Part 1 of a series pitting 32 of sport's worst owners in all-out battle
By Scott Henry (@4QuartersRadio)
If your team has an owner or owners who treat the fans with respect, be grateful.
If your team has an owner who spends within his/her/their means, but can still improve the team, enjoy it.
If your team has an owner who is capable of dealing with the team’s home city in a respectful, civil, and productive manner, don’t take that for granted.
After all, you could have ended up with one of these schmucks.
You've heard of the WSOP, we're sure. (That's the World Series of Poker, just in case.) We're pleased to welcome you to the WSOT. The Worst Sports Owners Tournament brings together 32 of the worst owners in the history of sport for a no-holds barred battle to the death, which you, the faithful reader, can decide. If you think a cheap owner is worse than one who picks up his team and hauls it off to some other city, here’s your chance to voice that opinion. If you’re reluctant to get behind your team on the field when the owner is a criminal off it, vote them up right here and remind everyone just how big a scumbag your team’s boss was/is.
The tournament will roll through three weeks, and the votes will be decided between Athlon’s editorial staff, the comments you post below each piece, and comments on the Facebook pages of Athlon Sports and 4 Quarters Radio. Remember, you’re voting for the owners whose crimes against sport, humanity, and/or nature were the most egregious. We’ll offer anecdotal evidence of each owner’s evil/incompetence, and if you’ve got more, feel free to throw it in.
Here’s the schedule:
Monday, Week 3: Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Week 3: Semifinals
Friday, Week 3: Final
All in all, our little tourney isn't too different from the World Series of Poker. There's stacks of cash, gaudy jewelry, and the occasional tantrum involved, but at least there are no epileptic seizures from staring at Greg Rayner's shades. Read on.
Worst Baseball Owners Bracket:
(1) Frank and Jamie McCourt (Los Angeles Dodgers 2004-present)
(8) Wayne Huizenga (Florida Marlins 1993-1998)
After the Marlins won the 1997 World Series, Wayne Huizenga should have been smiling. Instead, he was crying. More specifically, he was crying poverty.
Claiming that he was losing a ton of money, Huizenga ditched the team’s stars, guys like Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, and Al Leiter. The resultant trades netted the Marlins Preston Wilson, A.J. Burnett, and a whole bunch of historical footnotes. The Marlins sank like a stone in the standings, dropping from 92 wins to 54, the worst season of any defending World Series champion in baseball history.
Still, at least Huizenga had money to lose at some point.
Frank McCourt leveraged his purchase of the Dodgers to the hilt, with almost half of his purchase price of the team made up of a line of credit from News Corp, the team’s previous owner. A South Boston parking lot was used as collateral.
As far as McCourt was concerned, the Dodgers’ money was his money, free to be used as he saw fit. The IRS is investigating the McCourts for tax evasion stemming from $105 million of alleged withdrawals from the team to cover personal expenses. Some of that cash could probably have been spent on such minor details as paying the players, or at the very least, a few extra security guards to ensure that Giants fans didn’t get pummeled into comas on Opening Day.
If the Dodgers get any more desperate for money, they're going to have to resort to some truly wild measures, like individual sponsors for each player or outsourcing the pitching staff to India like their creditors' customer services departments. ("Now pitching for the Dodgers...brought to you by Del Taco, Home of the Nacho Crunch Burrito...RAPID RAJIV NIRAPATHPONGPORN!")
So, which is worse: watching a proud franchise slide into a morass of debt, or watching a nouveau riche club spend enough to win a title, then strip the ride down for parts?
(4) George Steinbrenner (New York Yankees 1973-2010)
(5) Arnold Johnson (Kansas City Athletics 1954-1960)
If you’ve ever watched a sporting event, chances are that at some point, you’ve blurted out that a referee/umpire/underachieving player has been paid off. This statement is rarely true, usually being motivated by the emotions of a dramatic game.
But what if another team really did have your owner in its pocket? If that were true, you would understand what Kansas City Athletics fans dealt with from 1954 to 1960, the club’s first years in town.
Arnold Johnson dragged the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City after Connie Mack’s family fell into financial trouble. This was immediately after he sold his interest in Yankee Stadium. Johnson also owned KC’s Blues Stadium, which was where the Yankees’ top farm team played. He sold it to the city, and they paid to have it remodeled to major league specifications…by a construction company owned by Yankees co-owner Del Webb.
Stories continue to persist that Webb and his Yankee partner Dan Topping held the note on a mortgage that Johnson could not procure for himself, and the veracity of those tales is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate, though, is that for the next six years, some very good players took express trains from KC to New York, even though the team in Kansas City was allegedly no longer a Yankee farm club.
The two clubs made the whopping total of 18 trades in six years. The Yankees sent pitcher Ralph Terry to the A’s in June 1957, then “recalled” him two years later. Terry won 76 games in five-plus seasons, including an AL-best 23 in 1962. Outfielder Roger Maris was dealt to New York in December of 1959. All he did was hit 100 home runs in the next two seasons, winning both MVP awards and toppling Babe Ruth’s hallowed single-season record in the process.
Other guys like Bobby Shantz, Clete Boyer, and Hector Lopez left KC to win some pennants in New York, while the A’s got back players like Billy Martin (yes, that one), who was exiled after a fight at the Copacabana. The Maris trade returned a washed-up Hank Bauer, who was KC’s manager by 1961, and Don Larsen, plus baseball’s ultimate lovable loser, Marv Throneberry.
All in all, 10 players on the 1961 Yankees team, often called the greatest ever, came directly from the Athletics. Following Johnson’s death, that talent pipeline was closed off by new A’s owner Charlie O. Finley, and the Yankees began their descent soon after.
It’s safe to say that George Steinbrenner would have loved that kind of cozy arrangement. While baseball’s rich-get-richer economics could still see it happen, Steinbrenner rarely kept a manager or general manager in place long enough to know what to do with new players.
In the first 23 years that “The Boss” reigned in the Bronx, he acquired and discarded 20 managers. Despite a .591 winning percentage, two World Series appearances, and one championship, Steinbrenner yo-yoed Billy Martin (yes, him again) in and out of the manager’s office five times. From 1975 to 1990, only seven of the 16 seasons did not involve at least one change of managers. Even Yankee legend Yogi Berra wasn’t safe, being canned 16 games into the 1985 season because The Boss questioned players’ efforts in workouts.
The 1981 season summed up Steinbrenner’s bombast beautifully. After Game 3 of the World Series in Los Angeles, he showed off a hand in a cast, claiming it was from a fight with two Dodger fans in a hotel elevator. When the Series was over, the owner second-guessed manager Bob Lemon for an early Game 6 pitching change, and then issued a public apology when the Dodgers won the Series. Many players were livid over the statement, including Reggie Jackson, who bolted to the California Angels (and a “Naked Gun” cameo).
Unsurprisingly, Lemon was fired early the next season. The Yankees didn’t make the playoffs again until 1995.
(3) Marge Schott (Cincinnati Reds 1984-1999)
(6) Vince Naimoli (Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1998-2005)
One was anti-social to fans and reporters. One was anti-social to umpires and entire races of people. Tough call.
Vince Naimoli doesn’t carry the name recognition of some of his fellow combatants here, but those who worked for and with him will remember him vividly, perhaps as long as they live.
Naimoli was the founding owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but that was only because he was shot down in an effort to buy the San Francisco Giants and move them to the St. Pete area. Devil Rays employees had to wonder what exactly they were in for before there was even a name on the team stationery.
A Tampa TV reporter got wind of the new team’s name and called the Rays’ attorney to confirm. Despite the attorney’s warning not to report the story, at risk of embarrassment, Mike Deeson did just that. The media gathered in Palm Beach to announce the new Rays and Diamondbacks franchises, and Naimoli let Deeson have it, launching a stuttering rant in a full room of reporters.
The print media didn’t always fall on Naimoli’s good side, either. When the St. Petersburg Times ran a cartoon depicting Naimoli as Tony Soprano, he pulled all the Times’ paperboxes from Tropicana Field and threatened to sue. In April 2004, he threatened to yank the press pass off of a Baltimore beat writer who entered the press box carrying a pizza, which he had bought at the Trop’s very own concession stand. Apparently, Naimoli was not a fan of the “sportswriters feasting on free press box food” stereotype.
Of course, the public at large has little sympathy for the mistreated sportswriter. But when racial slurs are flying and the dead get disrespected, that snaps people to attention. Longtime Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was an equal-opportunity bigot, at least. Whether it was calling Dave Parker and Eric Davis “my million-dollar n-----s,” claiming that “sneaky goddamn (Semitic people) are all alike,” or wondering why people got offended over the word “Jap,” Marge ranted on more different ethnicities than Archie Bunker, Mel Gibson and George Wallace combined.
Her televised comment about Adolf Hitler, “He was good in the beginning, but went too far,” was a bit too close to Nazi sympathizing for some, and she was banned from running the Reds for two years by Major League Baseball.
The cherry on her Sundae o’ Racism was her comment to Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly about a baseball goodwill visit she had taken to Japan. Schott claimed that the prime minister of Japan said to her, “No want Cadirrac, no want Rincoln, want Mosh Shott Boo-ick,” with the prototypical Charlie Chan parody accent.
As if that wasn’t enough, the on-field death of umpire John McSherry moments before Opening Day 1996 was merely one more inconvenience: “Snow this morning and now this. I don't believe it. I feel cheated.” She at least sent flowers to McSherry’s funeral…never mind that they were allegedly a regifted bouquet that someone had given to her. Her attempted apology two weeks later had three notable factors:
1) it was directed toward a completely different umpiring crew;
2) she blamed the media for stirring the whole thing up in the first place;
and 3) it was angrily refused.
Was it something she said, or was it the swastika armband?
(2) Jeffrey Loria (Montreal Expos 1999-2002, Florida Marlins 2002-present)
(7) David Glass (Kansas City Royals 2000-present)
Even in today’s highly interconnected, news-as-it-happens communications climate, there are some places where people feel that they can get away with whatever they like. Kansas City and Miami are two such places, at least in the minds of Royals owner David Glass and current Marlins owner/Expos killer Jeffrey Loria.
Glass made his money as CEO of Wal-Mart. He made his name on a December 1992 edition of the NBS news program Dateline. An investigation of Wal-Mart’s “Made in America” marketing campaign unearthed several Bangladesh sweatshops producing those “American Made” clothes. His excuse was something about how Asians are short, so it’s hard to tell how old they are. Anything in the name of saving money, eh?
That philosophy carried over to his takeover of the Kansas City Royals following the death of founder Ewing Kauffman. Glass was the interim CEO and Chairman of the Board until he ponied up $96 million to buy the team outright. The sale flew in the face of pesky details like, oh, a higher bid. MLB’s other owners refused a $120M offer from New York attorney Miles Prentice in the face of KC-area political concerns about a potential move and MLB’s own concerns about Prentice’s net worth.
Once Glass took over, the club assumed a Wal-Mart approach to its payroll. It wasn’t until 2010 that the Royals climbed out of MLB’s bottom 10 in player salaries. The penny-pinching served little competitive purpose, as the Royals won the fewest games in baseball from 2001 to 2010. Glass rarely hesitates to pull out his proverbial harmonica and play the small-market blues, blaming baseball’s economic structure for the Royals’ struggles. Never mind that the Rays made the 2008 World Series with a payroll $14.4M short of what KC was spending that year.
It wasn’t just the players that were skimped on, either. Scouts told embarrassing stories of having no company cell phones, and then having limited minutes when they did get them. The minor-league affiliates had difficulties keeping their equipment maintained. One year, prospective draft picks were asked if they would accept a $1,000 signing bonus, and those who would not were hung up on. Perhaps most famously, a Negro Leagues tribute game, which would go over huge in the home of the legendary Monarchs, was cancelled because full sets of uniforms would be too expensive.
Lots of rumors have circulated during Glass’s tenure about him pocketing the Royals’ revenue-sharing money while still crying poor. Jeff Loria’s the subject of similar stories, but his have had a little bit of proof attached to them thanks to leaks of Marlins financial documents last year. Miami politicians were outraged to discover that the publicly funded stadium they had just signed off on would end up costing Miami-Dade County an estimated $2.4 billion after 40 years’ worth of balloon payments and interest.
The Marlins are estimated to have profited to the tune of more than $91 million in the three years preceding the passing of the stadium plan in 2008. This is with the club spending slightly more than $45M in player payroll during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Meanwhile, on the documents that were leaked to Deadspin, a corporation called Double Play Company was listed as the Marlins’ managing general partner and was paid a total of $8.6M from 2007 to 2009. The state of Florida recognized Jeffrey Loria as CEO and his stepson (and Marlins president) David Samson as president of Double Play.
Essentially, $9M went directly into the pockets of the Marlins’ bosses without passing Go while they pressured the city for public stadium funding and kept receiving welfare checks from teams like Boston, the Cubs, and the Yankees. Willie Sutton, the Alphabet Bandit, and the Ex-Presidents couldn’t have pulled off a bigger heist.
But, at least the Marlins won a World Series, right?
Remember, it’s all about the votes in deciding which owners did more to screw over their fans and their leagues, so leave some comments and discussion below. There are certainly points about each owner that we’ve yet to discuss, but hey, we’ve got to keep something available for Round 2. Happy voting.