Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fay Vincent and the Case Against Mark Cuban

Former MLB Commissioner, Fay Vincent, joined ESPN Radio's "The Herd" with Colin Cowherd on Wednesday.  Vincent was the Commissioner of baseball from 1989-92. On the show, Vincent discussed the idea of Mark Cuban owning an MLB franchise.  Let's take a look at a few of the statements he made.
"I went through the Steinbrenner business. Some of the behavior of owners can be very troublesome for commissioners…George Steinbrenner was a real problem in baseball, and I think Mark Cuban is a real problem in basketball."

First of all, it is difficult to argue that George Steinbrenner was purely bad for baseball. During his tenure, the Yankees became the most successful organization in the game, winning 7 World Series titles and 11 pennants. He also largely grew the Yankees brand, which currently stands as the most valuable sports franchise in America (and a huge contributor to revenue sharing). His excessive spending and abrasive personality were controversial, but did not damage the game.

Remember also that Vincent has a history with Steinbrenner.  In wake of the Dave Winfield controversy in 1990, Vincent banned Steinbrenner from baseball for life. Just a year after Vincent left baseball in 1993, the Yankees’ owner was reinstated. 
"I think it's more important for owners to be gentlemen, play by the rules, respect the authorities, do what's good for the sport, than it is to manage his franchise into total success… I mean winning is not everything, and I'm afraid for some of these owners they get so carried away with winning they believe that's the objective."

Have you ever heard of Robert Nutting?  Exactly.  He is the principal owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  You never hear of him in the news because he runs a largely irrelevant franchise.  The Pirates 2011 payroll is roughly $45 million, the third lowest in the league (compared to Yankees’ $203 million).  The Pirates last reached the postseason in 1992, and have averaged only 67 wins per season since 2000.  BUT, by all accounts, he is a very respectable businessman and gentleman.

Woopty-freakin-do! (Haven’t said that since 1995) Unfortunately, fans care about one thing and one thing only: winning.  Yankees fans defend the Steinbrenners; Mavericks’ fans love Mark Cuban.  Why?  Because they get results. 

If winning isn’t the objective, then what is…being a philanthropist? turning a profit? That’s a tough sell to season-ticket holders.

"The rules are the rules. I think this enormous criticism -- the screaming about officials, the kinds of things that got him fined by David -- those are not actions of a sensible, responsible owner,”

What is a responsible owner?  A yes-man that kisses the Commissioner’s ass?  No, it’s the guy that does everything within his means to win games.  If you really want to call out anyone for being irresponsible, seek those owners who simultaneously cut payroll while raising ticket prices. 

Is Fay Vincent still the voice of MLB?  No. The eighth Commissioner of baseball resigned in 1992 after getting an 18-9 no confidence vote from MLB owners.  But his opinion is echoed throughout the fraternity of baseball owners.  The ‘old-school’ approach is still very much alive.

While other sports continue to adapt to the changing times, adapting new technologies and becoming more fan-friendly, baseball is the Augusta National of sports.  Change is evil.

Mark Cuban revolutionized the Mavs and could similarly help infuse life and interest into the ranks of baseball ownership.  I don’t think owners fear the complaining or excessive publicity that Cuban would garner.  If that were true, Frank McCourt and Fred Wilpon would be former owners.

I think they fear the innovator, the big-spender, and the success of a boisterous owner that would crash the country club vibe.

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