MLB: Lew Wolff and the 5 Worst Team Owners
To most people, it would be presumed that baseball owners do not have such a difficult job. After all, their business is a baseball team. The ownership can be viewed as work but is more visualized as just a really awesome fantasy.
And that’s essentially how the fans perceive the wealthy men who whimsically dump their exorbitant amount of disposable income on a sports franchise. These principal owners simply have the means to put into a sports team. But does that make them truly good business owners?
True, some of them are heavily involved with the performance of the team, from its players, personnel and coaching staff, and also the behind-the-scenes business side, including the marketing, community development and branding. But no one would argue that all of the owners have the best business know-how when it comes to running a baseball organization.
In fact, some of these men are renown for how they have managed to screw up such a dream situation. There has been a lot of upheaval with a few select ball clubs in the MLB. The past couple of years have seen several franchises reach the nadir in their respective histories—which is saying a lot, given the length of time some teams have been in existence.
Jeff Loria, Florida Marlins
However, since that title run, everything has gone down hill. And anything positive that could be extracted during Loria’s tenure could only be heard echoing in their vacant home, Sun Life Stadium.
Over the past 11 seasons, the Marlins have ranked in the bottom three in home attendance all but one year—2004, the year after they won the title.
While the team is set to begin play in a new baseball-only stadium in Miami this March, Loria and other Marlins execs were not entirely truthful about the team’s ability to help finance the new construction. This white lie ultimately cost taxpayers over $2 billion to build the new ballpark.
It’s that shady miserliness that has not won over the Florida fan base—more so given the annual parsimonious pruning of the payroll. Marlins fans have seen the sowing, growing and showing of the door of the produce from their farm system.
The list of players that the Marlins have traded or let walk reads as an All-Star lineup, including Derrek Lee, Josh Beckett, Alex Gonzalez, Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Willingham and Dan Uggla.
The development of players is extremely disappointing when they are often traded away while in—and sometimes before reaching—their prime.
In that respect, Loria is the un-LeBron James: The Marlins owner has taken talent away from South Beach.
Furthermore, the continuous personnel changes also include seven different managers in nine seasons, including the hiring of the volatile Ozzie Guillen last year. Can such a lightning rod re-ignite a fire in the organization?
Hopefully, the new stadium and new manager will revitalize the franchise moving forward.
Ted Lerner, Washington Nationals
It’s difficult to pick on a man who really hasn’t made a name for himself within the baseball world. Not many fans would be able to identify the owner of the Washington Nationals, Ted Lerner. But it’s his invisibility that helps land him on this list.
After moving the team from Montreal in 2006, with hopes of resurrecting the baseball community in the nation’s capital, the Nationals have become an even worse franchise—if that’s possible.
In the National League East, a division that has sent four teams to the World Series within the past 15 years, Washington is the lone team that has not come close to competing for a title. Moreover, the Nationals have not made the playoffs once since their relocation.
Nothing has worked for the Nationals. But the entire organization has been a mess—and that makes the owner most culpable.
There have been four managers of the Nationals in seven seasons (not counting interim replacement John McLaren).
Washington has had a myriad of terrible free agent signings, mostly long-ball sluggers who cannot hit for average: Vinny Castilla, Adam Dunn and Jayson Werth, to name a few.
And according to Forbes, the most recent appraisal of the Nationals franchise offers a value of $417 million. A lot of money, yes, but certainly lower than the $450 million Lerner bought the Nationals for.
True, there has been an influx of new young talent through the pipeline—Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg come to mind. But Nationals fans have been trying to understand for the past few seasons what the reason was for baseball to return to Washington after several decades (the Senators relocated in 1971).
Winning is an important lesson for Lerner during his otherwise anonymous regime.
What’s worse than seeing a franchise’s value decrease during your ownership?
Seeing it increase but not doing anything about it.
That’s what the Washington Nationals cross-town rival Baltimore Orioles have done—nothing.
Forbes’ latest valuation of major league ball clubs found the Baltimore Orioles to be worth $411 million—a significant increase from the $173 million that owner Peter Angelos purchased the team for back in 1993. That’s nearly a two-and-a-half times the original purchase price.
What does all that extra money afford the Orioles? Losses. Lots of them.
During Angelos’ 19-season tenure as owner, the O’s have reached the playoffs twice—1997 (AL East title) and 1998 (AL Wild Card).
However, since 1998, Baltimore has gone 14 straight seasons without a winning record. They have lost 90 games or more eight times during that stretch. Needless to say, the O’s have been earning F’s on their report card under wins.
Yes, the AL East is fiercely competitive, with both powerhouses, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, lurking with open wallets. But that hasn’t stopped the Tampa Bay Rays from achieving success and being relevant in the division.
Because Baltimore was the first team to introduce a revamped, state-of-the-art ballpark that set the tone for all other fashioned stadiums in the majors, the Orioles were annually drawing three million fans. But, somehow, the money wasn’t being spent in the right places on the field.
In Angelos’ term, the O’s have had 10 managers. They have spent money on washed-up veterans, e.g. Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro. The team has never recovered from the retirement of Cal Ripken Jr.
Yes, it’s been a long uphill battle to remain competitive. But unlike other team owners who have struggled to find the money to invest into their ball club and farm system, the Orioles and Angelos are an example of wasted effort.
2. (tie) Fred Wilpon, New York Mets and Frank McCourt, Los Angeles Dodgers
Both proud and historic franchises, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets have unfortunately seen better days than the current state of baseball they are going through. In fact, it’s possible that the present eras the each franchise is amid are the worst in their respective histories.
And that is imperfectly the result of the poor ownership of each team. Both have some unbelievable soap-opera off-field circumstances that have trapped the two franchises into financial doldrums.
Mets owner Fred Wilpon’s woes are due to his involvement in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme investment scandal. Wilpon was forced to a significant portion of his stake in the team. This has left the organization in some dire financial constraints: The Mets have pulled out a $40 million bank loan.
Coupled with egregious contracts to remain relevant in the ultracompetitive New York City sports market, and the Mets have become the epitome of underachievement in the past few seasons. But since falling to the cross-town rival Yankees in the 2000 World Series, the Mets have one postseason appearance.
In fact, they have finished fourth or worse six times in the past 11 seasons. And the status of the owner has certainly played its part on the depressive clubhouse culture.
Who knows what will happen to the ownership? It appears that the Wilpons are hell-bent on keeping their ownership intact. Mets fans just want some stability in the volatile franchise.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have gone through an equal amount of monetary disarray, the result of an ugly divorce between owner Frank McCourt and his ex-wife, Jamie.
There was much dispute over how much, if any—or all—of Frank’s portion of the Dodgers. Would Jamie receive half of the team? What would she do with her shares?
But the settlement did not award Jamie with any percentage of Dodgers ownership. However, the Dodgers were forced to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last year, and MLB has decided to take matters in its own hands and initiate sale of the franchise to relieve McCourt of his day-to-day obligations.
In McCourts seven-plus seasons as Dodgers owner, the team did finish in the playoffs on four occasions. But the organization has been marred with insecurity and fluctuation. There have been four managers during McCourt’s tenure, the beating of a Giants fan at Dodger Stadium, not to mention the trade for Manny Ramirez.
Needless to say, there has been a tremendous amount of turbulence in L.A. McCourt has been at the focal point of it all, leading many to a loss of credibility among the immense fan base in Southern California.
Quite a shame.
It’d be nice to see these two franchises right their ships. Both the Mets and Dodgers are venerable organizations in huge media markets. Baseball needs these teams to be of value again.
Remember that childhood fable about the boy who falsely warned his fellow villagers of an incoming wolf attack time and time again, only to be disbelieved when it actually did happen, having to watch them suffer to their demise?
The Oakland Athletics’ owner is that boy who cried wolf, warning fans in Oakland that he’s moving the team, promising non-baseball fans that the A’s will have a new home in San Jose. Instead, Lew Wolff is left baying at Major League Baseball’s inability to facilitate a way for the A’s to move to the South Bay.
From failed stadium developments to lack of territorial rights, the Athletics are a franchise that longs to find a new home, away from Oakland—the city that has housed the team for the past 41 years.
But throughout his tenure as owner, which began in 2005, Wolff has done everything in his power to ostracize and shun the Athletics fan base.
Prior to Wolff’s reign, Oakland was one of the formidable franchises in MLB history. Additionally, they were one of the best teams in the early 2000s—if not one of the most impressive. In spite of low payrolls, they reached the playoffs in four straight seasons (2000-2003). And their farm system was envy of the league, stocked with promising young talent.
Several players went on to achieve major league success with the A’s: one Cy Young Award winner, three Rookies of the Year, two MVPs and a six-time Gold Glove Award winner.
In fact, in the six seasons from 1999-2004, the Oakland A’s had the second-most wins in the American League with 570. Further, in all of MLB, only the New York Yankees (585) and the Atlanta Braves (584) had more wins during that span. Oakland was the hotbed of the new Moneyball philosophy, and fans were stomping through the Coliseum at an average attendance rate of 1.96 million per season.
Everything seemed to be A’s-OK in the East Bay.
But that’s the whole point. Wolff has never wanted to stay in Oakland. He had their sight set on San Jose from the get-go.
In the meantime, while he was wolfing down revenue-sharing dollars from the rest of MLB, the Athletics owner was deliberately banishing Oakland’s fan base by trading away solid players for farm animals year after year after year. The former players the A’s sent away or didn't re-sign practically reads as an all-decade team of the 2000s.
The Athletics have continued that trend this past offseason. In a last-ditch effort to force themselves out of Oakland, the A’s have given up on the upcoming campaign, intentionally sabotaging themselves out of competition to feign weakness, which would—hopefully for Wolff—mean the A’s have nowhere to go but San Jose.
Calculatingly self-destructing? Purposely turning fans away? Giving up? Who does that?
Only the worst owner in all of Major League Baseball.
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