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MINORS' QUIET MVP READY TO HANG SPIKES

As president, Mike Moore helped modernize the minor leagues and make them profitable.
Published Sep. 23, 2007|Updated Sep. 25, 2007

Every spring training, countless baseball fans have walked right past his office and never given the little block building outside Progress Energy Park a second thought - or even a first.

They certainly wouldn't have recognized the stocky, gray-haired man who has run the operation in virtual anonymity since 1991.

But Mike Moore is no stranger to baseball people, and neither is the unassuming national headquarters of Minor League Baseball just beyond the stadium gates by the downtown waterfront.

Moore is the man who has made the minors major league.

He has enjoyed a presidential tenure of Franklin D. Roosevelt proportions, elected to four consecutive four-year terms. And he has served all 16 years to boot. Moore took office when the minors were just coming out of an era of sagging revenues, some unreliable ownership and an abundance of dilapidatedballparks, many built during FDR's Works Progress Administration.

He has transformed the operation into a booming industry that generates annual gross revenues of some $500-million, re-packaged with a sense of family fun and Americana.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig has 30 teams to worry about. Moore has 175 clubs that charge admission, 245 counting teams playing throughout the Caribbean and Latin American.

But the game is winding down for the minor-league MVP you never knew. Three months from now, at baseball's winter meetings, Moore - who served from 1971-88 as vice president, general manager and part owner of the Florida State League's Tampa Tarpons, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate - will step aside as president. After three unopposed re-elections, he wants to give someone else a shot at running the show that leads to The Show.

"I only intended to stay in this job one term, and I had the opportunity to go to a lot better-paying jobs over the years," said the Tarpon Springs resident, who turns 66 Monday. "But I was lucky enough to get together such a great staff. And I didn't want to leave them. So I ended up staying. But now it's time to do some bass fishing and spend some more time with my grandkids."

They're growing up. Just like the business he has nurtured.

Finding his niche

During his tenure, the minor leagues have undergone unparalleled growth. Consider this:

- Since 1991, more than 100 ballparks have been built and attendance has increased from 27-million to 42-million-plus.

- Eight of the 11 highest regular-season attendance totals in their 106-year history have occurred since 2000.

- Minor-league baseball set an all-time regular-season attendance record for the fourth straight year with 42,812,812, an increase of more than 1.1-million over the 2006 season.

- Merchandise sales have averaged some $40-millon a year since 1993.

"Mike Moore could have been a general manager again and again in major-league baseball," said longtime friend George Zuraw, a former assistant GM with the Mariners and Pirates who once served as the Reds' scouting supervisor and was also a Devil Rays consultant. "I never met a man as qualified to be in baseball as Mike. He could have made a great commissioner of baseball. He's an amazing guy who truly has vision when it comes to the game."

At first, it was just a question of which game Moore wanted to play. He always loved baseball and excelled as a high school catcher in Indiana when he wasn't plowing wheat fields behind horses on his grandfather's 80 acres of farm land.

In 1960, he arrived at the University of Tampa and made the varsity as a freshman. But a shoulder injury and a weak arm curtailed his career after three seasons. "I figured I better find another career," he said.

So he switched horses, broadcasting Tarpon games part time, managing the college radio station, WTUN, as a junior and senior, and earning a degree in business administration in 1963.

He then became UT's sports information director, serving until 1965. But he also embarked on a side career, putting his deep, resonant voice to good use as host of a top-rated country music show on Tampa's WYOU through 1974. "I could have stayed in country radio, but I was always a person who liked to do a lot of things," he said. "And I was always doing three or four things at the same time."

The juggling act soon included TV. Moore was hired as a sports reporter at Ch. 13. He was on air for seven years in the 1970s while also getting a high-profile gig as a TV ring announcer for Championship Wrestling from Florida, run by Gordon Solie and Eddie Graham. "I did that for about seven years, and at that time it was the largest syndicated pro wrestling TV show in the country," he said.

But Moore was also becoming increasingly involved with a pursuit that would become his passion: minor-league ball.

In 1971, he became general manager of the Tarpons. His first manager was Russ Nixon, and he worked closely with the parent club's GM, Bob Howsam, architect of the Big Red Machine. "I loved running that ballclub," Moore said. "And the Reds were such a good organization to work with. Howsam is probably the guy who had the most influence on me in my baseball career - learning about the game, how you handle people, how you treat people, how you organize a baseball operation."

Every spring training, Moore would work alongside Howsam and a bevy of Reds stars - such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion and Ken Griffey Sr., all of whom played for the Tarpons - at Al Lopez Field.

"They were great people to be around," he said. "My kids grew up at the ballpark. And it was just a great life."

Applying his vision

A new life began in 1988, when Moore joined Minor League Baseball as chief administrative officer. He knew he'd miss the thrill of being at the ballpark, but he figured he'd give it a try for a few seasons.

He had always felt the office operation was outdated. "For instance, for more than 100 years every record came through this office, and it took about eight employees to file them," he said. "I always felt the Minor League Baseball office could do a lot more as an industry. When I arrived, I saw how choked the system was, and I thought we should be doing other things - national marketing, national licensing, things that weren't being done."

After three years analyzing the situation, Moore threw his hat in the ring and ran for president in 1990. New owners with deeper pockets were buying minor-league clubs, and they favored Moore's brand of change. He ran on a platform of modernizing and marketing the minors and getting the owners more involved. He convinced the membership to abandon the executive committee - consisting of three league presidents who took turns ruling - and beat out "four or five others" for the top job.

In February 1991, Moore convened a three-day constitutional convention in Dallas with two delegates from every league, and new bylaws were hammered out. "One of the guys who ran against me walked in as a delegate that first day and said, 'What are we gonna do after three days and we don't get anything done here?' I looked at him and said, 'Why don't you sit down and let me worry about that?'''

Moore has been taking care of the details - large and small - ever since. And Minor League Baseball has never looked better.

Dave Scheiber can be reached at scheiber@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8541.

FAST FACTS

Mike Moore

Title: President, Minor League Baseball

Years in office: 16

Age: 65 (turns 66 Monday)

Resides: Tarpon Springs

Family: Moore is married to Barbara, has four children and eight grandchildren with No. 9 on the way.

A few fond memories: Standing in a Burger King parking lot in Tampa one night, working with (former major-leaguer, now Rays batting instructor) Steve Henderson on his hitting; talking pitcher Bill Scherrer out of quitting when he was assigned to the Tarpons, then watching him make it to the Reds.

Source of pride: "In all the years I've been here, we've never had a club go belly up. And the industry has never been stronger."

Next in line

Four candidates are vying to replace Mike Moore as Minor League Baseball's president when a new election is held at the Baseball Winter Meetings, Dec.3-6 in Nashville. They are:

David Chase: Now that he's done with The Sopranos ... no, this David Chase has been president/GM of the Pacific Coast League's Memphis Redbirds since 2002 and spent 18 years with Baseball America.

Philip Evans: An attorney and consultant who worked with the NBA's Development League from 2001 through July, first as director of league and business affairs then as president.

Jeremy Kapstein: Has been with the Boston Red Sox since 2002 and currently is senior adviser/baseball projects.

Pat O'Conner: Currently vice president, administration and chief operating officer for Minor League Baseball, a position he has held since 1993.

What they say about Mike Moore

Bob Howsam, former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and architect of the legendary Big Red Machine: "Mike did a great job in anything he tackled. When we had spring training in Tampa, he had two jobs. He was general manager of the Tarpons, our farm system club, and he oversaw our spring training. So I have great respect for Mike and he's come up with excellent ideas as head of the minor leagues. And he's made them work. You can't ask more than that."

Jim Ferguson, former longtime vice president of publicity for the Cincinnati Reds and veteran PR chief for Minor League Baseball: "Obviously Mike has had a tremendous impact on the industry. I think his biggest things have been that he's had a lot of very good ideas, but he also has the ability to translate ideas into successful outcomes. And a lot of that is the trust and respect he has in dealing with people in Minor League Baseball. From the standpoint of an employee, he respects you and trusts you in your professionalism to let you do your job the way you think it should be done. That applies not only to his staff but the people he's worked with throughout in the industry."

Jim Hoff, director of minor-league operations for the Devil Rays: "I've known Mike for close to 40 years and he was actually my general manager when I was a manager of the Tarpons in the late '70s. He's just a great baseball person, and probably one of his greatest assets is that he's able to get through the garbage and look right at the problem. As my general manager, he always had great insight into problem solving. And he carried that over into his role as head of Minor League Baseball."

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