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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The 'new' Israel Baseball League: Is it different from the old one?

Some of you may recall that last summer we had the pleasure of having professional baseball here in Israel. A six-team league played a two-month schedule. The league was Sabbath-observant and for those of us (mostly English speakers) who attended the games, it was a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the season came to a dismal end, with payrolls not being met and the players nearly striking, and after the season much of the league management resigned.
On November 15, 2007, [Commissioner Dan] Kurtzer and nine advisory board members (including Zimbalist, Goldklang, Levine, and Appel) resigned. They commended [founder Larry] Baras for having the vision to bring pro baseball to Israel, but in their letter of resignation, summing up the concerns of all, Goldklang and Zimbalist wrote that: "it has become apparent that the business leadership of the league has ceased to perform in an effective, constructive or responsible manner and has failed to manage its capital and other resources in a manner likely to produce successful results." The advisers who resigned said the league was unwilling to provide financial information. Berger, the league president, said: "They were asking us for things that we didn’t have yet. We haven’t done our financials for this year. We are upset and disappointed that they’re leaving, but we are going ahead for next year. We have been talking to people who potentially are going to purchase the teams." [Former Red Sox General Manager Dan] Duquette will continue to be the league’s baseball operations director.
After the season ended a lawsuit was filed against Larry Baras, accusing him of diverting funds from another business to the league. Whether that lawsuit has merit remains to be seen. The league plans to play a 20-game season this year with only four teams, beginning on July 27. Obviously, the league needs funding.

To raise money for the league to continue, Baras turned to another Boston businessman, 56-year old David Solomont (Hat Tip: Lance K.). (That last name may ring a bell with some of you). David Solomont was the defendant in a nasty lawsuit four years ago. The lawsuit was settled, but it is not clear whether the settlement was ever carried out. In any event, David Solomont did not - as far as I can tell - face criminal charges. Blogger Baseball in Israel has a problem with Solomont doing the fundraising.
In an uncanny similarity to a federal lawsuit filed against IBL founder Larry Baras, the start-up scandal lawsuit stated: “Solomont has become overextended, and is robbing Peter to pay Paul..." (See our teaser story.)
Honestly, that's irrelevant. Like hundreds of other entrepreneurs, Solomont was caught in the downdraft of the dotcom implosion of the early part of this decade. The existence of lawsuits and paying money to settle them doesn't prove anything in the real world. There's not a failed startup in the world that hasn't led to lawsuits (except for the ones that never reached the point of raising money from outside investors). And if Solomont is willing and able to raise money from others (which is what he is doing according to my sources) to bring baseball back to Israel, more power to him. Does Baseball in Israel wish to kill the reason his blog exists?

In sum, I say give the League a chance to get its act together. It's just about the only clean fun we have in this country.

I should note my connections to some of the people in this story (so that some genious doesn't go searching the web to find them and claim that I am biased or hiding something). I know David Solomont from my childhood - one of his brothers went to school with me from Kindergarten through 12th grade. In the past, I have done some legal work for that brother. I met Larry Baras a year and a half ago in Boston. His brother went to college with me. I did a small amount of legal work (as an American lawyer working for an American law firm, and not as an Israeli lawyer) for the Israel Baseball League in its early days.


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