Illitch Brings the Dolans Back Into the Spotlight


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)

  • Anonymous

    totally agree it’s a puff piece.  still nice to see him at least try to get out there as he hasn’t had them.

    and that $6mil was contractually obligated, no? (only difference being when it was given and there is debate whether or not they asked for that acceleration)

  • kjn

    It’s $850K a year. They want six years worth now.

    The whole thing is a cluster and the sin tax expires in 2015.

  • Anonymous

    and Nance said that Polensek was misinformed and that the Browns are fronting the money, but they want to make sure that the city understands that this is earmarked for the money they get from the city in the future.   It was merely a book-keeping item.

    the quote:

    “The Browns are fronting the money,” Nance said. “The money that the Browns have asked the city to use here has already been set aside and by law can not be used for any other purpose. It’s simply a question of when it gets used. In order to get the repairs done in time for next season and because we’re using (Cleveland’s) bidding process, all of the money has to be set aside and earmarked up front

  • Anonymous

    and the sin tax was taking out way more than the $850K per year to the Browns.  hopefully city officials set aside that money for when the sin tax expires (unless city council has control of extending it without a vote)

  • kjn

    Nance… the guy who represented the City on the deal and then turned around to work for the Browns… I know, I know… conspiracy theorist…

    I’m no lawyer. I don’t care. I just find it funny that Lerner’s recent media blitz coincides at a time when the team is demanding money (fair or not) from the city and when public opinion of the franchise is about as low as it can go.

  • kjn

    I agree completely. I think the sin tax is like $13M a year. I just think the taxpayers got screwed on the deal as a whole.

  • Anonymous

    That’s why the Indians turned Progressive Field into a winter wonderfest!  What, it didn’t work?  Say it ain’t so.  The fact that there hasn’t been much snow probably doesn’t help but hey, great timing by the Indians continues!

  • Anonymous

    Do like the Packers and go public.  Of course this idea is a little late now too.

  • Anonymous

    they are not demanding money.  they are fronting the money that the city will pay them over the next 6 years as normal.  nothing more. nothing less.

  • Anonymous

    i believe that number is correct.

  • S.Lee

    Thank you for writing this. I enjoy reading WFNY, but there are so many  Indians “homer” type articles on this site. Finally an article that does not kiss Larry’s Dolan’s rear end!    P

  • Steve

    I cant understand how anyone at all thinks things magically get better with another owner. The guys mentioned in this article have inherent advantages that don’t come with owning the Tribe. Everyone in the NFL makes money hand over fist. Of course Lerner spends freely, Browns fans would sell out the stadium to see two empty helmets at midfield. And Gilbert had Lebron, and Cuban has a team that hasn’t done too poorly in one of the biggest markets in the country. To pretend these guys aren’t concerned about pulling in gobs of money is flat-out ignorant.

    The next Indians owner, unless he is a local billionaire a few years from passing away (see Ilitch) isn’t going to deficit spend over and over again. And while the Detroit market may not be ideal, there are still twice as many people (meaning a much larger TV contract) and the average salary is still a tick higher than Cleveland’s. There’s a lot more money running around Detroit to spend on baseball than Cleveland.

    And at least the writer was smart enough to recognize how important it was for Jacobs (and his legacy) to move to the ALC. Three teams in the division rolled over before by Opening Day and the White Sox couldn’t stop tripping over themselves even if they did mange to field a halfway decent roster. I know this isn’t going to go over well, but put the 94-01 Indians in the 04-11 ALC, and you probably cut their playoff appearances in half.

  • kjn

    This is what I read in the PD (I’ll provide the link if you need it)…
    “Under the complicated proposal, the Browns would get this year’s $850,000 plus $5 million from the next six years of repair money drawn from the tax revenue collected countywide on alcohol and tobacco sales and administered by the city.”
    So isn’t it fair to say they are demanding money? Yes, it’s money that is owed to them, but not all at this time .

    When you budget to pay $850K a year, it’s not exactly easy to find another $5M, regardless of the amount that you’re pulling in from the sin tax. Money will have to be cut elsewhere.

    Have funds been earmarked like Nance said, sure. But what does that have to do with it? And I don’t get his contention that the Browns are “fronting” money. The only money the Browns are fronting is the money for repairs UNTIL they can convince the city to give them that $5.8M all at once or, barring that, when they get their $850K every year. But that is what they contractually agreed to.

  • kjn

    To clarify, I’m not saying the Browns aren’t fronting money. I’m saying that it has NOTHING to do with anything.

    The issue is their attempt to change the terms of the original agreement so as to receive $5m now rather than over six years.

    If you think describing that as “demanding money” is unfair, fine. Call it what you will. I still hope the city does not go for this.

  • Clouse Wilhelm

    He won’t be blowing through a few hundred million through the last few years of his life. Will he lose money? Most likely yes, but you make it sound like he will die broke. Not true. The Tigers are his toy, and he can afford them. The Dolans can’t afford to put together a consistantly competitive Indians. THAT is the Argument. Not that he is cheap, or unwilling, but he can’t. If Gilbert were to buy the tribe, putting a winning team on the field would be of benifit to his casino business, the one that actually makes him money.

  • cosmo392

    what retard wrote this article??? he said it himself…MLB owners need to be so rich that the teams are throught of as ‘toys’ and the Dolans aren’t rich enough. THAT IS REASON ENOUGH TO CALL FOR THEM TO SELL THE TEAM!

    this website might as well be run by the indians…