Posts Tagged ‘Frank McCourt’

My Top List of Terrible Owners

September 19, 2011

Where these guys belong

Baseball is full of terrible players and coaches. I guess it’s not fair to call any player who makes it to the Major Leagues “terrible”, but there’s definitely a lot of players that are at best marginal. And coaches and managers can be real duds. But somehow owners tend to get overlooked by casual fans. Most people don’t seem to pay much attention to the impact of ownership. Well, baseball has had some really awful owners too. Here’s my Mount Rushmore (4 guys) of terrible owners in no particular order.

Charles Comiskey: The only owner who ever had his team mutiny to such an extent it was willing to dump a World Series. Ultimately the players themselves must take blame for their own actions, but Comiskey did more than his share to help them along with their choices. Comiskey was cheap, but so was Connie Mack. What Comiskey lacked was a shred of respect for his players, and that makes him lower on the ownership scale and thus higher on the Rushmore scale. And I’m not sure I understand it exactly. Charles Comiskey was a former player, actually a pretty good one. He was first baseman and manager of the St. Louis Browns team that won pennant after pennant in the 1880s. Having been a player, having seen the tussles with ownership and the league offices, I find it strange he seems to have had no sympathy at all for the plight of his players. Maybe it was an “I went through it, so can you” attitude. Maybe he was just a jerk. Whatever it was he gets a spot on my Mount Rushmore. And for what it’s worth, although Clifton James doesn’t look at all like Comiskey, his portrayal of the White Sox owner in “Eight Men Out” is pretty close (except that the flat champagne episode occurred in 1917, not 1919).

The Robison Brothers: Because there were two of them, the Robison brothers occupy two spaces on Mount Rushmore. Frank was the older brother. He married the daughter of the man who ran the Cleveland, Ohio streetcar company, Charles Hathaway. Today that doesn’t sound like a way to make a great deal of money, but in an era without subways, cars, or buses, the streetcar was the quickest, easiest way for someone to get across town to see the doctor or go to work or whatever. So the Robison’s made a lot of money, a whole lot of money. Very early on Frank brought in younger brother Stanley to help run the business. Between them they got very rich. Frank Robison was also a baseball fan (as was Stanley to a lesser degree). He decided that Cleveland should have a big league team and in 1887 he started up the Cleveland Blues, later renamed the Spiders. They joined the National League the same year. Mostly they weren’t very good. In 1892 that changed. Among other things, they picked up (the year before) a youngster named Cy Young who seemed to have some potential. It was the year of the first split season. Cleveland won the second half, then lost the playoff to Boston. In 1895 and 1896 they played for the Temple Cup, winning in ’95. It was the apex of the team and so far so good for the brothers as owners. But the Robison’s had a plan to make more money. In 1898 the National League forced St. Louis owner Chris Von Der Ahe to sell the Browns. The Robison’s bought the team. In 1898 it was legal to own two teams. It was called “syndicate baseball” and there were three of them, including the Robison’s. With St. louis being a much larger market (4th largest US city at the time),  the Robison’s immediately began stripping the Cleveland team of its best players and sent them, Cy Young included, to St. Louis. The Browns didn’t do any better and the Spiders were awful. At the end of the year, the NL shut down the team. Frank died in 1908, leaving Stanley in charge. In 1905 Stanley had tried his hand at managing the team. He went 19-31 (which was better than Ted Turner’s foray into managing). Now in charge, Stanley proceeded to watch his team continue to flounder. He died in 1911, leaving the team to Frank’s daughter.

The Robison’s make my Mount Rushmore because of their callous disregard for the fans and the city that made them, Cleveland. They had gotten rich off Cleveland and then they caused the town to lose its team and its finest players. Did it bother them? Apparently not. And they didn’t make St. Louis any better in the long run. The team went from last to fifth (but they had two rosters, theirs and Cleveland’s to use), but then stagnated topping out at fourth in 1901. About the only positive thing the Robison’s did was to change the uniform color from brown to cardinal red, thus giving the team its current nickname, Cardinals.

Emil Fuchs: Fuchs was the Giants attorney. In 1922 he joined with Christy Mathewson in buying the Boston Braves. Mathewson’s ill-health put Fuchs in charge. He proceeded to run the team into the ground. He knew nothing about baseball other than what he’d picked up as attorney for the Giants, couldn’t evaluate talent, couldn’t be bothered with the small details of keeping up a stadium. In 1928 he bought Rogers Hornsby as manager, found a way to make money, and sold Hornsby the next season to the Cubs. With no manager, he tried his hand at running the team on the field himself. They finished dead last. In 1935, out of money, unable to pay rent on the stadium, he bought Babe Ruth from the Yankees. He promised Ruth a vice presidency, a managerial job, and a share of the profits. Well, there were no profits, the vice presidency was nominal, and Fuchs admitted he wasn’t going to fire his current manager, Bill McKechnie  (who ended up a Hall of Fame manager). Ruth, not unreasonably, quit. At the end of the 1935 season, broke, short of players, out of options, Fuchs sold the team back to one of the men he’d bought it from in 1922.

So there they are, my four Mount Rushmore lousy owners. There are a lot of other people available; Arthur Soden who destroyed the great Beaneaters dynasty of the 1890s, Arthur Freedman who almost managed to destroy the Giants before John McGraw got there, Harry Frazee who sold away a rejuvenated Red Sox, Earle Mack who almost destroyed his dad’s Athletics, Frank McCourt who is currently destroying the Dodgers, the guys who’ve run the Royals and Pirates into the ground. And a host of others too. But for my money, these four are the guys I’d least like to see run my team.

What have you done to my team?

June 29, 2011

As anybody who reads stuff here with any regularity knows, I’m a diehard Dodgers fan. I remember all the way back to when the letter on the cap was a “B” and I’ve been proud to admit my team loyalty. I’m not sure that last part is still true.

I saw an article on ESPN that listed the ten worst owners ever and put Frank McCourt second to Harry Frazzee, of sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees fame. They’re wrong. There are all those 19th Century owners who ran two franchises and gutted one to make the other a potential contender. Take a look at the 1899 Cleveland Spiders and tell me that guy wasn’t a first-rate jerk of an owner. But they aren’t wrong by much. McCourt is destroyed one of the true flagship franchises in baseball. I’d rank them second to the Cardinals in the National League (but not by much) and behind only the Yankees in the American League.

Of course McCourt has had a lot of help. His wife is a real jewel. She wants “diversity” in the front office, not competence. The scouting bureau isn’t anything to write home to mom about either. Those guys  they went out and drafted are the best they can do? God help my team. Jim Varney’s old “Ernest” character could have done better (at least “Ernest” would have been trying to do the right thing).  Bud Selig wanted Fox out so badly, he endorsed McCourt (at least tacitly) and now Selig wants to be  seen as acting in the best interest of the game?  Gimme a break. Actually I’m rooting for Selig in this one. The idea of taking the front money from the Fox deal and using it for a divorce (God, where’s Tammy Wynette when we need her?) instead of for players is so awful that I think Selig got this one right. And that’s how bad this situation has become, I’m now praising Selig.

I have no idea what’s going to ultimately happen in this mess (is “mess” too nice a word for this?), except that somebody new is going to take over my team. Hopefully, he (she–why not a woman?) will know what he’s doing. Frankly he/she can’t do any worse, at least I don’t think they can.

Trashing the Place

May 2, 2011

So I’m back after slogging through the trenches that can be the First World War. I asked people not to trash the place while I was gone and it seems they didn’t, at least not too bad. Of course MLB has decided that my team is being trashed, so maybe I got trashed after all.

I see that MLB decided to take over the Dodgers, arguing that it was in the best interest of baseball for Frank McCourt to go away and leave the team alone. So Bud Selig now is going to be the savior of the Dodgers, is he? Do you have any idea how hard it is to write “Selig” and “Savior” in the same sentence? It’s as bad as Maximilian Schell asking Montgomery Clift to form a sentence using the words “hare”, “hunter”, and “field” (see the 1960s flick “Judgment at Nuremberg”).  Anyway, McCourt’s crime seems to be that he was using Dodgers funds for this own personal use. He was using team money to, among other things, pay for a haircut. Hey, Frank, a haircut at the local barber around here is ten bucks. If you’re that short on cash, I’ll loan you a ten. Why do I know it wasn’t a 10 haircut?

I don’t really know what I think of this whole idea. McCourt hasn’t been a bad owner. The team got better. It’s been to the playoffs with some consistency and even won a round or two. But I keep looking  at the team and ask myself  “Self, why isn’t this team more impressive?” Think about it for a minute. The team is the premier baseball franchise in the second largest market in the USA. I don’t count the Angels who can’t seem to figure out if they are in Los Angeles or Anaheim. The Angels have nowhere near the Dodgers draw and there’s no professional football team in the immediate area (and, yes, I know there is USC, but it doesn’t count–they’re supposed to be amateurs) so the Dodgers have little real competition for the professional dollar outside the Lakers, whose season ends in June at the latest and starts in November at the earliest. So money shouldn’t be  a problem. The team has a certain amount of talent. OK, this isn’t the 1927 Yankees, but the 2010 Giants weren’t the ’27 Yankees either and they won the whole thing. So talent alone isn’t the problem. Having said that, the talent could be better. McCourt did bring in good talent in the front office and managed to marginalize his wife’s influence. I was horrified at her “we need more diversity in the front office” line. What “we” need is more people who know what they’re doing, diverse or otherwise, and McCourt seemed to be bringing them in. And I know the divorce is a problem and so was betting long-term on Manny Ramirez, who was an aging flake, but the team is solid, if not spectacular. I wish they had a real four hitter and never understood why Joe Torre kept putting James Loney there, but then how do you argue with Torre?

So, see my dilemma? I don’t know that McCourt was a bad owner, but I think he could have done better. I don’t know that MLB will be the best steward of a storied franchise, but at least the money should go back into the team. I hope they find a new owner who knows what he’s doing. I keep wondering if Nolan Ryan wants to move to LA.

Anyway, I’m back and at least this place didn’t get trashed too badly. Thanks, guys.