Dave Chase has built quite a resume over his 41 years of working in and around minor league baseball. He has run one of the premier franchises in the minors, created one of Major League Baseball’s signature events and published one of the top baseball publications.
So it may seem odd that when he got word this past offseason that there was going to be a general manager position opening in short-season Batavia, Chase jumped at the opportunity. The Muckdogs, after all, have not been a destination for baseball fans in many years and have been on the market—and on the verge of collapse—for more than a decade.
The decision, however, made perfect sense to Chase. He saw an opportunity to help stabilize a franchise that had been taken over by the New York-Penn League in the offseason after being operated—and rescued from bankruptcy—by the neighboring Rochester Red Wings the previous 10 seasons. Chase also saw an avenue to return to affiliated ball after three years of running independent league clubs and another four years as commissioner of the summer collegiate Prospect League.
Deep down, Chase simply thought it was simply the right thing to do.
“I’ve always been driven by service to the game,” Chase said, “and for better or worse this team had to operate. I think my experience should help, has helped, and that made sense . . . I figured it would continue my journey in baseball.”
It has been quite a ride for the 64-year-old Chase, who broke into the game as a general manager in 1980 with the Anderson (S.C.) Braves, joining the club six weeks after it relocated from Greenwood. “I’ve been destined to do these emergency jobs,” Chase said.
Chase left the front office in 1982 and took over as president and publisher of Baseball America, where he got a unique look at the minor leagues until 1999. From there, he moved to Memphis to oversee the potential launch of a minor league museum only to be pulled back into the front office as president and general manager of the Memphis Redbirds, the Pacific Coast League franchise that had recently built the grandest ballpark—and most expensive at $80 million—in all of the minors.
While in Memphis, Chase came up with the idea of combining baseball with the city’s link to the Civil Rights Movement—AutoZone Park is just down the street from the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 and is now home to the Civil Rights Museum. He worked with Major League Baseball to create the Civil Rights Game, which debuted in Memphis in 2007. The Redbirds would host the game for two seasons before MLB took it over and moved it to different big league ballparks. Chase remained in Memphis until 2009, when he was forced out after the non-profit organization that ran the team failed to make a payment on its $5.5 million annual debt service for AutoZone Park.
“I look back at the 41 seasons I’ve done this and I’ve been incredibly fortunate,” Chase said. “Memphis was a highlight for a whole lot of reasons. First of all, it was a great ballpark. They spent a lot of money [to build it] that they didn’t need to spend, and I was hired to tighten the budget and reduce staff. There wasn’t much I could do about the debt service. I worked there, created the Civil Rights Game. We hosted the Triple-A Championship and were on of the teams that elevated that presentation . . . That experience was invaluable.”
That experience is why the New York-Penn League was eager to tab Chase as its newest general manager.
“When looking for a GM, I wanted someone who was very experienced in, and knowledgeable about, Professional Baseball club operations,” New York-Penn League President Ben Hayes said. “I needed someone who could interact with the fans, community leaders, media and MLB affiliate, who could hire and train a staff, and who could produce a quality club operation from scratch. Dave Chase fits the bill. He’s a true baseball professional in every sense of the word.”
Now Chase brings that experience Batavia, which certainly is a far cry from Memphis. The Muckdogs averaged just 806 fans per game last season. Chase is one of six full-time employees. Unlike the cathedral of a ballpark in Memphis, 22-year-old Dwyer Stadium has but one concession stand, no suites and a press box that is way too small.
“There was not an inch of the place that didn’t need upgrading,” Chase said. “I don’t know if this will be a highlight of my career, but I think we tried to do it right. A lot of folks had to work hard to get it ready for Opening Day.”
That included a putting in a new infield, upgrading the infield lights, adding a message board to the top of the scoreboard and renovating the team offices. Chase said they have also standardized outfield signage costs, did away with undated ticket vouchers and lowered season-ticket prices. “We have tried to tighten up the business side.”
Chase said he does not know what the season will bring and if the team will even still be in town next year. His goal, however, is to make coming to the ballpark the best possible experience for fans.
“I told my staff that we will operate in a professional way, and that when it is all said and done, we will take some pride in that we kept baseball in Batavia, at least for one more year,” Chase said.