In the interest of formality, Kane County Chronicle sports reporter Kevin Druley opened the latest edition of the Weekend Chit-chat by greeting the subject with a courtesy title. The Cougars’ new chief executive officer, president and majority owner technically could go by “Mr. Froehlich,” although most know him by the colloquial “Dr. Bob.” Bob Froehlich earned his Ph.D. in 1979, and since has ascended to become a noted Wall Street influence, television personality and author. Earlier this month, Froehlich and his wife, Cheryl, became the Cougars’ largest shareholders as previous majority co-owners Mike Murtaugh and Mike Woleben remain in a minority role. Here’s an edited transcript of Froehlich’s conversation with the Chronicle:
A few days in, how has this been and how has it suited you?
Well, it’s pretty exciting. If you can’t be excited about buying and owning a minor league baseball team that happens to be in first place – going from last place last year to first place this year – it’s a pretty exciting time for the Cougars and a pretty exciting time for the Cubs, and it’s just great to be a part of all that excitement.
Take me through going from minority owner to now.
My wife and I bought ownership interest in January of 2013, so we were the largest minority owners at that point in time, so we had about 10 percent ownership. So we got a good feel for everything about the organization and a better understanding of the Midwest League, and just, it made sense for something we always wanted to do. It’s interesting. My wife had always wanted us to have a family business. I just always worked in corporations … you know, and she always thought, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be fun to have a family business.’ And I’ve always loved baseball, I played semipro baseball for a few years in Pittsburgh, and this was just an opportunity to bridge those two things. To have a business and run it like a family business, and then the business happened to be in baseball. So this was a perfect match for us.
And the former co-owners are staying on in the minority group?
They still have minority ownership, and we created a nine-person board of directors. Both of the Mikes are on there, and they both have two family members joining them. … So they will stay involved at that level. They’re the largest minority owners. They have that legacy of knowing what’s going on.
Getting the lay of the land, what do you plan to do to put your family business stamp on it, so to speak?
Well, I mean, we’re going to continue to keep the family entertainment aspect. That, quite frankly, that’s key. And to us, really, everything we’re going to do there is going to have to go through screens. And the first is: Is this going to make it better for the fans? … Anything we’re doing, anything we’re thinking of doing, we have to ask the question is this to make it better for the fans. And if we answer that question ‘Yes,’ then we go onto the next one, and that is, is this something that the Cubs are going to be excited about. … Our core responsibilities are to the fans and our relationship with the Cubs. … It’s such a special affiliation. Not that the other affiliations are not, but this is not like it’s affiliated with Kansas City or the Florida Marlins. The Chicago Cubs are the greatest [operation] out there, and we have to do everything in our power to get that affiliation extended and have a long, deep relationship with the Cubs.
[Double-A] Tennessee recently extended its player development contract with the Cubs. Have you been part of any recent negotiations?
You know, we’re in ongoing discussions with them. We had, at the end of the last year and we’re still discussing this year. It’s a business decision for the Cubs, and we respect that, and we know we’re part of the Midwest League, you know. There’s 16 teams, and every team in the Midwest League would love to have the Cubs affiliation. So we know how fortunate we are; we have it. We’re working very hard to get it extended, but at the end of the day, you know, it’s the Cubs’ decision that’s really the basis of this decision. … It’s a great prize to try to win.
What have you observed about Cougars fans thus far?
I’m very excited about the focus on the game. … When they clinched, my wife and I were there, and it was raining and they had to cancel the Jesse White Tumblers but we still had fireworks. But it was a rainy Saturday, and they stayed. And they stayed because they had been clinching, clinching that title. And what was interesting to me was that the focus wasn’t about the water balloons or catching the T-shirt … the focus was actually about what was going on on the field. … So if we can give them great family entertainment and a great product on the field at the same time, that’s just a wonderful victory by the Cubs.
How long have you gone by ‘Dr. Bob?’
Oh, gosh, for like the last 20 years. With a last name like ‘Froehlich,’ that no one can spell and, you know, someone in marketing at Kemper Funds had said, ‘You know what, we’re tired of trying to spell your name; we’re just going to go with the first part, and call you Dr. Bob,’ and it sort of caught on to the television part of it.
You mentioned semipro ball in Pittsburgh. What position did you play?
Yeah, I was a center fielder. It was the great Pittsburgh Federation League, so it was the same league that Art Howe and then the NFL Hall-of-Famers played there, Dan Marino and Art Rooney, Sr. ... I had a great arm, pretty fast. My strenghths were my speed and my arm. I blew my knee out in 1971, right before I went to college. I had to have surgery. And for the spring season, I blew it out again. So I had two surgeries, and that ended my [playing] days.