Maine Baseball HOF
Eshbach, Charlie (1995)
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
It has not taken long for Charles Eshbach Ill to make himself and the Portland Sea Dogs valuable members of the southern Maine community.
Eshbach, president and general manager of the Sea Dogs, is the chief architect behind the popularity, success and respect established by the Double-A franchise in less than two seasons.
The Sea Dogs surpassed nearly every expectation in their inaugural season of 1994 by selling out 49 of 69 home dates, including 40 of their final 41. They shattered the previous single-season attendance record for the Eastern League despite finishing 21 games below .500.
interest only seems to be growing this season. Many teams throughout professional baseball now strive to emulate Portland’s approach — featuring commitment to family, friendliness and community. Those values are what made team owner Daniel Burke believe Eshbach was the perfect choice to oversee his operation. Burke wanted an experienced baseball man whose skills and style would be embraced by Mainers. He discovered exactly that in Eshbach.
Eshbach, 43, previously served as Eastern League president for more than 11 years before accepting the many challenges of beginning Portland's new franchise in January of 1993.
The Weymouth, Mass., native cited those challenges, a reduced traveling schedule and Maine's quality of life among the advantages for him, his wife Ann-Marie and their two young sons Brian and scott.
Eshbach had steadily climbed the baseball ladder since landing a Class A assistant general manager's job in 1974, right out of the University of Connecticut where he earned a marketing degree. He became the Eastern League's president when it was nearly in shambles, but helped a resurgence that included four consecutive attendance records.
He gained respect, a reputation for honesty and fairness, and increased stature along the way. Eshbach's hiring, along with Burke's ownership, provided Portland with instant credibility in the eyes of professional! baseball.
Eshbach has since demonstrated why. He selected a youth oriented team name and logo that currently sells more than any other In minor league baseball. A seal-costumed mascot, reasonable prices and attractive Hadlock Field add to the popularity.
So Eshbach has masterfully blended the Sea Dogs with their community, including his considerable commitment to raise funds and awareness for local charities. Eshbach somehow makes nearly every fan feel an important part of the team.
For video of the ceremony .
From Portland Sea Dogs
"Charlie was employee #1 at the Portland Sea Dogs and the best hire my father could have made," said team chairman Bill Burke. "He has led this franchise with vision and high integrity and his hard work and good humor have been invaluable to all of us."
Sally McNamara added, "Charlie's fingerprints are all over this franchise and none of our success would have been possible without him. While we will miss his day-to-day presence in the front office, we are pleased to have access to him as a senior advisor."
Under Eshbach's leadership the Sea Dogs have been one of the Eastern League's model franchises. In the teams' inaugural season in 1994, the Sea Dogs led the league in attendance attracting over 375,000 fans. The Sea Dogs consistently rank among the league's attendance leaders. The Sea Dogs were awarded the 1999 Freitas Award, which is presented by Baseball America to honor the best operators in Minor League Baseball. In 2000, the Sea Dogs won the John H. Johnson President's Trophy, which is Minor League Baseball's top honor presented to the complete baseball franchise based upon franchise stability, contributions to the league, contributions to baseball in the community and promotion of the baseball industry. Following the 2013 season, Eshbach was awarded the distinguished "King of Baseball" award for his accomplishments in the game.
Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski added, "I've been with Charlie Eshbach since day one with the Portland Sea Dogs when I was with the Florida Marlins. If there's one person that stands out as 'Mr. Sea Dog,' it's Charlie. I congratulate him on a great career and thank him for everything he has done for our organization, and baseball in general."
Prior to joining the Sea Dogs Eshbach served 11 years as Eastern League President and was presented the inaugural Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as a league president in 1984. During his time as league president, Eshbach served a three-year term on the Executive Committee of Minor League Baseball and served as interim President of Minor League Baseball in 1988.
Eshbach began his career in Minor League Baseball in 1974 with the Elmira Pioneers (NY-Penn League). In 1975 he joined the Bristol Red Sox, Boston's Double-A team in the Eastern League. Having served in the Eastern League since 1975, Eshbach is the longest serving active member of the league. Eshbach also served as General Manager of the Reading Phillies in 1978.
From Portland Press Herald
In memoriam: Charlie Eshbach Ballpark Digest Editors Founding President and General Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A; Eastern League) Charlie Eshbach passed away this week following a lengthy illness. He was 70. Eshbach was the first employee of the Sea Dogs, hired by team Founder Dan Burke to lead his franchise and the return of professional baseball to the city of Portland for the first time since 1949. Eshbach was the primary visionary of the Sea Dogs brand and the builder of the franchise. He served as the team’s President & General Manager through the 2010 season and remained as the team’s President through the end of the 2018 season when he stepped down from the team leadership position after 25 years. He remained with the club as a Senior Advisor. “Charlie Eshbach was the heart and the brains behind the Portland Sea Dogs, advising our father Dan Burke as he worked to bring the team to Portland,” said Bill Burke and Sally McNamara via press statement. “His wise counsel and good humor will be dearly missed by all who counted on him for advice and support. We are deeply saddened by his passing and our hearts go out to Ann-Marie and his entire family.” A baseball lifer, Eshbach had a 45-year career in Minor League Baseball. Prior to joining the Sea Dogs, he served for 11 years as Eastern League President and was presented the inaugural Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as a league president in 1984. During his time as league president, Eshbach served a three-year term on the Executive Committee of Minor League Baseball and served as interim President of Minor League Baseball in 1988. He began his career in Minor League Baseball in 1974 with the Elmira Pioneers (Short Season A; NY-Penn League). In 1975 he joined the Bristol Red Sox (Double-A; Eastern League. Eshbach also served as General Manager of the Reading Phillies in 1978. Under Eshbach’s leadership the Sea Dogs have been one of the Eastern League’s model franchises. In the team’s inaugural season in 1994, the Sea Dogs led the league in attendance, attracting over 375,000 fans. The Sea Dogs consistently rank among the league’s attendance leaders. The Sea Dogs were awarded the 1999 Freitas Award, honoring the best operators in Minor League Baseball. In 2000, the Sea Dogs won the John H. Johnson President’s Trophy, which is Minor League Baseball’s top honor presented to the complete baseball franchise based upon franchise stability, contributions to the league, contributions to baseball in the community and promotion of the baseball industry. In 1995, Eshbach co-founded the Strike Out Cancer in Kids program, which has raised over $5,000,000 for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. For his efforts Eshbach was honored as the Eastern League Executive of the Year in 1994 and 2002. In 2013, he was named the “King of Baseball,” where Minor League Baseball salutes a veteran from the professional baseball world for long-time dedication and service. It is the highest individual honor in Minor League Baseball. In 2018 Eshbach was inducted into the Portland Sea Dogs Hall of Fame.
Charlie Eshbach, founding president of the Sea Dogs, dies at 70 As the team's longtime president and general manager, he helped establish the Sea Dogs as one of minor league baseball's model franchises. Charlie Eshbach, who helped establish the Portland Sea Dogs as one of minor league baseball’s model franchises, died Tuesday morning following a lengthy illness. He was 70 and had been hospitalized since May, team officials said. Eshbach was the Sea Dogs’ first employee and served as team president for 25 years. In 2013, he was named “King of Baseball,” minor league baseball’s highest honor, for his work in building family-friendly entertainment at Hadlock Field. His impact on the community went even deeper as co-founder of the Strike Out Cancer In Kids program that has raised more than $5 million since launching in 1995. Eshbach was hired by then team owner Dan Burke in October 1992, stepping down as Eastern League president to oversee building a club that would begin play in 1994 as a Double-A affiliate of the expansion Florida Marlins. Burke and Eshbach both were lifelong Red Sox fans, and the Sea Dogs switched affiliations from Florida to Boston following the 2002 season. The Red Sox connection led Eshbach to tweak Hadlock Field to more closely resemble Fenway Park, with changes as obvious as a 37-foot left-field wall dubbed “The Maine Monster” and as subtle as the Morse code initials on either side of the scoreboard honoring Burke (DBB) and his wife, Bunny (HSB). “He and my dad made this perfect match,” said Bill Burke, who along with his sister Sally McNamara assumed ownership of the club following their father’s death in 2011. “Running a minor league team is a lot of work and he made it look easy.” Burke and McNamara called Eshbach “the heart and brains” behind the Sea Dogs, named in 1999 by “Baseball America” magazine as the best operation in minor league baseball. Eshbach also served as Portland’s general manager through the 2010 season, and remained with the club as a senior adviser after stepping down as team president in September 2018. MINOR LEAGUE EXEC AT 22 He grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, earned a degree from the University of Connecticut and became general manager of the Bristol (Connecticut) Red Sox at age 22. He was 29 when elected president of the Eastern League and served in that capacity for 11 years, until Dan Burke convinced him to join the expansion franchise in Portland. “I just felt Charlie was the perfect person for a community like Portland,” Dan Burke told the Press Herald in 1994. “Charlie’s a marathoner, not a dash man.” It was in Bristol that Eshbach met Guy Gilchrist, an artist and illustrator who drew a comic strip based on Jim Henson’s Muppets and was a regular at Muzzy Field. “We were both big Red Sox fans,” Gilchrist, 65, said Tuesday from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. “Charlie really learned the whole business from the ground up. You were not only the general manager, but you were serving hot dogs.” At the time Eshbach moved to Maine, there were only two notable mascots in minor league baseball, Gilchrist said, the Durham Bull in North Carolina and the Toledo Mud Hen in Ohio. Dan Burke was against the idea of a mascot, his son said, but Eshbach prevailed, and sent Gilchrist some of the suggested team names, including Puffins and Wharf Rats along with Sea Dogs. While on the phone with Eshbach, Gilchrist sketched a young seal wearing a ball cap with a P and chomping on a bat. The Sea Dogs logo was born, and mascot Slugger became the lovable face of the franchise. The team continues to rank among the top 25 franchises in minor league baseball in annual merchandising sales. “He was more business-oriented with his background and I was more of an arts background, but we both loved all the same stuff,” Gilchrist said. “Charlie had an imagination, and he had the business acumen to put imagination into motion.” ‘HE INSTILLED IN US A PRIDE’ Promotions are a staple of minor-league life, but Eshbach nurtured a family-friendly atmosphere and never allowed between-innings entertainment to encroach upon the game itself. In 1997 he pioneered the Field of Dreams-inspired entrance of flannel-uniformed players and coaches through a makeshift cornfield in center field. The Sea Dogs never embraced promotions such as dizzy bat races where fans are made to look foolish. The idea is “to treat everyone with respect and have a good time,” said Jim Heffley, the Sea Dogs business manager who joined the club as a 23-year-old in 1994. “I’ve never met anyone so dedicated to the integrity of the game. He always reminded us that they’ve got a job to do and we can’t get in their way.” Heffley is among the longtime Sea Dogs employees who spoke of Eshbach’s integrity and loyalty. He regularly stood at the front gate before games, welcoming fans and listening to any concerns. He was never Mr. Eshbach, always Charlie. “He instilled in us a pride,” Heffley said. “He mentored and guided us on how to do things correctly. We learned early on: Don’t do anything that will embarrass the club.” Susan Doliner has been with Maine Medical Center’s philanthropy department since 1990. She and Eshbach helped develop the wildly successful Strike Out Cancer In Kids program. She said Eshbach and the Burke family wanted to create more than a local ball club. “They wanted a link to the community and to give back,” she said. A golf tournament called the Slugger Open also raises money for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. “Charlie made sure the players would come up and meet the children,” Doliner said of the patients in the pediatric unit, which overlooks the ballpark. “The ballplayers knew what it was like to have a child look up to them. And often a player would come up on his own.” Doliner said she would often travel outside of Maine to tout the success of the Strike Out Cancer partnership. She described Eshbach as quiet and wise but with a great sense of humor. “I also got to be around him when he was around his professional colleagues and boy, did they respect him,” she said. “He wasn’t just respected around Portland but around the country.” ‘CHARLIE WAS THE GOLD STANDARD’ Jon Jennings was exploring where in New England to put an expansion minor league basketball team in 2007. Intrigued by the success of the Sea Dogs, he approached Eshbach, who pitched the idea of Portland. The Red Claws, now called the Maine Celtics, played their first game in November 2009. Jennings was the team’s president and general manager for the first three seasons before becoming Portland’s city manager, a position he currently holds in Clearwater, Florida. “Charlie was the gold standard that I based all of the decisions around when we were creating the Red Claws,” Jennings said. “I met with him on several occasions to get his thoughts. He was integral to the success that we actually had with the Red Claws in the beginning.” Eshbach stressed that a minor league team had to be a part of the community, beyond the game-day event, Jennings said. “That was frankly the hallmark of what Charlie taught me,” Jennings said. “We wanted to be a vital part of the community and wanted to make a difference, and many of the things we did, from the promotions to the fundraising events that we did as a team, grew out of those initial conversations with Charlie.” Carlos Tosca, manager of the Sea Dogs in their first three seasons, choked up upon hearing the news of Eshbach’s death Tuesday afternoon. “His character and his honesty – I don’t want to say they were rare in the minor leagues – but he was certainly a cut above,” he said by phone from Florida. “He had such an easygoing way, but at the same time, you knew there was fire and intensity in there.” Tosca was silent for a moment. “He did things right,” he said of Eshbach. “I loved the man. He took very good care of me and he always made sure the players were taken care of.” Eshbach and the Sea Dogs earned several honors during his tenure. In 2000, Minor League Baseball awarded the Sea Dogs with the John H. Johnson President’s Trophy, presented to the baseball franchise for its stability and contributions to the league, its community and the baseball industry overall. Eshbach was named the Eastern League Executive of the Year in 1978 (while with Bristol), 1994 and 2002. Tosca said Eshbach’s two decades of baseball experience before the Sea Dogs meant that “nothing really ruffled his feathers, nothing ever caught him by surprise,” the former manager said. “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Staff Writer Steve Craig contributed to this report.