Mike Silva's New York Baseball Digest » Blog Archive » Newark Baseball Appears on the Brink

Newark Baseball Appears on the Brink

By Mike Silva ~ July 15th, 2011. Filed under: Independent Baseball.

Every Friday I take a look at what is going on with Independent Baseball. Today, I took at look at the Newark Bears and wonder if there still is a future for this troubled Can-Am League team.

Baseball in Newark has a rich tradition that dates back to 1902. There were the Newark Indians, Newark Pepper of the Federal League, and the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. Effa Manley was their owner and she was the first woman to own and operate a professional baseball team. The current Newark Bears edition, which plays in the independent Can-Am League, is a spinoff of the Yankees minor league affiliate of the same name that existed from 1926 to 1949.

Former Yankees catcher Rick Cerone brought back the Newark Bears to the area in 1998 when the Atlantic League was formed. Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium was opened on July 16th, 1999. Numerous big leaguers have used Newark to get back to the big leagues. Alumni include Rickey HendersonJose CansecoOzzie CansecoJose LimaScott Spiezio, Armando BenitezCarl EverettRamiro Mendoza, Scott WilliamsonKeith FoulkeJay GibbonsJim LeyritzDaryle Ward and Lance Johnson. Back in May I wondered if the 2001 edition of the team was one of the best Independent League teams ever. The Bears didn’t win the Atlantic League that year, but did capture the title in 2002 and 2007.

In 2008, former owner Marc Benson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A company called the Bases Loaded Group purchased the team in 2009 to keep the doors open. They hired Tim Raines as their field manager and Mike Torrez for the front office.  They hoped to revive an organization that was struggling to draw fans. They even redesigned the uniforms to replicate the original design of the mid-thirties era Bears.

Despite creative promotions that included having days in honor of New York baseball stars, the team continued to struggle at the gate. They moved to the Canadian-American Association at the beginning of this year becoming the third Atlantic League team to do so (Atlantic City Surf, Nashua Pride).

About a week ago The Star Ledger reported that “Doug Spiel, a pain management physician, and his fiancée, Danielle Dronet, the owner of a marketing and public relations firm, gained control of the team.” Mike Torrez, who was serving as the General Manager, was promptly fired. This transition still requires the approval of Essex County and Can-Am League.  The paper states that attendance this year has been around 200 fans a game.

I have been to Riverfront Stadium. It’s a quaint ballpark right off the water (hence its name), and gives off an old-time baseball vibe. With the rich tradition of baseball in Newark it would be a shame if the Bears followed in the footsteps of the Atlantic City Surf and folded their operations. It appears to be where this is headed as the Can-Am League doesn’t have the same talent level as the Atlantic League. If you don’t have stars to attract fans to come to Newark, then I am not sure what they can offer. The effort to revitalize the area hasn’t yet paid dividends to the Bears.

I hope the Bears find a way to solve their ownership situation. Unfortunately, history tells us that struggling teams that leave the Atlantic League usually don’t last very long. With the challenging economic conditions, difficult location, and internal turmoil it appears we may be seeing the final days of Newark baseball.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
Mike Silva
View all posts by Mike Silva
Mikes website

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook

11 Responses to Newark Baseball Appears on the Brink

  1. Jake

    I always wondered what would happen if the Can-Am and Atlantic League were to combine and create a super Independent League. I doubt they’d have revenue sharing, but by doing that and making a big marketing push for local baseball - perhaps Indie baseball could make a strong comeback.

  2. Pete

    The failure of the Newark revitalization since 2007 is what is killing Bears Stadium. If you could walk there for night games from town or the trains without fearfulness the Bears would have made it in the Atlantic Div. This is a testimony to the failure of New Jersey to attend to the problem of drug crime, soaring urban unemployment, inner city school failure and gang violence in its biggest city. It is a crying shame not only for the victimized honest residents of Newark but for all the citizens of North Jersey.
    There is no way this should have failed but that all the white folks stayed away in droves.

    Newark must be changed: Greater Newark: the only answer.

  3. Stu B

    If the Mets considered putting a farm team in Nassau County, why wouldn’t they consider Newark as an alternative?

  4. Mike Silva

    Stu Any move would require Yankees approval. After the ’94 scenario w/ Boulton I don’t see it happening

  5. Michael Maggi

    It’s a sad situation Mike. I can’t recall, why did Rick Cerone give up the team?

  6. Will in Central NJ

    If the Bears’ stadium had been built closer to the core of downtown Newark (say, near what’s now the site of the Prudential Center, the gorgeous home of the NJ Devils), we might be all singing a different song now. Even if it were a few blocks south, near the NJ Performing Arts Center, you’d have a lot more office worker traffic nearby. It’s true the stadium is near a train station, but it’s Newark Broad Street station, a secondary station on the edge of downtown, and not Newark Penn Station (on the bustling Northeast Corridor line).

    The economy nosedived just in time a few years ago to shelve plans to redevelop the old Lincoln Motel site adjoining the Bears’ stadium, leaving a vacant lot of gravel. Not an appealing site, but hey, I’ve snuck in and helped myself to numerous foul balls in there. ;-)

    Despite the stadium’s own secure parking deck, attendance continues to be scant and I am worried, as a Bears fan, about the team’s long-term prospects. While the presence of crime in Newark is not unreported news, the vast majority of it occurs miles from the ballpark. In response to Pete, I have attended night games with my wife and young kids, used public transportation there and back to our suburban home, and nothing’s ever happened to us. Regardless, I’m mentally preparing to put my head and heart towards Somerset if Newark goes the way of the Atlantic City Surf and Nashua Pride.

    Stu, as much as I’d love to see it, the Mets wouldn’t take over Newark. I’m sure the Wilpons, or any MLB owner, would prefer to start fresh in a new market.

    Rick Cerone saw that the Bears couldn’t sustain early success from c.1999, and sold the team to the Somerset owner when he had the chance, about 5 years ago. The Patriots’ owners couldn’t lift the team’s fortunes, despite stocking former MLB talent (as Mike has noted) on the Bears’ roster. There’s been a flurry of inexperienced owners since, and with none of them showing the magic wand, I am worried about the franchise’s future.

  7. Mike Silva


    I don’t know the answer. I haven’t spent more than a couple of days in Newark, and i can attest to the area around the ballpark being a bit rough. I can see why families might stay away. If you don’t get the family of four to come out to the ballpark you aren’t going to succeed in Indy ball. Look at the Ducks and Somerset. Its a destination. Somerset is more a corporate crowd (a company I work for is located in Bedminster and use to get season tickets before the economic crunch), but Long Island gets kids galore all summer. Central Islip isn’t a great area, but the park is safe to get in and out of.

    I think you are right. Until the location of the Newark ballpark changes its doomed to fail. You can’t bleed money in this economy to have a vanity Indy League piece.

  8. Will in Central NJ

    Thanks for your response, Mike. I work in a Newark office building, graduated college in Newark, and am descended from four generations of a family who owned & operated businesses in Newark back when its downtown was a destination for dining and entertainment. All of that might make me more familiar with the ‘Brick City’ than many baseball fans, and a bit more sad than most, if Newark professional baseball were to fail. Again.

  9. Chuck Johnson

    I don’t see any point to Indy leagues in all honesty.

    If the guys playing were any good, they wouldn’t be playing Indy ball.

    Sure, I get it that you get a Daniel Nava every once in awhile, but the Red Sox signed him as an org guy and he earned his way to Boston playing “real” minor league ball.

    It makes sense from a scouting standpoint to watch Newark play then drive up to the Cape or over to the Lehigh Valley League to check on potential free agents, but the quality of play isn’t much different.

    You may find a guy who can help your AA team for its playoff run, but the Nava’s and Brad Ziegler’s of the world are pretty rare.

    And speaking of Nava and Ziegler, where are they now?

    I can see some value as maybe a development league for lower round draftees or draft and follows, but for now there are way too many negatives to justify the positives.

    Realistically, the Indy leagues should be blown up, take a year off, restructure themselves as a smaller version of the AFL, and start over.

  10. Mike Silva


    One point players make me to all the time is they rather workout for 30 teams than try to go up the ranks with just one. By and large the Indy kids are going nowhere, but there are veterans that use leagues (like the Atlantic) to showcase themselves to MLB and get back.

    There are also kids that get released at inopportune times and rather than sitting home get a chance to play baseball at a AA/AAA level. Not sure that was as widespread feasible before the explosion of Indy leagues the last 15 years (I remember the Northern League being one of the few back in the early nineties).

    Most leagues are hurting financially, so maybe your super-league idea isn’t bad. Here in New York the Atlantic League is doing fine.

    I think Indy serves a purpose. Just a different level of the minors… basically for 30 teams

  11. Will in Central NJ

    Chuck, I’d also like to add that the growth of independent minor league baseball has happened for reasons other than player development, which has the goal of producing players for the major league roster of a given organization. Many minor league front office and staffers -affiliated and independent-will tell you that many, many fans who attend minor league games are there for the entertainment value of a night out with coworkers, friends or family. That’s all. You, Mike Silva and I might be categorized as seamheads, hardcore baseball fans, but from a business standpoint, minor league front offices don’t differentiate our dollars from those paid by a casual family of four with young kids, who care more about the dizzy bat race.

    A lot of these folks—customers, really, moreso than fans—might not even be able to tell you who the visiting team was, the names of three players on the home team, or the final score the next morning. But they are a large chunk of the paying fanbase for many indy (and affiliated) minor league teams. If these folks have money to spend, creating a demand where a market vaccuum exists—such as Suffolk County, Long Island; Bridgewater (Somerset County), NJ; or Saint Paul, MN; then indy teams in these locations fill the niche, providing jobs (on the field and in the stands) and a product that middle class families want: affordable, local entertainment that doesn’t require coughing up $200+ a game plus traffic, tolls, etc.

    That, sir, is the point of indy leagues. It’s affordable entertainment, provides jobs and (if successful) the team is embraced and becomes part of the community fabric. Player development is just one facet of the minor leagues, affiliated or otherwise.

Leave a Reply