Minor League Executive Of The Year

Moore's tenure as Minor League Baseball president marked by impressive economic gains

After 16 years of working behind the scenes to guide minor league baseball through its most successful period in history, it is only fitting that Mike Moore was reluctant to step into the spotlight after receiving the news that he had been named Baseball America's Minor League Executive of the Year.

The Minor League Baseball president, who earlier this year decided not to run for re-election and will step down from office when his term ends following the Winter Meetings in December, handled the announcement in the same fashion that he took on the many obstacles he faced during a career full of tumultuous periods: a professional, organized, yet reserved manner.

Moore said he was genuinely honored and flattered upon receiving the news, and expressed his gratitude in an e-mail as Baseball America recognized him for an amazing period of work in which peace and prosperity have been the overwhelming themes. But Moore, who left soon after receiving news of the award for a fishing trip in the Canadian outback, could not be reached for comment even after his scheduled return.

Moore was well known for surrounding himself with bright executives, many of whom have gone on to have a lasting impact on the game. So rather than detail his own achievements as president—a lengthy list that has propelled minor league baseball through a golden era and would provide plenty of fodder for even the beginning self-promoted—Moore suggested that his peers who worked with him over the years could provide a better perspective.

"I think people such as this could give you a much better story than me trying to talk about it from my prospective," Moore wrote in his e-mail. "I am only a small part of the overall story, as the changes and progress was a team effort by the (Minor League Baseball) staff and many owners and clubs operators."

Moore's reaction shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched for the last two decades, as he continually let other people take the spotlight. And it also isn't surprising that it wasn't hard to find other people to praise him.

"There are times when the right person comes along at the right time, and for whatever reason Mike was ready for the challenge (to lead minor league baseball)," said Dave Walker, president of the Midwest League's Burlington Bees and a prominent member of Minor League Baseball's board of trustees during Moore's tenure.

"Everything Mike has done has been built on trust. To know him you learn that he is a man of his word. It was good timing, because baseball needed a dose of good trust," said Bob Rich, chairman of Rich Baseball Operations, which owns Buffalo (International) and several other franchises.

"Mike is a baseball guy first; he really understands the game. He learned the business through experience," said  Pat O'Conner, Moore's right-hand man during his tenure and his successor as president.

Working As A Unifier

Walker first crossed paths with Moore at the 1991 Winter Meetings. Moore had helped National Association (as Minor League Baseball was known then) president Sal Atriaga negotiate a controversial Professional Baseball Agreement with Major League Baseball the year before, a deal that would reshape the minors and its relationship with the majors.

The PBA was one of Artiaga's last moves as his term ended. He decided not to run again after a turbulent term highlighted by the acrimonious negotiations, which left minor league officials feeling they got a bad deal from MLB.

Moore was among four candidates campaigning for the position at the Winter Meetings and delivered a speech that Walker said left no doubt that he was the right man for the job.

"I'm a former educator and really enjoy people who spend time and effort and are convincing in what they say," Walker said. "He struck me as being a visionary, which in retrospect, he has been."

After narrowly winning election, Moore immediately began to make good on his campaign platform of bringing unity and a new organizational structure to the minors' central office. He reorganized the NA's structure at a constitutional convention just six weeks after taking office. A more corporate structure resulted from the meetings, with a board of trustees composed of one club owner from each domestic league working closely with the president on policy and direction.

Moore inherited a fractured industry, with a divide not only among minor league owners but also with Major League Baseball. The PBA that Moore helped negotiate as Artiaga's right-hand man called for minor league owners to take on more financial responsibility as franchise values rose and operating minor league teams became a venture where people could actually make money. The PBA also established facility standards that teams had to meet—a particularly contentious issue for many owners.

Here again, Moore did important work behind the scenes to help teams playing in substandard facilities—not unusual with the new standards in place—petition local government for the money to renovate or build new ballparks. While owners feared the new standards would cause them financial hardship, what they found was governments willing to help them build better facilities. The building boom that occurred through Moore's work to help teams proved to be a key step toward reaching the current landscape of state-of-the-art ballparks and never-before-seen financial success and stability.

Making good on promises and improving teams' balance sheets went miles toward washing away the bitter memories of the PBA negotiations.

"Mike came in and was a healer," Rich said. "He did a lot to help the two sides understand each other better, but also to smooth relationships. We were at a point in time where the commissioner was telling his major league owners not to talk to their minor league executives . . . Mike is a consensus builder. He is a very honorable guy and a man of his word. He rebuilt the trust, starting with the minor leagues.

"We had some guys, young investment bankers putting together consortiums and buying into leagues where there are guys who inherited franchises from their parents and were running them on a shoestring budget. You had factions in minor league baseball. He started by dealing with those factions, and building trust in his constituents. He was part of an outreach program with the majors. Those were the formative years."

Moore also helped bridge the divide between the minors and majors, in part by helping Major League Baseball protect its antitrust exemption. In the mid-1990s, in the wake of baseball's labor unrest, he led a delegation of minor league officials, including current vice president Stan Brand and Walker, to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress on the impact on the minors if baseball's antitrust exemption were lifted. The group explained the entire premise of how the minors was dependent on the exemption, for developing prospects would not be possible if major league teams could not control players for years at a time.

"We wanted to make sure that they understood that taking Major League Baseball to the woodshed on the antitrust exemption had far-reaching effects into the minor leagues," Walker said. "That resonates when you are playing baseball in 46 states. There was a need for a general education in regards to what a unique gem minor league baseball is."

Moore's impact hardly ends there. He drove the buildup of the minors' national licensing program, which generates huge dollars for the sport and helps level the playing field for many of the game's smaller teams. Few teams sold merchandise through any method other than in-stadium sales prior to the establishment of the licensing program in 1991.

Hard-Headed In A Good Way

Moore has never been afraid to take on challenges, and contrary to his persona could actually be abrasive in his pursuit of doing what he felt was right for the sport.

"Mike was the right guy with the right plan at the right time," said O'Conner, Minor League Baseball's chief operating officer and the lone candidate to replace him in the Winter Meetings elections. "I can be very hard-headed, but I am no match for Mike Moore."

"Mike knew what he wanted to do and did it," Walker said. "Did he ruffle some feathers along the way? You bet. Did he lack some political smoothness? Sure. But whenever that happened, whatever he thought was good for the sport was taking too long to get from Point A to Point B. You take Mike out of the equation for the last 16 years, you'd have baseball in a different situation, and I wouldn't want to imagine what it would be."

If a leader must have a diverse background, then Moore fit the mold before taking office.

He graduated from the University of Tampa, where he played three years of varsity baseball and managed the college radio station. He remained at the school after graduating, serving as its sports information director until 1965. He wore many hats in the following years. He owned an ice cream stand at one point, and as an example of the dedication to doing things right, he drove all over Florida in search of the best hot fudge.

Moore had a successful media career as a sports reporter for a Tampa television station and was also a host of a top-rated country music show on a local radio station. He was the TV ring announcer for "Championship Wrestling from Florida" in the 1970s, which at the time was the largest syndicated pro wrestling television show in the country.

Moore also got into professional baseball around the same time, and beginning in 1971 served as part owner, vice president and general manager of the Tampa Tarpons in the Florida State League.

After years of taking on some of the biggest challenges the sport has faced, Moore has simpler plans in retirement. He hopes to spend time with his grandchildren, do a lot of fishing and remain involved as an adviser with the sport he helped build.

"I do have a lot of my life invested in the game," Moore said after announcing his retirement in May, "and have a great love for the industry."

And as always, his work will likely be out of public view, but no less important.