We posted a story about the South Coast League in the States that went belly up the same way as the IBL. What was the difference?

I’d say honesty. They seemed to be very upfront about their problems and missteps, so when they announced they’d suspended the 2008 season, there was real disappointment—but not anger.

Look, starting up a league is difficult. But nothing can fly without transparency. And there hasn't been any transparency with the IBL.

Now what about the IPBL? These guys are really tight-lipped as well. Why the secrecy? And why do they keep their webpage on some finance company’s website?

It's on the business site of the IPBL’s organizer, Jeff Rosen, and he didn't bother to create a separate Web site for the league. Greed is not part of this equation, because everyone knows it will take years to turn a profit. Arrogance? Maybe arrogance, from someone so rich he thought he could just dial up a new league, someone trying to show up Baras on how it can be done—and somebody who can’t—or won't-- get somebody’s name right. He’s learned that money can buy a lot of things, but not necessarily a baseball league in Israel. He has a lot to learn if he wants to attempt it again next summer.

I know he doesn’t like to answer questions. But it sounds like he got your goat.

It's my name. It's all I've got. Elli. Wohlgelernter. And when I have to correct someone three times, I don’t care who he is, he can go take a flying—

We get it.

Hey, I expect to be respected on that issue. Like I said, If I was a million dollar investor in the IPBL, I guaran-eefin-tee he’d know how my name is spelled.

And how was your trip to the States?

Wonderful. And successful. It was great to drive around America, listening to Sirius radio—

We won’t pay for radio.

I know, but it came with the rental car. It’s great. And I got to explain Israel to the American Jewish community, especially the kids on campus who are woefully ignorant of the situation here. And I got to go to see a lot of baseball games.

So is this story over?

Baseball in Israel? It’s only beginning.

I told you it was a book.

Now I'm starting to believe you. Talk to you later.


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