By Lou Sorendo
This cowboy is not quite ready yet to ride into the sunset. Tex Ritter was an American country singer and actor whose programs were featured at the Acme Theater on Syracuse’s north side every Saturday morning during the 1930s.
Seven-year-old Anthony Simone and his friends would take in the shows and later go to the park and reenact “cowboy and Indian” scenarios that they enjoyed on the silver screen. Of course, Simone insisted on being “Tex,” and that nickname has stuck to this very day.
Now at 80, Simone has rode all the way to the top of the Syracuse Chiefs baseball organization, a Triple-A club that competes in the International League.
He started out on the grounds crew in 1961, and today is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the minor league baseball organization.
Simone has certainly left an indelible imprint on the world of baseball in Central New York. In 2001, he was inducted into the Syracuse Baseball Wall of Fame. In 2008, he was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame.
What attracted Simone to the Chiefs was his passion for “America’s pastime.”
He played at North High School in Syracuse from 1946-47 and competed in semi-pro ball as well, although he was never signed to a pro contract. “I love baseball, but never made it as a player because I couldn’t hit that good,” he said.
Although slowed a bit following surgery for throat cancer in 2007, Simone still exhibits passion for a sport that he simply calls “his life.”
“I’m basically involved in everything,” he said. “I make sure everything is run right and properly,” he added, noting that everyone on staff is involved in the marketing aspect of the operation.
“I think the biggest thing that I really enjoy the most is the way people treat me and what they keep thanking me for. They are the ones who created me and was the reason I got involved,” he said.
Road to the top
Simone literally climbed the ladder to success with the Chiefs, straight from the bottom rung. Following his stint in the service, Simone took business courses and began working for Bonn Bread in Syracuse in 1955.
He worked there for several years and became general manager of the corporation, overseeing about 80 people.
When he heard that baseball had a chance to come back to Syracuse after a four-year exodus, he responded to what would be his life’s calling.
Minor league baseball left Syracuse after the 1955 season and Syracuse was without baseball until 1961 when it bought the Montreal Royals franchise from then owner of the Dodgers, Walter O’Malley. The Dodgers had left Brooklyn in 1957 and four years later moved their Triple-A team to the West Coast, making Montreal available.
Simone said the Chiefs are the only club left in professional baseball that is owned by stockholders. In 1961, the state of New York established it as a corporation and gave the club 20,000 shares to sell at $10 a share in a measure to bring baseball back to Syracuse.
When Syracuse acquired the Montreal franchise in ‘61, Simone decided that he wanted to get a job with the club despite his success at Bonn.
“I accepted a grounds crew job, and my wife Joanne couldn’t believe it,” he said. “The grounds crew consisted of two people.”
In June of that year, the club’s trainer suffered a heart attack, and general manager Don Labruzzo told Simone to “take care of the club. I can’t find anybody.”
For the next month or so, Simone proceeded to maintain the field from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then served as the clubhouse trainer until 2 a.m. the next day.
Training was not Simone’s forte, but he was assisted by many people—particularly players—in learning the trade.
“That’s how I got started,” he said. “That’s how they created me.”
He was offered several major league jobs, but decided instead to give up training and get into front office management in 1967.
The reason he turned down major league offers was simple: He had fallen in love with what he had created at MacArthur Stadium, and “the people fell in love with me.”
In ’67, “Tex” worked as the club’s business manager and public relations director. In 1970, he took over as general manager.
The native Syracusan excelled in his front office position and was named the International League’s Executive of the Year in 1970, 1973, 1976 and 1994.
The Chiefs captured the National Association Presidents Trophy in 1987, awarded to a minor league team each year that exemplifies the standards of a complete baseball franchise.
He named his son John general manager in 1997 and became executive vice president and chief operating officer from that point. His daughter Wendy works for the club as well.
John captured IL Executive of the Year in 1998.
The Chiefs have been honored more in terms of this type of recognition than any other IL team.
If you build it
Simone said his greatest accomplishment was helping to build Alliance Bank Stadium, which was completed in 1997. From 1997 to 2006, it was known as P&C Stadium.
Its predecessor, MacArthur Stadium, had been home to the Chiefs since 1934.
Simone said MacArthur became quite old while many of the other minor league baseball cities were building and refurbishing their own stadiums.
“I knew we had to make a move sooner or later,” he said.
Thanks to state representative Michael Bragman, the Chiefs were able to procure $16 million to construct the stadium.
Simone said baseball serves as an economic boost to the Syracuse area.
“When the other clubs visit your city, they go to hotels, they go shopping in the malls, and sometimes they need doctors,” Simone said. “They spend up to $5 million to $6 million between April and September. People don’t realize that.”
Simone’s efforts to promote baseball in Syracuse have not gone unnoticed in the community.
In 2000, he received the Blind Men and Criers annual “Edward J. Kearney Award” given to the individual who has given back to the Syracuse community. In 2006, he received Le Moyne College’s Rev. Vincent B. Ryan, S.J. Dolphin Award in recognition of outstanding loyalty, dedication and service to the college.
Simone said he enjoys involving community groups and businesses with Chiefs’ promotions. Special nights have been held for the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, and for businesses such as General Electric, Carrier and Key Bank.
The publicity gained through such promotions helped both the Chiefs as well as participating organizations.
“They loved it. You would draw 8,000 to 10,000 people with all the tickets we gave them. That’s why the association is so good,” he noted.
Simone also said population numbers have decreased in Syracuse, making it tougher to draw fans. “Thank God we’re still making out,” he said. “Keep in mind that we have the lowest ticket prices out of the 30 minor league clubs.”
Simone said it’s been difficult to generate advertising revenue due to the poor economy, but “we’ve created enough to survive.”
The Chiefs are known to “think outside the box” when it comes to promotions. An example of that is the promotion of the Dave Mathews Band concert at Alliance Bank Stadium slated in August.
Simone still keeps physically fit, walking two miles every morning. He had surgery to remove his cancer-stricken voice box in November of 2007, and now uses a prosthetic device to talk. “Thank God that I was able to live,” he said.
Has Simone contemplated retirement?
“Not really, not from baseball,” said Simone, noting the sport as been good to him.
He said baseball people oftentimes extend their careers beyond normal retirement age, unlike other business environments.
“People still say ‘thank you’ and ask for my autograph, and still ask, ‘Tex, how are you?’ “If it weren’t for them, the people who created me, and everything that they have done all these years, I would not be here,” he said.
The club is experiencing a new frontier beginning this year.
After a 31-year allegiance with the Toronto Blue Jays organization, the Chiefs recently signed a two-year affiliation with the Washington Nationals.
Simone said baseball has changed over the years, and is now faced with overcoming the controversy of players using performance-enhancing drugs.
Simone said this current scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs in baseball has certainly tainted the sport. Asterisks should be placed by records established by major league players such as Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriquez due to their involvement with human growth hormone and steroids, he said.
“It has hurt the reputation and respect for the sport,” Simone added.
He said the punishment for steroid use in baseball has to be tough enough to seriously discourage players from cheating. He said minor league players who are caught are assessed 50-game suspensions.
Quite a legacy—Simone’s son John said his dad has played a significant role in keeping baseball alive in the Salt City.
“He along with others—such as Anthony Henniger, Tom Higgins, Clayton Andrews, Don Waful, Dick Ryan, Michael Bragman and Stephen Rogers—are why baseball exists in Syracuse,” John said. “Their dedication to keeping Triple-A baseball in our community has allowed fans to see great players for over 50 years.”
John expressed pride in his dad’s accomplishments through 49 years of baseball.
“Locally, I’m most proud of how many people respect him and appreciate what he has done for the community outside of baseball,” he said.
On the national level, John said many people outside of Syracuse also respect his father’s accomplishments throughout his many years in baseball.
John said he is also proud of “all the charitable organizations he gets involved with and the millions of dollars he has helped to raise for all those organizations using baseball as a vehicle to reach them.”