Sunday, August 24, 2008

San Diego Jewish World: "Embarrassment of Israel's 'pro' baseball"

'There's a Jewish story everywhere'
San Diego Jewish World
August 24, 2008

Embarrassment of Israel's 'pro' baseball

By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – Baseball in Israel? The very idea was an American Jewish fantasy. Imagine, American Jews and Israelis drawing even closer together as a result of this game which has so possessed us Americans, which has given us heroes like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, and now Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers, who recently smacked the 2,500th home run by a Jewish major leaguer!

In summer 2007, on ball fields more suitable to the Pony League than to Big Leagues, baseball started up in Israel with six teams bearing the names Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, Modi’in Miracle, Tel Aviv Lightning, Ra’anana Express, Netanya Tigers and Petach Tikvah Pioneers. The city names were an illusion; in fact, all the players lived in the same dormitory at the agricultural school at Hakfar Hayarok, and home field advantage rotated among the teams at three venues: Kibbutz Gezer, Tel Aviv Sportek, and the Baptist Village at Petach Tikvah.

The games were played, with American expatriates in particular filling the stands. But underneath the hope and hoopla was deception and disappointment. The owners of the league didn’t pay all their bills; they sent bad checks to ball players who had been recruited from the United States, Israel and the Dominican Republic, among other venues, and left a bunch of debts, including to the Hakfar Hayarok agricultural school, which during the school year is home to 1,200 at-risk kids from the primary grades through high school. The school administration had been counting on the rent for the dormitories to help foot the school’s expenses; they were left with nothing but vague promises.

There was no second season for Israel baseball in 2008.

Eventually the founding president of the league, Larry Baras, stepped down, handing the reins over to David Solomont, who while trying to attract new investors in the league and pay off creditors, promised to hold a best-of-seven series between teams drawn from the roster of 2007 players. But the series never materialized, in part because some players simply refused to participate until their past salaries had been paid.

Baseball in Israel, what a disappointment! Instead of fostering better relations between American Jews and Israelis, it has been leaving a bad taste in Israel for the sport and its promoters.

Although a civil suit has been filed by an American investor who felt her money was improperly diverted from other enterprises to the Israel Baseball League, no investigations to date of the financial practices of the Israel Baseball League have been announced either in the United States nor in Israel. Perhaps one is necessary; certainly it would be salutary if there were a full public accounting of how much money was raised by the IBL, and how those dollars were spent.

Meanwhile, some of the disaffected investors have formed on paper a rival league called the Israel Professional Baseball League—with the accent, or emphasis, being on “professional.” The idea is that to truly represent baseball, the professionals in the league cannot only be those who are playing on the field; they must also be those who occupy the front office—professional fundraisers, accountants, public relations persons, who can and will tell the people the truth about their operations, even if it hurts.

The Israel Professional Baseball League can’t simply start up operations; it will need the approval of the Israeli government, which understandably is quite wary of any baseball enterprise.

Will this episode permanently end the dream of professional baseball in Israel, or will it be only a big bump at the beginning of a long road?

In large measure, the answer will be provided by Solomont, who has pledged to pay the bills, and set things right. However, in the game of credibility, promises don’t score runs. If Solomont wants to whack one out of the park, he’ll pay off the debts of the IBL, and apologize on behalf of the IBL to all the players and vendors who have been mistreated. If Solomont wants to add his name to the legions of Jewish baseball heroes, he’ll set things right and remove the stench that has now settled around baseball in Israel.

Harrison may be contacted at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Till somebody in USA or Israel mounts a serious lawsuit vrs IBL we can expect much more nonsense.