By: Holly Horning
Every season, fans sift through the actions taken – or not – to determine their team’s chances at winning a playoff spot.
They scrutinize the GM, manager, coaches and players. They pour over every stat for the starting rotation, analyze defensive metrics and put together starting lineups.
But there’s one thing they rarely do. They don’t consider the owner’s impact as much as they should.
Because, make no mistake, having the right kind of owner is the key to winning. Consistent winning. Division title winning. Winning that gets your team playing October baseball.
Not every owner is cut from the same cloth. Each one comes from different business backgrounds and has different reasons for owning their team. For some, it is the biggest toy to possess. For others, it’s their passion. And for the rest, it’s about making a profit or using their team to strengthen their other businesses.
Back in October, I wrote a 2-part blog that analyzed why owners do what they do. Catch them here at:
Each owner guides their team’s vision. They determine how much effort, quality and expense will be invested to obtain the desired results. While we have been blessed with an owner who puts his money where his mouth is, there are others with a priority of having a profitable team.
But profits don’t necessarily equate with having a winning team. Until recently, the lowly Houston Astros were baseball’s most profitable team. Juxtapose that with the Tigers who have had years of payroll exceeding revenue.
Where it gets tricky is understanding how and when, if at all, the owner gets involved. Some stand back and don’t create a sound and detailed vision for their team. Others get too involved and meddle in their GM’s work. The rest are somewhere in between.
Owners generally fall into 3 categories:
1. Hanging in There: Typically consistent performance that is neither great nor poor as a result of the owner being relatively passive.
2. Steady and Competitive: A long-term vision and development in which the owner sets the standards and hires the right people to implement.
3. Roller Coaster: An owner who changes his mind frequently and meddles with the vision, producing some great highs but mixed more often with huge lows.
Unfortunately, the Roller Coaster owners far outweigh the rest. They are the teams who spend great sums of money, change their minds on a whim and go through management as quickly as a hot knife cuts through butter. Some of those teams include:
Angels – An owner with a wife who is best friends with his manager’s spouse. A guy who gave his manager a 10-year contract and supported him over the GM, who was forced to leave. A guy who spends $165 million on payroll yet can’t sign enough offense to pair with Mike Trout.
Dodgers – A large group of big money and former non-MLB jocks with a payroll that dwarfs all other teams. A GM with his power taken away and a manager so dissatisfied with the Front Office that he kept threatening to quit.
Marlins – Owner Jeffrey Loria has hired 7 managers in the past 5 years. He recently brought Don Mattingly on board primarily because Donnie Baseball was his favorite player growing up. ‘Nuff said.
Nationals – Alternating years of high wins followed by huge performance drops. Four GMs, 8 managers and 1 FBI investigation in 15 years. Clubhouse infighting and underperformance issues for the past 4 years which helps explain why the team chokes (sorry, I couldn’t help it) so often.
Orioles – Under former owner Edward Bennett Williams, they were the best-run organization in baseball for decades. The new owner dissolved the proven Orioles Way and placed a priority on saving money. Both the GM and manager have either attempted or hinted at wanting to leave.
Red Sox – In 2011, the Front Office and manager quit en masse because of ownership. Two new GMs in 4 years and a new President of Baseball Operations who will also perform the GM’s job despite hiring one. Without even a game played, the newest public battle has emerged between a player and Front Office over his weight. Confusing? You bet.
Say what you will about the late George Steinbrenner, but the man got the job done year after year. Now that his sons are running the team, the Yankees have been in experimental mode as they attempt to find a sustainable middle ground.
They, along with the Braves, are currently teams in transition. History is yet to be written on how these two teams will define themselves now that the torch has been passed.
But on the radar are teams with new owners who are rising quickly and threatening to become some of baseball’s best. Organizations that have clearly defined their vision and brought in the right people. They include the Astros, Cubs and Rangers. No surprise that these teams have improved significantly (barring injuries) every year since changing ownership.
Add the Cubs to the very short list of organizations who have clearly laid out a precise vision with a goal of long-term and consistent success. They join the Cardinals and Giants.
So what about the Tigers? Where do they fit in?
Mr. I has taken the Tigers into the Steady and Competitive category. A generous owner who willingly opens his wallet when he sees the need and rarely gets involved with the team’s vision unless he sees a potential impasse.
If any criticism is to be handed out, it’s that Mr. I is too loyal and patient with his top employees. A GM who couldn’t reach the stated goal even with an endless budget and 14 years in which to do it. A manager of 8 years with only 1 World Series win to his name and a pattern of squeaking into the Division title on the last couple days of the season despite possessing an immense amount of talent.
He’s also been tied to several unwise contracts which appear to be the only evidence of owner meddling. One, born out of desperation, to a player he’s known since his dad played for the team. A contract the Tigers are still paying through 2020. The other to another favorite player on the wrong side of 30 and limited to the DH role.
Good owners are very hard to come by and we Tiger fans should feel blessed to have Mr. I. But given the huge amount of money he’s spent again this year, we should hope he speaks up a little more this year if things start to go south. In this case, meddling may just be a welcomed event.