spotlight

John McHale

Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball

The beginnings
I moved to Colorado in 1981 and practiced law in Denver, a legal community full of wise, generous and active lawyers and judges, for ten years. In 1989, the National League announced plans to expand. The Colorado legislature created a six-county Special District empowered to place on the ballot the question whether the voters would accept an increase in the sales tax to finance the planning, design, and construction of a ballpark, if a franchise were to be awarded to metropolitan Denver by the National League. I was lucky enough to be appointed to the board of the Special District.

The question was placed on the August 1990 ballot. It was passed by the voters, and their endorsement of the certainty of a new ballpark became the decisive element of Denver’s bid. The franchise that would become the Colorado Rockies was awarded in July 1991. The club’s ownership asked me to join its management team. I resigned from my law firm in October 1991 and became executive vice-president, baseball operations.

Moving up
The enthusiasm of the fans made the 1993 and 1994 Colorado Rockies successful, despite losing records. The club set a Major League Baseball record for attendance in its first year and was on its way to another in 1994 before the schedule was interrupted by a players’ strike. The region’s fans’ devotion to baseball and the attention focused on Coors Field as a successful urban development project brought reflected credit and other opportunities to many of us in the Rockies’ organization. In January 1995, I received an offer to become the president of the Detroit Tigers. Both of my parents had been born and raised in Detroit, my siblings and I had been born there as well, and my father played first base and later served as general manager for the Tigers.

The Detroit Club was in the early years of what would become a decade-long quest for a new home to replace Tiger Stadium, which had opened in 1912, just before Fenway Park. The old stadium was cherished by many fans, and the prospect that the Tigers might play elsewhere was controversial. The campaign involved two separate elections, litigation that ultimately rose to the Michigan Supreme Court, and urban politics as a contact sport. However, Comerica Park opened in downtown Detroit on April 11, 2000.

Home base
In June, 2001, Commissioner Bud Selig asked me to undertake a special assignment to assist the management of the Tampa Bay Rays. The club’s partners had some differences of opinions concerning how to best develop an expansion franchise and the Commissioner hoped that I might offer some views that would be helpful to resolution of their differences. I worked in St. Petersburg until March 2002 when the Commissioner asked me to move to Major League Baseball’s central office in New York.

I have been here since then and my responsibilities have allowed me to participate in many of the most significant issues our game has encountered: the development of our internet company, MLB Advanced Media, the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, the administration of our Joint Drug Agreement with the MLB Players Association, the World Baseball Classic, and financial crises, bankruptcy proceedings and subsequent sales of franchises in two of our largest markets.

Late Innings
As I enter the “late innings” of my career in baseball, it is clear to me that I have benefited from enormous good luck and from the kindness of men and women who decided to take a chance on me. Much of my professional life has had to do with the basics of governmental and real estate law: elections, taxation, property acquisition, land use, urban development, architectural and construction contracts and financing. The core of the business of Major League Baseball is its constitution, rules and other agreements among the member clubs and with national and local sponsors. It will not be surprising to know that almost all of my senior colleagues in the central office during my time here have law degrees, and that many of our owners and senior executives have law degrees as well. I believe that the remarkable opportunities afforded me to spend most of my life in baseball could never have arisen without my education at Boston College Law School..

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