Newark Bears Promo 'New Low' for Embattled Franchise

Paul Steinbach Headshot

A message on the Newark Bears website assured parents with children at the team's youth baseball clinic Tuesday that the kids were kept on the field during the East Coast earthquake, that they were having lunch with the players and that they were fine. The Bears, however, remain on shaky ground.

Just check out these recent media rumblings.

On Monday, the minor league baseball back to the city in 1999 by opening a $30 million ballpark. Harvey Araton reported, "The Bears are more than $800,000 in arrears on rent to Essex County and have provided little in ticket and sponsorship revenue due the county. Whatever the team's fate, the county and the city must each pay $1.1 million a year in debt service on the ballpark until 2029." While the Bears are seeing only a couple hundred fans trip the turnstiles at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, a Major League Soccer team next door in Harrison is packing 17-month-old Red Bull Arena.

Back on July 17, Amy Brittain of the Newark Star-Ledger traced the team's slide toward instability in a 4,000-word piece titled "Newark Bears: A tale of a sidetracked baseball franchise."

But the most unvarnished view of the Bears current desperation comes from Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi, who took the team to task on Tuesday for planning to announce a $2,000 donation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving on Beer Pong Night, part of its season-long "Thirsty Thursdays" promotion. "The Newark Bears clearly think any publicity is good publicity," Politi wrote, "but the latest attempt at drumming up attention might be a new low."

The MADD donation is a part of a special farewell to Jim Leyritz, a Bears coach who was acquitted of DUI manslaughter in November. A team press release reads, "Although a Beer Pong Tournament will be hosted that night, the owners thought by hosting this event with all parties and attractions, it would support the important need of how people can have fun responsibly." Politi added that Leyritz and another Newark coach, Ozzie Canseco, who was charged with DUI in January, will be available to sign autographs.

Not surprisingly, Jill Pepper, executive director of TEAM Coalition, a nonprofit organization that provides alcohol management training to concessionaires, colleges and professional sports franchises, doesn't agree with the Bears' brain trust. "Donating money to MADD is great," Pepper says. "The beer pong tournament is where we are concerned. Drinking games can easily lead to impairment."

According to Pepper, concessionaire Aramark held TEAM training for 48 employees in April 2009, but Aramark no longer handles food and beverage at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, and TEAM has no direct relationship with the Bears.

"I would be curious if MADD accepts the donation," Pepper adds. "I know that when the NFL player Donte Stallworth tried to donate money to MADD after he was convicted of a DUI and manslaughter in 2009, the organization refused the donation."

UPDATE: According to ESPN New York, MADD has rejected the $2,000 donation in honor of Leyritz, and the Newark Bears have canceled tonight's planned announcement. For his part, Leyritz, a former Yankee, said he did not wish to be connected to any promotion that encouraged alcohol consumption.

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