Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Daily Freeman: "Israeli baseball would have been great"

The Daily Freeman
Kingston, NY
September 7, 2008


Israeli baseball would have been great

By: Stan Fischler, Freeman columnist


Rehovot, Israel - Baseball's home stretch once again has us in its vice-like grip and if this seems redundant, it is.

But there's major league irony involved for me, visiting family -son, two grandchildren, and daughter-in-law - here in the Holy Land.

The irony simply is that late summer 2008, also was supposed to be Year 2 of the Israel Baseball League's home stretch as well.

Alas, the key word here is SUPPOSED.

SORRY, but I can't find any stories about last year's competitors such as the Netanya Tigers and Beit Shemesh Blue Sox.

In fact, the only diamond story in today's Jerusalem Post isn't about baseball. It simply reads: "The Israel Softball Association is offering an umpires course in Eilat, Oct. 15-17."

So, what happened to Israel's nobel pro baseball seedling one year after it was due to bloom gloriously into a grand pennant race?

The Field of Dreams, in the end, was more dream and less field. Matzoh-ball soup, minus the matzoh ball.

NOT MANY people here, where soccer and basketball remain the sporting kings, are upset although Jerusalem Post reporter Elli Wohlgelernter certainly has taken the demise to heart.

"The idea was so novel," says Wohlgelernter, "the vision so grand, the imagination so captured and emotions so impassioned that few believed it would ever happen. And, then, amazingly, it did. And then, sadly, it died."

But not before there was a 2007 championship series won by Beit Shemesh and IBL Commissioner Dan Kurtzer delivered a trophy to the Blue Sox.

From then on the spit(ball) hit the fans.

PLAYERS CASHED their salaries but the checks bounced higher than the horsehide. On top of that, more than 20 companies, vendors and individuals were owned dough as well as the television station which broadcast games.

Among the embarrassed parties were names familiar to American ball fans.

One was New York Yankees President Randy Levine, not to mention Bombers' physician Dr. Stuart Hershon, members of the IBL advisory board.

"The dream," adds Wohlgelernter, "was falling apart."

NOT ONLY did reporter Elli follow the crash, he detailed the plunge with an expose last year. It featured previously untold stories of a near players strike, late paychecks, and substandard playing conditions.

Demands were made for financial transparency and the targets included league founder Larry Baras and others who had avidly solicited American investors.

Exactly a year ago a four-hour showdown meeting was held in Manhattan. Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel, led the charge for fiscal clarity.

"Not only was his name on the line," says Wohlgelernter, "but also his word. He has personally guaranteed the players that each and every one would be paid in full."

THE MEETING, sadly, did not produce what it promised but it sure made some lawyers happy.

Less that a week later, one investor filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, alleging, among other things, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.

By last November, a frustrated Kurtzer and nine other IBL board members resigned. Undaunted, Martin Berger, IBL president/COO, put on a happy face, claiming that his league would open again in 2008.

But a balk was called on him. In fact, some IBL players tried to organize their own new league for the new season. One investor was to be Arizona Diamondbacks general partner Jeffrey Royer.

It was a good try but nothing materialized.

THE NEW league never happened and the IBL, despite claims threats through early summer that it would be back, was cut down between the court room and phony boardroom promises.

Thus, the IBL's 2008 home stretch drive has come and gone, yet the memory - and hope - linger on.

Boston businessman Gary Woolf - his father, Bob Woolf, once was one of the country's top player agents - and fellow Beantowner David Solomon, claim to have paid off IBL debts and hope to revive Israeli pro baseball next summer.

Those, such as IBL board member Seth Cogan, have their doubts. "I'll believe it when I see it," says Cogan.

I'll be back next summer and nothing would please me more than to see the IBL back on its feet, and fiscally responsible.

In the meantime, anyone interested in umpiring some softball should show up in Eilat next month.

To them I say, "Mazel Tov!"

Author-columnist-commentator Stan "The Maven" Fischler resides in Boiceville and New York City. His column appears each week in the Sunday Freeman.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

it looks like baras got away without disclosing any finances

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