A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From the basement December 19

Q & A with Miles Wolff

Miles Wolff's experiences and accomplishments in professional baseball are long and varied. He is most recognized for starting Independent pro baseball in 1993 with the formation of the Northern League. Mr. Wolff was also the owner & publisher of Baseball America for 18 years. Mr. Wolff has owned professional baseball teams in Durham, N.C., Butte, Mont., Asheville, N.C., Utica, N.Y., and Pulaski, Va. Mr. Wolff currently owns franchises in Quebec City and Burlington N.C. Mr. Wolff is currently commissioner of both the American Association & CanAm leagues and a former commissioner of both the Northeast & Central Leagues. Mr. Wolff has also served as play by play man for one season and worked as a minor league GM in different cities. Mr. Wolff is also a former owner of a professional minor league hockey team.

Mr. Wolff has written two books, Season of the Owl (1980), a novel about minor league baseball, and Lunch at the 5 & 10 (1970), an account of the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins by black students at the Woolworth's eatery. He is also the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (1997).

Mr. Wolff's most recent baseball endeavor is launching a CanAm League franchise in my hometown Ottawa. The as yet unnamed franchise debuts May 22, 2008 vs. the New Jersey Jackals.

Thank you Mr. Wolff for doing this Q & A with A Baseball Geek and best of luck with your efforts in Ottawa.

You have stated that the CanAm League strongly desires a franchise in Montreal. Obviously with franchises presently in Quebec City & Ottawa this makes a lot of sense. How are your efforts progressing in Montreal? Is there a suitable baseball facility in the Montreal area? I have read that there is a good baseball stadium in Trois Rivieres, do you see this city as a potential CanAm site as well?

There currently is no suitable baseball facility in Montreal. However, two groups are working on building a stadium and both are optimistic that something could happen for 2009. One group is working with a shopping development out in Mirabel and the other group is looking at a site in either Longueuil or Verdun. Trois Rivieres has a good baseball stadium, but the market is probably not big enough.

There has been speculation that Ottawa resident Tim Leiper will be named manager here. What's the latest on Leiper's status with the Pirates? He managed the Bucs' AA squad in Altoona last season but there have been wholesale changes in their organization this offseason. Is Leiper your first choice at this point and when does he expect his future with the Pirates to be clarified?

Leiper has a two year contract with Pittsburgh and is probably not available. He would be our choice if he did become available.

How important to the long term viability of Ottawa as home to professional baseball is a shared tenancy agreement with Baseball Canada?

I'm not sure it is question of long-term viability as much as simply that the stadium should be the home for Baseball Canada. Their offices are in Ottawa, there is no home park for the national teams, and they are an organization that is well run. The games or tournaments that could be held there would not make a huge financial change in the operating costs, but the visability for baseball in the region would be very important.

Are the CanAm umpires employed and supervised at the league level or are the individual teams responsible for umpiring in their parks? ( Reportedly during the 2006 Minor League Baseball umpire strike, the level of discontent with the replacement umpires in the IL was greatest in Ottawa. )

The Can-Am League is responsible for hiring and supplying umpires.

I've read varying accounts as to who(m) started publishing Baseball America, you or Canadian Alan ( sic ) Simpson. Can you clarify the relationship between yourself and Mr. Simpson in the early years of BA?

Allan Simpson founded Baseball America as The All America Baseball News. It was located in British Columbia but he was having difficulty with U.S. postal regulations and other problems being located outside of the U.S. We thought it was a good publication, and Allan agreed to sell it to us if we could get him a visa and move it to North Carolina. We bought it in 1981, got his visa, and changed the name to Baseball America. Allan remained editor until it was sold when I bought the Quebec club in 1999.

Toronto & Vancouver are the 2 cities in Canada that are home to affiliated baseball. Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa & Quebec City are home to independent league baseball. Can you explain the diminished number of affilated teams operating in Canada?

Weather is probably the biggest factor with full season clubs starting in early April. Increased difficulties in crossing the border has also made some MLB clubs shy away from Canadian affiliates.

Did you follow the fortunes of the independent Canadian Baseball League that folded during it's inaugural season of 2003? Any thoughts as to why it folded so quickly?

It was poorly run with individuals that had little knowledge of the business aspects of minor league baseball.

I note a trend in the management and ownership of minor league baseball teams - affiliated and independent - moving away from local entrepeneurs to corporate models. I'm speaking of Mandaly Baseball Properties, Fenway Sports Group, The Goldklang Group ( who are involved in the CanAm League ) and the Ripken Baseball Group. Why are we seeing this change and do you see it expanding? Do you see it as a model that could work in Ottawa?

There have always been groups that have tried to run multiple minor league clubs. Every city is different, so I am not sure it is something we will see more of. I don't think it is a model that would work in Ottawa.

I am certain that you know Bill Murray through his interests in independent leagues ( including the CanAm Brockton club ). Mr. Murray is listed on the aforementioned The Goldklang Group as "Co-Owner, Director of Fun". Tell us something about Bill Murray that might surprise us. Also, is Mr. Murray responsible for the rumored interests of his former collaborators Lorne Michaels and Dan Aykroyd in ownership of the Ottawa CanAm franchise?

Bill Murray is friends with several of the people that run independent teams. He has been to league meetings and has made valuable contributions to the discussions in these meetings. At the very first game in Brockton during a rain delay he led a high school band marching around the field. He is not responsible for the interest of Lorne Michaels in Ottawa. Michaels is interested because he is Canadian and likes baseball.

According to Baseball Amercia "roughly 100 players" are signed to affiliated ball every season from the 60 + independent League teams. Bob Wirz wrote recently that, "Numerous organizations covet prime Indy talent, with Milwaukee, Toronto and the Padres among the others most active of late." Has there been an increase in the past 5 - 10 years in the number of Indy players "graduating" to affiliated baseball? If yes, why is affiliated ball being more aggressive in signing players out of indy leagues?

There has been an increase in the signing of independent players by MLB teams. The reason for the increase is the success of independent players in affiliated baseball and at the major league level.

Professional baseball in North America continues to set attendance records in both the major and minor leagues ( including the 8 million plus who attended independent league games last season ). Sports Business Journal reported earlier this year that attendance at independent league games has increased 49% from 5 years ago. "Many of those fans will visit a new or extensively renovated stadium, as nearly two-thirds of the clubs have combined to spend more than half a billion dollars on such projects since 1998." I believe that the building boom of new baseball stadiums in the US is the primary factor contributing to record attendance at all levels of professional baseball. To what do you attribute the record attendance at all levels?

I think you are correct. The new facilities may be the most important reason for the growth in attendance. Also, teams have better management. The growth of sports administration programs across North America has given baseball a supply of talented young people that want to be in business operations.

You are part of both Indy and affiliated professional baseball. The PDA agreement expires next year. Subsequent to the last expiration of the PDA in 06 there were a lot of changes in affiliations - at least in AAA. Do you expect more of the same next year? If yes, why?

I think there will probably be less changes in affiliations. Teams are signing longer working agreements and now major league teams are buying into their affiliates which should mean more stability.

Are relationships between affiliated and independent minor league baseball not good? Bob Wirz recently wrote, "The Winter Meetings continued to be busy for many Independent Baseball people, even without open arms from the brass running the affiliated minors." Baseball America reported from the Winter Meetings that "...apparently MILB’s board of trustees has voted to ban independent league teams from attending the sport’s annual promotional seminar." And, "We feel that when get together with members it should be with (MILB) members only," Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said. "They are not part of us. Why should we let them hear our best and brightest speak at the promotional seminar." Are relations strained, if yes, why?

Yes, relations are strained or almost non-existent. Before independent baseball, the minor leagues had a monopoly. Now, there are options for cities, and some minor league operators don't like this. Plus, there seems to be an increased level of arrogance among some minor league owners. Those of us who have been in the game awhile don't believe it is warranted.

1 comment:

Dave Rouleau said...

Very good interview, man.

I really liked the last question and the honest answer Wolf gave you.

Interesting.

I'll link it in my Roundup tomorrow.


Dave Rouleau
Baseball Digest Daily