One of the brightest minds in minor league baseball is leaving one of its most successful franchises.
Chuck Domino resigned yesterday as president of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (International) after seven years in order to focus on his other business ventures, including serving as chief executive manager of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Eastern). Domino also runs a consulting business that has several minor league franchises as clients, including the Charlotte Knights (International), who are moving into a new downtown ballpark next season.
“I feel proud and comfortable with the impact that I’ve had on the franchise since 2006,” Domino, who will maintain a role as a senior advisor, told The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.). “At this point, the franchise can certainly continue on its established path of success with great owners and good management.”
Domino has worked with Lehigh Valley owners Joe Finley and Craig Stein since becoming general manager of the Reading (Eastern) franchise 25 years ago, turning it into a model operation through creative promotions, superior customer service and a variety of improvements to the team’s 72-year-old ballpark. He left that team in 2009 to bring an Eastern League franchise to Richmond.
That same formula has worked well in both Lehigh Valley, which has topped the minors in attendance three times since debuting in 2008 and consistently puts on some of the most creative promotions in the minors, and Richmond, which has thrived despite playing at the outdated Diamond ballpark.
Domino will remain in his post with Richmond, a team that certainly requires more attention than Lehigh Valley at this point. The Flying Squirrels have unsuccessfully petitioned local municipalities for either a new ballpark or a significant renovation of their current home, which Domino has previously described as critical to the team’s future in Richmond.
“Chuck is a consummate professional and has had an immensely positive impact on the franchise—not only from a business and office perspective, but also in dealing with the big league club,” Finley told The Morning Call. “He’s been a great ambassador for the franchise, incredibly respected and very highly regarded in the industry.”
Domino is considered one of the great promotional innovators in the minors. He won Baseball America’s Minor League Executive of the Year in 2002, the second year the award was presented, and helped Reading (2000) and Lehigh Valley (2012) to Freitas Awards, handed out by BA to outstanding franchises at each minor league level annually.
Changes In Syracuse
The Syracuse Chiefs (International) named Jason Smorol general manager, replacing John Simone, who was fired last week after 17 years on the job. Smorol is a native of the region but has been out of baseball for nearly 10 years, last serving as GM of the Auburn Doubledays (New York-Penn) from 2002-04.
Smorol said he considers Syracuse his dream job and describes himself as a high-energy leader who can turn around the Chiefs’ recent decline in attendance. He’ll have his work cut out for him in Syracuse, where a power struggle for control of the community-owned franchise’s board of directors led to Simone’s ouster. The team had previously been a family operation, with Simone taking over in 1997 for his father Tex, who had been GM since 1970 and resigned last month as executive vice president and chief operating officer after 52 years with the team.
“Obviously, when you grow up with the team, which I did, and my father spent as many years as he did with the team, there is a sense of frustration with how it ended,” John Simone said.
The end of the Simone era in Syracuse came amid finger-pointing between members of the board of directors and the Simones as to who was at fault for three consecutive seasons of declining attendance and revenue, and competing proposals on who should control the team’s operations.
The board selected the proposal led by investor Paul Solomon and supported by board president Paul Dutch, in which they agreed to loan the team $500,000 in exchange for 600 shares of team stock. The rejected proposal was led by Elliot Wahle, a Toronto investor who served previously as CEO of Toys R Us and as an executive with the Blue Jays and Yankees, and supported by John Simone. The latter proposal promised a $1 million investment in exchange for a controlling interest in the team.
Dutch told the Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard that Wahle’s offer did not include a guarantee to keep the Chiefs in town; John Simone said it promised to honor the remaining nine years of the lease.
“We should’ve been tarred and feathered if we’d considered that,” Dutch told the Post-Standard.
“Power and control won out over a sound infrastructure,” John Simone said.
A brief summary of recent minor league front-office movement:
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
Omaha: Promoted Andrea Stava from director of community relations to assistant general manager of operations. Hired Sean Olson as director of ticket sales. Stava joined the Storm Chasers as an intern in 2005. Olson spent the past 10 years as sales manager for Omaha’s Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority.
Akron: Promoted group sales representative Jeremy Heit to assistant director of ticketing and group sales representative Mitch Cromes senior manager of group sales. Hired Brook Cline (box office manager), Pete Nugent (account executive) and Craig Wilson (account executive).
Beloit:Matthew Bosen resigned as general manager after two seasons. He served as director of ticket operations the previous four seasons as well as one year as assistant GM in 2011. Team president Dennis Conerton will assume interim GM duties while the community-owned Snappers’ executive committee conducts a search for Bosen’s replacement.
Teams can send news of front-office hirings to [email protected]