It could reasonably be argued that some owners of professional sports teams in this country are like the world’s most dangerous criminals, minus the charm and good intentions. A few of these guys don’t compare well to the cheapest of harlots, who at least make no pretense of loving their customers before screwing them out of money. They are in effect politicians, filling the ears of their constituents with words of civic pride, courage and commitment– all while having the pockets of their Louis Vuitton pants resized to hold a bigger percentage of the people’s budgets.
No, not all owners are repugnant villains. But the worst of them cannot even remember the last time a word of truth escaped their own lips. They sell excrement and have mouthfuls of samples. In honor of the millions of decent fans who have paid their hard-earned money in support of a team, only to be treated like roaches in a pantry, we present ten of the most rancid, devoid-of-dignity millionaires who ever despoiled a city through their ownership of one of its teams.
10. Judge Emil Fuchs – Boston Braves, 1922-1935
To be fair, Fuchs gets an assist from Yankee owners Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston for achieving his place on this list.
It’s possible you might have heard of a baseball player named Babe Ruth. He was pretty good. All he accomplished was to make a dubious public nearly forget that the games it had been witnessing were being sold to gamblers on a vast scale. Then the Big Bam went on to make a shambles of the baseball record book, gaining a level of popularity and fame henceforth unknown to the American people. For a finishing touch, he was instrumental in turning the New York Yankees into the signature sports franchise in the country.
After the 1934 season, with Lou Gehrig still in the lineup and a young Joe DiMaggio on the way, the Yankees agreed to trade Ruth to the Braves. Ruth wanted more than anything to manage his Yanks but Ruppert only offered him a minor league job. So Fuchs stepped in and offered the Babe what sounded like an offer worthy of the Sultan of Swat: a share of the gate, the title of ‘assistant manager’ and a promise to make Ruth a part owner in the team. None of it ever came to fruition. Ruth was brought to Boston to increase attendance in 1935 and was only moderately successful in doing so. When he realized he was being duped, the Babe left the game behind. He went out like the legend he was, clubbing 3 HR’s in a single game at monstrous Forbes Field. Fuchs sold his part of the Braves to a minority owner later that year.
9. Jerry Jones – Dallas Cowboys, 1989-Present
It is so tempting to put him near the top. He does not make this list for his recent involvement in the NFL relocation process but anyone who paid attention to the details of his and Roger Goodell’s virtual sodomy of three separate fan bases knows that he is a reptile who emits a very specific viscosity of slime.
Still, it is instead for Jones’ unceremonious dismissal of Tom Landry upon buying the team in 1989 that he is placed somewhere below Bernie Madoff on the classiness scale. Landry was a legend in Dallas, of course, for his turning the expansion Cowboys into a perennial contender and Super Bowl Champion. He had been with the team for nearly 30 years and while his teams had been sliding down the standings in recent seasons, he still could have outpointed J. R. Ewing as the most recognizable character in Dallas. So when Jerry Jones and club president Tex Schramm told Landry he was no longer the team’s coach, it was an understandably uneasy conversation.
On its face, the firing can be seen as a decision meant to move the team forward. But Jones’ later admission that he already had Jimmy Johnson hired and Landry’s removal was a contingent of his purchasing the club left a taste as foul as chocolate covered oysters in the mouths of Texans everywhere.
8. Horace Stoneham – N.Y. Giants, 1936-1957
If you read a lot of baseball history, you will come across a good deal more former Brooklyn Dodger fans lamenting and condemning Walter O’Malley moving the team to Los Angeles than you will Giants fans speaking their hatred of Horace Stoneham. This is likely due to the time frame in which the moves occurred. The Giants were the class of the National League and the darling team of New York from the turn of the century through the 1930s. Then John McGraw retired, the Yankees established their dominance and the Dodgers began winning. So when O’Malley packed up his club and moved, it crushed a lot of younger fans, many of whom grew up to be authors, broadcasters and celebrities.
But a closer look reveals O’Malley to be a far lesser villain than Stoneham. He actually made a concerted effort to keep his team in the Big Apple. Stoneham, on the other hand, actively shopped his team and made agreements with both Minneapolis and San Francisco long before the Dodgers made their plans. That’s really what gains old Horace his place on this list. Nobody likes a snake. But a snake that bites you and then lets you blame the dog is especially loathsome.
7. Frank Robison – Cleveland Spiders, 1887-1899
If you’ve ever heard of the Cleveland Spiders it is likely because in 1899 they fielded one of the worst baseball teams in professional history. The reason why is an interesting tale of selfish aggrandizement to which modern fans will have a difficult time relating.
In its earlier days, there was no rule in Major League Baseball against an owner buying more than one team. It was called “syndicate baseball” and it wasn’t uncommon. At one time the owner of the NY Giants also had an interest in the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn and Baltimore Clubs were owned by the same group of men. The Robison brothers, Stanley and Frank, owned both the St. Louis franchise and the Cleveland Spiders.
The Spiders had a decent team in the 1890s, fielding future Hall of Famers Jesse Burkett and the great Cy Young. The Robison boys wanted out of Cleveland, though, and tried to sell the team. The League refused to let them, so they did what any petulant crybaby owner would do; they peeled all the best players from the Spiders and transferred them to St. Louis. The Spiders won 20 games that season against 134 losses–a .130 winning percentage–and were reduced to minor league status the next year.
6. James Dolan – New York Knicks, 1999-Present
Maybe vile isn’t the right word for James Dolan. Idiot? Moron? Imbecile? Yeah, those are about right. No matter how you feel about the Trayvon Martin case, a few things are not disputed. Examples of these would be that a boy is dead and his parents desperately wish he wasn’t. So as a public figure, a man might think twice before writing a song about the tragedy. Not Dolan. No, the same man who kept bringing Isiah Thomas back to the club even after he’d mismanaged it badly decided to croon a blues song about the deceased teen–only two years after the incident. It wasn’t an overtly racist or morbid tune but that is way, way beside the point. Hey, Jimbo, if it’s your kid in the morgue, OK, sing about it if you like. If it’s not, how about you don’t try to make money off of someone else’s nightmare?
5. Stan Kroenke – St. Louis Rams, 1995-2015
If you were a St. Louis Rams fan and were to have dreamed the most cynical, vitriolic, emotionless scenario for your team to be taken from you, it likely wouldn’t have come close to the way Stan Kroenke and his cronies actually did it. Kroenke is unfathomably wealthy. His money was accumulated through his family connection with Wal-Mart as well as a myriad of real estate investments. So, one might think it would be a good thing to have a team owner so economically solid. It would be a good thing–if that owner hadn’t sold his eternal soul to Beelzebub.
Attested to by facts which have come out after the deal, Kroenke hadn’t owned 100% of the team for 30 seconds before he started planning how he could cash it out and roll into the gold mines of Los Angeles. At the press conference when he bought the Rams, he claimed to have no plans to move it out of St. Louis. And then he said nothing for four years as he and his team worked on doing exactly that.
It has also become clear that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was complicit with the deceit and even encouraged St. Louis to play out an elaborate stadium proposal at a cost to the city of $16 million, with no intention of backing it. St. Louis would have been better off dealing with a more honest and benign cartel than Kroenke and the National Football League. One like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s comes to mind.
4. Robert Irsay – Baltimore Colts, 1972-1997
You can’t blame the entire situation on Irsay. His moving the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis was somewhat forced due to the city’s attempt to seize the team from him. But you can certainly question his making the move under the cover of darkness. It was more like an escape than a business transaction. Dozens of Mayflower moving trucks shot out of Maryland in the early morning fog, looking like a scene out of Smokey and the Bandit. Irsay’s flight put a sad end to a great relationship between a city and her football team. To the fans of Baltimore, it seemed to be a little kid getting mad, taking his ball and going home. When Irsay died in 1997, there were reports of church bells ringing in Baltimore for three days.
3. Donald Sterling – Los Angeles Clippers, 1981-2014
Donald Sterling is a rarity amongst dumb millionaires. He actually seems to hate his customers. It would only be a surprise to people who have no eyes or ears that the NBA has a large African American fan base. In 2014, Sterling was recorded making what can only be described as irrational statements about black people who attended Clippers games to his girlfriend. He was actually upset that African Americans were being brought to his games. And Sterling was no novice at this type of bias.
In 2006, he was sued by the United States DOJ for housing discrimination. He was trying to keep African Americans who wanted to live in his housing from acquiring the property. Just wow. Political correctness may be way overplayed in this country, but when a man tries to use his money and position to restrict people who want to be his customers from doing so, that’s a new level of pathetic and needs to be called out. Sterling sold his shares in the team in 2014 and the world of professional basketball smells much better for it.
2. Art Modell – Cleveland Browns, 1961-1995
Art Modell did to Cleveland what lake-effect snows, recessions and aging infrastructure never could. The Browns owner took a city which had supported him for over 30 years and ripped its guts out. Cleveland is not Los Angeles or New York. It doesn’t have world famous night life or movie premiers to occupy the entertainment sections of local news rags. Blue collar communities like Cleveland don’t just use their sports teams as a pleasant diversion. They bond with them and see them as part of their identity. That’s the reason the teams with the best fan attendance for road games are usually teams like the Packers, Steelers and Browns.
The Browns team that would become the Baltimore Ravens had made the playoffs in 1994 and were doing well in 1995 until Modell made his announcement. Imagine being a lifelong Browns fan who saw the team leave and then win a Super Bowl in its new city only five seasons later. Modell moved for only one reason. He was not making as much in Cleveland as he could in Baltimore. As always, he claimed it was “just business”. Of course it’s not just business to the fans. The only redeeming part of the entire fiasco was that Cleveland retained the rights to the Browns name and placed it on an expansion franchise in 1999.
1. Bill Wirtz – Chicago Blackhawks, 1966-2007
When your hometown tags you with the nickname “Dollar Bill” you probably won’t be presented with a key to the city anytime soon. Bill Wirtz is the poster child for owners who do more harm than good by trying to squeeze every nickel out of a team. He alienated Blackhawks fans, launched a failed pay-per-view system and ran a historic franchise like a bargain bin at the dollar store. The team, which had always been supported well, lost attendance in the late 90s and early 2000s by the bushel.
Wirtz built his own arena and kept control of all the parking and concessions. Then he raised ticket prices and eliminated free home game broadcasts by starting his subscription “Hawkvision” system. What’s not to love, right? The Blackhawks were a mismanaged mess, playing lousy hockey in front of almost nobody.
After Bill’s death, his son Rocky took over the team and almost instantly changed it into the best organization in hockey, winning multiple Stanley Cups and leading the league in attendance. What a difference a generation makes.