Joe Sperle’s independent Freedom Pro Baseball League is not dead according the league’s president and founder. In an exclusive Examiner interview, Sperle said that the league is preparing to return to Arizona in late June or early July. “We are trying to get things together to start up again after the (First-Year Player) Draft,” said Sperle. “That’s when players who aren’t drafted and others cut loose from teams are looking for a place to play. We can offer those players a chance to keep playing.” The draft begins on June 8.
The Freedom League debuted in 2012 and completed two turbulent seasons that included personnel changes, ballpark lockouts, cancelled games, and lawsuits. An opening day was announced for a 2014 season, but the league was unable to come to agreements with stadiums in the Phoenix area and Tucson and the season was cancelled.
“We had (ballpark) agreements in Goodyear and Prescott, but we lost Peoria to soccer and couldn’t get a lease in Tucson so we had no choice but to cancel the season,” explained Sperle. In addition to the ballpark problems, the league suffered from allegations that players were charged $300 each to attend a tryout camp and promised contracts with the league. In a July 2013 Examiner interview, Sperle denied that anyone was promised a contract. “There were never any contracts promised,” said Sperle. “What players and parents have to understand that this isn’t some city league—this is professional baseball. Players earn contracts based on their ability and potential. It’s not a situation where you pay to get into the league.”
Sperle describes the camps as “instructional camps, not tryout camps.” He says that the league will likely hold a similar camp this year, possibly in April. According to Sperle, opening day for the league’s 2015 season will likely be sometime after June 13, possibly June 18 or 25. Sperle says this year there will once again be four teams. “We are solid in Goodyear and Prescott (Bradshaw Mountain HS) and still working on Tucson,” said Sperle. “We also want another Northern Arizona site, maybe Flagstaff, Cottonwood or Payson. It’s important to keep travel costs down. That is one of the things that killed the Golden League.”
The league currently has no players, office or field staff. Each of the first two seasons proved problematic in staffing the league. Kirk Jewell, the league’s first general manager was dismissed in mid-season. Michael King was hired as Executive Vice President and General Manager for 2013. The experience ended with King suing the league for non-payment of wages. The case was settled through arbitration with the league being ordered to pay King an undisclosed amount.
Pete LaCock, manager of the Federals (Prescott) in 2012, was suspended by the league near the end of the season and threatened a suit before the issue was settled. In 2013, Prospectors manager Ryan Henderson resigned and left the league mid-season. Coaches Rafael Melchione and Larry See have also been critical of Freedom League policies, procedures and player treatment.
“None of our former coaches or staff are returning,” explained Sperle. “We are working hard on getting the right people to move us forward. We are talking to some very high profile baseball people who want to be involved. All of that other stuff is behind us.” Sperle added that he will not return to the filed to manage a team but will remain as league president.
“We are negotiating with several potential team owners,” said Sperle. “It has been our business model since the beginning to have individual owners for each team. It is just too much for the league to run all four teams. Local ownership with owners that are invested in the success of the team is important.”
The league website is currently being reinvented. The Freedom Pro Baseball League Facebook page is active but has not had a post since June 16, 2014.
The Examiner will keep tabs on this story and provide new information as it becomes available.