While searching for recent articles about the collapse of the Florida Winter Baseball League, I came across an eerily similar tale of another independent circuit that quickly folded.
The South Coast League operated for one year in 2007. It had two teams in Florida, two teams in Georgia, and two teams in South Carolina.
Like the FWBL, the SCL had delusions of grandeur. Like the FWBL, it retained the Global Scouting Bureau to handle player acquisition. Like the FWBL, it was poorly managed. Like the FWBL, it quickly failed to pay its debts. Like the FWBL, its primary investor promised to recapitalize and return for a second year.
Unlike the FWBL, it managed to play one full season before it folded.
Witness to it all was documentarian John Fitzgerald. He signed an agreement with the SCL to produce an independent series called Playing for Peanuts. As with all documentarians, there was no way he’d know he’d be recording history.
I just finished watching Fitzgerald’s ten-episode series on DVD. You can order it through www.playingforpeanuts.com. The series is $25 plus $5 shipping. Each episode was intended to run a half-hour on commercial television, which means that without commercials each episode is 22 minutes. You can finish the series in four hours.
Playing for Peanuts was dramatic, it was funny, it was everything you’d want in a baseball documentary. I couldn’t wait to watch the next episode.
The center of the story is Wally Backman. You might remember he was hired to manage the Diamondbacks and fired four days later due to a domestic problem that hit the papers. Backman was desperate to get back into the game, so he agreed to manage the South Georgia Peanuts.
Wally was wired with a mic for the entire season. He was combustible, he was controversial, he got suspended, he got fired, he got rehired. But he passionately loved the game and defended his players.
The backdrop for all this was the absolutely horrid conditions in this indy league. It had six teams, and one of the six lost its stadium lease after a week so it had to play on the road for the rest of the year. There was a drug controversy — again, involving the Peanuts — and as the financial losses mounted the players wound up having to be their own grounds crew.
Despite all this, the Peanuts somehow won the pennant.
The documentary left me wondering how the FWBL’s investors could have possibly believed they could succeed where the SCL failed, especially since the SCL’s failure was so recent and the Global Scouting Bureau was involved with both. I don’t fault the GSB — to my knowledge, they were not responsible for league finances — but I have to wonder if GSB warned FWBL investors what happened with the SCL, and if their warnings were heard.
Playing for Peanuts is a great stocking stuffer for a baseball fan. I strongly recommend you order it now in time for the holidays.