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.
Photo courtesy Portland Sea Dogs.