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Unpaid players revolt in Lake County: 9 traded, 14 released

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Lake County Fielders

It's chaos with the Lake County Fielders (independent; North American League), as the team releases 14 players and trades nine after missing payroll; manager Tim Johnson and interim coach Pete LaCock are gone as well.

As it turns out, the decision by LaCock to field a team with pitchers in the field and position players on the mound Saturday night wasn't a promotional gimmick: it was a response to the team missing payroll and a boycott by 11 players in protest of how the team, owned by Rich Ehrenreich and other investors (including actor Kevin Costner), was being run. (Jose Canseco, in a very classy move, decided to match LaCock's actions to level the playing field.) Tim Johnson had already quit in protest, and LaCock decided to make a statement.

He did. And then he quit.

In response, yesterday the Fielders traded nine players and released 14 others. Only one player was retained. Even the interim managed designated to replace LaCock, Chris Thompson, was released.

“We want to start fresh,” Fielders general manager Mike Kardamis told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s a privilege to play professional baseball. If these guys don’t want to play here, we will find guys who want to play here. We could have put them on the suspended list, but we don’t want to ruin their careers. The players weren't happy, and it wasn't going to be good to make them stay. They can cash their checks tomorrow once the Bank of Waukegan opens.

“I’ve been in this business 15 years and never gone through anything like this.”

The incident does highlight the fragile nature of the North American League, created by a combination of teams from the Golden League, Northern League and United League Baseball. The Fielders lead the NAL in attendance with a little over 2,500 a game -- albeit with a small number of openings -- but there's no way any team in that circuit, given the backbreaking travel requirements, can make money at 2,500 fans a game, much less the 730 or so fans a game the Hawaiian team in the circuit, Maui Na Koa Ikaika, is averaging.

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