With Tex and John Simone out of the Syracuse Chiefs (Class AAA; International League) daily operations, family member Wendy Shoen speaks out about how they were treated by franchise leaders.
Shoen, daughter of Tex and brother of John, has spent a lifetime in baseball along with her family, most recently as team merchandise manager. While both Tex and John have been mostly quiet about the changes with the team -- Tex "retired" and John was let go as GM following a management restructuring that saw Bill Dutch and two other investors take control of the community franchise, winning over a bid put together by John Simone -- Shoen decided to speak out in a pair of interviews with the local newspaper. For the first time since 1961 a Simone isn't associated with Syracuse baseball, and there's certainly some resentment with how things were handled, especially when it came to Tex. From syracuse.com's first installment of the interview:
When asked if Tex was forced out of his position, Shoen adamantly nodded her head and said:
“I believe so. Now, did he come to an age where he was not as useful? Yes, we all reach that point. But we’re all also going to be that age someday. And that man is owed a lot more respect than this community has ever given him.
"It’s funny, because, I have attended many winter meetings in my day. When you walk into the winter meetings, people see my father. I don’t know who they are, he doesn’t know, but they stop him and say ‘Tex Simone, I’m so happy to meet you. I've heard so much about you.’ In the baseball world, that man has such value, but in this community, he was never given that value.”
There was also a lack of appreciation for John Simone, according to Shoen:
“There was a trust issue," Shoen said. "People say, ‘Ok John Simone, you are the most arrogant thing going.’ Well, I think after awhile, he almost felt like he had to be that arrogant person. That wasn’t because he was trying to say ‘oh, I’m the best.’ I think he was just using it as more of a protection for himself.”
We can understand the frustration: a lifer like Tex Simone didn't drag himself to the ballpark in the middle of December because of the lucrative paychecks, but rather because they love the lifestyle and are willing to put up with sacrifices like 14-hour days during homestands in July and August.
In the second part of the interview, Shoen may have inadvertently disclosed why the franchise attendance was in decline in recent years: real baseball fans, she says, don't need between-innings entertainment or thing that distract from the game on the field. From syracuse.com's second installment of the interview:
How about selling the game of baseball? Did the Chiefs face a difficulty in selling a sport that doesn't seem to fit the fast-paced lifestyle many live today?
“That’s funny. Because it’s the only sport that I enjoy watching," Shoen said. "I think if you are a true purist in the baseball world, you don’t need extra promotions. You don’t need quirky things going on during the game. You are just happy watching the game.
“Now, are there people, some of my friends say ‘it’s such a boring game, how do you do it all these years?' It’s not for everybody. But are you going to change those opinions? No. If you don’t like watching nine innings of baseball, you are never going to enjoy it. Having Bozo the Clown on the field or President Obama here is not going to draw if you don’t enjoy coming."
A truism in Minor League Baseball: if a pro franchise relied solely on pure baseball fans, it would be out of business in less than a year. And while a high level of folderol can certainly irritate a purist there solely to see a hot Nationals prospect take the mound, the fact is most fans attracted to a game are there for a total ballpark experience that includes between-innings shenanigans, good food and a casual atmosphere. It's not as though the management in Lehigh Valley or Rochester or Columbus doesn't love baseball (trust us; they do), but they're realists about what sells in 2013 and beyond.
One bright light: new Chiefs GM Jason Smorol has a good relationship with the Simones and has already reached out to Tex and Shoen. The former GM of the Auburn Doubledays (short season A; NY-Penn League) certainly has some challenges -- more that can be address with dollar hot-dog nights, we suspect -- and it will take several seasons to win fans back.
RELATED STORIES: Housecleaning in Syracuse: Simone, board out; Chiefs behind on ballpark rent to Onondaga County; Mobley: Chiefs financial situation "needs a little attention"; More bad news out of Syracuse: Chiefs post $500K lost for 2013; Tex Simone retires as Syracuse Chiefs COO/EVP; Ennui in Syracuse
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