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SBD/Issue 5/Sports Industrialists
THE DAILY Goes One-On-One With Virginia Baseball’s Gabe Paul
Published September 17, 2004
|Gabe Paul Jr.|
Since being hired away from the Brewers to become the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority’s first Exec Dir, GABE PAUL Jr. has spent the last seven years building Northern Virginia into one of the final candidates for relocation of the Expos. Paul, whose father served as president of several MLB clubs, has spent his entire life in or around baseball. He started his career as a minor league general manager, reached the majors in ‘70 as the traveling secretary of the Seattle Pilots and spent 27 years in Milwaukee, where he spearheaded the effort to build Miller Park. Paul recently spoke to SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Russell Adams.
Question: It’s been seven years since you were recruited out of Milwaukee to join this effort. If you had to make that choice again knowing what you now know about the process, would you make the move?
Paul: It’s hard to say. When I first came here, I initially thought we would be able to relocate a team much sooner. The structure has changed with the advent of the Expos saga. They had a handshake agreement with the Astros, BILL COLLINS and DRAYTON MCLANE. I guess they didn’t follow the rules. This has taken a lot longer than I ever thought when I first came.
Q: The Virginia Baseball Authority has laid out a plan for a mixed-use facility near Dulles International Airport that it feels makes Northern Virginia baseball’s best option for relocation. Any regrets?
Paul: We would love to provide a ballpark at absolutely no cost to a team owner. While we can’t do that, we feel we have a very fair proposal.
Q: Will you take any satisfaction if Washington, DC, gets selected?
Paul: Well, in a way, yes, and in a way, no. If DC ultimately is selected, it’ll mean that we have been successful in trying to make MLB aware of this market, in really defining what this area is. Many people have no concept of what Northern Virginia really is. It’s an area that encompasses so many counties and cities. If [the Expos] come to this area, certainly that is a big plus. Of course, it would be a big disappointment because I believed when I first came here this is where it should be located. The more I worked here, the more I firmly believed that to maximize success, I think it definitely should be in Northern Virginia. The other reason I say that is because of the Baltimore situation.
Q: What will you miss least about this process?
Paul: I guess the political situation is the thing that is the most challenging to me. Only because we’re working with a number of different local politicians and different municipalities. It’s always a challenge. It was in Milwaukee when I was there, and it’s a challenge here.
Q: Your father was president of the Reds, Yankees and Indians. You used to come home to a house filled with players, executives and journalists. What are your fondest memories of growing up in and around baseball?
Paul: You have to realize once I got old enough to drive, when Cincinnati lost a doubleheader, I made sure I didn’t come home right away. They played at old Crosley Field. I used to know every nook and cranny of that place, because I had free rein of it. They played mostly day baseball back then, and very often, after a day game, my dad would have the manager and the writers and the coaches over. I got to know the players with the Reds mainly because it was kind of a different day. They were very friendly with my dad back then. They would sit there and just tell baseball stories. I was kind of like a mouse in the corner listening, and it was just very interesting.
Q: Did you really see BILL VEECK use his wooden leg as an ashtray?
Paul: Sure did. I tell you, my jaw dropped and my eyes must have got as wide as saucers. I didn’t know he had an artificial leg. I had never seen one.
Q: What is your fondest baseball memory?
Paul: I guess I would have to say the first time we played in Seattle as the Seattle Pilots. This was my first game on the major league level where I was working full time. This was my first big chance. We came in the night before from spring training, and we went out to the ballpark and there were pipes and stuff lying all over. I never thought we would open. During the game itself, they had carpenters, and they’d be nailing the seats down as people came into the stands.
Q: What is your most prized piece of memorabilia?
Paul: I actually don’t have a lot of memorabilia. I have a ball autographed by BABE RUTH that my dad got. Actually, I got one too, but my younger brother couldn’t find a baseball and ended up using mine, and then he lost it. I have a picture of my dad getting that autograph on my desk.
Q: You’ve worked at practically every level in baseball. Which
Paul: When I worked with the Brewers in the earlier days, we had a very small staff, and I was involved not only with stadium operations, but I was involved in helping negotiate the concessions contract, in-stadium advertising sales, as well as our local radio and TV deals. Of course, I’ll have a better answer when I know what MLB decided.
Q: Least favorite position?
Paul: When I was in the minor leagues, I remember when I was with my first team, working in Vancouver. I hate to say it, but when I got offered the job, I hadn’t the slightest idea of where Vancouver was. By the North Pole somewhere. ... I go to the ballpark, open the door to the office and it didn’t have any glass or windows. There were holes in the concrete wall, with screens so no animals could get in.
Q: Having worked with BUD SELIG for so many years, what are his biggest strengths as an executive and as a person?
Paul: He appreciates the history of the game, and I think he has a strong vision for what baseball should be. He’s tenacious, and very patient in trying to get his views across. And I think he’s a consensus builder. There’s a lot of criticism of Bud, especially in Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, no other owner could keep a team going in that small a market as long as he did. Certainly, there have been some problems. But in some of those, he’s taken the rap for things that just happen. They talk about the conflict of interest, being a small-market owner. That’s mainly [coming from] the media. The owners are the ones who hired him, and it doesn’t seem to bother them.
Q: What do people just not get about him?
Paul: When you look at him as commissioner, I think overall, whatever you say, I think his overriding goal is to try to do what he thinks is best for the game.
Q: If you were given a team and could handpick one manager, one general manager and one president/owner to build it around, who would you choose and why?
|Paul Likes The Job Robinson Has Done
In A Tough Situation In Montreal
Paul: Wow, that’s a big one. I think JOE TORRE has done an excellent job. I think FRANK ROBINSON has done just one terrific job up in Montreal. And when we look at presidents, I think LARRY LUCCHINO has done an outstanding job. When you look at what he’s done in Baltimore, he was the driving force behind Camden Yards. And then moving on to San Diego, with all the battles that they’ve had with Petco [Park], it’s just got great reviews. And then moving on to Boston with new opportunities. The way they’ve continued the tradition and grown the tradition of the Red Sox is very positive. ... When you look at general managers, I’d have to say [BILLY] BEANE in Oakland has just done a great job of taking a club that doesn’t have a budget and being able to be very competitive over the years.
Q: What is your favorite sports facility?
Paul: I do like Miller Park. And I like Coors Field in Denver. And, of course, for football games it would be sitting in Bernie Brewer’s chalet and watching Packers games [at County Stadium]. The Packers used to play four games a year in Milwaukee. We had perhaps one of the best relationships between a football club and a baseball club in the same facility of anybody in the NFL.
Q: Favorite movie?
Paul: “High Noon.” I’ve only watched that about 20 times.
Q: Favorite sports movie?
Paul: “The Natural” just stands out.
Q: Favorite director?
Paul: Steven Spielberg.
Q: Favorite actor or actress?
Paul: Jimmy Stewart. I met him one time when he was filming one of his movies, “Strategic Air Command.” He had come to film part of it at our training facility in Tampa. I was a young kid. That was really exciting.
Q: Favorite musician?
Paul: I like [Greek singer] Nana Mouskouri. Willie Nelson. Pavarotti. When you look at folk singers, I like Peter Paul & Mary, who are still together.