Chattanooga Lookouts owner Frank Burke may have to put the storied Class AA franchise up for sale due to the declining health of his father.
"We're trying to figure out what our options are," Burke said Monday night from baseball's winter meetings in Orlando. "Part of figuring it out is to see what kind of interest there may be. There are some estate issues that have to be dealt with. Obviously it would not be my first choice, but you've got to do what you've got to do."
Burke has overseen operations for the Lookouts since 1995, when he purchased the team along with his father, Daniel Burke, and Charles Eshback. The Lookouts played at Engel Stadium through the 1999 season before moving to AT&T Field, a privately funded 6,340-seat facility located on the former Hawk Hill.
AT&T Field, known formerly as BellSouth Park, was completed before the 2000 season at a cost of $10.2 million. There was a 10-year plan to pay off the debt, but better-than-expected attendance numbers resulted in the debt's elimination in 2006.
Burke would not say whether the estate issues were in relation to the franchise, the facility or something else entirely. He has not placed any timetable on a decision.
"It's a brutal thing to begin with," he said. "My father is now very, very sick, so it's not really the happiest subject, with or without the Lookouts."
Daniel Burke served as a director of Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., from 1967 to '96 and was its chief executive officer in 1990-94. He also has been chairman and owner of the Double-A Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs in the Eastern League.
The Lookouts were Double-A affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds when Burke became owner, and the two franchises continued their partnership through the 2008 season. Burke then linked the Lookouts to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a two-year pact, and the two franchises this past summer extended their agreement four more years through the 2014 season.
Burke is scheduled to meet with Dodgers officials today.
Professional baseball in Chattanooga dates back to 1885, and it has been played continuously since 1976. The Lookouts compete in the Southern League, with their most recent title occurring in 1988.
Asked if new owners might relocate the franchise should he decide to sell, Burke said, "This team has been very successful in Chattanooga. I see no reason why it would move. I can't guarantee anything, but I would be stunned."