Lookouts remain for sale after deal falls through

Lookouts remain for sale after deal falls through

June 8th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Lookouts' owner Frank Burke sits in right field with an oversize glove during a game against the Birmingham Barons. "I do it for luck," said Burke.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Frank Burke has been owning the Chattanooga Lookouts for nearly 20 years.

He has his share of experience selling the Lookouts as well.

The Times Free Press reported May 16 that Burke was in the process of selling the storied Double-A franchise to John Hughes, a businessman from Warner Robins, Ga. The transfer of ownership fell through this past week, leaving Burke continuing a process that began after the 2010 season.

"I would like to get on with my life after the Lookouts," Burke said Saturday, "and it's my hope that we can complete a sale and that we can do it at some point in the near future."

Burke would neither confirm nor deny the interest Hughes had in the Lookouts. He did say the team has been close to selling "three or four times."

The Times Free Press, citing sources familiar with the sale, reported that Hughes was making a $12.5 million purchase and that his plan was to keep the team in Chattanooga. The transaction was in the process of being reviewed by Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the Southern League when it was terminated, but Burke has repeatedly declined comment when asked specifics about the sales process.

That Hughes is no longer the buyer opens the door for Burke's eventual successor to move the team. Burke does not believe that will be the case.

"It has always been our goal to make sure that they don't move," Burke said. "I've put almost almost 20 years of my life into making them the best they can be in Chattanooga, and it would be my goal to make sure that whoever buys them keeps them here."

A message Saturday asking Hughes for comment was not returned.

The Times Free Press reported in Friday's editions that a three-member group would be interested in buying the Lookouts if the deal with Hughes fell through. The three-member group contains state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, Nashville businessman David Freeman and Richard Mashburn, a former Ooltewah resident who now lives in Atlanta and heads Mashburn Outdoor LLC.

"We would love to have an opportunity if that doesn't work out," McCormick told the Times Free Press, "and we have a commitment to keeping it in the community."

Freeman is a former owner of the NHL's Nashville Predators and currently has an ownership stake in the Southern League's Jackson Generals.

"As far as the interested party that was in the paper on Friday, it would be inappropriate for me to comment about that group," Burke said, "and it's inappropriate for me to comment about the activities of another Southern League owner as part of that group."

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, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, pitcher Johnny Cueto, and outfielders Adam Dunn, Jay Bruce and Yasiel Puig.

The Lookouts are not having a successful 2014 on the field but have been stout at the turnstiles, averaging 3,778 fans a game at AT&T Field during the season's first half. Chattanooga is on pace to have its highest average home attendance in a decade.

"We've tried to keep this process quiet," Burke said. "The team has not been sold, and they are actively for sale."

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