Why Not? A look at the MSBL's origins
(Top Left to Bottom right -- the original MSBL Logo; the first cover of HardBall in 1991; Steve Sigler and wife Connie at the 2007 World Series; Tempe Diablo Stadium, headquarters for the MSBL World Series and spring training home to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.)
By Jeff McGaw, MSBL On-Line
Steve Sigler was looking for a few guys to play baseball with. He found about 50,000.
That's the Men's Senior Baseball League – MSBL – in a nutshell. It's that simple. All the stuff you see now – giant tournaments in Phoenix and Jupiter, Fla., Palm Springs, and Las Vegas, international participation, halls of fame, equipment deals, 70-and-over divisions, an insurance plan, a magazine (now a Web site) -- all if it came about because some guy on Long Island asked a simple question – why can't guys like me play organized baseball?
There are so many adult amateurs playing ball these days that it is difficult to remember a time when it seemed unusual.
Before the MSBL came along, however, there was an unwritten rule: dads coach and play softball, mom's watch or work in the snack bar, and kids play baseball until high school or, if they're good enough, college. To heck with that. That whole mindset irritated Sigler. First of all, "I hate playing softball,” he said. Secondly, baseball is the national pastime – not the "age 6-to-18 pastime.” Finally, rules – especially stupid ones that don't make sense – are meant to be broken. So Sigler, a 1966 Martin Van Buren (Queens) High School graduate and Bernard Baruch College alumni set out to break a few.
"I'm a doer,” he said, and he knew what had to be done. There was a competing concern in Sigler's life – he yearned for professional fulfillment. While he took great pride in providing for his family, the day-to-day grind of calculators and life behind a desk did not seem like a calling – it just seemed like a paycheck. "I'm not using my best assets sitting behind a desk,” he would say. "I don't know what it is, but I have to be able to use my personality and drive to make myself more useful.”
|Steve Sigler, 1990
||He had no way of knowing that these competing
concerns would coalesce into an undertaking that would not only change his life, but the lives of thousands of other people across the country.
A CLASSIFIED AD
In March 1986 he took out an advertisement in New York's News Day imploring men 30 and over to call him if they were interested in playing baseball. The telephone -- the primitive kind with push buttons and the cord attached to the wall -- began to ring and ring and ring.
Like a prospector with a single gold nugget in his pan, Sigler knew a vein of interest in amateur adult baseball was cutting through the bedrock somewhere upstream.
The first MSBL season took flight on Long Island in the spring of 1986. Four teams and about 50 or 60 players on Long Island suited up for some Sunday baseball. Sigler coached one of the teams – a collection of dads mostly from the Bayside Little League.
A draft in the fall of that year drew over 200 players and, on opening day, 1987, the league had 17 teams.
In October of that year, Sigler's wife Connie came across an article about Tom Hayden and his Dodgertown West team. Most people knew Hayden as a Chicago Seven activist involved in the 1968 Democratic convention riot in Chicago, and the man who later married Jane Fonda. But the guy was baller, and when Sigler contacted him the baseball sparks flew.
They arranged for a team from Long Island to visit the Dodgertown team at Veterans Stadium in Los Angeles. "We had a great time. Hayden and his people were very friendly, excellent hosts,” Sigler said. It was like finding human life on another planet. "I knew there were other leagues out there just like ours,” Sigler said. After the LA trip, where they played ball every day in a nice stadium, Sigler's vision became clearer. "I wanted to do the same thing on a bigger scale.'' That was the early motivation for what became the MSBL's marquis event – the MSBL World Series in Phoenix.
The Big Bang
The thing that would become the MSBL really began with isolated, combustible pockets of baseball in distant corners of the map such as Sacramento and Atlanta, Los Angeles and Long Island, NY. After all, Steve Sigler didn't invent baseball; he just created some buzz about it.
A local paper did a story, a larger newspaper got a whiff of it and, very soon, the floating vapors of curiosity were sparked into a national explosion of interest in amateur baseball.
That spark was provided by Sports Illustrated, arguably the best known sports magazine in the world, who published a story about Sigler and the MSBL in July, 1988.
USA Today, the Today Show and Good Morning America weren't far behind with stories on the adult baseball phenomenon known as the MSBL. "All this national publicity really attracted people to what we were doing and they wanted to find out more about it. It was intriguing and enticing. In 1988 it all kind of came together,” Sigler said.
Life around the Sigler household in Jericho, N.Y., began to change as the movement took hold. The MSBL was becoming a second job. The Siglers added an office in the den – a dedicated MSBL work space. The mail carrier, who normally dropped of a few letters, now came Santa Clause style with sacks of mail. The MSBL had 12 leagues around the country and more were expressing interest. Sigler answered letters within two days.
When the MSBL caught fire, the Sigler clan got busy. Steve would come home from his regular job, eat, and retreat to the home office and work sometimes until midnight. "I remember mailing everything out for the World Series in the first years,” said Brian Sigler, Steve's son and the MSBL's National Coordinator. The packets were put together in an assembly line with each person filling a role from envelope stuffer to envelope sealer and stamp licker. "The entire family chipped in,” Brian Sigler said.
The first MSBL World Series drew 38 teams in the over-30 and over-40 divisions. "It was so successful. Everyone was reveling in it,” Sigler said.
A quarter century after it began, the MSBL has grown into arguably the nation's largest and best-known amateur baseball organization with approximately 35,000 to 40,000 members at any given time from every state and several countries including Holland, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Australia and Canada. Amazingly, the bulk of the growth occurred in a time when spreading the word was a little harder. Way back then "there was no internet, no call waiting, and no cell phones. It was a home telephone number and an address; that's how I had to start this,” Sigler said.
Since 1991 the league has had its own publication – HardBall – a glossy, picture-filled magazine filled with stories about players, leagues and other MSBL-related news. That publication and its staff of professional and part time reporters have gone all on-line now at http://www.msblnational.com/ – a rarity among amateur baseball organizations. The Long Island MSBL, where it all began, stands as the largest MSBL league in the country with about 120 teams.
The success of the baseball league turned into a full-time business for Sigler and gave him the fulfillment he'd yearned for. "I think there's some predestiny to this,” he said. "This all came together so great and so collectively,” he said. "There are a lot of guys 30 and over who have that same feeling of wanting to play ball, " Sigler said. "And why not? You played baseball your whole life and stopped after high school or a little bit of college,” he said. "So why can't you play? Why are you going to softball?
"I lived for Sunday,” Sigler said. "To play, pitch, field, and be part of it. To be with the guys, enjoy their company. We'd talk about the game afterwards until Tuesday. And then starting on Wednesday we'd talk about the next game. We'd compare injuries, ailments, hurts, but come game time boy we would have the passion.”
Now, some 25 years later, the league exists on a national scale "and yet the passion and the feeling of camaraderie and zeal is as prevalent as it ever was. We don't just play baseball,” Sigler said. "It's more than that. It's people who get together for a common purpose.”
The thing that gave the league its staying power, Sigler believes was an insistence on quality. "It matters,” he said, adding that real uniforms, personalized scorebooks and baseballs, promotional brochures, videos and posters, and nice fields were essential to success.
"Anything we produce really resonates quality. My approach is to try to do it as first class as I can. I think that attracts more people. Basically I ended up being a pied piper where people followed me. That's the pragmatism of it,” he said. "Once they came out again, they knew, wow, I'm never going back to softball.”
The most recent upgrade – the relationship with Essent Corporation in Easton, PA., the transition to an on-line format for MSBL baseball-related stories, and the creation of what will one day be a full Web portal with player registration, scheduling and other tools, merchandise, access to personalized promotional material and other benefits. "The future is bright,” Sigler said.
Part of that future is Brian Sigler, one Steve's two sons, the current national coordinator for the MSBL, and a familiar face at the World Series, Fall Classic and other tournaments.
Brian Sigler, who has a history degree from the University of Michigan, clearly recalls the early days when, as a 10 year old, the Long Island MSBL would play its games out at Jericho High School. "All the kids would run off and play together at the other field. I think we went to every single game,” he said. I remember (Steve) coming to coach my Little League team in his uniform and in the sixth or seventh inning he'd have to leave to play his game.”
Now Brian is heavily involved in planning tournaments, running the Long Island MSBL – the largest league in the country – and putting out fires wherever they occur. Handling the complex, problematic issues in any job can be taxing, but he said there is a lot of job satisfaction as well.
|"It might sound a little corny,” Brian Sigler said, but the best part is walking around the fields when people don't always know who I am, and watching how much enjoyment
Brian Sigler was 10 when his dad Steve founded the MSBL. Now 35. Sigler is seen here playing in the 2011 MSBL Fall classic.
the guys really get from being out here with their friends playing the game, being so passionate about something, and knowing that it was started from an idea that my father had 25 years ago.”