Space Coast Surge players at their October 23 workout. Less than a month later,
their league folded.
The breathtaking freefall of the Florida Winter Baseball League this week will go down as one of the more embarrassing chapters in independent baseball. It happened so fast, the league might not even get a chapter, just a footnote.
The record for indy league ineptitude appears to be the Golden State League, which folded one week after opening in June 1995.
The South Coast League operated in the southeastern United States for one year, folding after the 2007 season. It had two teams in Georgia, two teams in South Carolina, and two teams in Florida (Bradenton and Port Charlotte).
So in the annals of indy ball, the FWBL ranks right up there for ineptitude, if not worse.
FWBL President Mickey Filippucci insists his league hasn’t “folded.”
He told the Leesburg Daily Commercial yesterday that “We’re going to put this thing back together. We have not folded. We want to come back in a big way.”
Would you believe him?
Would you invest your money with him?
Would you show up to play or coach for one of his teams, knowing FWBL 1.0 couldn’t even meet its first payroll?
The Lake County Black Bears in Leesburg are becoming a melodramatic subplot in this mess.
Lake County General Manager John Harris was relieved of his duties on November 10 by FWBL Executive Director James Gamble, who is also president and founder of the Global Scouting Bureau. According to media reports, Harris was blamed for tensions between the Black Bears operation and the City of Leesburg, which owns the stadium leased by the team.
After the league suspended operations on Tuesday, a person claiming to be Harris posted a comment on a Daily Commercial news story stating “John Harris is back as the GM of the Lake County Black Bears.”
But in a story in today’s Daily Commercial, Filippucci said Harris “has nothing to do with the Black Bears. He’s not an employee of the Florida Winter Baseball League.”
The article continued, “By Friday evening, [Filippucci] had retracted his original statement. He said there was an oral agreement with Harris that he would continue on as the general manager of the team as the inaugural season wound down and possibly lead the team in a second season.”
After three inconclusive conversations with Filipucci and unsuccessfully trying to cash his first paycheck, Surge field manager Jim Gabella spent the day ensuring his players they could cash their checks and find their way home.
“They should never be allowed to do anything with the game of baseball again because they tarnished its beautiful reputation,” Gabella said referring to league officials.
A Surge staffer told me that some players received two checks that bounced, while others managed to get one check to cash by heading straight to Walmart which apparently has a more liberal check cashing policy than banks. Other employees took cash on hand rather than risk a worthless piece of paper.
A news crew from Central Florida News 13 asked me to come by Cocoa Expo on Thursday to film a standup interview, since pretty much everyone else had left. They also used some of the video I’ve shot of the league. I recorded four segments that aired that night. Click here to watch the news reports. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.
I doubt we’ve heard the last of this. Horror stories are sure to start emerging in the papers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some enterprising lawyer organizes a class action lawsuit against Filippucci and his fellow investors.
Independent ball always has to survive in the shadow of “organized baseball,” a term that refers to minor league teams affiliated with major league parent clubs. The FWBL’s fiscal flop will only embellish the existing stereotype that indy leagues are untrustworthy. Some leagues, such as the American Association, are quite stable and financially successful. But those leagues don’t make headlines.
Failures like the FWBL do.