ONEONTA _ The Oneonta Tigers will be sold to a group headed by New York City lawyer E. Miles Prentice, team president Sam Nader announced Tuesday at Damaschke Field.
Nader, 88, said during a news conference that a contract to sell his team needs only the approval of Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the New York-Penn League to become official. Nader estimated that, barring any snags, the deal would be approved by mid-August _ a few weeks before the 2008 NY-Penn regular season ends.
The deal would keep the team in Oneonta at least through 2010, Nader said.
Nader and Sid Levine, 95, the vice president and treasurer of the Oneonta Athletic Corporation, refused to discuss the financial terms of the sale, citing a confidentiality clause in the agreement. The two will own the team until the deal is approved.
"If you're seeking to know what the purchase price is, I'm not at liberty to disclose that," Nader said. "It's safe to say it's more than a dollar. I'm not being evasive, I'm just trying to fulfill the terms of our agreement with the potential buyer."
According to minor league baseball.com, a short-season Single-A franchise is worth at least $1.8 million. Nader said the league would vote on the sale during its annual meeting in August.
"We've touched all the bases and this is truly a sad time for Sid, myself and my family," Nader said. "But as they say in poker, there's a time to hold and a time to fold. I'm not a poker player, but I believe in that."
Prentice, 65, is they key figure in a group of six that has agreed to purchase the OAC's stocks. Prentice owns two other minor league teams, the Huntsville Stars (Ala.) and Midland RockHounds (Texas). Both are Double-A teams.
Nader, a former mayor of Oneonta, said he served for several years with Prentice on Minor League Baseball's board of directors and added that they two have a strong professional relationship.
"We have met Miles and he is a great guy," Levine said. "He just exudes prosperity. He's great. Our own commitment is that we wanted to keep baseball in Oneonta because Oneonta is pretty dear to Sam and his family and is very dear to me. We want to see it continue."
Nader and Levine confirmed that the agreement states minor league baseball must remain in Oneonta through at least the 2010 season, when the OAC's contracts with the Detroit Tigers and the city of Oneonta expire. The two expressed hope that the new owners would keep baseball here much longer.
"Minor-league franchises are hard to come by," Levine said. "But Miles told me that he had two Double-A franchises and always wanted to have an A franchise. Here's a hell of a good chance for him. But, we wanted him to keep it in Oneonta. Period."
Although he would not reveal the selling price, Levine said the offer was not the richest the OAC has been offered in recent years.
Nader said negotiations began in mid-December with Prentice, who has been unsuccessful in bidding for two major league franchises _ the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals.
"He's a man of great integrity," Nader said. "He's a man of means and can operate the club with a great deal of experience. ... We've had many opportunities to sell this club. Even after our negotiations started with Miles, we've had three other organizations approach us and want to buy the Oneonta Tigers. We're very proud and we think we made the right decision with Miles.
"Miles shares our philosophy about minor league baseball in small communities and I'm sure you are going to like him," he continued. "He's a very personable man and has a lot of personality."
Nader said he is unsure if the new owners will sell beer at Damaschke Field, which the OAC has never offered its fans. Andy Weber, who attended the news conference and will serve as the team's general manager once the sale is finalized, deferred questions on the sale of alcohol and other possible changes to Prentice.
Messages left through Weber for Prentice, who did not attend the news conference, were not returned to The Daily Star on Tuesday night.
Nader said he knows the sale of alcohol is important to sports franchises.
"We resolutely did not sell alcoholic beverages," Nader said. "In my opinion, it's extremely difficult to operate a professional sports franchise without, unfortunately, the sale of alcoholic beverages. We recognize that and know that. But we've resisted it and much to our regret from a profit-and-loss standpoint. But nevertheless, we think we have great fans and great people come to our games."
Weber, 28, has been working with Nader, Levine and director of operations Bob Zeh since the beginning of this season. He is the son of Jim Weber, one of the associates in the ownership group. Other members of the group are Steve Long, John Gleason, Ed Mattes and Laura Mattes-Cox.
"We are very excited to become a part of the Oneonta community," Andy Weber said. "Sam and Sid have started and carried on an absolutely amazing and wonderful tradition in this community and we look forward to being a part of that throughout the years."
Zeh said he is unsure about his future with the team, although Weber indicated he would be welcome to stay with the franchise. Zeh began working with the Oneonta franchise in 1973, when then-general manager Nick Lambros hired him to work the ticket booth. Zeh said he had just been hired by Oneonta High as a teacher and a basketball coach and was in Neahwa Park hitting golf balls when Lambros recruited him.
"I came across the street and 35 years later, I'm here," Zeh said. "That's a wide street."
Weber said the new ownership would like to keep Zeh as part of the team.
"When Miles was here, I visited with him and he expressed an interest in me still being involved," Zeh said. "When the dust is settled and it's all done, I'll sit down and talk and see what they have in mind for me. I'd like to still be involved some way, but not 24/7."
Nader and Levine were part of a 10-man group that formed the OAC and purchased the franchise in 1966 for $7,500. Each member put in $1,000 for a total of $10,000 so the team also would have startup capital. Nader said there was also an understanding that if one member wanted out, he would offer the stock to the corporation or to another member of the corporation for the cost of the original investment.
Nader and Levine are the only living members of the original 10.
Two of the stocks, owned by Albert E. Farone and Dr. Alexander Carson, were sold to the corporation, leaving eight others available.
Three others have remained in estates. The shares owned by Dr. LeRoy S. House (Nader's father-in-law), Henry Bunn and Nathan Pendleton are currently in estates and being handled by other lawyers. Bunn's share was sold to Joseph P. Molinari, who was killed in a plane accident, Nader said.
Nader said he purchased the shares of Harold DeGraw, Sterling Harrington and Stephan Low.
"When we went into this, we just wanted professional baseball in Oneonta," Nader said. "They asked me to be president and I said I'd be president on one condition _ that nobody second-guesses me. And I promise you on my behalf that I'll never come to you for more money. They kept their promise and I kept mine. All of the principals have agreed to the sale of the stock."
The OAC has fielded offers for the team over the years, and during a 2001 Daily Star interview about the possible sale of the O-Tigers to AlliedSignal, Levine said the OAC rejected a $2.5 million offer in 1998 and would have turned down $5 if it meant the Tigers would be forced to leave Oneonta.
Nader said in May, however, the two had fielded offers recently.
"Baseball is 12 months out of the year and, for the most part, it's seven days a week and many hours during the day," Nader said Tuesday. "We recognize our shortcomings and it just caught up with us."
Through the years, Nader and Levine have done all they could to keep baseball in Oneonta. It's remained a small operation, and Nader said he never counts the money from the concession stand, rather having a trust that the nightly deposit is done correctly. He also noted neither he nor Levine have taken a salary and that they have absorbed the cost for baseball-related trips themselves.
Rising costs associated with owning a professional baseball team also have hurt, Levine said.
"The other thing is in the league, the league dues were almost a handshake," he said. "Today, the league fees are $25,000 and when you're paying bills, which we do, it gets a little hard when your income doesn't reach it. Our budget runs between $166,000 and $180,000 for two months and that's pretty hefty. But, actually, we've kept it going. Sam's done a tremendous job. Bob has helped the hell out of him. I sit in the background and say, Good job.'"
Prentice is also taking over a baseball franchise rich in history.
Oneonta started in the NY-Penn in 1966 as an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Oneonta spent the next 32 seasons as an affiliate of the New York Yankees and won 15 division and 12 league championships during that time period.
After winning the NY-Penn championship in 1998, the Yankees left for Staten Island. Oneonta then became affiliated with Detroit in 1999.
The O-Tigers have won four Stedler Division titles and reached the league championship series in 2002.
"It's been a great ride for us," Nader said. "Sid and I are over 60 years in baseball. We've met some wonderful, wonderful people. We've met the best. The best on the playing field and the best off the playing field. We're very, very fortunate with great organizations."
P.J. Harmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 229.