Move over Major Leaguers, Here Comes the UBL an Upstart Challenge to Pro Baseball Aims to Restore Fan Trust Starting in 1997
Ross Atkin, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Ex-major league executive Mike Stone is back in baseball, only not
in a way he might have imagined. Instead of being president of the
Texas Rangers, as he was from 1983 to 1990, he is the chief
operating officer of the United Baseball League (UBL), an upstart
operation that exists mostly on paper.
That status is scheduled to change in 1997, when the wraps come off
the UBL. The new venture will provide Major League Baseball with
its first direct competition in more than 80 years - not since the
Federal League folded in 1915.
Mr. Stone says getting the new league's eight franchises up and
running is like "trying to push eight big boulders up eight
That's a lot of heavy lifting for a guy who was content to raise
and ride cutting horses on his Fort Worth, Texas, ranch.
"The philosophy of this league is what intrigued me," he says from
the UBL's eight-person, mid-Manhattan offices. He sees the
philosophy as nurturing a series of partnerships: "Baseball should
be a partnership among owners, then between owners and players,
between franchises and communities, and between franchises and
At the top, owners will pool 50 percent of all radio and television
income in an attempt to avoid the large market/small market
disparity that troubles Major League Baseball. Clubs will share 30
percent of their gate receipts. Players also will be eligible for
The original business plan for the United Baseball League was
developed by Bob Mrazek, a former Long Island (N.Y.) congressman
who drafted the American Homecoming Act that reunited Vietnamese
children with their American fathers.
Joining him are co-founders Richard Moss, an attorney with a wealth
of player-contract experience; Andrew Zimbalist, an economics
professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., who wrote the
book "Baseball & Billions" (Basic Books, 1992); and Texas
congressman John Bryant (D), who co-founded the Texas-Louisiana
League, an independent minor league that began in 1994.
The UBL, Stone says, was taking shape before labor-management
differences disrupted the 1994 major-league season. And while the
league is not a direct response to baseball's current difficulties,
he's convinced that the league "has an opportunity not only to
patch up some wounds with fans but to attract a whole new
generation of baseball fans."
Many aficionados now are flocking to minor-league ballparks, an
encouraging sign for the UBL. Mike Veeck, president of the St. Paul
(Minn.) Saints, whose team played before near-capacity crowds in
the independent Northern League this summer, calls the UBL "a
tremendous idea" and asserts that there's "additional room for more
baseball." He questioned the original timetable, however, which
called for a March '96 startup. That has since been delayed a year.
In the view of many observers, Stone says, there are too few viable
markets and big league-quality players to create a new major