The Hannibal Cavemen lacked effective management for the past few years, and that’s why Clemens Field will sit dormant this year, following a Jan. 6 announcement that the Cavemen will “suspend operations” in 2017.
What comes first: good baseball or good fans?
That question plagued Hannibal Cavemen co-owner Bob Hemond at the close of the dismal 2016 season, in which the Cavemen again posted the worst record in the intercollegiate Prospect League. Hemond lamented in an August interview the dwindling fan attendance and its effect on the players and overall club morale. The lowly numbers had the Cavemen co-owner and GM pondering an uncertain future.
“When you only have 3, 4, 500 fans, that doesn’t work in terms of the long-term,” Hemond told the Courier-Post at the conclusion of the season.
So what doomed the Hannibal Cavemen, sub-par performance on the diamond, an ambivalent fan base, or a combination of the two?
How about an alternative? It was management.
That’s what the Hannibal Cavemen lacked for the past few years, and that’s why Clemens Field will sit dormant this year, following a Jan. 6 announcement that the Cavemen will “suspend operations” in 2017.
Then on Jan. 9, another revelation that shed more light into the loose management of the club: a lawsuit filed by the city of Hannibal to reclaim the lease to Clemens Field. Court documents allege thousands of dollars in unpaid bills, lack of maintenance to the historic ballpark grounds and changing locks on the landlord (the city).
The allegations, compounded with observations throughout the years, reveal a history of questionable management that set in motion a course for failure.
From food left to go bad in the refrigerators at season’s end to a lack of talented D-1 players, the demise of the Cavemen doesn’t fall on the squad or lack of interest in the town. It comes down to a lack of focus and organization from those who were tasked with managing baseball operations.
For example, while many Prospect League clubs were finalizing rosters in late 2015 for the 2016 summer season, the Cavemen didn’t have a single player until just 12 weeks before the season started. The top-tier talents had long gone to other teams. By contrast, in its inaugural season (2009), the Cavemen roster was announced in October 2008 featuring players from D-1 baseball powerhouses LSU and USC. Fans will remember a full Clemens Field each night in that season.
Prior to the 2016 season, Hemond laid out grand ideas for a summer at Clemens Field.
Plans for the space include movie nights, date nights, concerts, comedy nights and more, Hemond said at the opening of the Jake Beckley memorial in March 2016. Few, if any, of those plans came around.
One special event that did take place, though, was a military all-star night — an event which barely happened. It was inexplicably scheduled on July 12, when most the Cavemen players went home to visit family during the All-Star break. The Cavemen could barely scrape together a team for the event — an embarrassment for what could have been a solid event.
It’s these examples, among others, that show how inept management can handicap a team before it sets foot on the diamond dirt.
Give credit though to Rick DeStefane, the other Cavemen co-owner, who seems intent on having baseball in Hannibal. Over the years, DeStefane has put in the money to back the Cavemen. His time, though, is not spent in baseball management. He’ll be the first to tell you that.
What’s needed for the club to succeed is a dedicated general manager who won’t relegate a team to a second- or third-place summer project.
That’s what the Cavemen have had for too many years, and it’s why the Cavemen won’t play ball in 2017.
It’s why a beautiful, historic stadium like Clemens will likely go unused all year.
And it’s why the community as a whole loses.