Politics & Government

Baseball team owners may have broken rules by talking to Wichita behind league’s back

A Minor League Baseball team may have violated league rules by talking to Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell before seeking approval from the league, according to a letter from the league’s attorney.

The letter doesn’t mention the New Orleans Baby Cakes. That team plans to relocate to Wichita if the city builds a new stadium and offers the team’s owners 4 to 4.5 acres of city land around the stadium for $1 an acre for development. The team also would have the option to buy additional land at First and Waco.

The letter was provided by the city after The Eagle made a request through the Kansas Open Records Act. It was sent to Longwell by Scott Poley, senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel for MiLB, on Jan. 16, 2018.

That’s less than three months after Wichita hired a “headhunter” — Beacon Sports Capital Consulting Partners LLC — to find an interested minor league team for the city.

The violation could have led to a $50,000, or more, fine from the league, the letter says.

“Please do not be misled by brokers or other individuals who encourage conversations other than in accordance with our rules, as such exploration is almost always uncovered and can only dampen the prospects of Wichita attracting a Minor League club at some point,” Poley said.

Minor League Baseball officials were not immediately available for comment. It was not clear Wednesday night if anyone was fined for the potential violation.

Poley wrote Longwell after he was quoted saying he had received a text message from a minor league baseball team owner. The quote appeared in a story on a Wichita television station’s website on Dec. 28, 2017.

“Longwell says he recently received a text message from the owner of a minor league team possibly eyeing (sic) Wichita for its new home. Longwell says that message said, ‘Looking forward to 2018,’” the TV story said.

A city official confirmed Wednesday night that Longwell was communicating with the Baby Cakes. A team representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

“We were surprised by this report because, under our rules, no existing or prospective club owner (or anyone acting on their behalf) may engage in exploration of a potential new city to host a team without first securing permission from the club’s league and from the President of Minor League Baseball,” Poley said in his letter to Longwell.

“No club or club owner has been granted such permission and failure to obtain permission before engaging in exploration subjects the exploring club or prospective club to a fine of not less than $50,000.00,” Poley said.

Poley attached to the letter a section of Minor League Baseball’s governing documents outlining the rule.

The letter makes no mention of disclosing any incentives between a team and host city once the league’s permission is granted. That’s important because Longwell previously said he kept the details of a side deal with the Baby Cakes team quiet because of Minor League Baseball rules.

He said last week that the commissioner of Minor League Baseball sent him a letter telling him not to make details of negotiations public. He said then that he would provide a copy of that letter when he found it. The Eagle sought the letter through the open records act and received it from the city late Wednesday afternoon.

The details of the side development deal between the team and the city were first reported by The Eagle on March 3, two days before the City Council was set to put it to a vote. That’s six months after Longwell announced the Baby Cakes were planning to come to Wichita.

Longwell later said in a prepared statement that the city could have been more transparent or “at the very least announced that a deal was forthcoming” sooner than it did. He said the details had been worked out between the team and the city recently.

The City Council voted last week to postpone approval of the deal until Tuesday, March 19, to give the public a chance to learn more about it. Vice Mayor Jeff Blubaugh has called for a special meeting Friday to consider moving Tuesday’s meeting from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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