Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Exclusive! Inside the big Israel baseball meeting: No decisions, and most likely, no 2008 season

All the major backstage players in the first and last season of the Israel Baseball League-- bar one (or should we say "Bar-as one?") got together in New York City Thursday to hash out plans to get the game back on track after the disastrous organizational and financial morass that was first revealed by Our Man Elli in Israel within days of the field crew pulling up homeplate for the final time.

The meeting was meant to be secret. The participants were told specifically to not talk to the great journalist and baseball lover Elli Wohlgelernter.

Guess what? Most of them did talk. And we talked to Elli about an hour ago:

Tabloid Baby: Where the hell have you been?

Our Man Elli: Trying to separate the-- what was that you said last week? The wheat from the Chass? That was a good one.

Let’s get to the meeting.

You can imagine, with an eight-plus-hour meeting, there was a lot to digest, especially working with the handicap of participants being told not to talk to me.

Cue the violins, Woodstein.

But a lot of them did.

Ha ha.

Right. But the bottom line, today, is that we don’t know. We don’t know anything about anything.

We waited five days for that? For that we could have called That Putz Greenberg

Well, listen. It was a long, detailed meeting. And there were a lot of agendas—four basic ones: The Israel Baseball Leagues, the Israel Professional Baseball League that wants to take over, the ones who want to see the IBL debts paid and don’t care who pays them, and the ones who wanted everyone to agree on a league under new leadership, figuring out a way to address the old debts.

It was sometimes a little heated and it there was even some anger— but it was productive in that everything was laid out as to where things stand now, on every issue. Past, present and future. But at the end of the day, nothing was resolved.

Fewer teams & games?

So is there going to professional baseball in Israel this summer?

I don’t know. They don't know.

Isn’t it getting late for “they don’t know”?

Oh yes, very late indeed. And as this drags out, and as we get closer to the summer, one solution being contemplated is to reduce the number of teams to four, and to reduce the number of games, to make it easier to manage logistically in the time that remains.

Okay. Any surprises at the meeting?

One big surprise. Guess who showed up?

Osama bin Laden?


Jackie Mason.

Dan Duquette! (
The Israel Baseball League’s Director of Operations, at right). No one told me he was coming.

Duquette got some good press last week. The LA Times ran a big story about how he was ridiculed for letting Roger Clemens go from the Red Sox in '96--

Right. In the "twilight of his career."

But now that Clemens is accused of using steroids and human growth hormone in the years that followed, Duquette's been vindicated.

Yeah. Okay, Red Smith, you want I should continue?

The Participants

Right. Who was in the room— in the Penn Club in midtown Manhattan, so long ago?

Watch it.

It was last Thursday. It was a long time ago.

Just so happens, I have the names of the fourteen participants. It was mentioned on the original press release. I say "original" because they couldn’t even agree on the language of the release, so it was scrapped. But I have a copy.

Anyway, here’s the list:

1) Marvin Goldklang, minority share-holder of the New York Yankees and former member of the Advisory Board of the IBL, who chaired the meeting;
2) Dan Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel & Egypt and former commissioner of the IBL;
3) Marty Appel, former head of public relations for the IBL;
4) Jeff Rosen, former IBL investor and head of the newly-created Israel Professional Baseball League;
5) Michael Rollhaus, a former IBL investoraand investor in the IPBL;
6) Andrew Wilson, a facilitator on the ground for the IBL, who’s now working for Rosen and the IPBL;
7) Seth Cogan, financial adviser to Rosen, on the phone from Israel;
8) Martin Berger, president and COO of the IBL;
9) Dan Duquette, director of baseball operations of the IBL;
10) Jeffrey Royer, general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the largest individual investor in the IBL;
11) Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, on the phone from Israel;
12) Mitchel Rosenzweig, chief financial officer of the Jewish National Fund, the single largest investor in the IBL;
13) Ami Baran, manager of the Netanya Tigers;
14) Jeff Goldklang
, son of Marvin, and a former member of the IBL advisory board.

And you’ve told us that Larry Baras, Boston bagel baron Baras, the IBL founder, was not in attendance.

Uuhhh, don’t think there would have been any meeting had he attended. There’s too much animosity toward him.


Rosen, Rollhaus and Cogan expressed their deep loathing and bitterness, to say the least, towards Baras. They also expressed their sadness at the state of affairs brought on by Baras’s lack of transparency.

Was there any other anger at anyone else?

I’m sure there was.


What are you getting at?


Yeah. Someone at the meeting referred to me as “Wohlge-
liar.” I’m trying to find out who.

Excuse me a second.

(NOTE: Do you know who in that meeting
called Our Man Elli “Elli Wohlge-liar?”

If you do, or if you can think of
any other funny takes

on Our Man Elli’s name,
email us here and we’ll send you a prize!)

Okay, where were we?

The meeting. The meeting itself held some promise. Everyone reasserted their belief in the concept of professional baseball in Israel. But Jeff Rosen’s group—the IPBL-- expressed strong opposition to paying any of the outstanding Israeli debts accumulated by the IBL, except the ones that are absolutely necessary to a continued operation.


How did the rest of them feel about picking up Baras’ debt?

Most all the other participants felt it was morally right-- and practically beneficial-- to pay most of those obligations in that they owed people who had placed their faith in the concept of professional baseball in Israel.

The IAB took the position that it was willing to consider working with any group that was willing to address the Israeli debts in a reasonable manner. And according to a confidential internal memo-- a copy of which was leaked to me by a recipient--


-- Jeff Royer urged that the debts “be addressed in a proper manner."

But is it their problem?

To these guys, it’s a matter of establishing the financial credibility and image of the professional baseball game in Israel. Many players are still owed money. And so is Kfar Hayarok, where the players stayed. And there are other creditors who placed their trust not so much in the IBL, but in the concept of professional baseball. One of the participants told me that paying the creditors is the right thing to do, regardless of whether it's legally required of anyone other than the IBL and Baras.

Rosen, meanwhile, trued to attract additional investors for the IPBL, but everybody brushed it off. They want him to clarify his position on the debts and his proposed business plan. Rosen said he’d talk to his partners and report back.

What about the money the IBL still owes to Berger and Duquette?

Not a word. Neither Duquette nor Berger, nor anyone else talked about the money they’re owed. Although Cogan did complain at one point about the money he'd lost with the IBL.

How much?

I hear around $40,000.


Oh, and get this! Martin Berger indicated that Baras was working with a couple of prospective investors to bail out the IBL.

That must have went over really well.

No. It didn't go over well at all. From what I'm told-- and this is a quote: "Five people wanted to jump up and scream, 'STOP THE BULLSHIT!!!!' The others in the room were just too numb from over a year of hearing continual bullshit."


And by the way, if you go to the IBL website, you'll see that Berger's name is no longer listed among the executives. (UPDATE: Berger's name was back on the IBL site the next day-- they read us!) There's only Baras, Duquette and Baras' son, Jeremy, the "Director of Game Experience," whatever that means.

How long until Duquette's name is down?

Hey, he's got his good baseball name back. Why sully it further?

Any other controversy?

Well, there was some disagreement on whether they should push for a season in 2008 or push it back until 2009, when improved facilities will be available and leaving more time to build a more professional organization and raise lots more money.

So it looks like 2009 at the earliest.

Look, the real question is whether any league is capable of mounting a serious marketing effort in time for a 2008 season. Right now, nobody has enough boots on the ground.

Get your boots back on the ground and get us more.

Later. I'm in a restaurant. A friend just walked in.



Anonymous said...

Well there is one big question I have and I'm sure I am not the only one. Was there any discussion of where the money went? Have they been given access to the financial records from the IBL? Was it really just mismanagement or something more?

Anonymous said...

Hey genius! From day one people have tried to find out where the money went. You will never know unless Martin Berger tells all(now that he is no longer the president of the IBL) or a lawsuit forces Larry Baras to come clean.
Very interesting stuff ,Elli. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Lets look at the Board now that Martin Berger has been deleted:
Larry Baras of course
Jeremy Baras in charge of game day field entertainment(that was pretty good considering his job was over after the first game)
And Dan Dukette who is owed a ton of money and is hoping to get whatever cash he can before the IBL blows up.
ADVICE to DAN :Freeze the account before Larry gets hold of any money
If not ,you know where the money will go(Larry's pocket)

j benson said...

i think that people should be a little more concerned with getting players to be there with such uncertainty. The level will be hard to maintain because pro baseball players need to have an idea of where and when they will be playing. Hopefully for everyones sake they resolve something! I will be signing in the atlantic league again most likely with lancaster, there are many other players that the league needs....who will go elsewhere!!!!!

Anonymous said...

nah, there will be enough players. Whether it's at the level of play that Duquette wants is another story. But you'll always find enough guys who'll play ball in Israel for a summer - it just may not be great ball. But what does anyone in israel care? I'm sure they'd still watch the game if the pitcher is throwing 80 mph as opposed to 90mph.

j benson said...

yeah i suppose but who will want to invest in a bunch of randoms playing baseball, fans want to see good competition!!! But good luck with it all why doesn't anyone write a name here to scared to sack up???

Anonymous said...

Jason: You got to take a job in the Atlantic League if you have the chance. Sure the girls are better in Israel but so what. They will always be there

Alan said...

JBen...Heard you posted something, so I checked in here. Now you know why I've stayed away from TB...it's frustrating at a minimum and largely useless dialogue when everyone is so scared to post their identities and own up to their comments.
Good luck with the Barnstormers...they're lucky to have you...hope to catch a game when you're nearby, bro.

j benson said...

Thanks for the support in my decision boys I just want to see this babseball thing in the holyland prevail, later in my career I would love to play there again and also coach there. I don't want it to fail being one of the pioneers there last year. God bless and please make this happen boys for everyones sake.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jason, even if baseball is not played in 08 but is done correctly in 09 it will be much better than 07.
Guys like you made Baseball in Israel despite all the curveballs and
screwballs who were throwing them.

Anonymous said...

yeah and now the IPBL has come out with the "tryouts" and we all have to go. HA they have got to be kidding

Listen guys, don't go (yeah Leon you too) whe we do not show up and they have no players we will get another email letter from wilson and gardner (oh is he trying out also) that we will all be invited . If some go then that will be bad. Guys , let's all go back but screw the tryouts . trust me , they will not have players and we will all be asked back.