-- by Josh Suchon
It takes more than wads and wads of cash to buy a professional sports team these days. The newest trend is aligning yourself with an iconic former player of that team.
Nolan Ryan was part of the group that purchased the Texas Rangers, and now he’s the team president. Magic Johnson didn’t play baseball, but he’s such a Los Angeles icon, he was the ideal front man for the Guggenheim Baseball group that purchased the Dodgers.
Now comes word that Hollywood mogul ThomasTull has recruited Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, to assist his effort to buy the Padres.
Now comes word that Hollywood mogul ThomasTull has recruited Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, to assist his effort to buy the Padres.
This got me thinking about who would be the icon for each baseball team. The list follows, after the criteria.
1. This should be incredibly obvious, but the former player needs to still be alive.
2. This should also be obvious, but you can’t have a current player as an owner.
3. It’s not just about what you did on the field. It’s your background, charisma, personality, ability to light up a room, and most important, ability to excite a fan base to buy tickets.
4. This shouldn’t just be a ceremonial position. You want the icon to actually work. Magic Johnson says he’s going to recruit free agents and be front-and-center dealing with fans. It doesn’t hurt if the player made a boatload of money during his career, so he can contribute some millions to the winning bid. This means that age will be a factor. The person has to want the job and all that comes with being in the spotlight again.
I’ll go through each team in alphabetical order.
Atlanta: the current ownership group has Hank Aaron as a Senior Vice President. Aaron should always have a spot in the Braves front office. But if I was starting a new ownership group, I’d want more youth and energy on my side, so I’d go with John Smoltz.
Baltimore: the easiest choice, Cal Ripken, Jr. No explanation needed.
Boston: surprisingly, a difficult choice. The Red Sox have tons of legendary players, but a history of bad breakups with these stars. Just ask Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez. Not that you’d want any of them leading an ownership group. Once he retires, my choice would be David Ortiz. Great player, great smile, legendary clutch hits made the 2004 World Series title possible. But that still does me no good now. Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, but not the front man for an ownership group. Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans and Carl Yastrzemski were beloved players, but not front men either. Dennis Eckersley is a Red Sox announcer, but he’s an Oakland A’s icon. Curt Schilling is too polarizing. Until the retirement of Big Pappi, I’d align myself with Pedro Martinez.
Chicago Cubs: first name that pops to mind is Ernie Banks, but his age makes it tough. Instead, I’m taking Greg Maddux.
Chicago White Sox: not a lot of selections from the 1970s and 1980s. Harold Baines was such a legend, they retired his number before he retired, and when he was on another team. But there’s not enough personality there. Instead, you have to think big and align yourself with Frank Thomas.
Cincinnati: Joe Morgan is a member of the Reds front office now, and it’s not just a ceremonial position. Considering how many people he annoyed as an ESPN announcer, I’d be scared to align myself with him. You can’t utilize Pete Rose because of his ban from baseball, even though he’s still the most beloved Red. That leaves Johnny Bench and Eric Davis. Bench had hip replacement surgery in 2004 and probably doesn’t have the energy for the job. That means I’d want Eric The Red.
Cleveland: another tough call with zero candidates from the 1970s and 1980s. You have to take somebody from the great run of teams from the 1990s. It’s too bad Roberto Alomar has faded from the public scene because I thought his best years were with Cleveland and he’s a Hall of Famer. You’d have to test the waters with him and see if the fire is there to inspire a fan base. If not, it’s either Jim Thome or Omar Vizquel. Flip a coin.
Dallas/Arlington: it’s already Nolan Ryan, and nobody else would be close.
DC: not around long enough, and the previous incarnation was terrible. I wouldn’t use Expos players, like Andre Dawson, to win over fans in DC. It wouldn’t work.
Denver: only around since 1993, I’ll have to pass on the Rockies too. Troy Tulowitzki isn’t retiring for a long time, but he’ll be the icon for the next 40 years. Sorry, Todd Helton. Larry Walker and Andres Galarraga were the city’s first huge stars, but they’re not ownership material.
Detroit: tough choice here between Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson. They were teammates on the 1984 World Series team. Trammell is remembered for his consistency and even-keel approach. Gibson played the game like a linebacker and brings the intensity. Both coached for the Tigers. Trammell was a disaster as the manager of a terrible Tigers team that had no chance to win. Can’t go wrong with either player. If forced to choose, I’d take Alam Trammell for his longevity in the organization.
Houston: this is Bagwell and Biggio. No brainer. You must have them both. They’re joined at the hip. Can’t take one without the other.
Kansas City: the only person for the job already has it, sorta. George Brett is the VP of Baseball Operations, but I guess this proves having an icon as part of you front office doesn’t matter if you don’t win. Still, if I’m buying the Royals, he’s part of my group and I put him to work doing something.
Los Angeles Angels: the best choice is already taken in Nolan Ryan. There’s truly nobody else. Sorry. Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, Troy Percival, Brian Downing and Bobby Grich were great players. But none of them are the face of an ownership group. Maybe if Rod Carew had played his whole career here, it would be a different story. No wonder Arte Moreno did it solo and lowered the price of beer as his first move. Smart move. Once he’s retired, however, give me Torii Hunter’s smile to lead my ownership group.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Magic Johnson is part-owner, and I’m not sure any other non-baseball player could fill the role in another city. Check that. Any ownership group in Denver would want to get John Elway on their side in some capacity, regardless of the sport. Maybe Dan Marino in Miami. Maybe Charles Barkley in Phoenix. If you had to pick a former Dodger, you’d want Orel Hershiser. Considering he was part of a different ownership group that bid on the Dodgers, along with Steve Garvey, that proves it’s still more about cash than icons.
New York Mets: sure does say something about Nolan Ryan that he’s the best choice for three organizations. But he’s taken. The best cheerleader in team history was the late Gary Carter. Always wondered why the Mets didn’t utilize him more. Because of their drug histories, you couldn’t count on Darryl Strawberry or Dwight Gooden. Keith Hernandez is a Mets broadcaster, but still strikes me as too dry. Tom Seaver would be a very solid choice. But considering his age, his popularity and the amount of money he made in his career, I’d go with Mike Piazza to join my ownership group.
New York Yankees: once Derek Jeter retires, it’s a no-brainer. He’s the ultimate Mr. Yankee for the next 50 years. There isn’t really anybody else from those late-90s, early-2000s teams. Jorge Posada was a great team leader, but he’s not the face of an ownership group. Don Mattingly isn’t a bad choice, except he’s kinda busy in Los Angeles. Reggie Jackson is a long-time member of the front office, the ultimate spokesman, and the clear choice.
Minnesota: if Kirby Puckett was still alive, he’s the easy selection. After him, it’s harder to find an icon. But considering he’s a St. Paul native and his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, you have to pick Jack Morris.
Miami: extremely difficult to pick somebody. They’ve only been around since 1993. They won two World Series and tore down those teams immediately afterward. Gary Sheffield is the best player in franchise history, was on the 1997 World Series team, and you might forget he was there 4.5 years (I thought it was 2 or 3 before checking). Mr. Marlin is probably Jeff Conine, but he’s not somebody to lead an ownership group. I’d probably take nobody, but would place a call to Sheffield.
Milwaukee: the first choice would be somebody who never played for the Brewers, announcer Bob Uecker. Considering Uecker’s age and health, that you can’t take him out of the broadcast booth, and you can’t have an owner doing play-by-play every night, that leaves Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Yount gets the slight edge because he played his whole career with the Brewers. I’ve never spent extensive time around either, but always got the impression Molitor would be better at the actual job. Probably best to just recruit them both.
Montreal: just in case baseball ever returned, I’d easily select Pedro Martinez. He became a star in Montreal and never forgot the city. When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, Martinez went out of his way to talk about the Expos fans and city of Montreal in his interviews, like this was their world title too. It was the classiest of moves, something that I hope history doesn’t forget.
Oakland: another city where two players are a must, Rickey Henderson and Dave Stewart. Both grew up in Oakland, are the best of friends, and were on the 1989 World Series team. Stewart was a pitching coach and asst. general manager, and now he's an agent, so he’d have a very hands-on approach to the front office. Henderson would shake hands, kiss babies, make some more legendary speeches, get in uniform at spring training, and frame million dollar checks to confuse our accounting department.
Philadelphia: You pretty much have to select Mike Schmidt, right? He’s the best player in franchise history, a Hall of Famer, still involved with the team, and young enough to handle the job. I’m still not sure how good he’d be at the job, but I’d piggy-back off his fame to buy the team.
Phoenix: the organization’s only been around since 1998, so there aren’t many choices. The biggest superstar and 2001 World Series co-MVP is Randy Johnson. In his final years in the majors, he showed a side of his personality that wasn’t evident throughout most of his career. He’s not going to light up the room with his smile, and I have no idea what role he’d have on the team, but I’d take him because there aren’t any other strong candidates.
Pittsburgh: when Kevin McClatchy purchased the Pirates in the late 1990s, he was wise to align himself with Willie Stargell, and that relationship endeared him to the Pirates fans (well, temporarily). With the death of Stargell, it really only leaves Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla as candidates. Van Slyke would be the safer choice because he stayed in Pittsburgh longer (not that Bonilla and Barry Bonds had a choice in the matter). Still, I’d still go with Bobby Bonilla, who now works for the player's union. Don’t let his time in New York distract you from the personality he exuded with the Pirates. The smile was infectious. He’s the one who knew how to get the best out of Bonds, and he was fine doing all the interviews when Bonds just wanted to go home.
San Diego: the only person who comes close to Tony Gwynn’s popularity is Trevor Hoffman. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hoffman is the next player recruited for this ownership group. Even if he’s just a 0.1 percent owner, you need him in your front office because he was so great in the community and such an unbelievably classy act. Oh, and I just had an awful thought. What if a competing ownership group aligns itself with Hoffman? You can’t have Gwynn and Hoffman competing with each other, can you?
San Francisco: way harder than you would think for an organization that celebrates its past better than just anybody else. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal are all on the payroll as Special Assistants. Still, those are ceremonial titles. They don’t have the age or health for day-to-day input. When Peter Magowan was the managing partner of the new ownership group in 1993, he sought out Mays because he’s Mays and that was his favorite player as a kid. Can you go with Barry Bonds yet? Don’t you have to wait until you see if he’s going to serve any jail time? After Bonds, the pickings are slim. Nobody from the 70s. Will Clark was the most popular player from the 1980s and still widely popular, but I’m not sure he’s ownership material. Bonds cast such a wide shadow, nobody from the 1990s or 2000s would be considered. Don’t even think about Jeff Kent, not after finishing his career with the Dodgers. Giants fans were resolute and stubborn in their love affair with Bonds. You’d have to court him and align with him, and damn what the fans of the other 29 teams think.
Seattle: pretty easy choice here, Ken Griffey, Jr. and I think he’d be fabulous if he wanted to be involved.
St. Louis: A lot of great Cardinals, but there’s only one currently available that would be ideal to be the face of an ownership group, and that’s Ozzie Smith. It would be a fascinating discussion 10 years from now, once Albert Pujols is retired, how he’s revered by the organization and its fans.
Tampa/St. Petersburg: nobody even remotely worth considering.
Toronto: considering the franchise had a great run in the early 1990s and nothing else before or after, the player has to come from that team. Roberto Alomar is a special assistant for the organization, but sure doesn’t seem to be very high-profile. Perhaps that would change if he was courted. Still, his personality doesn’t scream ownership material. Dave Winfield is a strong candidate and you couldn’t go wrong with him, but he’s part of the Padres front office right now. Instead, I’d select Joe Carter. He’s got that walkoff homer to end the 1993 World Series, spent seven years there, still involved in the organization, and he’ll always be beloved in Toronto.
Agree or disagree with any selections? Leave a comment.