Concerns Over Future of Arkansas Travelers Prompt Controversial Shakeup

by Todd Traub  on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 12:00 am  

Arkansas Travelers President Russ Meeks: “There are a lot of people that have difficulty with change.” (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

Meeks continually stressed that the intention of the club’s leadership is to ensure the long-term survival of professional baseball in central Arkansas. His actions and those of the executive committee, Meeks said, are designed to prevent the loss of the team, which happened in 1959 and ultimately led to the formation of the Travelers’ current ownership structure. (See more on the ownership structure here.)

Since 1960 the Travelers have been fan-owned under Arkansas Travelers Inc., the result of a public stock drive that allowed interested parties to purchase shares at $5 each and buy the bankrupt New Orleans franchise and bring it to Ray Winder Field.

The first version of the Travelers, who opened play in 1901, had been sold to a Shreveport interest after years of poor performance and attendance, leaving Ray Winder Field empty in 1959.

The board and executive committee were set up to manage the team’s day-to-day operations, but there has always been a central figure like Valentine or Laven to handle most of the decision-making.

The current executive committee consists of Meeks, Thomas, President Emeritus Bert Parke, Vice Presidents Ben Scroggin and Charles Logan, and Secretary Bob Whisnant.

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No Specific Complaints

Meeks said he was invited aboard in the late 1970s and offered some stock shares, and he later acquired 20 shares from family members, but said he was not a majority shareholder. He assumed the team presidency in 2010.

Insiders have said Meeks was upset that Laven spoke to reporters about the Travelers’ most recent player development contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Others have said Meeks wanted to see more revenue-generating offseason events at Dickey-Stephens Park; still others have said Meeks thought there were too many such events.

In speaking to Arkansas Business, Meeks offered no specific complaint or criticism of Laven’s or Kay’s job performance. Rather, he said, it was a time to be thinking of generally new ways of doing things.

Attendance was 372,475 in 2007, the first year at Dickey-Stephens Park, and it climbed to 377,997 in 2008. Turnout declined for three straight years before a slight uptick to 308,109 in the most recent season.

But attendance, Meeks said, is not the only concern. With the All-Star Game coming into view, everything is on the table as far as changing up the operation, he said.



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