The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Memphis’ emperor has no clothes


Jolly old England is full of medieval castles, built by the wealthy and privileged in part as a symbol of status and station as well as protection from enemies. Today, these beauties are no longer practical. A very precious few can afford to maintain them so many are for sale with buyers in short supply.

There are definite parallels with the baseball operation in Memphis and its palace.

The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, long in financial difficulty, have been for sale. Their “white knight”, the parent St. Louis Cardinals, signed a letter of intent last fall to purchase the team, but backed out once they had a full view of the financial mess. No other potential owners have publicly appeared.

AutoZone Park is one of the top facilities in minor league baseball, but it didn’t come cheaply. The park was built in 1998 with the backing of $72 million in bonds that require three yearly payments totaling $5.4 million to US Bank, trustee for the bond holders.

These debtors apparently became testy when the operators of the team, Blues City Baseball, were unable to meet their scheduled payments. Those owned money demanded an immediate change in management. The fact that it is midseason did not matter.

As of Thursday, Global Spectrum, a national facilities management firm, took over management of the Redbirds and AutoZone Park. Their goal is to get the “financial house in order,” Redbirds Foundation president Roy Pohlman told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

Some Redbirds employees have already been released with the rest stuck in an uncomfortable 30-day limbo period as the new operators make their assessment as to who stays and who goes.

Ever been there or know someone who has? It is not a good place to be.

Team president/general manager Dave Chase will remain until the end of the season, but Global Spectrum has already said they will be bringing in their own general manager. What does that say to other team employees about their job stability?

While “the baseball fan won’t see any difference,” according to Pohlman, anyone who has been anywhere near a takeover, downsizing, outsourcing or any of the other corporate-speak mumbo-jumbo for cutting jobs, knows how hollow that promise may turn out to be.

It gets worse.

With no apparent care about community reaction, the club’s Returning Baseball to the Inner City program (RBI), begun twelve years ago to foster baseball among inner-city youth by providing uniforms, equipment, lunches and places to play, was abruptly ended this past week.

As a result, the season-ending championship rounds of the summer baseball program serving 1,100 youths were canceled, reports FOX channel 13 in Memphis.

The people who put their money down to finance the ballpark certainly deserve to be paid, but these latest moves illustrate a complete disregard for the community of Memphis and the hard-working and committed employees of the team.

With all due respect to Global Spectrum, why do they think they can put the financial house in order now? Given the size of the debt, the suggestion the club was mismanaged seems off the mark.

Now studies are being commissioned on how to staff a minor league team and how to promote it. That work should have been done long ago and the management of the team and ownership should have established a viable operating plan. Perhaps it was and they just couldn’t get there from here.

It is really believed that rearranging these deck chairs will fix the fundamental problem? Memphis appears to own a castle they cannot afford.

Anyone with a thimbleful of public relations sense would not have pulled the rug out from under 1,100 kids, potential future Redbirds fans and children of current potential Redbirds fans, right before their championship games.

The complicated ownership and management situation in Memphis is no clearer than before. Now one operator, Blues City Baseball, is out and another, Global Spectrum, is in.

Big deal. What can change for the good?

The ones who will lose out are the youth of Memphis and the team’s employees, the serfs who serve at the beck and call of the noblemen, who are being forced to admit that they cannot afford the lofty lifestyle to which they committed.

MyFOXMemphis report entitled “Redbirds “RBI” Program Out of Business”:

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