Rochester Provides Glimpse Behind The Curtain

Red Wings shareholder meeting shows it's a tough time

This issue features our salute to Rosenblatt Stadium, which is scheduled to go out this year after 61 years of service as the home of the College World Series, to be replaced by a  new downtown ballpark in Omaha.

The fact that I've worked at Baseball America as long as I have and still have not been to Rosenblatt for the CWS is a travesty that I have one final opportunity to correct this year—and I intend to.

It's one of the classic "baseball trips every fan must take," though the Baseball America version of those trips is a bit more esoteric than the average list. So more than just going to the World Series or the All-Star Game, we think you have to see the Caribbean Series as well as Baseball Around the Clock at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, and the Midnight Sun Game in the Alaska League, which is played at night without any artificial lighting.

We actually featured a group of the Baseball America trips in a 2002 issue, and maybe we should update it because I have found another baseball trip that I have to take before I die.

This one is a bit offbeat, in that it doesn't even take place in a ballpark and it happens in the middle of January in upstate New York, but it captures something unique: It's the annual shareholders meeting of the Rochester Red Wings.

The Peoples' Team

The Red Wings are an Inter­national League franchise that has been around since the late 1800s. That alone makes the franchise fascinating, but another interesting aspect of the franchise is that it's publicly owned, a structure that saved the team for the city in the 1950s.

They're far from the only publicly owned franchise, but the Red Wings' history and the community's strong identification with the team combined with the Green Bay Packers sort of ownership make for one of the best stories in the minors.

Local businessman Morrie Silver led the effort to buy the franchise through a public stock drive in 1956, after the Cardinals decided to pull out of town. Silver bought the bulk of the shares when the effort fell short, becoming team president for decades before giving way to his daughter Naomi, who remains as the chairman of the team and was Baseball America's Minor League Executive of the year in 2008.

The franchise, formally known as Rochester Community Baseball, now has 34,569 shares outstanding, so stockholders are invited to an annual meeting each January to review the company's books and discuss the direction of the franchise. About 150 people attended the actual meeting this year, as well as new Rochester manager Tom Nieto, who gave fans a taste of what to expect on the field. General manager Dan Mason provided updates on changes off it, which will include earlier start times on Sundays and new concession ideas like a Friday clambake and a hot dog wrapped in a pretzel.

On the business side, 2,705 shareholders who hold 22,668 of the franchise's shares cast votes for the board officers and bylaw amendments this year, according to the team's accounting firm. "That's really impressive to have a two-thirds vote for an organization that goes back to the 1950s," Jerry Archibald of the Bonadio Group told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The meeting isn't just for show, though. It also sheds light on the franchise's finances, which most teams keep a tight lid on. And this year the Red Wings lost money for the first time since moving into Frontier Field in 1997. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, the Wings lost $24,349 last season—driven primarily by investment losses —and while that's a small loss, it shows the tight times minor league teams are facing, even the successful ones.

Shareholders, while approving the issues put before them like officers and bylaws, had the most questions about Rochester's ownership of the Batavia franchise in the New York-Penn League. The Red Wings saved the franchise from ruin by taking it over before the 2008 season and assuming its debts, and the Muckdogs operation has lost a total of $396,920 since Rochester took it over.

The Red Wings hope to recoup their investment by eventually selling the franchise, but some were skeptical that they'll find a buyer in these economic times.

Whether they will or won't remains to be seen, but it's amazing that they can deal with these questions in a public forum, where people can get real information about how the franchise is being run. Maybe it should be a model for more franchises.