Top 10 Worst MLB Owners of All Time

July 28, 2011
For the first time in a long, long time, baseball may be the healthiest sport in America. It’s been 17 years since the 1994 season — and more significantly, the 1994 World Series — was canceled, and not a single game has been stricken from the schedule due to labor strife since the 1995 season. Meanwhile, the NFL has just resolved its lockout, and the NBA is currently embroiled in one that could kill its 2011-12 season.

However, not everything in baseball is perfect, as a few bad owners have drawn negative attention to their franchises. Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who previously gave A-Rod a record $250 million contract and signed Chan Ho Park to an absurd $65 million contract, had to borrow money from MLB to meet the team’s payroll and eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who tainted the good name shared by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who authored Angela’s Ashes, has run the team into the ground amid his much-publicized divorce to former team CEO Jamie McCourt. Baseball has seen some bad owners through the years, the worst of which are listed below. Each one did his, her or its best to become a villain to their team’s fans and players, blemishing a piece of America’s pastime.

  1. Harry Frazee, Red Sox

    Baseball has always been a business, as evidenced by Frazee’s tenure as owner of the Sox. He bought the team for $400,000 in 1917 and sold it for $1.5 million in 1923, peddling his best players in the meantime to finance his theatrical investments. His favorite trade partner was the Yankees, who received Carl Mays, Herb Pennock, Everett Scott, and infamously, Babe Ruth. After Ruth’s departure in 1919, the team wouldn’t reach .500 again until 1934, while the Yankees won four World Series titles during that period. Not even the 1918 World Series title, which was won with players inherited by Frazee, excuses his moves as the owner.

  2. David Glass, Royals

    Notoriously cheap, Glass’s first accomplishment as CEO in 1993 was slashing the team’s payroll from $41 million to $19 million. During the strike in 1994-95, he was a staunch advocate of implementing a salary cap and endorsed the use of replacement players. He became the club’s sole owner in 2000, and it has since lost 100 or more games on four occasions, only once finishing above .500. Glass has shamelessly benefited from baseball’s revenue sharing system, focusing primarily on profit like he did as the CEO of Wal-Mart. Currently, the Royals have baseball’s lowest payroll, dishing out just more than $36 million for the 2011 season.

  3. Gerry Nugent, Phillies

    Part of one of the worst stretches endured by a franchise in sports history was overseen by Nugent. From 1918 to 1948, the Phillies lost more than 100 games 12 times, half of which occurred during his stint as the owner from 1932 to 1942. Although Nugent wasn’t a blatant profiteer, he lacked the funds to field a competitive team. Married to longtime Phillies secretary Mae Mallen, who inherited half of the estate of owner William Baker when he died in 1930, Nugent became team president in 1930 and assumed full ownership of the club when Baker’s widow died. The furniture salesmen did experience a morsel of success during his first season, when the Phillies achieved their only winning season in 30 years.

  4. Frank McCourt, Dodgers

    It’s a sad state of affairs for a once proud franchise. The Dodgers are just two seasons removed from reaching their second consecutive NLCS, but the embarrassment thrust upon the club thanks to McCourt has made that a distant memory. Entrenched in a financial mess, the saga started when he purchased the team in 2004 entirely with borrowed money. While McCourt has pocketed large sums of money to maintain his family’s lavish lifestyle, the Dodgers have accumulated $390 million in debt — the team’s payroll has included McCourt’s family members and a Russian psychic in Boston. In 2009, Jamie McCourt was fired from her position as CEO and filed for divorce soon after, creating a complex dispute over ownership. Currently, Major League Baseball is overseeing the operation of the Dodgers, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June.

  5. George Argyros, Mariners

    Argyros is a name not recognized by many current baseball fans. His forgettable stint as the Mariners owner from 1981 to 1989 included the departure of stars such as Mark Langston, Danny Tartabull, Floyd Bannister, Ivan Calderon and Bill Caudill, yielding very little in return and ensuring the team finished at least 10 games under .500 in each of those seasons — the franchise, whose first season came in 1977, had yet to achieve a winning season when he sold it. A wealthy real estate developer who understood the value of a buck, Argyros detested multi-year contracts, refused to sign big-name free agents and even attempted to convince his front office to draft Mike Harkey over Ken Griffey Jr. in 1987. His unwillingness to spend to win and constant threats to move the team made him less than popular among the Seattle faithful.

  6. Bob Short, Senators/Rangers

    Suffering through owners such as Eddie Chiles, Brad Corbett, Hicks and Short, it’s no wonder the Rangers went five decades before reaching the World Series. Short purchased the moribund Washington Senators in 1968, named himself the general manager, and watched the team improve by 21 games in his first season operating the club, achieving its first winning season since the franchise was reinvented in 1961. But he failed to build on that success, as the team won just 70 games in 1970. After the season, he dealt four quality players — Ed Brinkman, Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan and Aurelio Rodriguez — for former 30-game winner Denny McClain, who was suspended for most of the 1970 season due to gambling allegations. The team remained in the cellar and fan interest dwindled, enabling Short to successfully petition to move the team to Arlington, Texas, which became its new home in 1972. There, the team lost 100 games in its first two seasons and Short drafted teen phenom pitcher David Clyde, whose career was ruined when Short rushed him into the majors. Short’s final foolish move was selling the team to Corbett in 1974.

  7. Peter Angelos, Orioles

    A criminal defense lawyer who earned his fortune with asbestos litigation during the ’80s, Angelos enjoyed championing the underdog, which might explain why he turned a contender into an underdog in a matter of a couple of seasons. His 18-year (and counting) tenure began swimmingly — he inherited a team that had just moved into Camden Yards, then arguably the nicest ballpark in baseball, and added free agents Roberto Alomar, BJ Surhoff, David Wells and Randy Myers. Under the stewardship of accomplished manager Davey Johnson, the team made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997. But a petty spat between Johnson and Angelos ended in Johnson’s firing, general manager Pat Gillick’s contract was allowed to expire, several key players left in free agency, and new general manager Frank Wren inked Albert Belle to baseball’s largest contract. Two seasons later, Belle retired due to degenerative osteoarthritis in his hip. Since 1998, the Orioles haven’t finished a season at or above .500.

  8. The Tribune Company, Cubs

    During the Tribune’s 28 years controlling the Cubs beginning in 1981, the team nearly won that elusive pennant twice, reaching the NLCS in 1984 and 2003, only to blow 2-0 and 3-1 leads respectively. Habitually poor personnel moves prevented it from doing much more. Its worst was allowing the Braves to snag 1992 Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, who proceeded to win the next three Cy Young Awards and a World Series. Jose Guzman, who was signed to a $14 million contract to replace him, posted a 4.78 ERA in 34 starts over two seasons before leaving baseball. Other poor signings made by the Tribune Company over its rein: Todd Hundley, Milton Bradley, LaTroy Hawkins and Dave Smith.

  9. Jeffrey Loria, Expos and Marlins

    Immediately upon assuming majority ownership of the Expos, Loria alienated the team’s few remaining fans in Montreal by demanding a new stadium and threatening to relocate if one wasn’t built. He eventually sold the team to baseball in 2002 and in turn bought the Marlins, who won the World Series in 2003. Like former owner Wayne Huizenga after the Marlins won the 1997 World Series, Loria dismantled the team, trading Derek Lee and allowing Pudge Rodriguez to sign with the Tigers, again alienating his team’s usually weak fanbase. The team hasn’t reached the playoffs since, though it was hung around .500. Notably, Loria fired Fredi Gonzalez and 2005 Manager of the Year and eventual World Series champion manager Joe Girardi, and he caused the resignation of Edwin Rodriguez despite the objections of his baseball operations department. Even more inexcusable, he lied about profits to avoid contributing more funds to the Marlins’ new ballpark, instead lining his own pockets.

  10. Marge Schott, Reds

    Few personalities in baseball history have been as bold as Schott’s. A successful woman who daringly entered the conservative, male-dominated world of baseball, she presided over her organization with an iron fist, tight wallet and quick tongue. From 1985 to 1998, the Reds boasted eight winning seasons and a World Series title, but her mistreatment of her employees and numerous offensive comments sullied her reputation. In one instance, she banished general manager Bob Quinn, the Major League Executive of the Year during the club’s World Series-winning season in 1990, to the press dining room from the private box. That was the year after he had to pay his own way to the All-Star Game. She reportedly made disparaging comments about her black players and employees, and presented herself as a Nazi sympathizer on more than one occasion. In 1993, because of her conduct, she was banned from day-to-day operations of the Reds. When she sold the team in 1999, she was serving her third suspension from Major League Baseball.

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6 Responses to Top 10 Worst MLB Owners of All Time

  1. Lenard Vanis on January 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm

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  2. gdc on August 1, 2011 at 11:42 am

    “The Langston trade worked out okay though.”
    Definitely, Langston was a pending FA, so Montreal only got 1 good year out of him. Seattle got 3 decent years out of Brian Holman that might have been a fair trade, even without the tall long-haired dude.
    If general incompetence is the theme then Horace Stoneham in SF with years of HOF talent not getting but one WS appearance in 1962 instead of a dynasty merits consideration. Unlike Frazee and Arnold Johnson, he didn’t favor one other team but most of the other NL champs of that era received gifts from him like the Cardinals (Cepeda), Pirates (M. Alou), Reds (Foster), Phillies (Maddox).

  3. Anonymous on July 31, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Frazee never peddled his best players to finance his theatrical investments. That is a huge myth made up by Henry Ford. Let me quote from a George Vecsey NYT column from 2004.

    “The alligators-in-the-sewers legend is that Frazee, who owned the Red Sox, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season to finance a new show called “No, No, Nanette.”

    Only in the past few years has it been drummed into our brains that “Nanette” did not appear on Broadway until 1925.

    The demonizing of Harry Frazee only gets worse. Recent scholarship by Glenn Stout, a writer in New England, has revived the fact that Frazee was involved in a feud with the powers of the American League.

    Because Frazee was a New Yorker and a showman, he was apparently fair game to be labeled as Jewish, when, as far as anybody knows, he was a Presbyterian of Scottish ancestry.

    Anti-Semitism is no more and no less vicious when it is directed at somebody who is not Jewish. But that was the way a lot of Americans thought in those days, including famous ones like Henry Ford, the founder of the automobile dynasty.

    Ford bankrolled a vile weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, whose issue of Sept. 10, 1921, included a long and repulsive diatribe called Jewish Degradation of American Baseball. The article asked how the Red Sox had been “placed under the smothering influences of the ‘chosen race.’ ”

    The Independent then quickly explained: “Frazee, like so many of his kind, was in the ‘show business,’ a manager of burlesque companies. Then he saw a chance in sport.”

    And it goes on from there. This was not such unusual fare for the time, or today, but Henry Ford circulated more than 250,000 copies of his ugly sheet.

    “He professionalized anti-Semitism,” said Mark Weitzman, the director of the Task Force Against Hate at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York.

    “He had the organization and the ability and the money to do it widely,” Weitzman added.

    According to Stout, the co-author of “Red Sox Century,” the vilification of Frazee became encoded into sports legend with the help of Fred Lieb, a sportswriter whose career spanned seven decades.

    And most of Frazee’s trades were judged at the time by the media as good trades. For example, the media greatly approved of the sale of Babe Ruth. Except for the last 2 years of his ownership, during which Frazee was fed up with all the nonsense, did he really make really bad trades.

    Frazee shouldn’t be anywhere on this list. A better choice would be Bob Quinn, the owner of the Red Sox after Frazee, who turned the Red Sox into a laughingstock. Really, though, the clear choice for #1 should be Arnold Johnson, who ran the Kansas City Athletics as a Yankees farm team in the 1950s.

  4. jon on July 30, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Seattle’s current ownership group deserves to be on this list too. They have no interest in winning anything and just want to be “competitive” enough to keep the fans coming (thats not working out too well for them)…time and time again they’ve refused to get mid-season help because they “owe it to their shareholders to turn a profit”. they lost three first ballot Hall of Famers and ran off good baseball men in Lou Piniella and Pat Gillick. Finally, the lead owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi, has never been to one of their games!

  5. Jacob on July 30, 2011 at 1:31 am

    5.George Argyros, Mariners

    “…included the departure of stars such as Mark Langston, Danny Tartabull, Floyd Bannister, Ivan Calderon and Bill Caudill, yielding very little in return..”

    The Langston trade worked out okay though.

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