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Power Ranking George Steinbrenner and the 25 Greatest Owners in MLB History

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst INovember 22, 2010

Power Ranking George Steinbrenner and the 25 Greatest Owners in MLB History

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    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    The Baseball Hall of Fame's Veteran's Committee will vote on Dec. 5 to select any players, executives or other baseball personnel who have contributed sufficiently to the game since 1973 to merit induction. As it happens, 1973 was the year George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees. Though Steinbrenner died in July, his son Hal remains chairman of the Yankees today.

    Steinbrenner thus seems well-situated to become the 13th person in history elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame principally as an owner. His Yankee teams won seven World Series titles and Steinbrenner notably did whatever he could (and often more) to push for ever greater success.

    Yet, many note also that Steinbrenner's transgressions begin to balance out his positive contributions. Twice, he was forced out of MLB altogether, only to find his way back in. Steinbrenner is one of the most polarizing figures of the last 50 years in Major League Baseball, but as far as owners go, few have ever had such an impact or been so visible.

    Here are the top 25 owners in MLB history, ranked according to a proprietary system explained in detail on the next slide.

The 30-Point Owner Evaluation System

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    In order to objectively decide which owners in big league history have performed their duties best, we need to make a number of highly subjective judgments. That inevitable clouding of the water makes it impossible to know for sure that an owner is better or worse than another; it is too difficult to tell causes from effects.

    I wanted to create a relatively scientific system that would compare owners fairly, though, so I set out to do so by determining what makes a good owner. I came up with 10 criteria of varying importance. Here are the 10 categories, expressed in this case as questions requiring quantitative answers:

    1. To what extent did Owner X successfully foster a healthy working relationship with the community or communities in which their team(s) played?

    2. To what extent did Owner X consistently reinvest team profits in players and/or stadium improvements?

    3. To what extent did Owner X change the perception or practice of the game at either a national or local level, and what are the legacies of those changes?

    4. To what extent was Owner X well-liked by players and executives around the league, and how much did this reputation affect the team's ability to acquire and retain talent?

    5. To what extent did Owner X possess an intimate knowledge of baseball itself, and how well did Owner X use that knowledge or lack thereof Did Owner X delegate effectively to his or her front office?

    6. To what extent did Owner X's team rise or fall in stature, visibility, profitability and competitiveness during Owner X's tenure?

    7. To what extent did Owner X treat his or her fan base with respect, keeping ticket prices affordable and not moving the team without cause?

    8. Did Owner X's team(s) win one or more World Series while Owner X was in charge?

    9. Did Owner X's team(s) win 80 or more games per season during Owner X's tenure(s)?

    10. Did Owner X own one or more teams for at least 15 seasons?

    Having discerned the answers to these questions, award:

    I. 0-5 points for each of the first three questions.

    II. 0-3 points for questions 4-7.

    III. 0-1 points for questions 8-10.

    It's that simple. A perfect score would be 30. Wayne Huizenga scored seven points by my calculations. Let's see what the 25 best results look like.

William DeWitt, Jr.

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Cardinals thrived almost in spite of Busch, but DeWitt and his people have made St. Louis definitively the envy of the National League once again. New Busch Stadium retains the charms of its predecessor but is an improvement in every way. Meanwhile, DeWitt plunges almost every spare nickel into keeping the team competitive despite its relatively modest media market and the struggling economy of St. Louis.

    He is young yet, but he has already surpassed his father (who once owned the Reds) as the best DeWitt ever to helm a big-league club.

    Total points: 17.5/30

26. Sam Breadon

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    Breadon rounds out a trio of Cardinals owners just outside the top 25 in the system's rankings, but his success and professionalism during 28 years of stewardship made the Cardinals into the powerhouse they were from the early 1920s through the 1960s.

    Breadon's only warts were a subtly racist bent and a certain inability to get along with key executives: He lost Branch Rickey in a battle of wills, then exited baseball after Rickey's Brooklyn Dodgers broke the color barrier in 1947.

    Total points: 18/30

25. Peter Magowan

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    David Paul Morris/Getty Images

    Magowan revived the Giants after perhaps two decades (1975-1995) without a lot of which to be proud. Not only has the team won two pennants and the 2010 World Series since Magowan took ownership, but Magowan spent no public funds in building the beautiful AT&T Park. San Francisco can now play to larger and more enthusiastic crowds, since those fans do not have to fight the brutish winds and ugly visual aesthetics of Candlestick Park.

    For perhaps the first time since they moved to California, the Giants offer the most entertaining and complete viewing experience of any team in the National League. Magowan stepped down in October 2008 but deserves some measure of the credit for the team’s forward strides even since then.

    Total Points: 18/30

24. Mike Ilitch

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1992 and immediately began the unpopular undertaking of replacing decrepit Tiger Stadium. As much resistance as the idea found, it was a necessary measure, and Ilitch funded roughly half of the new Comerica Park himself.

    He continues to open his checkbook whenever his baseball advisors believe it will help the club, and he has expanded his payroll even as the city and country have fallen on hard economic times. Ilitch is a Detroit homer, and his commitment to the team and community merit a positive mention.

    Total points: 19/30

23. Horace Stoneham

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    Stoneham is at right; the man on the left also appears on this list.

    He will always be painted with the same brush as O’Malley by the true die-hards who watched bitterly as the Dodgers and Giants moved west after 1957. That really is not fair to Stoneham, though. By all accounts, Stoneham actually cared deeply for New York and would have preferred to stay there.

    Had he been able to match O’Malley’s cross-town attendance figures and revenue flow, he might as well have done so. The Giants had to deal with their dilapidated Polo Grounds and fading teams, while the Dodgers had won the World Series as recently as 1956 and played in the much more stately Ebbets Field. Feeling he had no choice, though, Stoneham followed O’Malley to California, and many never forgave the 40-year steward of the Giants’ best days.

    Total points: 19/30

22. Connie Mack

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    On the strength of longevity alone, Mack qualifies for this list. He owned the Philadelphia Athletics from their inception in 1900 until 1950 and (here is another thing that sets him apart and makes him a deserving member of this list) managed the team during that entire space of time.

    His A’s dominated baseball during the first half of Mack’s tenure, although he did twice have to sell off teams long in the making due to lacking funds. He was a baseball man doing business on the side, working from the dugout every day of his 50-year service to the team.

    Total points: 19.5/30

21. Effa Manley

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    It was posthumous, but Manley became the first woman ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Owning ball clubs is a man’s game, but no woman has ever done it as well as Manley. She worked alongside her husband as owner of the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles until he died, then retained control of the team for four more seasons. By all accounts, Manley was the picture of a hard-nosed, baseball-savvy owner, but she faltered somewhat in the area (generally a strength of Negro League ball) of team promotion.

    Many have suggested that Manley took too serious an approach as a means of compensating for her tenuous position as a black woman of considerably independent means and mind. That became consensus enough for Manley to become the first woman ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Total points: 20/30

20. Clark Griffith

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    Griffith (like Charles Comiskey and Albert Spalding) was a superstar player who moved on to become a great owner. He took over the struggling Washington Senators in 1916 and kept the team afloat in the nation’s capital until his death in 1955.

    He had a small budget with which to work and often relied upon exploiting innovations he himself introduced into the game in order to stay relevant. He helped build the modern waiver system and often signed Latino players (for less than their American counterparts). He also courted the community very well and found ways to keep people coming out to the park. Less than a decade after he died, the team would move.

    Total points: 20/30

19. Barney Dreyfuss

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    Dreyfuss, who ran the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900-1932, oversaw a Pirates team that consistently won throughout the early part of the 20th century. In total, the Bucs won six pennants and two World Series under his stewardship. Dreyfuss was best known for helping to conceive and structure the World Series in 1903, but he made another crucial contribution when he built the highly unusual (in its time) concrete and brick Forbes Field in 1909. Dreyfuss was known in Pittsburgh as a benevolent owner only secondarily interested in profits.

    Total points: 20/30

18. George Steinbrenner

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The Boss was prickly, uncompromising and often petty—just ask Billy Martin or Buck Showalter. We must be careful not to give Steinbrenner more than his due for the wins the team achieved, since he often got as much in the way as he could.

    Twice Steinbrenner was banned from baseball, but it never stuck. No owner has ever had a more impressive or carefully structured public persona, and Steinbrenner was never afraid to do whatever it took to improve his squad’s chances of winning.

    Total points: 20.5/30

17. Edward Bennett Williams

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    He died before it was completed, but Williams was the major source of funding and impetus for the Orioles’ beautiful park at Camden Yards. He owned the Orioles for eight years before his death and never moved the team despite widespread speculation that he would pack them up and head for Washington, DC. Instead, he oversaw a team that won the 1983 World Series and secured Baltimore’s future by setting in motion the process of building the park that would change baseball forever.

    Total points: 21/30

16. Ted Turner

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Braves needed an owner of means to help cover the gaps left by lagging attendance during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Ted Turner fit the bill. Turner was not famous for spending hugely on free agents, but he gave GM John Schuerholz enough resources to keep re-stocking what became baseball’s most enduring modern-era dynasty. Meanwhile, he built Turner Field with his own money.

    Total points: 21/30

15. Bill Veeck

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    Master of enlivening the American pastime, Veeck owned three different teams for a total of roughly 15 seasons. People remember him for stunts like signing midget Eddie Gaedel (while he owned the st. Louis Browns in the 1940s) and for the calamitous Disco Demolition Night (with the Chicago White Sox in 1979), but Veeck consistently attracted large audiences to his ballparks despite middling on-field products.

    Veeck made baseball highly accessible by taking winning down a peg on the list of his teams’ priorities, a feat often imitated but never duplicated in big-league history.

    Total points: 21/30

14. Walter O'Malley

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    O’Malley was the driving force who dragged Horace Stoneham and the Giants out of New York and out to the West Coast in the late 1950s. He owned a controlling stake in the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers for over 25 years and earned a reputation for extreme professionalism. He made a ton of money along the way, though, and likely did not need to leave Brooklyn behind when he did. Someone needed to lead the expansion west, but Brooklyn's heart was broken when O'Malley quit town.

    Total points: 21/30

13. Albert Spalding

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    Spalding’s sporting goods empire changed the future for American sports, and he himself was among the first superstars of the National League. Beginning in 1882, Spalding also owned the Chicago White Stockings (later the Cubs) for two decades, during which time Chicago became the epicenter of baseball’s seismic early growth. Spalding’s star power and the superb on-field product brought out fans in droves, and the White Stockings became the flagship franchise of the National League at the turn of the 20th century.

    Total points: 21/30

12. Dan Topping and Del Webb

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    The tandem of Webb and Topping owned the Yankees from 1945-1964, a span of 20 seasons during which the Yankees won 10 World Series and 15 AL pennants. They were quiet and not especially spendy, though they accommodated Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford as comfortably as any owners would have.

    Even by Yankee standards, their tenure as owners was an unqualified success. Their very Yankee-like sense of propriety and professionalism showed when they bought out Larry MacPhail base on his unsavory actions after the 1947 World Series.

    Total points: 21.5/30

11. Cumberland Posey

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    Posey ran the mighty Homestead Grays from 1920 until the mid-1940s. He perfected the art of barnstorming along the Eastern side of the nation and kept the Grays highly successful and highly profitable despite only a loose affiliation with the Negro Leagues themselves. He was innovative and aggressive, and his reputation was built upon his reputedly razor-sharp eye for baseball talent. The Grays dominated both white and black teams along their annual exhibition circuits.

    Total points: 22/30

10. Bud Selig

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    If it were not for the efforts of Selig, there may be no baseball even today in Milwaukee. He battled to bring baseball back after the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1965, and by 1970, he had his opportunity in the hapless and bankrupt Seattle Pilots.

    Selig directed the organization skillfully, overseeing baseball operations more intimately than the average owner as the Brewers brought aboard stars like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Selig’s Brewers won seven Organization of the Year awards during his 22-year stewardship, after which Selig became commissioner.

    Total points: 22/30

9. Alex Pompez

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    Pompez was a master innovator, promoter and team builder, as evidenced by his ability to run two top-tier baseball franchises in New York at the same time, from 1921-1936. Pompez’s Negro League entrants consistently proved as good as their white big-league counterparts in exhibitions, and Pompez’s ability to market his charges began to attract the serious attention of white baseball executives by 1930.

    Total points: 22/30

8. J.L. Wilkinson

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    Everyone who loves baseball owes a serious debt to the people who made Negro League baseball consistently possible, and who maintained such a degree of quality and professionalism therein that MLB eventually had to admit several Negro league stars and break down the racial barriers that robbed the game of its legitimacy until almost 1950. Wilkinson is such a man.

    He founded the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920, and the Monarchs would win 10 league titles in the 25 years that he reigned over them. Kansas City also produced the best and brightest of white baseball’s first wave of black players, including Jackie Robinson. Of course, that was easier in light of Wilkinson's place as a very rare white owner in the Negro leagues. Still, Wilkinson (a master promoter who aggressively reinvested his profits in the team) died in poverty in 1948.

    Total points: 22.5/30

7. Jerold Hoffberger

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    He owned the Orioles, in whole or in part, for 25 years, and the Jerold Hoffberger-era Baltimore club was the most professional and successful outfit in baseball during that time. The “Oriole way,” as it came to be known, formed a cohesive and consistent set of expectations and goals for the organization, which were nearly always met.

    He kept a low public profile and allowed his very vocal manager Earl Weaver to become the face of the franchise, but he himself deserves credit for the team's sustained excellence. Under Hoffberger’s oversight, the Orioles led the American League’s transition into the DH era.

    Total points: 22.5/30

6. Powel Crosley, Jr.

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    In 1934, baseball in Cincinnati looked to be endangered. Crosley stepped in and bought the team when its prior owner was on the ropes after the stock market crash of 1929 and could easily have moved or dissolved the team more than once during his time. Instead, he became the first and most aggressive proponent of night baseball (which boosted Cincinnati’s attendance figures by roughly 400 percent) and oversaw a slow and steady rise back to prominence.

    The Reds won the World Series in 1940 and had already begun to build what would become the Big Red Machine when Crosley sold the team in the mid-1960s. He was not a great baseball man, but he knew how to turn and reinvest a profit. Without his steady stewardship, Bob Howsam and company could never have built the best dynasty of the 1970s.

    Total points: 23/30

5. John Galbreath

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    The Pirates are moribund now, but they were the envy of the National league not so long ago, and it was the stewardship of John Galbreath who got them there. Galbreath led the Bucs from 1945-1985, during which time the team won three World Series. Galbreath was the first owner ever to issue a million-dollar contract in average annual salary when he inked Dave Parker for the 1979 season—which turned out to be the right choice when Pittsburgh won the Series that season.

    Total points: 23/30

4. Arturo Moreno

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Moreno took the reins of the Angels in spring of 2003 and had a lot to overcome.

    The Angels were considered the Dodgers’ little brothers when it came to LA baseball, and they had decades of history against which to contend with the Boys in Blue. Moreno not only capitalized on the momentum of the team’s 2002 World Series title, but began to win back a substantial cross-section of the LA baseball fandom. He spends what it takes to keep Los Angeles near the top of the heap in the American League and keeps things affordable.

    Total points: 23/30

3. Tom Yawkey

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    He began as a silver spoon-fed young buck with more bravado than baseball or business acumen. But Yawkey grew into a beloved figure in Boston sports, even as the team became more and more haunted by their long championship drought. He spent wildly but (at least in his later years, his smarter years) allowed people of better baseball pedigrees to decide where to allocate those resources. Players and executives loved the very paternal Yawkey, who fawned over stars like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and went far out of his way to make them all at home.

    Total points: 23.5/30

2. Charles Comiskey

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    Comiskey helped launch the American League and famously ran the Chicago franchise for the first 30-odd years of its existence. Comiskey built a beautiful ballpark, networked and promoted wonderfully with the community and became renowned for his generosity. He paid tuition to Notre Dame for two sons of his favorite players and donated 10 percent of his revenues annually to the Red Cross during World War I.

    Unfortunately, that spirit did not carry into the realm of player compensation, and his notorious tight-fistedness led eight of his players to throw the 1919 World Series. Comiskey was heartbroken.

    Total points: 24/30

1. John Henry

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    Oli Scarff/Getty Images

    Henry started with a small, non-managing interest in the New York Yankees in the late 1990s but moved on quickly. He owned the Marlins for a few short years before selling in May 2002 and purchasing the Boston Red Sox. He promptly brought aboard Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino, who orchestrated the great revival of the team’s on-field product.

    Scouting and securing top talent in the front office may be Henry’s greatest strength. He has also found even more new and exciting ways to milk the cash cow that is Fenway Park. There is time yet for Henry's owner rating to sink, as most modern owners' numbers seem to do.

    For now, though, Henry is the best for having won two World Series within a half-decade of taking over, for the uninhibited growth of Red Sox nation and the Boston brand since he arrived, for the leading role the Red Sox have taken in the push to truly unlock foreign player markets and for the gut-wrenching Red Sox envy felt by virtually every other front office in baseball today.

    Total points: 24/30

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