Jul. 12—Charlie Eshbach, the man who helped to establish the Portland Sea Dogs as Maine's premier professional sports franchise, has died following a lengthy illness, the team announced Tuesday. He was 70.
Eshbach was the Sea Dogs' first employee and served as the team's president for 25 years. He was hired by then team owner Dan Burke in October 1992 to oversee building a club that would become the Florida Marlins' affiliate in the Double-A Eastern League. He also served as the Sea Dogs' general manager through the 2010 season, and remained with the club as a senior advisor after stepping down as team president in September 2018.
The Sea Dogs began play in 1994 and five years later "Baseball America" magazine named them the best operation in minor league baseball. The Sea Dogs have continued to rank annually among the top 25 franchises in minor league baseball in merchandising sales.
"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," team owners Bill Burke and Sally McNamara said in a 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."
Eshbach's career in minor league baseball included 11 years as president of the Eastern League before joining the Sea Dogs. He was general manager of the Bristol (Connecticut) Red Sox at age 22 and took over as league president at 29.
Eshbach and the Sea Dogs earned several honors during his tenure. In 2000, Minor League Baseball awarded the Sea Dogs with the John H. Johnson President's Trophy, presented to the complete baseball franchise for its stability and contributions to the league, its community and the overall baseball industry.
Eshbach was named the Eastern League Executive of the Year in 1978 (while with the Bristol Red Sox), 1994 and 2002. In 2013, he was named "King of Baseball," Minor League Baseball's highest honor.
In 1995, Eshbach co-founded the Strike Out Cancer in Kids program, which has raised over $5 million for the Maine Children's Cancer Program.
The Sea Dogs' connection to New England was strengthened when they began their current affiliation as the Double-A team of the Boston Red Sox in 2003. That switch was facilitated when John Henry, the former Marlins' owner, became the primary owner of the Red Sox.