At a press conference held at Modern Woodmen Ballpark on Tuesday afternoon, the Quad Cities River Bandits introduced Harold Craw as the team's new general manager.
Craw's hiring, after 10 seasons with the South Atlantic League's Charleston RiverDogs, has a special significance. The Chattanooga native is the only black general manager in Minor League Baseball, as well as the first black general manager in the history of the Midwest League.
"It's flattering, but at the same time it's unfortunate that there aren't more African-American general managers in Minor League Baseball," Craw said when reached by telephone Thursday afternoon. "There are many qualified individuals who I feel could do a good job."
In Craw's view, this current dearth of prominent black executives can best be rectified via more effective and focused recruitment techniques.
"It needs to start on the entry level, because once you get in you can grow from there," said Craw, who will oversee the club's first season as an Astros affiliate. "From elementary through high school, you ask kids want they want to do and the resounding answer is 'I want to play [sports].' But doing this, you can still get up every morning, go to the stadium, and be around sports all day. We need to get past the idea that the only way to be involved is by being an athlete."
Learning on the fly
Typically, general managers are not hired two months before Opening Day, but the situation in Quad Cities was not typical. Craw's predecessor, general manager Stefanie Brown, stepped down from her position in order to deal with a pressing family concern (she is now serving the team in a reduced role, as the executive director of Modern Woodmen Park), leaving the River Bandits' Main Street Iowa ownership group scrambling for a replacement.
"I know [team owner] Dave Heller through mutual friends, and when this situation came up he gave me a call to see if I had any interest. He told me, 'This is a position I'm looking to fill yesterday,'" explained Craw. "I accepted the offer on the 31st of January, and then had about 10 days to get everything wrapped up and on the moving truck."
The decision to start a new life in the Quad Cities was not made lightly, as Craw met his wife, Angie, in Charleston and they now have two young daughters. But this was too good an opportunity to pass up.
"Quad Cities -- that was a team that I'd known about forever," he said. "And when Main Street bought them, I heard about all of the great transformations that were made. It turns out that everything I heard from 1,100 miles away is the same from zero miles. From city officials to random people I meet while out walking around, it seems that everyone has something positive to say."
The transformations are far from over, as just-announced plans for the 2013 season include the addition of a Ferris wheel, carousel and zip line to the grounds of Modern Woodmen Park.
"This is really an exciting time," said Craw. "Ever since I got out here things have been rocking and rolling."
The journey to the Quad Cities
Craw's own Minor League Baseball experience dates back to 2002, but prior to that he spent time coaching impoverished inner-city youth. He said that these experiences gave him his first taste of what it would be like to work in the sports industry.
"We had to raise money for the buses, for equipment and for the uniforms. So that marked my first foray into sales and community sponsors," Craw recalled.
In 2002 Craw landed a job as director of stadium operations for the Appalachian League Johnson City Cardinals, simply by walking into the ballpark and handing the general manager his resume. He called his experience in Johnson City "the greatest summer ever."
"I learned a lot. We did a lot of great things and some that were not so great," he said. "But it was after that experience that I realized I might want to get into that side of the business."
Craw met members of the RiverDogs staff at the 2003 South Atlantic League Meetings in Greensboro and soon landed a job with the club. During the ensuing decade, he worked his way up to an assistant general manager position, earning an SAL Sales Executive of the Year award in 2008 and Community Relations Director of the Year honors in '09. Additionally, he co-founded Charleston's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities) program and spearheaded outreach efforts that resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of African-American fans attending RiverDogs games.
Craw raves about his time in Charleston and the friends he made within the Goldklang Group (who own the RiverDogs in addition to three other teams). He cites RiverDogs co-owner Mike Veeck as a particular influence, and the feeling is mutual.
"Harold has been my muse," said Veeck in a RiverDogs press release. "He's been a huge asset to our operation in Charleston, and it's time we share him with the world. Larry Doby would be proud."
Doby, a South Carolina native and the first black player in the American League (signed by Bill Veeck, Mike's father), is honored annually by the RiverDogs via their "Larry Doby Heritage Weekend" promotion. Craw envisions staging similar historically-themed events in the Quad Cities, but for now his focus is getting acclimated with the fan base, staff and stadium as the team rushes headlong toward Opening Day.
"Just like in Charleston, this is a community that gets it," said Craw. "We're going full bore, and we're going to have fun. I just can't wait until those gates open and the lights go on."