The top 10 worst owners in MLB history
June, 27, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesFrank McCourt has earned a place among the worst owners in baseball history.I'd make a bad joke about bankers and lawyers, but I think Frank McCourt speaks for himself:
- "The Dodgers have delivered time and again since I became owner, and that's been good for baseball. We turned the team around financially after years of annual losses before I purchased the team. We invested $150 million in the stadium. We've had excellent on-field performance, including playoff appearances four times in seven years."
Well, he's right about the playoff appearances. Somehow, however, I fail to see how "turned the team around financially" and "bankruptcy protection" go hand-in-hand. Frank McCourt is a 21st century version of the charlatans in the 1800s who sold Brown's Magic Elixir as a cure for all ails. Except Dodgers fans have caught on to his ruse and attendance is down more than 8,500 fans per game from 2010. McCourt has wrapped up all the bad things about an owner into one sad situation: He's turned off the fans, hasn't won, doesn't really have the money to own a team and has become a public embarrassment and a disgrace. He's on my list of the 10 worst owners in major league history ... but is he No. 1?
Here's my list. No doubt, there are countless other good nominees. Discuss below. I couldn't even fit the Wilpons on the list!
10. Calvin Griffith, Twins (1955-1984)
A throwback to another era, Griffith inherited the Washington Senators from his uncle, Clark Griffith, who had had owned the franchise since 1920. Both Griffiths ran the franchise on a shoestring budget, although enjoying periodic seasons of success. Griffith moved the franchise to Minnesota in 1961. At a dinner in 1978, he explained why he made the move: "It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don't go to ballgames. ... We came here because you've got good, hardworking white people here." When free agency entered the sport in the 1970s, Griffith (who served as his own general manager) let star players -- such as Rod Carew, Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock and Bill Campbell -- walk away. He traded Bert Blyleven rather than pay him. In a 1983 article in Sports Illustrated, former All-Star catcher Butch Wynegar said, "He claims he's losing money. He's got it stashed in the cobwebs of his vault. What a relief to get out! The players think the organization's a joke." Griffith explained his philosophy: "Everybody can be a morning glory -- you pay the s.o.b.s, and they become daffodils. They send their agents at you because they say they don't want to hurt your feelings by negotiating themselves. Three agents came in to negotiate for [John] Castino, and who the hell did the talking? A woman. It was one of the damndest things I ever heard of."
9. Carl Pohlad, Twins (1984-2009)
Griffith sold the franchise to Pohlad (Griffith wept at the news conference), and Pohlad did manage to win two World Series in 1987 and 1991 (with many players left over from the Griffith regime, such as Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola and others). But Pohlad, who got his start in banking by foreclosing on farms during the Great Depression, makes this list for agreeing to sell the Twins to Major League Baseball in 2001 for $150 million as part of a potential contraction plan. While the contraction plan eventually failed, that's about as low as an owner can go.
8. Gerry Nugent and William B. Cox, Phillies (1931-1942)
Nugent became owner of the Phillies via interesting circumstances: He was married to the team's longtime secretary. When owner William Baker died in 1930, he left half his estate to his wife and half to the secretary. Nugent became team president and when Baker's widow died in 1932, the franchise was his. Constantly cash-strapped, Nugent would finish over .500 just once and the Phillies lost 100-plus games six times in seven seasons from 1936 to 1942. When Nugent needed to borrow money from the National League offices just to send the team to spring training in 1942, the league orchestrated the team's sale to Cox, a 33-year-old lumber broker. Cox, who had played baseball at Yale, worked out with the team and hired his high school track coach as the team's trainer. He also interfered with manager Bucky Harris and fired him midseason, which led to the players threatening to strike. Harris then revealed that Cox had bet on the Phillies. Cox was suspended and the team soon sold.
7. Tom Werner, Padres (1990-1994)
A TV executive who graced America with shows like "Mork & Mindy," "Bosom Buddies," "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne," Werner purchased the Padres from Joan Kroc. His two memorable acts as owner: Hiring Roseanne Barr to "sing" the national anthem (in a sad attempt to promote his show) and then conducting a fire sale in 1993, trading off Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff and others. He later joined the John Henry group that purchased the Red Sox (where he was involved with this), proving you can't bet on the game and get reinstated, but you can get back in if you're friends with the right people.
6. Eddie Chiles, Rangers (1980-1989)
A wealthy oilman also known for his radio commentaries that bashed the federal government, Chiles once decided that his players should set monthly personal productivity goals -- just like his sales reps at the Western Company. As Jim Reeves wrote for ESPNDallas, that led to this: "Chiles once put armed guards at every entrance to old Arlington Stadium to keep the media at bay on an off day while the players, coaches and manager Don Zimmer, who couldn't help rolling his eyes, went through a day-long management seminar, stressing personal and team goals." The Rangers never made the playoffs under Chiles.
5. Brad Corbett, Rangers (1974-1980)
Amazingly, Chiles isn't even the worst owner in Rangers history. That honor could go to Bob Short, who moved the team from Washington and force-fed David Clyde to the majors right of high school in order to draw a few extra fans, but Corbett was worse than Short. Corbett wasn't afraid to spend -- signing free agents such as Richie Zisk, Bert Campaneris and Doyle Alexander, and trading for high-priced veterans such as Jon Matlack, Al Oliver and Bobby Bonds -- but he also interfered and had no clue how to build a winning club. He once broke into tears after a loss, saying "I'm selling this team because it's killing me. They're dogs on the field and they're dogs off the field." The Rangers never made the playoffs under Corbett.
4. George Argyros, Mariners (1981-1989)
A California real estate developer, Argyros refused to put money into the franchise and constantly threatened to move the Mariners elsewhere. While Griffith at least showed the ability to develop ballplayers, Argyros couldn't tell a ballplayer from a fire hydrant. He famously tried to get the front office to draft Mike Harkey over Ken Griffey Jr. in 1987. Argyros hired executives from his other industries to run the team and one offseason gave his players pay cuts and suggested they attend seminars on the value of positive thinking. By the time he finally sold the team (making a huge profit; he was no fool), the Mariners had yet to have a winning season.
3. The Tribune Company, Cubs (1981-2009)
During 29 seasons under Tribune Company ownership, the Cubs finished 2,217-2,347 and never reached a World Series. Not that the Tribune Co. cared all that much: It purchased the Cubs and Wrigley Field for $20.5 million and sold the properties for about $845 million. And even kept a 5 percent interest.
2. Frank McCourt, Dodgers (2004- )
He's climbing rapidly, but isn't quite No. 1 yet ...
1. Harry Frazee, Red Sox (1916-1923)
You might have heard of the worst deal he made: Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000, a sale made in part to finance his theater productions. When Frazee purchased the Red Sox, they were baseball's preeminent franchise, and won World Series titles in 1916 and 1918. He later secured a $300,000 loan from the Yankees, using the mortgage on Fenway Park as collateral, essentially making the Yankees owners of Fenway. He made a series of other bad deals with the Yankees, the Red Sox didn't have a winning season from 1919 through 1933 and their rivals became the biggest team in the sport.
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