Auburn, N.Y.—The Auburn Doubledays are named after the man who mythically invented baseball. But even Abner Doubleday couldn’t create the soap opera that has consumed the short-season New York-Penn League club.
In the past 14 months, the Doubledays have changed parent clubs, managers and club presidents once each and—wait for it—general managers and assistant GMs three times.
Who says there are no jobs available in America?
Nine days after the club was swept by the Staten Island Yankees in the NYP championship series, the Doubledays abruptly fired first-year GM Kyle Schoonover and assistant GM Jonathan Mercier in September, less than a year after they had been hired.
Auburn natives Adam Winslow and Jason Horbal are the new GM and assistant GM.
The team also has a new club president. Auburn native David Daum took over in June for longtime leader Tom Ganey, who either resigned or retired, depending on who you ask.
The topsy-turvy year also has the Doubledays embroiled in a legal issue, with Schoonover suing the club for reneging on a contract pledge to give him 60 days notice.
Turnover And Turmoil
The club is owned by the city of Auburn and run by Auburn Community Baseball, a seven-person volunteer board. The Doubledays had a successful season on the field in their first season as a Nationals affiliate, after 10 years with the Blue Jays. But they have dealt with one dramatic plot line after another since the beginning of the season.
First came word in June that Ganey was retiring after six decades with the club. Ganey began as a batboy for the team in the 1960s. He grew up in the shadows of Falcon Park and was a key figure in building a new, 2,800-seat ballpark 16 years ago.
The club put out a press release that said, in part: “After careful consideration, Thomas Ganey wishes to retire from his position as CEO of the Auburn Doubledays.
Only problem is, Ganey was not aware of the press release and told the Auburn Citizen, “I’ve resigned, I’ve not retired.”
Then, Schoonover and Mercier were fired in September, nine days after the season ended. The Doubledays put out another press release saying Schoonover had departed “to pursue other interests.”
Schoonover hired an attorney in an effort to get 60 days pay from Auburn Community Baseball—the length of time required by either party to void his contract. He signed a two-year contract in November 2010, and his departure came just before bonuses were due for reaching specific goals with concessions, ticket sales and advertising revenue.
“It came out of the blue,” Schoonover said. “I was shocked. And nobody told me the reason I was dismissed.”
Schoonover, who admitted to conflict with board members, said he came into a challenging situation. Washington had replaced Toronto, and longtime minor league coach Gary Cathcart had replaced popular skipper Dennis Holmberg, who won six division titles and one NYP championship in nine seasons.
Schoonover said he had already started planning for the 2012 season. After his dismissal, he filed paperwork “basically asking for two months pay and any bonuses I incurred.”
Nearly two months after Schoonover’s dismissal, Daum told Baseball America that club attorneys are working toward a resolution of Schoonover’s contract that “will be appropriate for both sides.”
Daum says the Doubledays were “going in the wrong direction” under Schoonover. “We found we weren’t meeting the numbers we needed to meet and needed to make a change,” he said.
Asked for examples, Daum declined, saying, “It’s within our group, and we’d rather not.”
The Doubledays finished 12th in attendance in the 14-team NYP, averaging 1,424 fans in 34 dates. In 2010, they finished 11th with a 1,535 average.
“I’ll be the first to admit not everything went well in 2011,” Shoonover said. “It was my first year as GM, my first year with a new team. And my assistant GM was new. We were running on the fly a lot. It was a rough go.”
‘Us Versus Them’
Schoonover, 29, was an assistant GM with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (California) in 2009 and the Mobile BayBears (Southern) in 2010 before coming to Auburn. He was one of 26 applicants for the Doubledays job.
He is trying to remain in baseball and admits he has no answer when prospective employers ask him why he was dismissed from the Doubledays.
“I’m trying to put it in my rearview mirror,” he said, “but it’s hard to explain going into interviews. People want to know why I was let go, and it’s hard to skate around. Heck, even I don’t know why.”
Schoonover said he got constant interference but little support from the board.
“My biggest problem was it was an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” he said. “They wanted to have a lot of say with what’s going on with the team but weren’t willing to come and help me. They didn’t have any money or sweat invested in the team. Zero accountability.”
He also says board members often told him of fan complaints, and that he wrote an e-mail to each board member asking for the names and numbers of dissatisfied fans. “I was going to contact each one,” he said, “but no one (on the board) wrote back.”
Schoonover says he and Mercier were a two-man front office, with a few interns helping out. He says he made only one major change in his one year, implementing an electronic ticketing system that allowed fans to buy tickets online and print them at home.
“When I got there, they literally had tickets in a box for each game,” he said. “I tried to change some concessions stuff and was told ‘No, leave it alone for this year.’ I didn’t change vendors or ticket pricing or sponsorship pricing.”
Schoonover grew up in San Diego and is now back there while he looks for a job. He thinks the board never warmed to him as an outsider from the West Coast. “I got that so many times: ‘This isn’t California,’ ” he said. “I think they are thrilled to have two guys from Auburn running the club now.”
Daum, meanwhile, is eager for the team to put the turmoil of 2011 behind. “We look to continue our relationship with the Nationals and to further our relationship with Auburn and our fans,” he said. “We have a great fan following, and we want to build upon that.”
— Jim Mandelaro
AROUND THE MINORS
Don Mincher will retire as Southern League president after 12 years on the job. Mincher, 73, is a former big leaguer who led a group of investors that bought the Huntsville Stars in 1994 in order to keep the team in town. In 2000, he took over as interim league president and has been in the job ever since.
Peter Bragan Jr. will remain president of the Jacksonville Suns (Southern) but is stepping aside as GM after 24 years on the job. He’ll be replaced by assistant GM Chris Peters.
The Kane County Cougars (Midwest) named just the third GM in franchise history, as assistant GM Curtis Haug was promoted into the job. The franchise operated without a GM this season. Haug just completed his 18th season with the franchise.
Tim Mueller will take over as GM of the West Virigina Power after previously serving as vice president of fellow South Atlantic League member Kannapolis. Executive vice president Andy Milovich will now focus less on day-to-day operations and more on the direction of the franchise and new opportunities.
Connecticut (New York-Penn) general manager Andrew Weber resigned after four years with the organization and will be replaced by vice president of operations C.J. Knudsen. Weber led the club’s move from Oneonta to Norwich, Conn., in 2010. Knudsen previously served as the GM of fellow NYP member Vermont from 2000-09 before joining the Tigers.
The Orem Owlz (Pioneer) hired Brett Crane as GM, replacing Jason Badell, who left to start his own sports marketing company. Crane spent the past four years working in Orem as the assistant GM and director of baseball operations.