Baseball91's Weblog

February 22, 2011

Inside Baseball: After Free Agency

Franchises. Were baseball teams ever called franchises in the press until the Orioles moved from Saint Louis? It was about the time hamburger joints were franchised by Ray Kroc. Yeah, McDonald’s Corporation founder Ray Kroc.

The operators of baseball franchises learned a lot from the team purchased by Ray Kroc. Joan Mansfield was born to Charles Smart Mansfield, a railroad telegraph operator, and Gladys Bonnebelle, a homemaker and accomplished violinist, on August 27, 1928 in West St. Paul, Minnesota. Growing up with her sister, Glorai (Chadima), Joan had years of skating lessons, and finally won a skating contest of which she often talked of the joy she had felt qualifying for the city finals as a girl. She studied music at the MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis and started teaching at age 15. In 1945, Joan married Rawland F. Smith, a Navy veteran. The following year, the couple’s only daughter, Linda, was born. Joan met McDonald’s Corporation founder Ray Kroc in 1957 while playing piano at a bar in St. Paul. She and Ray Kroc, a hard-driving, entrepreneur, carried on reportedly a secret relationship for the next six years. Ray Kroc, who had started playing the piano at the age of six, always had a love of music. He had had married Ethel Fleming in 1922 in a marriage that ended in 1961. But Joan refused to divorce Rawland Smith. Ray Kroc married a second time to Jane Dobbins Green who he divorced 1969, the same year that baseball awarded a Naional League franchise for San Diego to Conrad Arnholdt Smith. It was the same year Ray and Joan met at a 1969 McDonald’s convention in San Diego, as Rawland Smith had become a McDonald’s franchisee, according to one San Diego news source. Kroc and Joan had not seen each other for six years until meeting. At that point, Joan finally did divorce Rawland Smith and then married Ray Kroc — twenty-six years her senior — at a time when Linda Smith was twenty-three years old. Following Ray Kroc’s death in 1984, Joan Kroc acquired his fortune. That fortune included the San Diego baseball franchise.

Linda Smith was a high school student at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a boarding school in Faribault, from the autumn of 1961 through the Spring of 1965. She sang in a rock band in college, where she met her husband Ballard Smith. Ballard Ssmith was the son of Ballard F. Smith who had married his bride Millicent K. Smith in 1945, after meeting in the navy. Ballard Smith, a graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and then the University of Minnesota Law School, came from a family who had lived in Indianapolis, Edison Park and Glenview, Illinois as well as Meadville, Pennsylvania. It was Meadville where Smith returned with his wife Linda, where eventually he was elected district attorney for Crawford County. Ballard Smith and Ray Kroc had both taken their new wives’ previously named Smith at approximately the same time — respectively giving up their free agency. It was in the spring of 1976 that baseball owners had to address operating a ballclub with the power of the reserve clause, now removed from player contracts. In 1976, Ballard Smith abruptly terminated his elected term as district attorney, when Ray Kroc wanted his stepson-in-law to move to San Diego to work for the San Diego Padres’ front office. However, because Kroc soon had purchased the San Diego Mariners in the World Hockey Association, he asked Smith to run his hockey team. Smith became the Padres’ president in 1979 and became involved in series of battles with players’ agents, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and a goodly number of the San Diego City Council.

In a story written by Times Staff writer JENIFER WARREN on February 19, 1987, Linda Smith, the daughter of Joan B. Kroc, reportedly said she was filing for divorce from Ballard Smith, her husband of more than 16 years. The founder of Mothers Embracing Nuclear Disarmament (MEND), a San Diego organization fighting for nuclear disarmament, Linda Smith said the split was “difficult but amicable,” and, with a nurturing discourse of a universal biological and spiritual bond that cut across political boundaries, insisted the divorce would have “no effect whatsoever” on her husband’s position with the baseball franchise. Linda Smith and Ballard Smith did have four daughters.

Following her divorce, Linda Smith married player agent, Jerry Kapstein, who had represented professional baseball players in contract negotiations from 1973 to 1989. It was the first time in her life that she had to consider a name change. On April 20, 1990, Linda Smith had filed for divorce from Kapstein, the team’s chief executive, according to reports in The San Diego Union and The San Diego Tribune. The couple were married 18 months ago. Speaking of nuclear fallout, that position with the baseball franchise which Ballard Smith had held soon disappeared — as he was truly flipped off — after the divorce.

In a revolution in baseball for the times, after the free agent revolution, player agent Jerry Kapstein negotiated the sale of the Padres team to an investment group for $75 million. Flipping sides from earlier contract battles each spring, Kapstein had said he would resign as Padres’s chief executive when the sale was completed. Authorized by Joan Kroc to conduct negotiations for the sale of the Padres, in October 1989, Kapstein then went to work for the San Diego Padres as chief executive in February 1990 to oversee all aspects of the club’s operations. By April 1990, an investment group led by television producer Tom Werner, signed a letter of intent to purchase the San Diego Padres, owner Joan Kroc announced. Lee Thomas, now a special assistant to the Red Sox general manager but one-time general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, said Kapstein’s “leadership skills and sense of direction were what turned the Padres’ organization into a successful franchise.” Of course, having now been brought to the Red Sox front office by former Padres president Larry Lucchino – who had done a substantial amount of work while employed as an associate at Willliams & Connolly for a client, the Baltimore Orioles (Edward Bennet Williams of Willliams & Connolly had purchased the Orioles, as the period of free agency began) — Lee Thomas had to say those things, so who would remember? In Boston, Kapstein now carries a title of senior adviser to the Red Sox, now partly owned by Tom Werner of Carsey-Werner Productions, the vanguard independent production company which resisted affiliation with major networks or distributors that continues to hold the rights to the brand name of the shows still in world-wide syndication, in the era of free agents, as those show business stars got bigger than the game. After his divorce from Linda Smith, Kapstein was ostracized by the fraternity of other players’ agents. (The year before the Padres were sold to Werner, the Padres had missed by three games winning the NL West; by 1993, the team allegedly “turned around” had won 75, 84, 82, and 61 games in his first four years of ownership, ending up in last place in 1993 and again in 1994. With his team purchase, Werner had taken on a $20 million loan and reportedly used the $12 million he received in expansion fees where the Marlins (total cost $130 million) and the Rockies (total cost $130 million) joined the National League in 1993 to pay down debt. Next claiming the franchise was $7 million in debt, he then started selling off Fred McGriff, Benito Santiago, Craig Lefferts, and Randy Myers. So was this the sense of direction to which Lee Thomas was referring?)

Born in 1943, Kapstein is a son of the late Sherwin J. and Gladys Kapstein who grew up on Forest Street in Providence, Rhode Island. His father worked as executive director of the National Education Association — Rhode Island, as well as served in the state House of Representatives. At the age of 15, Jerry approached Chris Clark about doing stats on the Providence College basketball game radio broadcasts. He worked at stats professionally for the rest of his career. His first job had been at D’Ambra’s Texaco pumping gas and changing oil. Kapstein, a graduate of Harvard and Boston College Law School, was running in 2010 for lieutenant governor of the state of Rhode Island. After serving in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps working on court-martials and other legal proceedings, Kapstein began his sports agency practice, and within four years of leaving the Navy he was as big as there was. By 1976, with his 18-hour work days, working for his 60 clients, his first marriage had ended in divorce, just as Ballard Smith abruptly was moving to San Diego to work in a San Diego front office. Kapstein had prepared Ken Holtzman’s first salary arbitration case in 1974 and as a result of working on that case landed Rollie Fingers and Darold Knowles (who used to have a metal detector and go through the stands, prior to his hiring Kapstein, looking for coins before a game on the road) as clients.

By 2003, Linda Smith was then Linda Kilber, and now known as Linda Ardell Wendfeldt, sometimes just Linda Ardell. And the Red Sox — now with Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino and a hedge fund trader named John Henry — had hired the refugees, all these guys who represented players in one way or another, including Bill James after his 10-year association with the Hendricks brothers — Randy and Alan Hendricks — in the days, following the free agency revolution, in the days when mothers were embracing nuclear disarmament. As everyone kept moving around. Lucchino originally brought Theo Epstein into the game, and when Lucchino left San Diego Padres for Boston, he brought Epstein with him — giving him eventually the Moneyball job as general manager, with a focus on just the numbers. In this era of free agency, you needed to buy a scorecard on opening day. Because Republicans were running the Democratic Party, Democrats were running the Republican Party….and in the era of Bud Selig, the agents had taken over the game of baseball — since they were the only ones who could make money before the last baseball strike… or maybe came to their senses, after a divorce.

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  1. Hi baseball 91: Can we talk? I’m writing a book about Joan Kroc.
    My best, Lisa


    I admire the bravery of a writer. I have that bravery, but without an intent on becoming a public figure in matters of sports. I know others too well who have chosen that field, and I have set out for others areas. I have no personal knowledge of Joan Kroc, other than what is written here. I live in the city of her birth. I know she played the piano at The Criterion, a place for fine dining on University Avenue in St. Paul which went out of business at least by 1971. There must be in the archives of the St. Paul Pioneer Press articles about the place, perhaps with Joan’s name mentioned. The Criterion down the road from the state capital building is where legislators ate and drank. And yes, it was at the Criterion that Joan met Ray Kroc. I know that Joan and her first husband sent their daughter to a high school in Faribault, Minnesota affiliated with the Episcopal Church. It is now a boarding school, rather famous for the number of NHL players coming out of their program. The decision along with the cost of this private school gives you an insight into the deepness of what Linda’s parents held important. Based upon the distance of more than 65 miles, she must have been a boarder. Linda is still involved in the school as a contributor, having seemingly inherited her own deepness.

    I also do think her daughter is entitled to a certain amount of privacy. It is only through private contributions to charity that the public has an interest in her. Otherwise she would be living anonymously, with few thinking about writing a book about her. I did offer criticism of her in this piece for firing Ballard Smith — when personal reasons harm public lives. And wasn’t it always true, since the time of Cain and Abel, how much easier it is to be cruel with whom we are most truly intimate –the ones we know too well? And you did get a chance to study this at either an Episcopal affiliated, a church/temple-related institution, about the mechanics of the power play. Or acquire a kind of understanding later in life. About all the different forms of abuse.

    Comment by Lisa Napoli — November 14, 2013 @ 4:17 PM | Reply

  2. Since this piece talks about the history of the San Diego Padres, about Lee Thomas’s evaluation of the days of the Padres under Jerry Kapstein, it is worth mentioning a guy named Kevin Towers.who did not need fake obligatory accolades as the game gets so political. Kevin Towers died this week.

    Comment by baseball91 — February 2, 2018 @ 12:30 PM | Reply

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