Israel Baseball League Plays Its First Game

June 24, 2007

The Modi’in Miracle defeated the Petach Tikvah Pioneers 9-1 in the inaugural game of the Israel Baseball League (IBL).  The game was played before a crowd of more than 3,000 at Yarkon Field in Petach Tikvah.  The IBL was the brainchild of American Jewish businessman Larry Baras, who conceived of the concept while attending an independent minor league game in Massachusetts. A long-time key figure in the development of baseball in Israel and in the league itself was Dr. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, an academic specialist on North Africa, who grew up an avid New York Yankees fan in Syracuse.  The IBL launched in June 2007 with six teams. Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax was symbolically chosen as the last player in the IBL player draft.  Baltimore Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette served as the league’s director of player development and helped identify and recruit players from around the world.  Three teams were managed by retired Jewish Major League players Ron Bloomberg, Art Shamsky and Ken Holtzman.

The league’s only season was plagued by financial difficulties and low attendance.  Especially difficult was attracting fans beyond its core base of former Americans living in Israel.  In November 2007, Commissioner Dan Kurtzer, the former US Ambassador to Israel and to Egypt, resigned, as did most of the league’s advisory board.  Attempts at reviving the league were unsuccessful.

Despite the failure of the IBL, baseball has continued to grow in Israel.  There are close to 3,000 baseball players in Israel, including youth leagues and adult leagues, as well as national teams taking part in international play.  In 2012, Israel participated in the qualifying tournament for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

The photo shows the Israel Baseball League All-Star Game in July 2007.