The man who helped build one of minor league baseball's most successful franchises is stepping down. Alan Ledford, the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats president/general manager/chief operating officer, announced his resignation on Thursday.
Ledford is leaving "to pursue future business interests in the sports and entertainment industry," the team announced in a release. His resignation will be effective June 24. Vice president of business operations Jeff Savage, the son of team owner Susan Savage, will take over Ledford's responsibilities as general manager.
Ledford did not immediately return a request for an interview.
Ledford, Baseball America's Executive of the Year in 2006, joined the River Cats in 2002 as president and COO before adding GM duties in 2004. He helped the River Cats top all of minor league baseball in attendance for 10 straight seasons beginning when the club debut in 2000.
The team was equally innovative at the ballpark and in the community under Ledford. Sacramento's Raley Field was one of the first stadiums in professional sports to go wireless in 2002, and has made fan amenities and entertainment one of its top priorities. In 2005, the River Cats helped form and sponsor a field in the community where children with disabilities can play baseball.
"We have an incredible product in the minor leagues, and to continue to grow, teams must continue to innovate and take advantage of the grassroots appeal of the sport and the product," Ledford told BA's Matt Eddy in 2006 after winning the Executive of the Year Award.
A tough economic market has taken its toll in Sacramento. Though still one of the best draws (and one of the best ballpark experiences) in the minors, the River Cats have seen attendance dip over the past three seasons.
The team's attendance champion streak came to an end in 2009, when the River Cats placed second to Triple-A Columbus, which was one of seven teams to debut a new ballpark that season. Sacramento finished second again last season, this time to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Ledford noted the tough economy in an interview following the 2009 season but said the team's previous success and place in the community helped guide it through the first full season of the recession.
"We benefited from the fact that our brand has tremendous recognition in the market, so that going into this difficult economic period that we had a reputation of providing very good value to our customers and ticket buyers," Ledford said following the 2009 season. "(The recession) is something we have not seen in 70 or 80 years, so we had to work twice as hard to accomplish what we did this year. While we benefited from our reputation and history, business took a hit.
"Sacramento in particular is struggling because of its reliance on the state government. We've had to be more creative than we have ever been and work harder than we ever have to obtain the results that we did."
The River Cats have seen their attendance dip from a per-game average of 9,725 in 2008 to 9,138 in 2010. This season, the club ranks second to Round Rock in the Pacific Coast League with a 7,178 average—down from its 8,531 average at this time last year.
Ledford is the latest of several top executives to leave the team over the past one and a half seasons since Susan Savage took over ownership from the team following the death of her husband and team owner Art Savage in November 2009.
River Cats spokesperson Rebecca Brutlag told the Sacramento Bee that the team has been restructuring over the past two seasons "to make sure we can put the best product forward."
The Bee noted that seven of Sacramento's nine vice presidents during the 2009 season are no longer with the team. Brutlag told the newspaper that Ledford's resignation is not part of that restructuring process.
"Alan's leadership has been critical to establishing the River Cats as a premier franchise in minor league baseball, and one of Sacramento's true community assets," Susan Savage said in the team release. "We wish him the very best."
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