Three Cal League Teams Chnage Owners

By Lance Pugmire and Patrick Laverty
October 25, 2001

ONTARIO, Calif.–California League owners voted unanimously to support the sale of the Bakersfield Blaze and the flip-flop of owners in Visalia and Mudville.

Although there is some unfinished business with both deals, league president Joe Gagliardi was secure enough in the arrangements to put them to a vote during the league’s annual offseason meeting at the Ontario Marriott.

The approval of the Bakersfield sale from Pat Patton to the California League was the latest development in a series of moves that is expected to ultimately place Mandalay Sports Entertainment as the team’s owner, with the Blaze playing in a new ballpark that will anchor a city center project. Quakes owner Hank Stickney, the president of Mandalay Sports, said he doesn’t expect to take over the team’s daily operations from Patton’s son, Jack, until the new ballpark’s groundbreaking begins in January.

The city approved a bond to fund the project, and developer Ray Olmscheid is expected to finalize terms with the city next month.

Meanwhile, Stickney acknowledged he will work to “influence” minor league owners to support a Minor League Baseball rule change initiative being led by the Double-A Trenton Thunder ownership group that will allow individuals to own more than one team in a league. The rule will be addressed during the Dec. 14-17 winter meetings in Boston.

“If it’s passed, we will obviously be able to use that as our vehicle into Bakersfield,” Stickney said. “If not, we’d have to go through it again the next year. I don’t really have to be in there until 2003 (when the ballpark is scheduled to open).”

Ownership Flip-Flop Almost Finished

The city of Visalia has approved the lease assignment of its California League ballpark, Recreation Park, to Mudville Nine owners Tom Seidler and Kevin O’Malley.

That move, combined with the upcoming formality of the city of Stockton’s approval to strike a lease deal with Visalia Oaks owner Tom Volpe, essentially clinches the flip-flop of the owners of Visalia and Mudville.

”It is a formality,” said California League President Joe Gagliardi, who orchestrated the strategy. ”The [Stockton] mayor [Gary Podesto] has assured me we will have approval and a signed lease. All this is good news.”

Gagliardi worked the deal to end the bitter relationship between Stockton city leaders and Mudville owners Seidler and O’Malley, the nephew and son, respectively, of former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley. The owners threatened to move the team to Ventura County when they learned their planned new ballpark in Stockton would be delayed at least one year.

As this past season neared an end, members of the Stockton City Council flirted with the idea of ridding the city’s Billy Hebert Field of the Nine by exploring talks with representatives of the independent Western Baseball League. The 2001 season was the last on the Billy Hebert Field lease agreement between the Nine and Stockton.

”This was my 11th-hour idea,” Gagliardi said.

Volpe, a Bay Area-based computer technology executive who is believed to be one of the league’s richest owners, impressed Stockton leaders during a meeting earlier this month and councilman Gary Giovanetti said he would expect Volpe to work toward a new ballpark in the city.

Seidler and O’Malley put the Mudville Nine for sale before this agreement was struck. Gagliardi said he expects the pair to place Visalia on the open market. Gagliardi acknowledged he would help assist the sale, which could lead to a relocation for the team that finished last in Cal League attendance in 2001.

Although the owners will change, Mudville will remain a Cincinnati Reds’ affiliate and Visalia will continue as an Oakland Athletics’ farm team.

Wallach won’t return to Quakes

Rancho Cucamonga manager Tim Wallach, the former major league veteran who guided the Quakes to the second-worst record in franchise history, will not return for a second season.

Wallach revealed his decision just hours after the Quakes’ parent club, the Anaheim Angels, announced the firing of his boss, director of player development Darrell Miller.

Wallach said his decision was primarily the result of a desire to spend more time with his family and had nothing to do with Miller’s ousting. “That’s the main reason,” Wallach said. “Even though it was a good situation, I just wanted to be here.”

Wallach, a 17-year major league veteran who played with the Expos, Dodgers and Angels, lives in Yorba Linda, Calif. One of the main reasons he took the job with the Quakes was the ability to commute to work daily, without being away from home for long periods of time.

“I enjoyed it,” Wallach said. “It has nothing to do with the Angels. They treated me well.”

In his first full season as a manager, Wallach compiled a 63-77 record. The team battled injuries throughout the first half and posted a 35-35 mark, but collapsed down the stretch, failing to make the Cal League playoffs for the second year in a row.

As for continued involvement with baseball, Wallach said only, “Little League.”

Miller’s Firing Hampers Search

Miller said Monday a decision on the Quakes’ managerial position could be made as early as today. But in a surprise move, the Angels announced Miller’s contract would not be renewed for 2002.

“There’s no question this was out of the blue for him,” Quakes general manager Pat Filippone said. “I just talked to Darrell (Monday), a 20-minute conversation about our potential (coaching) staff. There’s no way he saw this coming. It’s unfortunate.”

Tony Reagins, the Angels’ manager of baseball operations since 1998, was named Miller’s successor. Reagins, 34, joined the club as an intern in baseball operations 10 years ago. He made several visits to the Epicenter this past season.

“Tony’s a good guy, and it’s a good move for continuity’s sake,” Filippone said. “He knows we’re so important to them. He knows what we want to do.”

According to an Angels source, Wallach’s replacement, along with other minor league staff decisions, will be determined in the coming weeks by a group led by Anaheim GM Bill Stoneman. It will include Reagins, assistant GM Ken Forsch and scouting director Donny Rowland.