Owning a Piece of the Yankees and Major Stakes in the Minor Leagues Dream Come True for Goldklang
By Robert Strauss
It was a bright spring morning in 1978, but Marvin Goldklang W63, L66 was getting antsy. He and his dad, Norman, were in Fort Lauderdale for their annual Spring Training jaunt and the first game was still three hours away. As he sat on the deck of the hotel pool, he overheard a few
young men, apparently New York Yankees employees, talking about how then-Yankee general manager Gabe Paul, and an- other part-owner, Steve ONeill were making a deal to sell their share of the team so they could buy the Cleveland Indians.
I filed that away, went to the games, came back to the office Monday morning and called Gabe Paul, says Goldklang, then a young turk partner in the prestigious New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel.
When Goldklang asked if he could buy Pauls Yankee share, Paul said the deal seemed secure, but he would have anyone else selling get back to him. That started the wheels in motion. The following year, another part-owner, John McMullen, wanted to move up as well selling his small part of the team to buy the Houston Astros.
It wasnt the largest share, but it wasnt the smallest, so it did cost some money, says Goldklang, who grew up in the middle-class New Jersey suburbs of Bayonne and Teaneck. But what a dream for a lifelong obsessed baseball fan, a Yankee fan, to own even a little bit of the team.
Unlike Paul and McMullen, Goldklang never intends on sell- ing his share, no matter what its eventual worth. In this case, Goldklang made a successful pitch. Not so in his time on the Penn baseball team. I had a monumentally unimpressive career, says Goldklang in his office on the ground floor of a nondescript building in Florham Park, the North Jersey town where the New York Jets train. I threw hard, but I had no second pitch. I never knew where the ball was going.
With a baseball career as likely as Yankees closer Maria- no Rivera in the designated hitter spot, Goldklang attended Penn Law School after Wharton and gained the tools he needed to practice law, start a leveraged buyout division for an investment firm, and head The Goldklang Group, a sports entertainment and consulting and management firm that owns four minor league baseball franchises: Charleston Riverdogs (South Carolina), Hudson Valley Renegades (Fish- kill, N.Y.), Fort. Myers Miracle (Florida), and the Saint Paul Saints (Minnesota).
Goldklang entered the world of minor league baseball when a friend of an investment banking client who owned a minor-league team in Utica, N.Y., asked Goldklang if he would help him negotiate the purchase of some concessions equipment. Goldklang says his attorneys fees may well have been more than the loan for the equipment, so instead he proposed that he write the client a check for a six-percent interest in the team instead.
Part of the deal was that they would sign me to a con- tract and I would get to pitch a game, just one game, says Goldklang, still pursuing that on-field baseball Valhalla. Unfortunately, as he was rounding into pitching shape the team was sold, taking his money and his Field of Dreams moment away.
In 1989, though, the whole baseball obsession came alive for Goldklang. While up in his family cab- in in the Berkshires in Mas- sachusetts, he would go to the games of the Pittsfield Cubs team in the AA-level Eastern League, in which he had made a small invest- ment. The owner moved it to Williamsport, Pa., and then entertained of- fers for it, along with two other teams that he owned including one in Charleston, S.C. and a complete mess in Miami. Within a month, Goldklang purchased these teams, along with an AAA, or top minor league level, team in Okla- homa City and, in the following two years, added a team in Erie, Pa. (later moved to the picturesque Hudson Valley) and an independent team in St. Paul, Minn.
At this point, the entrepreneurial spirit awoke in him. He wanted to make the experience fun for fans and profitable for him.
Twenty years ago, the product of minor league baseball was baseball. There was a problem with that. You are selling an inferior product. It is not major-league, says Goldklang. So he became determined to find a different paradigm. Along the way, he met Mike Veeck, son of an original fun is good owner, Bill Veeck, the maestro of baseball-entertainment innovation in the post-World War II era. The younger Veeck had been effectively blackballed from baseball when, after, as promotions director for the Chicago White Sox in 1979, he had Disco Demolition Night. What was to be a silly little stunt, the blowing up of a box of disco records, caused a fire and a near-riot in the stadium, forcing the White Sox to forfeit a game.
But Goldklang hired Veeck to rev up his moribund Florida franchise, then subsequently help him in other cities. He has made Veeck a partner in the baseball firm and he operated the Charleston River Dogs, Goldklangs South Atlantic League fran- chise, with panache, exemplified by Nobody Night, where fans stayed out of the stadium until the fifth inning so they could set a record for smallest crowd.
You mention the name of Marv Goldklang and Mike Veeck and creative is too weak a word, says Eric Krupa, the SouthAtlantic League President. But also, Marv has been extremely generous. He does everything first-class and for the customer.
At the minor-league level, says Goldklang, winning or losing doesnt mean that much at the gate or sponsorships, unlike in the majors. What we are selling is the ballpark experience, wrapped around a baseball game. We were among the industry leaders in developing innovative promotional concepts. Now the major leagues are looking to people like us.
I cant believe I get to have so much fun, he continues. Oh, its work, sure, but for an old pitcher, its like heaven.
Goldklang says his sliver of the Yankees gives him only moderate perks he is, after all, one of 23 limited partners, and the Steinbrenner family is a confirmed majority presence.
John McMullen (former part-owner of the Yankees) used to say, There is nothing more limited than being a limited partner of the Yankees, says Goldklang.
He gets to buy better tickets, but doesnt get them free. He has only been to the clubhouse once, to say hello to Darryl Strawberry in the mid-1990s, since he had signed Strawberry to a contract in St. Paul. He also gets four seats in the owners box, although he prefers his regular seats.
The good parking spot, though, I do like. That and just be- ing able to be at games, well, I am a Yankees fan, so what could be better?
He did experience an incredible moment last fall, when the Yankees won the World Championship and he rode down Broadway in the parade. It was his fourth parade, but it never gets old.
Even people who have been very successful in life havent gotten to do that, he says. All those people cheering. Me, a lifelong Yankees fan. It takes your breath away. It really does.
Robert Strauss, formerly a reporter for SportS IlluStrat- ed and the phIladelphIa daIly NewS, is a freelance writer whose works appears in the New york tImeS, waShINgtoN poSt, and loS aNgeleS tImeS. He is also an adjunct professor, teaching writing in the Penn English Department.