The Newark Bears have certainly gained their share of press notoriety in the past. Employing players like Ozzie Canseco, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson have ensured that they received coverage that outsized most of their Atlantic League rivals. Unfortunately for the team, the owner and the city, that hasn't translated into ticket sales and now it looks like the team could be going bearbelly up.
Marc Berson, a Millburn-based real estate developer who purchased the team in 2003, said this morning that mounting financial losses have forced him to fire several team employees and that he is exploring options to sell the team. The news was first reported on the Web site AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com.
"There's no secret that the economic side of this has not been positive for years," Berson said. "There's no secret to that. There's no secret that the numbers of people attending have not been anywhere near the capacity of that stadium. Anyone can take notice of those two facts."
When it opened in 1999 at a cost of $36 million, Newark Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium was supposed be a lynchpin in the revitalization of the city's downtown area.
But the team never drew the crowds Essex County and Newark officials had expected. The Bears averaged 2,746 fans this season, second-lowest total in the Atlantic League. The rival Somerset Patriots, meanwhile, drew nearly twice as many spectators - 5,433 a game - playing in Bridgewater.
While the city council is saying nothing is a done deal, they're also exploring options for doing something with the big stadium that may be sitting empty in the middle of town. The article seems to regard it as a damn shame that Newark won't have professional baseball, and from an historical standpoint that may be true. But if you're getting your attendance doubled by a team in Bridgewater, that takes some of the weight out of the "bad economy" and just says that people don't really want to go to Newark.
The real losers in all of this are baseball's losers. Where will the Carl Everetts and Randall Simons of the world call home when even a city as notoriously warm and loving as Newark closes its doors to them? Sad really.