By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
The Cleveland MSBL has been a part of the MSBL family since 2011 and is currently operating under the careful eye of League President Tony Martin, who has also been in charge since 2011. In that first year, they welcomed five teams and since then, Tony has expanded to an anticipated 20 teams in their 25-over format in 2024.
Tony was kind enough to thoughtfully respond to our specific league profile that digs into what it takes to manage a very successful league. Please enjoy this glimpse into the history of the Cleveland MSBL and its headmaster, Tony Martin.
What is the history of the league and how did it start? It started in 2011 when we played for another local league and I wanted to try offering an alternate option. This was based on the nudging of other managers. For the first year, we had 5 teams participate just to get things started.
When does the league begin play and when will it finish, including any playoffs? We start indoor workouts in March, but games begin in mid-May when high schools and colleges are mostly completed and their fields become available to us. Our playoffs have gone into October, but that was due to weather delays. We like to be done by mid-September due to conflicts with football coaches and players attending NFL games (since we play on Sundays)
When did you personally start playing in the league? I started participating in adult baseball in 2001. I started this particular league in 2011.
What is your personal baseball playing history? Played high school varsity and nothing after that other than local pickup games. I played competitive softball in my early twenties then returned to hardball at the age of 30.
When did you become president? 2011
Who were your predecessors and are they still involved in any capacity? There was another local MSBL league that started in the 90s but is not related to this league. Although some of those players are still members and players.
What is your most memorable MSBL moment as a president or a player? I think I have multiple memories that are related to the team that I have managed for many years, the Cleveland Cobras (formerly the Cleveland Cubs). We have won our fair share of championships and each is special. My most recent memorable moment was finally winning the Central Division championship at the Florida Fall Classic tournament. This was special because the participants were mostly all the guys who had played together for 15 years or more.
What challenges did you face when you started the league or when you took over? Developing field contacts, talking with umpire assignors, and doing the physical work to fix up the fields for our games.
What are your biggest challenges today? Changing with the times to allow for flexibility of the rules, and for accepting electronic payment methods. I try not to dictate too much, as I give managers a say in the decision-making process, although I’m sure they would tell you otherwise. Sometimes I have to make executive decisions because they make sense for the operation of the league. Also, I now do 100% of the umpire scheduling for adult baseball in Cleveland. This is possibly the biggest of all the challenges, as I have to compete with multiple other leagues for game officials, which are at an all-time shortage. But we treat our umpires very well, and we offer pay increases and incentives to encourage them to choose us over the many other options.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction? It seems like every season, we either have a new team joining, or a free-agent team that I need to form from scratch. Either way, I have to guide them through the league process and once they are established and see some success, that displays to me the positive results from the hard work and makes it all worth the initial difficulty. At the end of each season, I like to send out an email to the managers that reflects on the events of the season, and use that to celebrate our accomplishments, and also point out some opportunities to improve upon for the coming years.
What do you see for the league in the future? As I get older and lazier with age, I probably need to start thinking about a succession plan in the coming years. There are times when the challenges of the grind make any league president tell himself that this is the last year he will be running the league. But as the off-season continues, we miss the people and the usual league activities.
What is the reason for the continued success of the league? I try to do more things right than I do wrong. Once I realized that I will never make every single person happy, things got easier. I try to be as fair as I possibly can be to everyone involved. And I have some very good team managers that understand the goal of this league. Without them to coordinate their teams, this league wouldn’t exist.
What part of running the league do you enjoy most? The meetings, the games, and the genuine camaraderie among players in our community have had a positive impact on many people’s lives, including mine.
Do you still play in the league? I do, but under protest! Just as a backup in the 25+. But I think I am ready to become a regular player again in the older age divisions.
What is the history of your league team’s participation in any MSBL national tournaments? Multiple-year participant in the Fall Classic. My first year was 2006 in Clearwater with Steve’s Sports. In 2022, my team made the 45+ Central Division finals. In 2023, we won the 50+ Central Division championship.
What would you say are the most important accomplishments in your league? The continued growth, and seeing the smiles on the players when I attend the games. Once I think people aren’t having fun anymore, I’m done.
How valuable is your relationship with MSBL? I think having this league has given me a purpose outside of home and work life. It is very rewarding. MSBL provided me with important guidance in the early years and that gave me the confidence to continue through difficult times.
What advice would you give to new league presidents? Start small, ask questions, and get information from experienced league presidents. Know that you are making a difference. Not many people have the courage to step up and run a league. It takes a special mindset to allow yourself to be questioned multiple times during a season. You just have to be confident enough to continue on and set a new goal each year.
How important is family support? It’s everything. If your family isn’t accommodating and understanding of how much time and effort you put into this, you won’t succeed. It would be too much pressure. I would not have been able to do this while my children were very young when they needed me around more often. More power to guys who can balance this job while having babies at home. Thankfully, I aggravate my wife enough during the off-season, that she is just fine with me being out of the house in the spring!