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A tale of two owners
by: Shawn Griffin from
Pg 1 of 1

As a hopeless (or should I say hopeful, bitter, jaded, desperate?) fan of Cleveland sports teams, specifically the Indians and Browns, the worst of times and the best of times are quickly approaching….

Although my focus in this column will concentrate on the joys and woes of two Cleveland sports franchises, fans in just about every sports city (outside of L.A. and New York) can relate to the sad story that is shaping up on the shores of Lake Erie.

Whether you are in Chicago and have to deal with the Reinsdorfs and the Mcaskeys, or in Phoenix with the Bidwells, or in Cincinnati with Mike Brown…the list goes on and on…you will understand the frustration I am about to spew forth.

"What are you talking about?" you say, "the Indians have been World Series contenders for about seven years now. They play in a relatively new, sparkling Jacobs Field and fill it up every night. They have some decent young pitching, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, and a decent farm system. They are not approaching the 'worst of times.'" 

On the surface, you are correct. But take a look a tad further into the situation and you will understand what I am talking about. It all begins, and ends, with ownership. 

A guy by the name of Dolan owns the Cleveland Indians. He bought the team in February of 2000 for the then-largest amount ever spent on a baseball team -- $323 million. Many of you out there have heard of a Dolan involved in sports ownership. Who are you thinking of? Charles is his name. He owns the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden. He just offered $700 million dollars to buy the Boston Red Sox. He is "bigger than U.S. Steel," as Hyman Roth would say. You see, Charles is the rich Dolan. The Indians are owned by his poor little brother, Larry. Who is Larry? 

Larry is a lawyer. Last time I checked, he had not yet sued a tobacco company or a nursing home or took part in any other SCAM that these ambulance chasers love to do in order to become multi-millionaires (Peter Angelos is a good example -- Mr. Asbestos). Larry, relatively speaking, is not rich. So Tribe fans got Larry. If you are an Indians fan, that's like going after the hottest girl in school, only to find out that she doesn't like you BUT her fat sister does…. Indians fans got the fat sister in Larry Dolan. 

Dolan recently told fans at a luncheon, "We're getting lean and we're not going to carry those price tags," ("price tags" meaning high salaries). What was he trying to tell them? What he meant to say is, "get ready, fans, we are going to join the Royals, Tigers and Devil Rays…and suck."

Blame it all you want on the "economic reality" of baseball -- but the fact is that Larry knew this going in -- yet he still bought the team. And he could sell the team right now and still make a crap load of money. Instead, he cuts the payroll, gets rid of Robbie Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez…all because of the "economic realities" of baseball. As a fan, do you want to know what I say to that? Screw it! If you don't have enough money to treat your baseball team as a hobby, then do not buy a Major League Baseball team! 

Let's take me, for example. I could go out and buy a $500,000 house now if I wanted to, but you know what? If I did that, I couldn't own a car, couldn't own clothes, couldn't own furniture, couldn't eat…would probably lose the girl who's dumb enough to be with me because I would be a naked, little hungry man with no furniture…. I don't care what the hell the economic realities are -- bottom line is that I am a fan and I want my team to WIN. I no longer have patience for CHEAP ass owners like Larry Dolan.

By the way, let's look at something guys like Larry NEVER point out. Dick Jacobs bought the Indians in 1986 for 35 million bones. In early 2000, Jacobs sold the team for $323 million. In about 14 years, the value of the Indians inflated $288 million dollars. Even IF he lost 20 million dollars a year for every year he owned the team (which is absurd), he still would have made $8 million! Tell me that Larry Dolan can't sell the team in 15 years and make a bundle. Go ahead and try to tell me that. What do I look like? Cato? 

The fact of the matter is, was, and always will be that Larry is one of the owners who got into it for the money, not the love of the game, city, AND team. Why do you think John Hart, General Manager extraordinaire, left town? He knew this was coming and he bolted before was subjected to it. He was replaced by Mark Shapiro, one of the youngest general managers this side of single A ball. He barely looks like he can shave, let alone run a Major League Baseball team. "We are going to concentrate on pitching and defense" they say -- or "We need to get younger and replenish our farm system"…The spin on this rivals that of Paul Begala and Lanny Davis, who would have defended Bill Clinton even if they would have found him molesting a child.

Don't insult the fans, Larry. Admit that you can't compete with the owners who have a lot of money. Just tell it like it is. 

Remember how the trading deadline at the end of July was an exciting time? No more, if you are a fan of the Indians and most other teams who are not a big-market OR owned by a guy with tons of cash.

Unfortunately for Indian fans, it's back to the 1970s and 80s -- inept ownership by guys with no money or vision.

Let's move on to the approaching best of times. 

After weasel of the century Art Modell left town to pursue his deviancy in Baltimore, the new Cleveland Browns were bought by credit card mogul Al Lerner (Larry Dolan was in a group attempting to purchase the Indians, but his bid, of course, fell just a few hundred million dollars short). 

Is Lerner in this to make money? Of course that's part of it, but he is also in it because he wants a winner. If he loses money, it's not that big of a deal to him because he's a freakin' BILLIONAIRE. He will spend whatever is necessary so that the fans and players are comfortable. During the first season, fans were complaining that there wasn't an elevator to take them to the higher sections of the stadium. What does Lerner do? He builds one with money out of his own pocket. 

He goes after the top free agents available, signs his draft picks to lucrative deals so they don't miss training camp and he gets rid of those who aren't playing up to their ability. He hires a coach and lets him go after two seasons of uninspired football, buying him out for millions of dollars. He pays one of the best coaches in the college ranks a boatload of money to leave Miami for the football-crazy city of Cleveland. Why? Because he understands the bottom line -- WINNING.

What does he do with the naming rights for the new stadium built for the Browns? Sell it to some company for 50 million bucks? Not Lerner. He names it "Cleveland Browns Stadium." How beautiful is that?

Now, I know some of you out there are going to tell me that comparing baseball to football is apples and oranges. That statement it true to a certain extent. However, I ask you: would Lerner have signed Juan Gonzalez to a 2-year, 24 million-dollar deal? No, because he would not have let Manny Ramirez go in the first place. He would have signed the future Hall of Famer rather than let him go to Boston. Would he have traded Robbie Alomar? No way. He would have gotten "younger" and better by letting his GM trade some other players who are not going to be in the Hall of Fame OR by signing free agents like Johnny Damon. 

Bottom line? Money. One has so much that losing a little bit doesn't worry him, while the other watches every dime he spends. As a fan, I could care less about the economic realities of baseball or any other sport. Just give me a winner. That's all that matters.

It's a Tale of Two Owners -- one who will bring the best of times and one who is doing his best to give fans the worst of times…get used to it -- and you better hope that the owner of your favorite team is a Lerner, not a Dolan….

See more of Shawn's columns at!

Other Columns By Shawn Griffin

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