Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Israel Baseball: Our Man Elli advances the story

While "mainstream" news organizations like the Associated Press are just now getting to rehashing and taking credit for the Israel Baseball League news that Tabloid Baby and its multitalented investigative reporter Our Man Elli in Israel have been bringing you exclusively since August, Elli Wohlgelernter continues to advance the story here and elsewhere.

Today, as lazy sports editors in places like Boston (hometown of embattled IBL founder Larry Baras--where the Globe buried the story as the last item in a baseball notes column), Jerusalem-- and the International Herald Tribune-- copy the nine-day old AP news, Our Man Elli brings readers of the New York Jewish Week up to date:

Dueling Israeli Baseball Leagues?

Rough diamonds: IBL Commissioner Dan Kurtzer,
left, resigned last week. And embattled IBL
founder Larry Baras, right, has been hit with
a fraud lawsuit against his company, SJR Foods, Inc.

by Elli Wohlgelernter/Jerusalem

Is Israel ready for not one but two professional baseball leagues?

That was the question this week as the Israel Baseball League, which launched its inaugural season last summer, seemed to be unraveling — and a new league, the Israel Professional Baseball League, seemed to be taking shape.

The IBL’s commissioner, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, resigned last week along with 10 members of the IBL advisory board. Yet the IBL, plagued with problems on and off the field in its first season, says it is moving forward with a second season.

The resignations came amid charges by the IBL board members of a lack of transparency in the league’s financial operation, as well as revelations of a fraud lawsuit against IBL founder
Larry Baras.

The league’s Web site has not been updated since Aug. 31, except for the removal of the list of advisory board members, including those of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and members of his family.

At issue for the board members, as well as for Spectrum Capital Group, an investment banker group that pulled out of an agreement with the league, was the failure by Baras and league President Martin Berger to disclose both the extent of the league’s finances, as well as the suit against Baras.

“Several of us had been arguing with Larry and Martin for some time in view of our understanding that they were continuing to solicit investors, without providing them or us with the financial results of operations by the league and its franchises for last season,” said Marvin Goldklang, a part owner of the New York Yankees and owner of four minor-league baseball teams.

The suit against Baras and his company, SJR Foods, Inc., was filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on Sept. 24 by Natalie Blacher of Dade County, Fla., alleging fraud, securities fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.

Baras did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Berger sent an e-mail to the players thanking the resigning board members “for their help in launching this amazing venture. I want you all to know that this will have no effect on the incredible things going on right now with the League.”

Meanwhile, many players say they have not been paid in full for last summer.

Some have helped found the new IPBL, which sent a letter to IBL players Sunday decrying the “frustratingly destructive inability of management to communicate on basic matters of the financial affairs of the league. As such, it is apparent that the original leadership has lost the much-needed credibility with vendors, lenders, past and future league participants to adequately carry on the affairs of a professional baseball league in Israel.”

The IPBL said it has “the funding and understanding of all the problems and concerns that occurred last year.”

Those behind the new league include: Jeffrey Rosen, a major IBL investor who also owns the Maccabi Haifa basketball team; Andrew Wilson, who was a facilitator on the ground for the IBL and now works for Rosen; Alan Gardner, a lawyer from New York, who was the centerfielder for the Beit Shemesh Blue Sox; and Michael Rollhaus, a businessman from Queens and major IBL investor.

But what, no link?

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