20 Most Penny-Pinching Owners in Baseball History
Cheap, greedy, chintzy, avaricious, miserly, parsimonious, penurious, thrifty, tight-fisted...
You'll find all those adjectives and more in the following presentation of baseball's most penny-pinching owners ever.
Though it took every pixel of my preferred online thesaurus to capture these cheapskates in all their infamous thrift, it was well worth the effort.
An effort for which I wasn't compensated.
I'm just sayin'...
Honorable Mention: Rachel Phelps (Cleveland Indians, Fictional)
So she isn’t real. But she felt real. And she sucked.
And Tom Berenger wasn’t just going to sit there and take it. Thank goodness for Tom Berenger.
20. Claude Brochu (Montreal Expos)
If your name invokes the term “fire sale,” you will find your name on this list.
In 1991, Claude Brochu did spend $2 million out of pocket to keep the Expos in Montreal. The money prevented a sale to Arizona and made a temporary hero out of Brochu.
Notice I said, “temporary.”
He also destroyed the most promising Expos team in franchise history by letting Larry Walker walk in free agency before the 1995 season and trading both Marquis Grissom and John Wetteland during the strike-shortened campaign.
Less than a decade later, the Expos moved to Washington, D.C., and adopted a giant bald eagle as their mascot. Oh Canada, that has to hurt.
19. Tom Werner (San Diego Padres)
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Tom Werner began his ownership of the San Diego Padres with the best intentions.
After buying the team in 1990, Werner worked hard to build a winner. When that strategy didn’t turn a profit he sold...and sold...and sold some more.
In 1993, Werner jettisoned Benito Santiago, Mike Maddux, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff in rapid succession. The moves resulted in a 101-loss season for the free-falling Friars.
For good measure, Werner quickly got the heck out of Dodge by selling the club to John Moores in December 1994.
18. Connie Mack (Philadelphia Athletics)
Before I sort of bash him, let’s get one thing straight: Connie Mack is a baseball legend.
That said, the man knew how to cut corners.
Letting Connie Mack own a baseball team is a little like letting your upper-middle-class uncle with a country club membership own a baseball team. I mean he’s rich, but he’s not team-owning rich.
Connie Mack was a baseball lifer in an era before that term implied great wealth. Needless to say, Mack wasn’t team-owning rich.
To his credit, Mack nearly went into bankruptcy a few times in order to keep the A’s afloat. Unfortunately, the team’s investments also tended to reflect its owners' limited means.
Mack was so stingy with salaries some speculate that his 1914 team threw that year’s World Series just to spite their chintzy overlord.
In a move reminiscent of latter-day Florida Marlins teams, Mack would go on to sell or trade most of his star players and plunge the franchise into a decade of non-contention.
Mack’s attitude toward player compensation can best be summed up in the following quote, via Wikipedia:
"The best thing for a team financially is to be in the running and finish second. If you win, the players all expect raises."
17. Bud Selig (Milwaukee Brewers)
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Before he became MLB commissioner, Bud Selig whined for years on end about how his small-market, flyover Brewers couldn’t compete with the coastal titans in New York and L.A.
Using that logic he swindled Milwaukee’s taxpayers to the tune of a brand-new stadium and continued to field crap teams despite the city’s investment.*
You just couldn’t win in Milwaukee, Bud yelped.
Mr. Selig, I see your B.S. and raise you Mark Attanasio.
The current Brewers owner has drawn record crowds to Miller Park by, gasp, actually investing in good players. Now Milwaukee is one of the league’s model franchises and they’ve resisted the excuses that were endemic to Selig’s tenure.
Selig’s problem wasn’t location, it was his own reluctance to invest in a good on-field product. I smell a cheapskate.
*Yes, Selig wasn’t the owner in name when this happened. But his daughter was the principal and, let’s be real, Bud was calling the shots.
16. Stephen Schott (Oakland Athletics)
When your tight-fisted ways get the Hollywood treatment, you know your small pockets have hit the big time.
For those who ponied up $12 to see Moneyball in theaters, that was former A’s owner Stephen Schott telling Brad Pitt/Billy Beane he couldn’t afford to keep the likes of Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen in Oakland.
That was also Stephen Schott charging players for soda in the clubhouse and generally running his baseball team like a mom-and-pop corner store.
Maybe it was a case of Hollywood character assassination, but the record does show that Schott kept payroll painfully low during his decade as owner (1995-2005).
15. Jackie Autry (California Angels)
Congrats to the women’s liberation movement. Thanks to their tireless efforts, not only can a woman run a baseball team, but she has the cultural latitude to act just as miserly as her male counterparts.
For 30 years, singing-cowboy-turned-business-titan Gene Autry ruled his beloved California Angels with a beneficent hand. He lavished money on free agents and kept ticket prices affordable despite the obvious incompatibility of such a strategy.
So what if his tactics descended the franchise into financial ruin? At least the man cared.
Enter wife Jackie Autry, 34 years her husband’s junior and hellbent on bringing fiscal austerity to Southern California. In the early ‘90s, with Gene’s health failing, Jackie assumed unofficial control of the franchise and put a quick end to the Angels’ big spending.
From the L.A. Times, 1991:
“But it is Jackie Autry...who says she was 'astounded' at the club's historic lack of profitability, who increasingly directs the operations of the club, declaring that it must stop losing money and that the free spending that has marked the fervent attempts to 'Win One for the Cowboy,' must end.”
See, Jackie wasn’t your typical trophy wife. She was an astute business woman, a former banker, in fact, who wasn’t about to let her dying husband’s quixotic dream of a championship interfere with future earnings.
Truth be told, Jackie’s callousness made the Angels much stronger in the long term. Her commitment to developing cheap talent through the minor leagues laid the groundwork for the Angels first and only World Series title in 2002.
14. Eddie Chiles (Texas Rangers)
From Eddie Chiles’ New York Times obituary:
As a hands-on owner, he streamlined the Rangers' front office, eventually turning a money-losing operation into a profitable enterprise, largely, perhaps, because the team had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.
That about sums up Eddie Chiles as an owner. The Texas oilman didn’t believe much in sharing the wealth, not in baseball, not in business and certainly not in society.
Chiles became a folk hero in Texas for a series of radio spots that featured him ranting against perceived government affronts to free enterprise. “I’m Eddie Chiles, and I’m mad,” he would declare, before launching into a populist tirade.
He was Tea Party-certified before the kettle was on the stove and an all-time crank. Were he alive today, I can only imagine the lengths today's Republican presidential candidates would go to court his endorsement.
13. Marge Schott (Cincinnati Reds)
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The world remembers Marge Schott as a racist, but we often forget she was just as prolific a penny-pincher.
Besides revealing her distaste for upwardly mobile black people, Marge Schott’s declaration that two of her former players were “million dollar n***ers” neatly captured her distaste for high-player salaries.
And it didn’t stop with players, no sir. Schott routinely mistreated employees and once made General Manager Bob Quinn pay his way to an MLB All-Star game.
Stay classy, Marge.
12. Wayne Huizenga (Florida Marlins)
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Two words: Fire sale.
Another two words: Wayne Huizenga.
And another two words: He blows.
I’m sure you’ve heard the story by now.
Wayne Huizenga builds playoff-caliber team through free agency. Playoff-caliber team wins World Series in its only playoff year. Wayne Huizenga dismantles team and flees with the surplus cash.
It’s commendable Huizenga invested in the 1997 Marlins enough to make them competitive, but his every-thing-must-go mandate at season’s end plunged the organization into a boom-and-bust mentality that’s plagued them ever since.
Just because they won the 2003 World Series doesn’t make it all right. Poor attendance that year and in every other year since tells me this isn’t a healthy franchise.
Surprise, surprise: fans don’t appreciate ownership that pretends to give a crap every once in a while.
Now almost 20 years after arriving in South Florida, the Marlins have never tried to build a consistent winner. It speaks to an inveterate disregard for fan interests that started with Huizenga and should ultimately define his sordid tenure as an MLB owner.
11. Calvin Griffith (Minnesota Twins)
Calvin Griffith gets a pass from lots of Minnesota baseball fans because he moved the franchise to the Twin Cities and because the owner that succeeded him, Carl Pohlad, was a good measure more miserable than he.*
Lest we forget that Calvin Griffith moved the franchise to Minnesota because he feared Washington, D.C.’s growing black population or that Griffith balked at the idea of women agents negotiating on behalf of his players.
Lest we also forget that Griffith ran his Twins on the cheap, allowing Rod Carew leave via free agency and trading away Bert Blyleven.
All-Star catcher Butch Wynegar didn’t mince words when asked about Griffith’s reputation among his players.
"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."
Indeed it was, Butch.
*People also liked to mention that he cried when he sold the team, for whatever that's worth.
10. Jeffrey Loria (Florida/Miami Marlins, Montreal Expos)
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A recent run on the free agent market can’t save Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria from his well-deserved reputation as a miserable cheapo.
Loria leveraged the money for his spending spree by pleading poverty and convincing the city of Miami to pay for a new ballpark. Turns out it was all a fat freaking fairytale, with the Marlins pocketing the cash. Ugh.
Now the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (a.k.a. the Feds) want to have a peek at Miami’s finances, a development that could eventually turn Loria from well-known cheapo to convicted cheapo.
All this after Loria, as owner of the Montreal Expos, sold the franchise to Major League Baseball in exchange for the Marlins (then owned by John Henry). The move effectively ran the franchise out of Canada and established Loria as one of baseball’s say-anything con men.
For that financial pirouette, Loria’s partners filed a RICO lawsuit against him. The charges didn’t stick, but the law may finally catch up with Loria on this second go ‘round.
At least we can hope it does.
9. Bob Nutting (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Bob Nutting took control of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003, and his franchise has had one of the league’s five lowest payrolls every single season since.
No surprise then that they’ve also never finished higher than fourth place.
All this after Nutting helped bring beautiful PNC Park to downtown Pittsburgh. He deserves credit for the ballpark upgrade, but his unwillingness to put a quality product on the field has to rankle long-suffering Pirates fans.
Instead, Nutting seems content to run his club on shoestring budget and let the revenue-sharing checks roll in.
8. Vince Naimoli (Tampa Bay Devil Rays)
Original Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays Vince Naimoli got his close-up in The Extra 2%, Jonah Keri’s book on the franchise’s turnaround.
It wasn’t pretty.
Naimoli looked for all sorts of ways to squeeze an extra dollar. The Devil Rays' owner initially planned to name the upscale watching area behind home plate at the Trop the Clearwater Mattress Club...When the doors opened, they revealed...couches.
Yes, for the thousands of dollars you had to pay for the best seat in the house, your reward was a pitch from a furniture salesman in a cheap suit who thought you might be interested in a sofa.
He didn't stop there. Naimoli also refused to purchase Internet for his employees and banned outside food from the team’s warehouse of a ballpark.
No surprise that Naimoli got his start buying up inefficient businesses and slashing their operations. He did the same with his Rays and the results were predictably disastrous.
7. David Glass (Kansas City Royals)
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Baseball fans under 20 forget the Kansas City Royals were once among baseball’s biggest spenders in late 1980s and early 1990s.
David Glass happened, that’s what.
The former Wal-Mart exec took an ax to the Royals’ budget when he purchased the team in 1993 and has held that line in the 18 years since.
Even as a stellar farm system has fans looking up for the first time in years, a well-worn doubt over Glass’ commitment to winning casts a pall over GM Dayton Moore’s “process.”
Which brings us to reason 1,834 you should hate Wal-Mart: David Glass.
6. George Argyros (Seattle Mariners)
George Argyros bought the Seattle Mariners in 1981 and in his eight seasons as owner, the team never once had a winning record.
They did “peak” at 78 wins in 1987, for whatever that’s worth.
Which is what usually happens when the owner refuses to pursue free agents or even commit players to multi-year contracts.
Former Mariner outfielder Glenn Wilson put it best:
"Getting traded to Seattle lets you put things in perspective. If you're successful here, you either wind up someplace else or as a free agent."
5. William Baker (Philadelphia Phillies)
You don’t get to 10,000 losses without a few jerk-off owners helping the cause.
The Philadelphia Phillies have had a few, but none jerkier than William Baker.
Baker bought the team in 1913, inheriting a talented club that would make the 1915 World Series. He spent the rest of his 17-year tenure dismantling said club and ensuring they’d remain miserable many years into the future.
Baker employed only one scout, used a flock of sheep to trim the grass at the Baker Bowl rather than hire a human being and traded star pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander when the the Hall of Famer came up for a raise.
Upon his death, Baker left half his estate to personal secretary Mae Mellen. It was Baker’s final “eff you” to the city of Philadelphia, a move that ensured Mellen’s furniture-salesman husband would inherit control of the team.
No surprise that her furniture-salesman husband could hardly support the day-to-day operations of a sports franchise. As a result, the Phillies would remain miserable more than a decade after Baker’s death.
In other words, just how William Baker liked ‘em.
4. Charlie Comiskey (Chicago White/Black Sox)
Charles “Old Roman” Comiskey was such a tightwad that his players deliberately threw the 1919 World Series to spite him, setting off a scandal that would nearly destroy major league baseball.
And that’s about all you need to know.
Comiskey saved money by keeping player per-diems low, reneging on player bonuses and refusing to regularly wash team uniforms.
For all that, he got a ballpark in his name and two World Series titles.
Karma, where you at?
3. Carl Pohlad (Minnesota Twins)
Miracles can happen. I know because the Minnesota Twins won two world championships under the tyrannical reign of Carl Pohlad. Two!
Sometimes teams win in spite of their ownership. In the case of Minnesota’s four-year mini-dynasty from 1987 through 1991, that’s really the only explanation.
Carl Pohlad short-changed fans at every turn and in 2001 made a brazen attempt to sell the Twins out of town.
Despite being the richest owner in baseball, Pohlad kept the purse strings sewn shut when dealing with team payroll. Fans saw stars like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana leave town as the billionaire continue to expect big results from little coin.
In Pohlad’s 25 years as owner (1984-2009) that formula largely worked, way more often than it should have.
2. Arnold Johnson (Kansas City Athletics)
Arnold Johnson’s first order of business upon purchasing the the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954: Move the storied franchise to Kansas City.
His second order of business: Make as much money as humanly possible.
His third order of business: See second order of business.
Johnson’s Kansas City Athletics never won more than 74 games in a season, probably because Johnson sold all of the A’s best young players to the New York Yankees for cold, hard cash.
In a totally related note, Johnson once owned Yankee Stadium. Turning your franchise into a farm team for your favorite team?
That’s a whole new level of despicable.
1. Harry Frazee (Boston Red Sox)
One epic splash of penny-pinching will forever and always set Harry Frazee apart from his peers.
Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000.
Let me rephrase: Harry Frazee sold the greatest icon in American sports history to the New York Yankees for $125,000.
Today, that sum couldn’t buy you a crawl space on Madison Avenue.
Back then it was worth a good deal more, but nowhere near what the Red Sox would lose in gate revenue and good will.
Ruth’s departure was the most prominent of many deals Frazee made to bankroll his theater projects and dismantle the once-proud Boston Red Sox.
Thanks in large part to his greed, the Red Sox wouldn’t win the World Series for another 86 years.