IBL Investing In Future

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

In 1919, Major League Baseball was deemed doomed, thanks to the fixing of the World Series. For you youngsters, that was the year of the Black Sox Scandal involving eight members of the Chicago White Sox accused of throwing the Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from gamblers. How ironic that 70 years later, Reds manager Pete Rose would be banned from baseball for betting on games.

While the future of the national pastime was in jeopardy, baseball was already cemented into the communities of Southwestern Ontario. After all, Beachville, Ontario is widely considered to be the venue of the first recorded game in 1838.

Also in 1919, the Intercounty Baseball League formed with charter clubs in Galt, Guelph, Kitchener and Stratford, with the former two teams dominating until 1935, winning 13 league titles (including Galt’s championship run from 1927-31) between them. The 1925 expansion club London Majors won the IBL championship.

With the IBL’s 100th year on deck, league commissioner John Kastner says he wants the loop to hit a home run during its centennial celebrations. But the league hasn’t been without its problems – not now, nor throughout its history. No league lasts this long without its ups and downs. Just ask the Canadian Football League.

On June 21, the league announced that the Guelph Royals were ceasing operations while sitting in the IBL basement at 1-15. Calling it a “leave of absence,” the IBL said the Rooney family ownership group would seek new buyers in hopes that the club would return in 2018. This was the first time in IBL history that a team folded like a cheap suitcase during a season.

Over the past century, teams have come and gone – Cambridge, Guelph, Mississauga, Niagara Falls, Oakville, Oshawa, Preston, St. Thomas, Stratford, Waterloo and Windsor included. Change is inevitable, especially since the IBL is a unique brand of ball. Over the past century, the calibre of IBL play has ranged from professional Rookie Ball to Class AAA baseball – it’s currently a semi-pro league, although Kastner prefers to call it an amateur “working man’s league.”

With the 100th year around the corner, Kastner would like nothing more than to see the league return to a balanced eight-team circuit.

“I’m pretty confident we will have a team again in Guelph next year,” Kastner said. “I can’t share any more details, but there are talks, and I am confident we will have new owners in Guelph for the 2018 season.”

IBL Commissioner John Kastner. Photo: Facebook.

Also at issue is the league’s entry fee for a new franchise, currently sitting at $40,000. That figure has already squashed plans for a revival in Stratford, where one of the league’s most storied clubs, the Hillers, built a dynasty from 1974-95. They appeared in 14 championship finals and won 10 times, including six titles between 1987 and ’95.

Kastner, 59, a former Stratford Beacon Herald sports editor, wrote of the team’s demise in the IBL’s 1998 media guide: “I hope someone comes riding over the horizon on a white horse to save senior baseball in Stratford. Operating a team in this day and age in a community this size is difficult, to say the least.”

The re-located St. Thomas Storm (eventually renamed Nationals) operated for five years in Stratford last decade, but the ownership group didn’t invest as much in the club as did owner-manager-GM Dennis Schooley during the club’s heyday.

In April, the latest group wishing to return the IBL to Kastner’s backyard said the $40,000 entry fee was not a realistic figure.

“We’ve done everything we’re supposed to be doing to meet their criteria – all the application points – but I can’t continue to spend money, and I’ve spent enough money on this team,” said Hillers group president Bill Matetich. “We’re not prepared to keep going and prepared to play poker with teams we’re supposed to be working together with.”

Matetich said the Hillers offered to pay $20,000 to rejoin the league. In fact, Kastner said the existing clubs voted to split the $40,000 fee into four $10,000 payments spread over four seasons. But in the end, the fee was too steep.

According to Kastner, that $40,000 fee – modelled after investigating fees from other similar types of Canadian sports leagues, and set to ensure new investors would stay for the long haul – is currently being revised.

“We are revisiting that fee, to see if there is another way we can ensure a new owner would be capable of operating a team for a number of years,” Kastner said. “I’m not sure what that mechanism will be. But if we want good businesspeople (to invest in an expansion club), and they say $40,000 is too much, then it’s counterproductive.”

According to Kastner, “We wanted to ensure that a new owner would be here for a long period of time, not just one year. We wanted some type of commitment, not a tire kicker. But we’re looking at another type of mechanism to do that (instead of a $40,000 fee).”

Since Kastner came on board as commissioner in October 2013, the IBL has done a good job in promoting its product, thanks in large to anchor clubs in Barrie, Kitchener, London and Toronto. Kastner’s sports sense has been invaluable, too. He also wears the hat of vice president of the Ontario Hockey Federation. And with the IBL’s 100th year about to unfold, the league will seize the moment to trumpet its achievements.

The league’s new centennial logo will be on game balls used in 2018. Kitchener will host a February banquet where the IBL’s Top 100 players of all-time will be announced. With Burlington Herd President Ryan Harrison heading the 100th anniversary committee, long-time league statistician Herb Morell, as well as another former Beacon Herald sports editor, Steve Rice, are working with a formula to arrive at the Top 100 list.

“Each team can submit 15 names from 1955 to present,” Kastner explained. “Herb is researching prior to 1955, to include legends, and players on teams that don’t exist anymore. We hope to have 400 people at the banquet, where we’ll also display artifacts and memorabilia.”

In this scribe’s recent ranking of the all-time London Majors (my 10th such list over the years), one major criteria eliminated IBL baseball stars who only had a cup of coffee in the IBL. For example, Bobby Deakin, who was destined for a big-league career as an infielder with the New York Yankees before succumbing to injuries, played only for a few years with London in the early-1950s. Baseball Hall of Famer hurler Fergie Jenkins was here for just a season and a half in 1984-85.

“Many around Stratford will tell you Chris Speier was their best player ever, but he was only here for one year (in 1969),” Kastner said of the 19-year big-league shortstop.

Kitchener Panthers DH Sean Reilly. Photo: IBL

Missing this year was the annual all-star game. According to Kastner, “Last year we had a good model where we played the Canadian Junior team. That was the plan when we went into this year. But in the spring they informed us that, ahead of the world championships, which are in Thunder Bay, they had committed to a two-team training camp with Australia and therefore were going to be unavailable.

“(In early spring), Barrie passed on wanting to host a regular all-star game as it was too late for us to find a third-party opponent, and we didn’t think the ‘us versus us’ (inter-league contest) had much appeal. Next year the plan is to go back to the Canadian Juniors for our 100th season,” Kastner said.

The 2017 season seems to belong to the 27-1 Barrie Baycats, with the 22-6 Panthers on their heels. The 20-8 Majors, 20-0 losers last night in Kitchener, are fading fast with many players on the injury shelf and a pitching staff again on life support. But anything can happen in the playoffs, as the league prepares for its biggest party in 2018.

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Jeffrey Reed is an award-winning sportswriter, and a former London Majors pitcher and third base coach. In 1994, he founded the Intercounty Baseball League media relations office and operated it for three years as the league welcomed back wood bats, following the aluminum bat era 1977-94. Reed is the author of London’s first baseball history book, EBBA 40 Years of Baseball. Follow him at Twitter @jeffreykreed.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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