IBL: Israel Baseball League strikes out after one year

"2008 is not happening, 2009 we're working on," Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, tells Post.

IBL 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
IBL 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The much-hyped Israel Baseball League, which was slated to begin its second season June 22, has been cancelled for 2008 and its future is in jeopardy. "There will be no league in 2008," Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. According to Katz, the league's problems stemmed largely from a number of Israeli creditors who, he said, had not been paid by the IBL. "2008 is not happening, 2009 we're working on. Right now it's [nearly] the first of June, and there's no preparation. But there are many parties interested in reviving professional baseball [in Israel]." The six-team IBL was founded by Boston-based businessman Larry Baras, and started play in the summer of 2007, featuring Jewish and foreign players selected by personnel director Dan Duquette, the former general manager of the Boston Red Sox. Baras could not be reached for comment. Its 10-week debut season in the summer of 2007 brought much fanfare but few fans, the great portion of whom were American olim or groups of Anglo youngsters in Israel for the summer. It was marred by financial and organizational problems - from missed player payments to games cancelled early because of inadequate lighting. Former New York Yankees pitcher Ken Holzman quit managing the Petah Tikvah Pioneers with one week left in the season, unhappy with the league. Ten members of the team's advisory board, including former US Ambassador to Israel turned IBL commissioner Daniel C. Kurtzer and Yankees President Randy Levine, resigned in November, citing disappointment with the league's business operations. The IAB is authorized by the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports to grant licenses for professional baseball in Israel, in addition to coordinating amateur and international play. Another startup, the Israel Professional Baseball League, headed by Maccabi Haifa basketball team owner Jeffrey Rosen, a former investor in the IBL, was expected to begin play this year. But, like the IBL, the IPBL is now also looking to 2009. Martin Berger, president and COO of the IBL, said despite the IAB comments, he still had hope for a second season this year. "[The IAB] created an issue, we hope we have resolved that issue," Berger said. "We don't think we've breached any agreements, and we're moving forward in cooperation with the IAB." "We are working hard to secure enough funding to make sure that any debts that we had from the first season are paid off, and that we have enough financial backing to move ahead. We really intend on having a second season, we're trying to be financially and fiscally responsible." Netanya Tigers manager Ami Baran said he had also heard of hopes for an abridged schedule, but that a decision had not yet been made. The league's Web site gives no indication of a postponed or shortened season, and publicizes January tryouts in Miami, along with "future tryouts" in the Dominican Republic and Los Angeles. One of the board members who resigned, Professor Andrew Zimbalist, said as far as he knew, "the league is dead." "The main difficulty last year was that there wasn't sufficient work on the ground to prepare the terrain and to familiarize people with what was going to happen," said Zimbalist, a pioneer in the field of baseball economics. "There needs to be a lot more marketing - to introduce a new sport into a country, you need to promote it, and it wasn't adequately promoted. Once it got started, the communication system between the league and the potential fan base was not in place. "I think that there is a lot of momentum and lot of interest that was established, and there is no reason why there can't be a successful league here in the long run. It has to be managed better and prepared better." While the country has a burgeoning youth program, and the Israeli national team will compete for entry to the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the market for professional baseball was not developed - nor, it seems, was it cultivated, said Marvin Goldklang, an owner of several minor league baseball franchises, and a minority stakeholder in the Yankees. "One of the things that was missing last year was a serious due diligence effort, focusing on both market and facility related issues, to assess the economic viability of professional baseball in Israel," said Goldklang. "I do believe there is a future, provided it is structured and marketed in a manner more likely to connect with the broader Israeli population, than was the case last summer."