GENEVA – Bill Larsen, the Cougars' general manager for the club's first six seasons in Geneva, offered immense insight during a phone interview earlier this week.
While much of that was reflected in our story on the team's upcoming date with its 10 millionth fan, there was plenty left in the notebook worth sharing. Here are a few tidbits:
• Larsen worked for Random House in the book publishing industry for several years before breaking into baseball. He was general manager of the Rockford Expos for three seasons before joining the Cougars for their inaugural season in 1991.
At the time, Larsen described a minor league promotional world that consisted of little more than traveling staples Max "The Clown Prince of Baseball" Patkin and The Famous (nee San Diego) Chicken. Larsen knew that had to change. The family entertainment plattorm had to prevail.
"I think it was the reason why it was successful to begin with and why it continues to be," he said. "Nobody at that time was marketing baseball as entertainment. It was still pretty much old-school as far as the way things were done marketing-wise.
"So I took the approach that if i'm going to make any kind of impact or have any affect at all on not just the Tri-Cities, I had to appeal to almost everyone in the Chicagoland area. And that was my approach to the beginning."
• Larsen on Patkin: "I got along with him fine, but if it was an intern, God help the intern."
• Cougars managing partners Mike Woleben and Mike Murtaugh once were part of a group that also owned the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.
Larsen commuted from Nashville to Geneva and back for a time, serving as GM of both clubs.
"Mike and Mike were great to me," Larsen said. "There's no two ways about it."
• Regular radio spots on WGN-AM 720 in the early 1990s helped Larsen spread the word about the Cougars, who were once the Wausau (Wis.) Timbers.
"I had no business being on WGN radio, I tell you right now," Larsen said. "I used them as a big-time marketing tool. I think everyone in about a five-state area knew who we were as a minor league team."
"If you market it properly, do things right with fans, people, treat people right, it'll work," Larsen added later. "You've just got to know how to entertain."
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com