Phil Eckenrode, of Mineral Ridge, Ohio, throws out the first pitch prior to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers game against the Jamestown Jammers, Wednesday, Aug.14, 2002, in Niles, Ohio. Eckenrode was dressed up as James Traficant. The Single-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians made August 14 ``Jim Traficant Night,'' and hairpiece wearers and sons of truck drivers got in free. The former Ohio congressman, serving an eight-year prison sentence for bribery and racketeering, often calls himself ``the son of a truck driver.''
Scrappers ‘leaning toward’ scrapping Traficant event
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
NILES — “Flooded with e-mails and phone calls” opposed to its “Traficant Release Night” promotion, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers are “strongly leaning” toward canceling the Sept. 2 event intended to acknowledge the ex-congressman’s release from federal prison, the team’s general manager said.
The promotion was never meant to “celebrate” the release of James A. Traficant Jr., said Dave Smith, the Class A short-season minor league baseball team’s general manager.
Traficant will be released from prison Sept. 2 after serving seven years for racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
The typical call to the Scrappers’ front office about the event, Smith said, is: “I can’t believe you’re doing something to glorify Jim’s release.”
Jordan Taylor, the team’s assistant general manager, added: “We’re getting calls from people thinking we’re doing this huge recognition, which really isn’t our intention. The impression is we’re honoring him, which is hardly what we’re doing. We’re acknowledging his release.”
Because the “Traficant Release Night” was included in a Sunday article in The Vindicator with a Sept. 8 “Jim Traficant Appreciation Dinner” at Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman, there is confusion that the baseball team’s event is a celebration of the ex-congressman, Taylor and Smith said.
A final decision on canceling the event is expected in a few days, Smith said Tuesday, but “we’re strongly leaning against keeping the night.”
The Scrappers didn’t have big plans for the Sept. 2 game against the Jamestown Jammers at Eastwood Field in Niles, Smith said.
The release of Traficant from prison was going to be announced at the game, and there probably was to be a slide show of the former congressman.
“It’s not a huge celebration party with bells and whistles and balloons,” Smith said. “We got flooded with e-mails and phone calls, and that forced us to reconsider it. It’s likely we won’t do anything at this point.”
Traficant is a “polarizing figure” and his Sept. 2 release “will be the talk of the community,” Smith said explaining why the team had planned the event.
On Aug. 14, 2002, the Scrappers held a “Jim Traficant Night,” only days after the former congressman started his prison sentence.
The event received national media attention.
Those wearing a toupee — which Traficant did — or showed proof of being a son of a truck driver — something Traficant repeatedly called himself — didn’t have to pay for a ticket to that game. Of the 4,597 fans at that game, 99 got in for free.
During the game, the team played some of Traficant’s famous phrases over the public address system, had a mock congressional election that Traficant won, and had Traficant impersonators being chased by those dressed in FBI attire.
“The feedback [to the upcoming Sept. 2 event] was much more negative than the 2002 event,” said Smith, who was the team’s assistant general manager in 2002.
Traficant facilitated the relocation of the Scrappers from Erie, Pa., in the late 1990s. Traficant failed to find financial backers to build a minor-league baseball stadium first in Youngstown and then in Niles.
When it appeared as though no deal could be reached, the Cafaro Co., a major property developer based in Youngstown, agreed to build a stadium for the team near its Eastwood Mall. It was one of the last major projects authorized by William M. Cafaro, who founded the company and died April 22, 1998.
The Scrappers played their first home game at Eastwood Field, then known as Cafaro Field, in 1999.
The Scrappers didn’t seek permission from the Cafaro Co. to hold the Traficant night, which is standard operating procedure, said Joe Bell, the Cafaro Company’s spokesman.
“The team does its own promotions, and we don’t get involved with that,” he said.
Asked if there were objections or issues with the Traficant event from those at the Cafaro Co., Bell said, “We hadn’t thought about it. I haven’t heard a word about it.”