Goss: Jamie Toole removes CrackerJacks, Lincolns from league
July 20, 2012 10:59PM
Will Country CrackJackers president/GM Jamie Toole with Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Illinois Lincolns: Mike Hollenbeck, catcher, Joliet Township, Illinois State University; Mike Hamilton, left-handed pitcher, Lockport, Joliet Junior College.
Updated: August 23, 2012 10:43AM
Jamie Toole says there is no reason for fans of the Will County CrackerJacks and Illinois Lincolns to be concerned about their futures.
But after Toole, the owner, president and general manager of the two Will County-based wood bat summer baseball teams, decided to pull his teams out of the Midwest Collegiate League, eyebrows were raised.
A news release late Thursday night from the league said Toole notified the Midwest League’s board of directors of his decision to resign from the league at approximately 6:35 p.m.
When contacted Friday, MCL commissioner Don Popravak, who lives in Homewood, said, “Each club in the league has a financial obligation to meet its debt payments to the league throughout the year. He (Toole) has been in arrears since the first payment of the year. Both of his franchises owed upwards of $20,000 to the league; we asked more than once when we could expect payment.
“That met with no results. There were two instances in the last two weeks when he said he would come through and didn’t. (Thursday) he said he would satisfy all the league debt by the close of business. At the close of business, he said he was resigning his teams. I am led to believe this is happening because of his inability to meet financial obligations.”
Popravak said he’s consulting with the league’s legal counsel on the best course of action. Toole said he understands “there may be a hearing to determine if there is an exit fee.”
Popravak is president of the Friends of Homewood-Flossmoor Baseball, which owns the Southland Vikings of the Midwest Collegiate League, and is part-owner of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen along with his wife and former White Sox slugger Ron Kittle. The Vikings and Oilmen are in the same division with the CrackerJacks and Lincolns.
“I am taking our two teams and pursuing other options for summer college baseball,” said Toole, a former general manager of the Joliet JackHammers. “There are some philosophical differences in regard to the operation of the league. I felt there were some changes in the rules made during the season that were not in the best interest of the league and our teams.
“Typically, when you have one of the league owners who is the commissioner, there inevitably will be a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, that leads to some philosophical differences.”
Toole said the differences “revolve around player signings and the ability to add people after the deadline, where it created an out-of-balance environment. We felt our only recourse was to resign from the league.
“Yes, we owe a portion of our league debts. We’re not disputing that. But several teams owe league dues. Our decision to resign is not financially motivated, it’s that he (Popravak) instituted rule changes in midseason that are not in the best interest of teams in the league.”
Popravak said he disagrees there were rule changes. He said he made accommodations for players joining Toole’s teams and other teams throughout the league.
It’s not that Toole’s teams are hurting on the field. The CrackerJacks, who won the 2011 MCL championship in their first season, and the Lincolns, a first-year team, had winning records almost all season.
“Our two teams have more Division I players than anyone,” he said. “They were two of the best teams. They have more talent than the rest of the league combined.”
Popravak said Toole’s decision “significantly impacts” the 50 or so players, managers and coaches of the CrackerJacks and Lincolns. Toole, though, felt he had the solution.
The regular season in the MCL is scheduled to end July 29, after which league playoffs are scheduled. The regular season consists of 46 games. The MCL board of directors spent several hours Friday redoing the remaining schedule.
The CrackerJacks and Lincolns, meanwhile, were planning to play one another in a three-game series this weekend at Lewis University’s Brennan Field, home of the CrackerJacks. Beginning Tuesday, they had planned a five-game “Battle of Will County,” their version of postseason playoffs.
However, a CrackerJacks news release this weekend announced a change, with Friday night’s game between the CrackerJacks and Lincolns the last for both clubs in 2012.
“After further consideration, the CrackerJacks decided it was best to let players from their club pursue other options both within the Midwest Collegiate League and outside of the league to continue to improve their individual games,” the release said. “In addition, allowing players to sign with other teams will give them a chance to win a summer championship in 2012.”
The CrackerJacks are 52-27 in their two seasons. As for the future, Toole said we can expect to see the CrackerJacks and Lincolns, but in a different league.
“We want our teams to be in an environment where they are playing for the right reasons,” he said. “We want to continue to attract quality players in the future and help them move on in their careers. We can move forward with no ill feelings. I wish all the teams well in the Midwest League.
“We have had other leagues reach out to us that are not too far away. When you have people like (CrackerJacks coach) Bob Dernier and Ernie Banks (special guest at the team’s preseason kickoff dinner) involved with your teams, like we do, that gets noticed.
“Sometimes you make a decision based on what is best in the long run.”