May 08, 2009
SI's Best & Worst Owners
What makes the owner of a pro sports franchise great? Torii Hunter has a few ideas, over and above the obviously lavish deals owners often bestow on players. As the Gold Glove center fielder explained last spring after signing a five-year, $90 million free-agent pact with the Los Angeles Angels, the reasons aren't as simple as just putting more zeroes on a contract.

"You can have all the money in the world but be in last place and [be] miserable," said Hunter, who signed with the Angels instead of two other teams that made him similar offers. "Arte Moreno wants to win. When you got a guy like that, I want to be a part of that team."

With that in mind, identified the five best and five worst owners in each of the four major team sports. The method was not scientific but based on numerous factors, some of which are indisputable and some of which are intangible. Among the criteria used to evaluate owners was the willingness to spend money to improve the team; the stability and capabilities of the front office and management; the amenities at the team's venue; and the club's culture and interactivity with fans. Of course, weighing heavily in the decision was the team's success or failure on the field. (Note: Records are through 2008 season.)
Five Best MLB Owners
5 Stuart Sternberg Tampa Bay Rays
Purchased 2004
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$65M $320M 301-448 .402 1 0
Yes, it's only been one year of playoffs -- but what a year. The Rays won the toughest division with the second-smallest payroll in the majors, and do business the model way for a low-revenue franchise. They're not a surprise anymore, but Sternberg has green-lit more spending, and the team payroll is up to $63.3 million this season, the highest ever for the 11th-year franchise. It's only the latest sign of commitment from the Wall Street tycoon, who cleaned house after taking full control of the franchise in '05, opened up his checkbook to improve mausoleum-like Tropicana Field, invested heavily in the team's player-development system and turned a former joke of a franchise into what could become a perennial contender.
4 Steinbrenner Family New York Yankees
Purchased 1973
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$10M $1,500M 3,195-2,492 .562 18 6
If you're one of those fans who believe the Boss & Family are ruining baseball with their liberal spending, well, there's a case to put them in the worst category. But if you're a Yankees fan, you couldn't ask for a better owner. The Steinbrenners run a billion-dollar organization that treasures professionalism and success above everything else. They're as committed as any team in professional sports, both at putting a superstar product onto the field and building the brand into one of the most powerful in the sporting world. And even though it's been nine years since they last won a World Series, the family's devotion to improving the team in any way possible is beyond a doubt -- no matter the cost. You may not like them, but admit it -- you're envious.
3 William DeWitt St. Louis Cardinals
Purchased 1995
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$150M $486M 1,203-1,044 .535 7 1
It takes a committed owner who is willing to do the little things to keep one of the most historic franchises in baseball near the top, and DeWitt has done that. He hired Tony La Russa soon after buying the team, built a new $365 million stadium and locked down franchise cornerstone Albert Pujols with a nine-figure deal. Meanwhile, the team has handled a number of tragedies -- the deaths of former pitchers Darryl Kile and Josh Hancock, as well as longtime announcer Jack Buck -- with respect and grace.
2 Arturo Moreno Los Angeles Angels
Purchased 2003
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$180M $509M 547-425 .563 4 0
When your new owner's first order of business is to lower the price of beer at the stadium, you know you've hit the jackpot. Moreno is perhaps the most accessible, affable owner in the majors to the people who matter: his customers. But if that weren't enough, the former billboard magnate has turned a franchise once owned by Disney into a perennial playoff team that is envied by players around the majors for its reputation for winning while treating its employees with class.
1 Henry/Werner/Lucchino Boston Red Sox
Purchased 2002
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$660M $816M 470-340 .580 5 2
Thanks to Henry, Red Sox Nation will never hear the chant "1918!" again. Even if it all were to come crumbling down tomorrow, John Henry (pictured, right) and minority owners Tom Werner (left) and Larry Lucchino will be revered forever for reversing the Curse -- and adding a second championship in 2007. In addition, they've made the hires that will keep the Sox competitive for years to come: specifically, shrewd GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona. Boston has reached the postseason five times in the past six years (including four ALCS appearances) and has become one of the most desired destinations for any notable free agent.
Five Worst MLB Owners
5 Ted Lerner Washington Nationals
Purchased 2006
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$450M $406M 203-282 .419 0 0
Lerner bought the former Expos from Major League Baseball in 2006 with grand visions, but they haven't panned out. Despite a new park within district limits, the Nats are as lowly as they were when they left Montreal -- they've finished in the cellar of the NL East three times in the four years Lerner has owned the franchise. That's bad enough, but then factor in the Esmailyn González bonus-skimming scandal (which led to the firing of GM Jim Bowden) surrounding a Latin player who falsified his name and age while the execs and scouts stood to benefit, and you've got perhaps the biggest recent impropriety in baseball outside of the Steroid Era.
4 Jeffrey Loria Florida Marlins
Purchased 2002
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$158M $277M 569-564 .502 1 1
The art dealer turned a nation of fans against him with his first team, the Expos, before forcing their move from Montreal and selling them back to Major League Baseball. He then took control of the Marlins and watched his exciting team shock the Yankees in the 2003 World Series and then became Miami fans' worst nightmare: the second coming of Wayne Huizenga. The Marlins slowly have been rebuilding themselves with more young talent, despite the lowest cash outlay provided by any owner, and could be turning a corner soon. That is, until Josh Johnson and Dan Uggla are shown the door like Josh Beckett, Derrek Lee and Miguel Cabrera.
3 David Glass Kansas City Royals
Purchased 1993
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$96M $314M 1,019-1,342 .432 0 0
During Glass' 16 years, the Royals have averaged 96 losses. More than that, the former Wal-Mart exec is viewed by many as a stoolpigeon for Major League Baseball, open to suggestions from the league office as to how much to bid for free agents and, most prominently, being one of the loudest voices in opposing the players' union during the 1994 strike. In the meantime, he has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the revenue-sharing system, yet hasn't spent much of those funds in the free-agent market. That could turn around this year, with a franchise record $70.5 million payroll. Still, while the Royals probably won't lose 100 games for the fifth time under Glass, they likely won't break their 24-year playoff drought, either.

(Editor's note: The Royals disagree with our assessment. Here is their response.)
2 Tom Hicks Texas Rangers
Purchased 1998
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$250M $405M 793-827 .489 2 0
It's hard to fault Hicks for trying, because he really is. But the stain of signing Alex Rodriguez for $252 million in 2000, then baseball's biggest deal, won't wash away. Then, trading A-Rod to the Yankees for little in return -- and agreeing to foot some of the bill -- perhaps made it even worse. Beyond that, Hicks made a number of bad signings (Chan Ho Park, Juan González and Rusty Greer, for a combined $110 million, for instance) with ridiculously high price tags to match that left Rangers fans scratching their heads. Meanwhile, Texas hasn't made the postseason in nine years and is the only franchise in baseball that hasn't won a playoff series.
1 Peter Angelos Baltimore Orioles
Purchased 1993
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$173M $400M 1,128-1,179 .486 2 0
When the Baltimore lawyer took control of the team in 1993, it was a year removed from its Camden Yards debut with a stacked roster Angelos allowed former GM Pat Gillick to build. The O's went on to make the first of two consecutive ALCS appearances just three years later. Then Angelos began his notorious meddling, firing popular manager Davey Johnson, burning through another five managers, killing trades proposed by his GMs and stripping down one of baseball's proudest franchises. The O's haven't finished above .500 in 11 seasons since their last playoff appearance.

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