Skip to main content

Worst Sports Owners Tournament: Quarterfinals


By Scott Henry (@4QuartersRadio)

We're down to the quarterfinals of the WSOT, where eight crazy owners duel to see who's the worst in each individual sport. In case you need to look back at where we've been, here are the links to the earlier rounds:

Monday, Week 1: Baseball Round 1
Tuesday, Week 1: Football Round 1
Thursday, Week 1: Basketball Round 1
Friday, Week 1: Hockey/Soccer Round 1

Monday, Week 2: Baseball/Hockey/Soccer Round 2
Thursday, Week 2: Football/Basketball Round 2

Monday, Week 3: Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Week 3: Semifinals
Friday, Week 3: Final

So, by the end of this week, you can decide who's the kookiest owner in the history of sport. Just throw some votes on it, whether in the comments here or on the Facebook pages of Athlon Sports or 4 Quarters Radio.

Without further ado, here we go with the finals of each sport's bracket, barreling headlong toward the final four.

Worst Baseball Owner Final:

(1) Frank and Jamie McCourt (Los Angeles Dodgers 2004-present)
(2) Jeffrey Loria (Montreal Expos 1999-2002, Florida Marlins 2002-present)

McCourts def. Wayne Huizenga, Arnold Johnson
Loria def. David Glass, Marge Schott

The McCourts were able to triumph over Arnold Johnson because, despite Johnson’s frequent deals with the Yankees, few of them gave the indication that Johnson didn’t care about his team succeeding. Many of the McCourts’ moves since taking over the Dodgers indicated that owning the team was more about making the owners celebrities than giving the fans a good experience. As for Loria’s win over Marge Schott, Marge may have been comically cheap and an inveterate bigot, but once again, she cared about her club and especially about her club’s fans. Loria brought the pain more toward his own fans, particularly in Montreal, than his teams have brought toward their opponents.

As seen from the inclusion of such otherwise talented and successful owners as George Steinbrenner and Al Davis in the WSOT, one of the worst things that an owner can do is create a sideshow that hinders the fan’s enjoyment of the team. At least in the cases of Skeletor and The Boss, there was winning going on at some time. Ever since the McCourts took over, it’s been nearly all sideshow. The insanity reached its comic zenith when Jeff Fuller made a visit to Taiwan in December 2009.

Now for the million-dollar question: who's Jeff Fuller?

As far as Taiwanese legislator Chou Shou-Xun knew, Fuller was a Dodger executive, making a diplomatic overture for the team to play exhibition games in Asia before the 2010 season. Everyone else knows Jeff Fuller as the driver who was accused of having an affair with Jamie McCourt, one that resulted in Frank McCourt firing his wife from her CEO position and launching the divorce proceedings that have brought the franchise to its knees. Fuller’s trip to Taiwan came three months after he was fired from his “director of protocol” position. At least he was well-qualified, since Middle America figures that it’s typical Hollywood protocol for everyone to be banging everyone else’s wives anyway.

Like Steinbrenner or Davis, Loria did some winning shortly after arriving in Florida. The Marlins took the 2003 World Series behind aggressive trading, then slumped back down the standings behind equally aggressive trading that brought in prospects instead of sending them out. It’s what Loria’s done since that has placed him on this list, and also the image that he and his employees have chosen to cultivate.

President David Samson is Jeff Loria’s stepson, and was also the president of the Expos, both of which go a long way toward explaining how he keeps his job despite being a lightning rod for South Florida’s disdain of the way the Marlins have plundered the city (see Round 1). Samson is the guy who did a weekly interview on Dan LeBatard’s radio show and was often known to make some off-the-wall jokes about the Marlins, many of which also involved pornography in some way. Whether it was suggesting the Marlins implement a Porn Night promotion, insinuating that he had sex toys in his office, or offering comments on which Marlin players looked like porn stars (mercifully, there was no discussion of the players’ shower qualifications, if you catch our drift), Samson’s radio diatribes would make most other owners facepalm him into unemployment. Loria keeps him on and continues to cut him in for those hefty “management fees” that enable both of them to suck tens of millions out of the club.

But hey, at least they won a World Series, right? Now, as long as the city of Miami wants to pony up the hundreds of millions that the Marlins just don’t want to spend for a new stadium, the team may think about trying to go win another one someday.

Worst Hockey/Soccer Owner Final:

(1) Tom Hicks (Liverpool Football Club, 2007-2010)
(3) Harold Ballard (Toronto Maple Leafs, 1961-90)

Hicks def. Charles Wang, Atlanta Spirit Group
Ballard def. Freddy Shepherd, Bill Wirtz

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Hicks and the Atlanta Sports Group were surprisingly similar cases, bringing infighting into the owner’s box, but the trump card for Hicks was his sheer brass in claiming that the conspiracy against him was so wide-ranging that it even involved one of England’s largest banks. With ASG, the friction began and ended with the nine men originally involved. As for Ballard beating Wirtz, what may have put Ballard over the top was his criminal record and the sheer lack of repentance that he demonstrated later.

While Wirtz was taking an active hand in dealing with the NHL’s labor issues, Ballard contented himself with a lot of pissing and moaning. One of the Leafs’ most popular players ever, Darryl Sittler still holds a record by scoring 10 points in a single game. Sittler was represented by agent Alan Eagleson, who was also the head of the NHL Players’ Association.

Both Ballard and new Leafs GM Punch Imlach had little use for Eagleson, who also represented Sittler’s linemate and friend Lanny McDonald. Imlach thought Sittler had too much influence in the locker room and began exploring trade options. When Eagleson mentioned that Sittler had a no-trade clause and that it would cost half a million dollars to get Sittler to waive it, Ballard and Imlach decided to do the next best thing: trade McDonald to the pitiful Colorado Rockies just after Christmas 1979. Several Leafs trashed the locker room in response, and Sittler ripped the captain’s C off of his sweater.

The following season, Sittler was reinstated as captain, but by the 1981-82 season, he and Ballard were at war again. Sittler volunteered several teams that he would agree to be traded to, but Ballard dragged his feet so severely on a deal that Sittler’s doctor advised that he simply walk out on the Maple Leafs, citing mental depression. Owners can frequently annoy their players, but how many can really say that they made their star players ill?

Tom Hicks appeared slightly ill himself when he gave a 2010 interview to Sky Sports News and recounted the history of his transfer dealings as Liverpool boss. Hicks claimed that the club had spent $300 million (or perhaps £300M, he had difficulties keeping his currencies straight) in buying players during his three-plus years in charge, and recouped half of that in selling others. Liverpool fan sites and blogs, in some of that “Internet terrorism” that Hicks enjoyed so much (see Round 2), took great delight in recounting Liverpool’s transfer history over the past three years and noting that the gross spend came to £172M, way off of the claimed £300M (but not far off of the $300M). While Liverpool recouped £144M in selling their own players, not far off of Hicks’ claimed figure, his need to puff up the club’s activity underscored just how ineffectual all the spending was.

Much like Jeff Loria above, Hicks took a black eye from a family member making obscene statements. Tom Hicks Jr. was exchanging emails with a fan who was inquiring about the club’s transfer budget, and apparently the questioning got a little uncomfortable. Hicks Jr. called the fan an “idiot,” then followed that up with another message reading in part, “Blow me, f*** face. Go to hell. I’m sick of you.” Unlike Loria, Hicks actually persuaded his son to resign from Liverpool’s board, but the PR stain added to the club’s already filthy reputation.

Worst Football Owner Final:

(1) Dan Snyder (Washington Redskins 1999-present)
(3) Bob Irsay (Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, 1972-1997)

Snyder def. Ralph Wilson, Mike Brown
Irsay def. Hugh Culverhouse, Norman Braman

Which is worse: apathy toward a team’s fans, or outright hostility toward a team’s fans? Snyder practiced the latter, and that’s what set him apart from Brown. Brown has little incentive to improve his team, as he continues to rake money from the city of Cincinnati, but how much liability does the city have to bear for that? For Irsay vs. Braman, do you prefer an owner who’s never around, or an owner who’s always there, usually half-tanked, and causing chaos at every turn?

In Round 2, we got into the drunken coaching change that Irsay made when Howard Schnellenberger told him to go bugger himself rather than consent to the quarterback change that the owner was demanding. Funny enough, that wasn’t the only time he demanded such a move. In 1980, the Colts were trailing Miami by seven at halftime, and Irsay wanted Bert Jones replaced with Greg Landry. Head coach Mike McCormack refused, and Jones ended up leading the team back to a 30-17 win. Irsay still let McCormack have it after the game, although he should have been thankful he didn’t lash him in front of the team, as he was often known to do.

The following season, Irsay reached his nadir. He barreled into the coaches’ booth and commandeered the headset, taking over the team’s playcalling. Jones rolled his eyes, and then practiced his own brand of insubordination. "[Irsay] couldn't have told you how many players there were on the field, never mind what plays we had," said Jones, who was rotated with Landry on a play-by-play basis. "All he was trying to do was embarrass the coaches and the players. When he told me to run, I threw. When he told me to throw left, I ran right." In a development that should come as no surprise, the Colts lost that game 38-13 to the Eagles.

Dan Snyder has never tried to take over the play selection, to our knowledge, but he has perpetrated a lot of other mean, nasty behavior on his coaches. Norv Turner coached the Redskins to a division title in 1999 and was 7-6 in 2000, but that wasn’t good enough for Sa-Dan Hussein, and Turner was canned with three games left. The next year, Marty Schottenheimer rallied from a 0-5 start to finish 8-8. That was a failure, too, and Marty was fired, too. Even Joe Gibbs couldn’t recapture his vintage form, finishing four games under .500 under Snyder’s watch. “Win or die” is a motto that any coach could be said to live under, but Snyder took it to a new extreme.

For the coordinators, it occasionally became “Win or I’ll mess up your office.” Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan shared a story in John Feinstein’s book Next Man Up regarding Snyder’s taste in both defenses and ice cream. Snyder derided Nolan’s defensive calls as “too vanilla,” and to illustrate the point, he left a gallon of some other ice cream on Nolan’s desk. Nolan didn’t get the hint, apparently, so later on in that same season, three giant ice cream canisters were left in his office with a note saying “I wasn’t joking. I do not like vanilla.” Nolan got the hint and bailed after one year of Snyder’s meddling, getting out of Dodge before the owner could apply ice cream to his office walls with a fire hose.

Worst Basketball Owner Final:

(1) Donald Sterling (San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers, 1981-present)
(3) Chris Cohan (Golden State Warriors, 1994-2010)

Sterling def. Joe/Gavin Maloof, James Dolan
Cohan def. George Shinn, Ted Stepien

Sterling and Dolan can go ego for ego, and that’s saying something. But at least Dolan’s never been accused of being a virulent racist. As for Cohan, his 16 years of incompetence easily outstrips Ted Stepien’s three, even if Teddy was so out of it that the league needed to save him from himself.

In Round 2, we talked about Sterling’s issues with a “plantation” mentality. Occasionally, though, he took it to a somewhat creepy extreme. In Elgin Baylor’s age-discrimination suit against Sterling, he included a complaint in the name of players Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Sam Cassell regarding a disturbing habit Sterling was cultivating. Baylor claimed that the players would complain to him about Sterling bringing women into the locker room, and more specifically into the shower. While the nude players stood cleaning themselves, the owner would proudly gesture to them and invite the women to “Look at those beautiful black bodies,” as if he was conducting an 18th-century slave auction.

The people that Chris Cohan treated like dirt usually weren’t the ones he was paying, it was the people that were paying him. When the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was being renovated during the 1996-97 season, the Warriors reached a deal to play in San Jose, about 40 miles to the south. In an attempt to strong-arm his way into a guaranteed revenue stream, Cohan told his season ticket holders that they would have to renew for the season in San Jose or lose their ticket tenure and priority when the team returned to Oakland. Essentially, fans that lived north of Oakland needed to travel another hour or they’d be erased from the books and have to start all over again. Little wonder that the Oakland fans were booing him in front of his son and Michael Jordan five years later at the All-Star Game.

So, which would you prefer? The racist “massa” or the grumpy cuss out of touch with the reality of being a fan?

As usual, throw some votes on it, and let’s see who gets down to the final four. There are some real titans of terror here, so hopefully the reading helped you make an informed decision. Check back in on Wednesday for the semifinals.