There are plenty of old bits in Cleveland sports. How could the NFL not force the financially strapped Art Modell to sell, or what if LeBron hadn’t been coddled the way he was, or why didn’t Sandy Alomar go out to the mound and yell at Jose Mesa when he was shaking him off in game seven of the ’97 World Series, or Joel Skinner’s stop sign starting the chain of events which began the unraveling of the ’07 ALCS. But perhaps the oldest of bits and one that was brought back to the forefront last week was a classic; say it with me:
“The Dolans need to sell the Indians.”
I have long been a defender of their ownership in our market, with the emphasis on the “in our market” portion of that sentence. Let’s get the facts out of the way:
• They were rooked by Dick Jacobs when they bought the team, purchasing the Indians at the absolute peak of their value. Larry Dolan and his son Paul, who is President of the team, had stars in their eyes. They were/are big Indians fans and allowed that to supercede fiscal responsibility.
• The Larry Dolan portion of the Cablevision family is a lawyer by trade. He is also not a BILLIONAIRE. He is a MILLIONAIRE. There is a huge distinction here when you are talking about baseball ownership.
• Even if they decide to sell the team at some point, they will never receive equal value for what they paid in 2000, a whopping $323 Million. In fact, they will be lucky to get back what they paid. Plus, as we know 2012 $323 isn’t 2000 $323 million. Think about this, Dick Jacobs paid $40 million for the Indians and sold for $323. In return for their investment, the Dolans have two playoff appearances while becoming city-wide whipping boys .
These facts have been there since the day they bought the team and weren’t ever going to go away. With that said, the 2007 version of the Tribe and recent versions of the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks showed that you indeed can compete for a playoff spot in a small market, but that you must rely on player development, scouting, and getting production out of your young, home grown talent. However, the margin for error in our market is so small.
Again, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
With the Detroit Tigers owner and 83-year old pizza tycoon Mike Illitch spreading money around like it’s mozzarella cheese on a $5 Hot and Ready special, the Dolan’s once again have come under fire for being, well, themselves. While the Tigers replace injured DH Victor Martinez with Prince Fielder because their owner desperately wants to win a World Series before he dies, Indians fans all over the country are calling once again for the Dolans to get out of the game. They are bringing knives to a gun fight. Illitch is bringing several fully loaded bazookas.
The one thing the Indians and the Dolans in particular could always lean on, was the fact that they never had one of the free-spending teams, willing to throw money at any problem, in their division. Except they do, and they have. The White Sox and Tigers have been over the $100 million mark in recent years, and the Twins did as well when they opened their new stadium in 2009. The AL Central has always been winnable and one of the greatest moves Dick Jacobs ever made. While they can still win the division, the hill has gotten steeper, and the Dolans no longer have that crutch.
I’ve been in some recent Twitter arguments that the Randy Lerner ownership has actually been better
than the Dolan family ownership. As far as I’m concerned, this is like deciding who is the best looking Omega Moo. In a perfect world, we’d love to pull a franchise switch. Give me Mark Shapiro and the Dolan family, working under strict salary cap rules, owning and running the Browns, while Tony Grossi’s favorite “absentee billionaire” could use his considerable bankroll to spend money towards the Tribe. Obviously, the greatest move of them all would be to have Dan Gilbert owning the Indians.
Having an owner like Illitch of the Tigers, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, or Gilbert for that matter, who have billions of dollars and use their franchise ownership as more of a “toy” rather than a prime source of revenue, is the way to fly in pro sports, especially in baseball where there is no salary cap. Unfortunately for the Dolans, they cannot afford to be taking a financial loss year in and year out. There are real budget constraints for them.
Here is the thing; I have no doubt that they want to win and they love this organization. They are Clevelanders. They get it. But the issue that will never go away is the fact that they will never have the jack that Mike Illitch has. The Detroit market is not exactly a bustling one either. But the old man wants a World Series title before he dies and has put his own money where his mouth is.
And he did it at the worst possible time for the Tribe owners.
(photo via chuck crow/PD)