published Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Chattanooga Lookouts being sold; new owner not expected to move the team

Poll
Will the Lookouts leave town?
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    Players and coaches assemble for a photograph during media day for the Chattanooga Lookouts at AT&T Field. The Lookout are being sold.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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The Chattanooga Lookouts are in the process of being sold to businessman John Hughes, of Warner Robins, Ga., according to sources close to the sale.

Hughes was exploring the feasibility of bringing minor league baseball to his community as recently as March, but he is not expected to relocate the Lookouts.

Chattanooga's Class AA franchise, a popular downtown attraction at AT&T Field, has been for sale since the end of the 2010 season. Lookouts owner Frank Burke devoted his focus to potential buyers in August 2011, when he turned daily operations of the team over to current president and general manager Rich Mozingo.

Burke and Hughes declined comment Friday.

In 1995, Burke purchased the Lookouts in a group that included his late father, Daniel, and Charles Eshbach. Financial terms were never released, but other Double-A franchises in similar markets were being purchased for $3.5 million to $4 million.

The transfer of ownership will have to be approved by Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the Southern League.

"It's on the timeline of 60 to 90 days in general for any one of these sales," Southern League President Lori Webb said Friday, "but that is a movable deadline because anyone can ask for an extension at any time if they need it."

Webb declined comment when asked about the specifics of the sale of the Lookouts.

Professional baseball in Chattanooga dates back to 1885 and has been played continuously in the city since 1976. The Lookouts were partnered with the Cincinnati Reds from 1988 to 2008 and are in their sixth season as Double-A affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Chattanooga last won the Southern League title in 1988 but has not lacked for talented players, most notably first baseman Joey Votto, pitcher Johnny Cueto and outfielder Yasiel Puig.

Purchasing the Lookouts would include the sale of AT&T Field, which was built in 2000. Similar Double-A franchises have sold in recent years for between $12 million and $15 million.

Hughes last year hired a firm to study the idea of bringing minor league ball to Warner Robins. Media reports indicate that the City Council there offered its moral support but did not provide any financial backing.

Hughes ended his pursuit of bringing a minor league team to Warner Robins on March 28.

In a letter to the Houston County Board of Commissioners, Hughes wrote, "I will cease my efforts and relinquish my exclusionary and all other efforts pertaining to Minor League Baseball in Middle Georgia."

Hughes then requested that no county officials contact him by telephone, especially at home. The letter was provided to the Times Free Press by WMAZ television in Macon.

Former Lookouts general manager Bill Davidson, who is now with National Sports Services, worked with Hughes on bringing a team to Warner Robins and is believed to be active in the deal to purchase his former club. A message left recently for Davidson was not returned.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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