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Judging by the reactions he gets from his fellow practitioners, William F. Dowling may be among the most envied lawyers in America. A former prosecutor and New York Yankees general counsel who is now of counsel to Manhattan’s Wachtel & Masyr, Dowling in 1999 led a group of investors that bought minor league baseball’s New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats. He began running the day-to-day operations of the team, which is the Class AA Eastern League affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, as president and general manager last year. These days, Dowling splits his time between New Britain, where he is a fixture at every Rock Cats home game, and New York City, where he maintains a small practice in white-collar criminal defense at Wachtel & Masyr. It is an arrangement that inspires vast amounts of jealousy among the many baseball-obsessed attorneys he encounters. “Baseball is almost a universal,” Dowling said of the typical response from attorneys. “Every lawyer I talk to says, ‘I’d give anything to be in your situation.’” Wachtel & Masyr partner William B. Wachtel, who was another of the investors in the group that bought the Rock Cats, said that attorneys do seem to have an almost magnetic attraction to the national pastime. “It is the dream of every lawyer to run a baseball team,” he pronounced. A graduate of Columbia University and Boston College Law School, Dowling, 60, began his legal career in 1973 as a prosecutor in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan, where his colleagues included current Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau and current Richmond County, N.Y., District Attorney William L. Murphy. In 1977, Dowling joined the State Division of Criminal Justice as director of the Bureau of Prosecution and Defense Service, providing training and technical advice to prosecutors across New York. Two years later, he moved to the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where he headed the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau under Attorney General Robert Abrams. Dowling recalled his six-year stint under Abrams as a fun time in which the jurisdiction of the office was expanded by such initiatives as launching grand larceny prosecutions against businesses that failed to pay sales taxes. “I think we really made the office a lot more professional from a prosecution perspective,” he said. Dowling’s apprenticeship in baseball began in 1986, when his acquaintance with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner led to an offer to become the team’s general counsel. Ensconced in an office next to Steinbrenner’s behind the press box at Yankee Stadium, Dowling was involved in a range of team issues, from player contracts and lease negotiations with the city and state to television and radio agreements. He also helped to represent the Yankees owner in the investigation by Commissioner of Baseball Fay Vincent into Steinbrenner’s hiring of a gambler to dig up damaging information about Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield. The probe ended in 1990 with Steinbrenner banned from the game; he was reinstated two and one-half years later. The heavy workload made for some long days, particularly during the season. Steinbrenner required that employees stay at the stadium until a half-hour after the end of a home game, meaning that Dowling and others would often work from 8 in the morning until 10:30 or later at night. “I learned a lot about myself,” Dowling recalled. “Part of the Yankee culture is long hours.” LEAVING THE YANKEES In the end, the brutal schedule, and the growing feeling that he was becoming detached from his family’s existence, led Dowling to resign from the Yankees after three years. But he expressed fond memories of a generous Steinbrenner who would bring in bags of his favorite White Castle hamburgers for employees, and invite neighborhood kids into the stadium, without fanfare, for free hot dogs and autographed baseballs. For his part, Steinbrenner remembers Dowling as supremely loyal, both to the Yankees and to him. “He was a good guy to have in a foxhole with you,” he said. “That’s the best way I can put it.” Dowling also said that the insistent perfectionism of the Yankees organization under Steinbrenner has had a profound influence on the way he now does business with the Rock Cats. “Mr. Steinbrenner can be a very demanding human being, but he has this obsession with excellence,” he said. “That was one thing I took away, that attention to detail and that obsession with doing things the right way.” Dowling left the Yankees in 1988 for the partnership at Wachtel & Masyr, where he handled the outside work for the Yankees until Steinbrenner’s suspension took effect in 1990. Since then, he has had a white-collar practice with a sideline in sports-related work. (Wachtel joked that his firm held Dowling to the same 30 minutes-past-the-end-of-the-Yankee-game work day when he arrived, and got tremendous billable hours out of him as a result.) MINOR LEAGUE DREAM The Rock Cats deal rose from the ashes of another sports transaction, a failed bid by Dowling and others to acquire the Hartford Whalers professional hockey team. When the deal crumbled in 1994, attorney Coleman B. Levy, of Farmington, Conn.’s Levy & Droney, asked Dowling, “What would you really like to do?” Dowling’s response: “I’d like to buy a minor league baseball team.” Five years later it happened. Dowling and Levy, a New Britain native who grew up blocks away from the Rock Cats’ home field at New Britain Stadium, headed a lawyer-heavy group of investors that bought the team for $7.5 million in December 1999. The bid was strengthened by the group’s assurances that the team would remain in New Britain. Taking over as president and general manager at the start of last season, Dowling dedicated himself to making himself and the team a known commodity in the New Britain and Greater Hartford areas, through extensive advertising and charity work. “We needed to turn around the view of the Rock Cats in the community,” he explained. “This is not really about baseball. It’s about family entertainment.” Despite fielding a last-place team that finished 51-91, the Rock Cats set an attendance record of more than 220,000 fans in 2000, up by more than 45,000 from the year before, and drew the largest crowd (6,622) in the history of New Britain Stadium. Dowling was named the Eastern League Executive of the Year. FIRST PLACE THIS YEAR This year, the Rock Cats have prospered both on the field and at the gate. Going into last night’s game, the team was 60-42 and in first place by a half-game in the Eastern League’s Northern Division. Attendance is up again, by about 20,000 fans over the same period last year. The club has also benefited from the buzz surrounding the success of its major league parent, the Twins, who have spent most of the season in first place and have several Rock Cats alumni in the starting lineup. The Twins handle all personnel decisions for the Rock Cats, but Dowling and his staff are responsible for just about everything else. Merchandising is a top priority; with the introduction this season of some secondary team logos for hats and other apparel, the Rock Cats are on a pace to nearly double their merchandising revenue from last year. And in the traditionally campy world of minor league baseball, promotions are all-important. The Rock Cats promotions for this season include a pre-game pro wrestling exhibition, a backscratcher giveaway, a performance by Frisbee-catching dogs and the coup de grace: the giveaway of a two-sided bobble-head doll with manager Stan Cliburn on one side and his identical twin, pitching coach Stew Cliburn, on the other. Twins also got into the park free that day. Dowling, who rents a house with his wife near New Britain in Madison, Conn., during the season, returns to New York and his legal practice when the Rock Cats are on the road. And he reported that the mix of baseball and the law has turned out to be perfect: “It’s just enough to keep my hand in it but not enough to deflect attention from the ballclub,” he said. But the Rock Cats are quite clearly his true love. “For me, it’s been exhilarating,” he said of the chance to run the team. “It’s so much fun that it’s sort of hard to put into words.”

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