The Hannibal Cavemen baseball franchise will “suspend operations for the 2017 season” and is “expected to resume operations and begin playing again starting with the 2018 season" at a location to be determined, the Prospect League announced Friday.
The Hannibal Cavemen baseball franchise is suspending operations for the 2017 season but is keeping the door open for a return next year.
The decision, announced by the Prospect League on Friday, ends an offseason of uncertainty after an apparent attempt by the team's ownership — split 50-50 between California businessman Bob Hemond and local nursing home executive Rick DeStefane — to sell the team.
Hemond hasn't returned calls for comment since the 2016 season concluded.
DeStefane, on the other hand, told the Courier-Post on Friday he hopes the team can return to play at Clemens Field in the future after taking this summer off.
“As it stands right now, there will not be baseball this year, and I'm hoping to have baseball here next year,” DeStefane said. “I'm here to help. If somebody wants to work with me, I'm willing to work with anyone. It's that simple.”
California farmer Bo Champlin said he made an offer to Hemond to purchase the team this past fall but that the deal never was finalized.
After about four months of negotiations, Champlin decided in December to withdraw his offer.
"There were three different occasions over the past five months that we were told — and we believed — it would be done within the week," Champlin said this week. "For reasons unknown to me, the deal never was finalized. We hung around hoping it would get wrapped up, but it just never did. Just running out of time. We ran out of time a long time ago, actually."
DeStefane said he doesn't know why the sale fell through, adding that it doesn't appear Hemond will remain involved with the team if it were to make a comeback.
He pinpointed terms of the team's lease for Clemens Field, which is owned by Hannibal Parks & Recreation, as the main factor impacting the future of the club.
“I've put $800,000 into this, you know, and I've got bigger fish to fry, but I want to help it and I'm tired of putting the money in all the time,” he said. “I've got to find a way for the city to get me back the lease. I've got a deal worked out with the bank, and I will call Bo (Champlin) to see if he wants to make this happen and go to the league to get this thing done.
“Of all the things I've done to try to keep it there, it's cost me money every year. Huge dollars, six figures. I'm just trying to help. But if everyone works together, we can maybe do something. That's my goal. We'll see what happens.”
Regarding how the team's suspension of operations impacts its lease of Clemens Field, City Attorney James Lemon said it is a point of discussion at this point.
"The situation is being addressed through correspondence with the leaseholder and we anticipate being able to talk about where we are in regards to the stadium soon," he said.
DeStefane said capital he provided since getting involved with the franchise in 2011 “basically saved the Hannibal Cavemen,” helping to “pay off debts and get the thing back in a working condition.”
“It has not progressed,” he added. “It turns out that now I'm the only one who's willing to help it.”
Hannibal crawled to the worst record in the league this past season, going 13-47 while its offense scored the least runs, its defense racked up the most errors and its pitchers allowed the most runs.
The Cavemen finished with a record under .500 five times in eight seasons and never placed better than fourth in the league's West Division. The team enjoyed winning records from 2011-2013 but have gone 54-122 the past three summers combined.
In its nine seasons, the club never reached the league playoffs.
Coupled with the shutdown of the DuPage Drones, the loss of the Cavemen slims the league from 12 teams to 10 for its ninth season of play. Of the 11 franchises that founded the league in 2009, only five intend to field a team this season.
With the change in number of teams, the league's East and West Divisions have realigned for the upcoming season. Butler, Champion City, Chillicothe, Kokomo and West Virginia will play in the East Division. The West Division comprises Danville, Lafayette, Terre Haute, Quincy and Springfield.
Hemond and Larry Owens initially formed the Cavemen together in 2008 with plans to have to the team join the Central Illinois Collegiate League, which months later merged with the Prospect League.
On Thursday, June 4, 2009, the team played its first home game under the lights at Clemens Field.
The front office, though, soon ran into problems as F&M Bank filed a lawsuit against Hemond and Owens. The partnership then ended.
In 2011, Hemond and DeStefane, along with former MLB players Ryan Klesko and Woody Williams, formed Hannibal Cavemen Baseball LLC, which has owned the team ever since.
In its statement, the league said the Cavemen club “elected to suspend operations” and is "expected to resume operations and begin playing again starting with the 2018 season" at a location to be determined.
DeStefane, for one, says he hopes that location remains America's Hometown.
All that's clear at this point, though, is there won't be Cavemen baseball in 2017.
“It's unfortunate,” Hannibal City Manager Jeff LaGarce said.