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October 24, 2008 – EXCLUSIVE – NEWARK BEARS FOLD October 24, 2008

Posted by atlanticleaguenews in Uncategorized.

Story updated at 11:30 PM, 10/24

Breaking News! Bears Have Folded: According to a top-level team source, the Newark Bears are no more. Team owner Marc Berson has decided the Bears were losing too much money each year to continue. He also felt as if he wasn’t receiving the proper support from a number of people, including in the community and around the league. More to come. – Scott Stanchak (2:58 pm ET)

Ashmore Update: Here’s what I’ve been able to learn from speaking to multiple sources regarding this…

With many Atlantic League teams and executives down in Florida for their annual meetings, the folding of the Newark Bears is an idea that had been on the table for several days.

As of now — and that appears to be the key phrase in all of this — the Newark Bears are no more. According to one source, a representative of ownership informed the staff that the team was folding today, and all staff members were essentially asked to leave. There was no advance warning.

I’m told that there are scenarios being discussed that would involve the team being bailed out in a way similar to what Frank Boulton did with the Bridgeport Bluefish, and one team official told me that he thinks it’s highly unlikely that baseball won’t be played in Newark in 2009.

But as of this moment, the Newark Bears have ceased operations and will not be playing in any league, at any time. The ballpark is empty and will remain that way until further notice.

It is unclear what happens to the 2009 All-Star Game or whether the Road Warriors will be returning, but that is obviously not the biggest concern at the moment. I don’t see how the league could lose another of its charter franchises, but short of a financial infusion from another owner, it seems to be a very real possibility.

The Bears reportedly lost more than a half a million dollars this season, and I’m told that only half of the teams in the league didn’t lose money this year. With that said, this may not be the last team you see go away. – Mike Ashmore

Note: All news sources should cite AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com on this exclusive story. I’ve also opened up comments to anyone, not just registered users for this topic. – SS

4:45 PM UPDATE — I’ve placed calls to several people on this matter, but I wouldn’t expect to hear anything for a while, as many people are on their way back from the meetings in Florida. – MA

11:35 PM UPDATE — Imagine my surprise to see my cell phone ringing at 11 PM with Frank Boulton on the other end. Many thanks to him for calling me back after what had to be a long day, with both the Newark situation and returning from the Florida meetings weighing on him.

I’d love to have a lot to tell you right now, but honestly there isn’t a lot to say…not yet. Boulton told me that he expects to have a clearer picture of the situation in a week or so, but that he wasn’t informed of the decision to release all but three Bears staffers from their jobs until around 11 this morning.

Hopefully by the end of this month, there will some finality to the Bears future. Will they exist at all? Will they play in the Atlantic League if they do? Will they still host the All-Star Game? Are the Road Warriors coming back? Is Boulton buying the Bears?

All questions, I’m told, that should be answered sooner rather than later.

A Player’s Perspective On The Salary Issue: Chad Ehrnsberger spent some time in the Atlantic League with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs this season, and also has extensive experience in not only other independent leagues, but affiliated ball as well.

Chad was kind enough to write up his take on the salary issue, and with his permission, I’ve posted it here.

I have been reading all the comments on this board since before I even signed to play in the Atlantic league. There are alot of opinions out there which everyone is entitled to. But at the same time, I think you should base those opinions on facts, not rumors or assumptions. I have the unique perspective of playing in different independent leagues as well as affiliated ball, so I feel I can compare and give the facts on all 3 of those I mentioned.

The most controversial of the talk seems to center around players’ salaries. It is true that you make very little money in affiliated ball. BUT, only at the lower levels. Once you reach AA/AAA, the salaries will get higher than what you make in the Atlantic League. When you sign with your first pro team, they have a set pay scale based on your level of play. On average, the first year AA salary is about $2200/month. This pay scale stays in effect until you get released or become what they call a 6-year free agent. Basically, that means you’ve been in the minor leagues for 6 years and not in the big leagues. And once you become a minor league free agent (which most guys in the Atlantic League fall into) you negotiate your salary. Most minor league free agents make as little as $4000 and as much as $12,000 per month. So to ask a guy making that kind of money to make no more than $3000/month is a shock for most players. That more than anything is the reason so many players choose to play elsewhere rather than the Atlantic League. Players make more money in Mexico, Taiwan, Italy, Korea, Japan, and even other Independent Leagues. I’ve played in the Northern League for parts of 5 seasons, and I made alot more money there than in the Atlantic League. In fact, my salary was basically cut in half to come play in the AL this season. I’ve known a couple guys to make $10,000/month in the NoL. And not only money wise do they take care of you in that league. They will house you for free (2BR 2BA fully furnished apt) and also give you a car to drive for the season. You get your own hotel room on the road, all your bats paid for, and pay 1/3 the clubhouse dues you pay in the AL. And the food is much better! So long story short, if salary is a player’s main objective, the Atlantic League is the last place to look.

But players decide where they will play based on many other factors. Among them are: location, travel, potential teammates, opportunity to get picked up, and stadiums. The only factor that will never change is travel. Unless of course, the AL expands way south or west. For right now, the Atlantic League is the place to be for players looking to get picked up. But for how long? That remains to be seen. If more players leave for the money, will MLB teams continue looking at AL teams for talent? I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that having a love for the game only takes you so far. You still have to pay the bills and look out for your family. I think as more players realize they can make alot more money elsewhere, the talent pool will continue to decrease. For example, when I told players this year about the money they could make in the NoL, about 95% of them said, “Get me a job there!” And every year it gets easier and easier to get jobs in foreign countries, which again will take players away from the AL. The league’s owners are in a tough spot. They need to pay the players more and take better care of them if they wanna keep them, but can they afford that? I have no idea. I’m sure some can and others cannot. Here’s my idea…search for all the Independent teams that CAN afford it and create one big “Super Independent League”. You could pay players between $5,000-10,000/month and fly around the country playing in the best stadiums in front of the biggest crowds. It would basically be the Mexican League but in the US. The other Indy teams could stay as is, reorganize, or even create some sort of farm league for this Super League! That may be a fantasy but I can think of at least 6-7 teams that could do that right now.

I kinda got off topic there but to close, the AL needs to do something. Players in the league are not money-hungry like some fans wanna believe. The fact is, these same players have made, and could make, much more money elsewhere.

Chad Ehrnsberger

On behalf of Scott and myself, we’d like to thank Chad for taking the time to do that. Agree or disagree with him, you’ve got to appreciate that he’s willing to give you first-hand knowledge on what appears to be an important issue to many of you.

If any other players (current or former) or team/league (ha!) executives would like to do something similar, you can reach Scott and myself at the e-mail addresses listed on the right side of the page. – MA