The Butler BlueSox will not play baseball during the 2019 summer season for the first time in 10 years.
The city of Butler Parks, Recreation Grounds, and Facilities authority (the group that runs Kelly Automotive Park) announced during a meeting Monday that the BlueSox have suspended operations.
The two sides– the BlueSox ownership group and the city parks authority– could not come to an agreement and paint a different picture of what happened.
“I think both sides really tried to find a way to keep the BlueSox here,” authority solicitor Tom Breth said Monday. “I don’t think their decision was based upon their inability to come to a lease agreement. I think the parties would have been able to come to a lease agreement.”
But, according to one part owner of the Butler BlueSox, it was an unacceptable lease proposal which will result in the franchise not playing next year.
“The BlueSox owners are the ones with the skin in the game,” Larry Sassone said Monday. “We’re the ones that are paying all the bills. We’ve carried this stadium for 10 years and they just keep trying to whittle away at what we’re trying to do. We’re not making money but we don’t want to lose money either. We want to keep baseball in Butler and break even. We’d be happy with that, but we can’t do it under these circumstances.”
According to Sassone, the lease offered by the city authority would have eliminated the $12,000 per year rent the team had been paying to play at the stadium, but would allow the authority to keep all concession and signage revenue.
According to the authority, BlueSox ownership informed the city of their decision to suspend operations in a letter sent on Friday. The authority made a lease modification proposal to the BlueSox ownership a day prior, on Thursday, which outlined changes that could be made in the current agreement that would allow the partnership to continue, according to the authority.
Authority members expressed optimism that the stadium will continue to be utilized in a productive and profitable manner in the future, without the BlueSox.
“I think if we can keep the park well-utilized and booked for events, we can have it be very operational,” authority member William Painter said.
Authority representatives anticipate meeting with BlueSox representatives to discuss a mutually acceptable agreement addressing remaining outstanding issues.
According to Sassone, staying in the Prospect League was not possible due to travel but a deal was in place for the BlueSox to join the Great Lakes League, which would have had fewer games but still presented an opportunity to continue playing.
“I had everything set up with the Great Lakes League,” Sassone said Monday. “We were ready to go with the Great Lakes League until this proposal (from the city authority) came out. We were in the Great Lakes League. We were accepted. We were ready to go until they came back with all this stuff.”
Sassone points to the positive effect that the BlueSox franchise has had on local businesses through money spent on transportation, lodging, food, printing, clothing and advertising. It is difficult for a franchise to come back after being dormant for a year but Sassone says it’s not entirely impossible.
Another BlueSox owner Wink Robinson disputes Sassone’s assertion that the team would play in the Great Lakes League. He did say, however, that the lease proposed by the city authority was very unfavorable to the BlueSox and was one of many factors that resulted in the team’s decision to suspend operations.