The Late, Great Newark Bears

Bears’ manager Tim Raines beckons to the pen c. 2009 (photo / Newark Bears)

I recently came upon a photo of the latest, and presumably final, version of pro baseball’s Newark Bears. The namesake successor to the storied New York Yankees‘ affiliate of the 1920s-1940s returned pro baseball to Newark, New Jersey from 1998-2013.

I caught up with the team nearly three years ago to the day when I contacted the remnants of their front office for an article just as the Bears were fading from the world’s baseball map. Newark was withering in the Texas heat at the time, losing four straight to the Laredo Lemurs of the independent American Association. The Bears by then were in the Can-Am League, an independent circuit a competitive rung below its initial place in the Atlantic League.

I wondered why the Bears were facing a team that wasn’t in their league. “The Can-Am League only has five teams. It’s a small league and you’re not going to get a lot of variety playing the same four teams every month,” said the Bears’ director of media relations at the time, Daniel Frankel. The team closed out the campaign, and the franchise’s final year, with a 37-63 mark in 2013.

The Newark Bears’ second incarnation, while not as successful as the original International League franchise, captured two championships including Atlantic League titles in 2002 and 2007. Located in the shadow of New York City, the team also proved a magnet for former major-leaguers who hoped that proximity to the Mets and Yankees could facilitate late season call-up to the bigs – even though the Bears were unaffiliated. Their all-time roster includes Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Armando Benitez, and Jay Gibbons, among others. Former New York Giants‘ quarterback Danny Kannell had a stint with the Bears in 2001 while working his way back to an NFL roster.

Executives and coaches hoped for something similar, despite the Bears’ increasingly tenuous financial stability heading into the 2010s. In 2011, the team’s front office and coaching staff included former major leaguers Mike Torrez, Ron Karkovice, Tim Raines and Jim Leyritz. Newark was managed by well-known ex-big leaguers, including Bill MadlockTim Raines, and Gary Templeton. Templeton was the final manager in the Bears’ history.

Former major leaguers (L-R) Torrez, Karkovice, Raines & Leyritz
with CEO Tom Cetnar in 2011 (photo – Jim Hague)

Newark’s home field, Riverfront Stadium, draws current duty as the home park for the Rutgers-Newark and NJIT NCAA Division III baseball programs each spring. That duty is nearing its end for the stadium. Built in 1999, Riverfront was purchased earlier this year by a real estate developer and is scheduled for demolition.TF

The Bears’ 2013 logo (photo/image – Newark Bears)

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