Op-Ed: Owners; the good, the bad, the ugly

Posted Jul 13, 2010 by Michael Bearak
The death of legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner brings out the mixed emotions that a sports fan feels towards the owner of his or her team.
Ben Roethlisberger is the QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger is the QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers
It is important to understand that I am not a Yankees fan. I root against them, I am not in awe of the pinstripes, the legacy or the championships. I was there on April 28, 1985. That date probably means nothing to most people, but to Yankee fans they know that date all too well. The New York Yankees were in Chicago to play the White Sox and the skipper was a man named Yogi Berra. Need I say more? Well, I will for those of you who do not know the story, Berra was the greatest catcher in the history of the Yankees, and while he now just sat in the dugout I knew that by getting to go to the game and see the Yankees play the White Sox I might, just might get to see one of if not the greatest catchers in all of baseball history on the field. The Yankees lost to the White Sox, which was fine by me because I would always cheer for a Chicago team, even if the Cubs were my true favorite.
That was also the last game that Yogi Berra coached for the Yankees, George Steinbrenner fired him not even 20 games into the start of the 1985 season. My interest, my like, my admiration for the Yankees died right there. How on EARTH could you fire YOGI BERRA?? I was wrong, and didn't understand the world that was around me, I didn't understand that baseball was not a sport, it was a business. I just looked at it as adults playing the same game I played in Little League, no difference except they play in a bigger stadium, had nicer uniforms, and had LOTS more fans. So, firing a great like Yogi Berra was horrific in my young mind.
I was happy when Faye Vincent banned George Steinbrenner, and I was frustrated when he came back. Still, with Steinbrenner's passing today I started to think of other owners both good and bad. A variety of names came to my mind like Art Modell, Jim Irsay, Jerry Reinsdorf, George Hallas, Jerry Jones, Jerry Buss and others.
Steinbrenner did a lot of great things for people that no one ever picked up on. He would send money to people he would read about in the paper. Still, he want after Dave Winfield because he didn't want to play for the Yankees anymore, and that was what ultimately got him banned from life from Vincent.
Art Modell moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore essentially breaking the hearts of every Cleveland fan around the world. Until the moment they left Modell was loved by every Cleveland fan, probably everyone that lived in Cleveland even if they didn't care about football. Still, he brought a championship to Baltimore, who they themselves had been hurt and scorned by the owner of their former franchise, Jim Irsay.
Irsay was probably worse than Modell, he moved his team out during the cloak of darkness and a snowstorm fleeing from Baltimore for Indianapolis. Again, much like Modell he brought a championship to his new city. The fans in Baltimore love Modell, and still had Irsay. Just the same the fans in Indi love Irsay. Both men did horrible things to the cities that loved them, but again, it is a business.
Jerry Jones gets lots of flak, he is always down on the sidelines when the team is winning, but when they are getting slaughtered, he is no where to be found. Just GONE. What kind of owner is that? He rips his players in the media regularly, and even in Dallas there is a love/hate relationship with Jerry. Most people seem to take sides, they love him or they hate him, but there is no one in-between.
Then there is Art Rooney. Universally loved by everyone, even those who are not Pittsburgh fans. The league even adopted "The Rooney Rule" which makes it mandatory to interview minority coaches when ever there is a vacancy, and it isn't just Art Rooney it is his son Dan and the rest of the Rooney family as well. In all my years covering sports there is probably no more revered family than the Rooneys. They are truly good people.
In Chicago you have Jerry Reinsdorf the owner of the Chicago Bulls. He brought six championships with Michael Jordan and company to Chicago, but he let Jerry Krause piss everyone and their brother off eventually breaking up the team. Reinsdorf also has a heavy interest in the White Sox as well. The general feeling as always been "hate him," he under paid everyone on the Bulls, even when they were winning championships. The White Sox have won a World Series back in 2005 he is just cheap and everyone seems to think you have to spend money to compete and the White Sox don't and the Bulls just got lucky.
Out in Los Angeles you have Dr. Jerry Buss, the owner of the Lakers. Again you are talking about a guy who is loved, and respected. Even if you don't like the Lakers, and I am one of those people, you have to respect Jerry Buss. He runs a tight ship, he wins championships, he rewards his talent and is willing to pay to get talent. He isn't a Rooney, but he is still one of those guys who is liked and respected.
you could go through every owner in every league, but there are just some who impact their sport far more than others and for that they have to be considered, the good, the bad and the ugly.