An identity crisis at 98
Dean Castelli says the Intercounty Baseball League, just two years away from its 100th birthday, doesn’t know who it is.
“There’s an identity crisis,” says the field manager of the Hamilton Cardinals, the local IBL franchise which itself turns 60 next year. “The league doesn’t know what it wants to be. If it’s a pro league … be a pro league.”
He was referring to his criticism of the imbalanced IBL standings and talent distribution in a story by Greg Mercer in the Waterloo Region Record last week.
He pointed out that there’s a huge competitive inequity in the now-seven-team league. At midweek, three teams — Barrie, Kitchener and London — had winning percentages over .700, with Barrie having won 30 of its 31 games, and three teams (Brantford, Burlington and last-place Hamilton at 8-24) at .438 or less. The Toronto Maple Leafs are midpack, hovering around .500.
The eighth team, the history-rich Guelph Royals, dropped out of the league earlier in the year, citing financial problems, and are looking for a new owner. Castillo predicted others could follow.
“They’re going to end up with a four-team league,” if the IBL doesn’t address the issue, he told The Record.
Castelli says the problem derives from the top teams paying too much money to import players from other countries, particularly Latin countries.
The IBL has a cap of four imports, five for lower-tier teams, and says Cardinals general manager Dean Dicenzo, traditionally those players have been pitchers from driveable distances in the U.S., particularly upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
League rules cap travel expenses at 40 cents per kilometre per player, or a $35 fixed rate. Salaries, and financial incentive clauses are not permitted. But out-of-town players may be paid a $50 per diem for food, and teams may also pay the cost of lodging — the real cost, league rules state — for imports.
The Cardinals have only two imports, one who has family in Waterdown and who was obtained from the folded Royals, and another from Buffalo.
But the top three teams have imports from Cuba and/or Brazil and the Dominican Republic, and fly those players to Ontario and back home after the season. Some teams can also dance around the pay issues by hiring players to run baseball camps.
“One of the teams contacted us about a player they couldn’t use, but we would have had to fly him home,” Castelli said.
Castelli also told The Record that it was common knowledge that some players are getting paid fairly well.
“Everyone knows it, but no one says it,” Castelli told The Spectator. “I said it, and everyone got upset. I’ve go no problem with a guy making a few extra bucks, but it’s got way out of hand.”
Dicenzo backs his field manager about the league’s competitive inequity, and lack of a clear understanding of what it wants to be.
“It’s definitely imbalanced right now,” he says. “I’ve been involved in the league since the 1980s and there have always been ups and downs; but I don’t think it’s ever been like this when two or three teams are so bad and three or four are so good.
“It’s a little harder for us to be competitive. I don’t know how we’d be able to control (the financial imbalance.) We just don’t have the budgets that Barrie, Kitchener and London have.
“More talent helps the league, for sure, but the talent they’re getting is pretty significant.”
Indeed, of the five pitchers with the top ERAs in the league, four are imports. Burlington pitcher Adam Prashad from Mississauga, ranked second, is the one exception. Murilo Goueva, from Brazil, who pitches for London, leads with an ERA of under 2.00. And Nos. three through five are all from the Dominican Republic.
John Kaster, the IBL commissioner told The Record that there was no disparity in league rules, that he is comfortable that teams are adhering to league guidelines and that “the landscape exists for the poorer teams to be better.”
Dicenzo says that Cardinals owner Gary Molinaro bought the team five years ago “to keep something here that’s been here for 60 years. But we keep running into a wall.”
Molinaro preferred not to comment for this story, letting his field manager and general manager speak to the issue.
Castelli says, “I don’t care where the players are from. This has nothing to do with that. It’s about the egregious nature of the money going out to these players.
“I just want some kind of balance.”
Hamilton Cardinals right-fielder Connor Bowie stretches to snag a fly ball during Tuesday’s 9-4 loss to the Burlington Herd.