Tuesday night, in the wake of the news that Jeffrey Loria is blowing up the Marlins, my friend Dave Cameron tossed me a Twitter challenge (Twallenge?), asking where Loria ranks among baseball's all-time worst owners.
Well, it depends.
Wayne Huizenga brought Major League Baseball to Miami, financed a World Series-winning team just a few years later ... and immediately gutted the roster before selling the franchise for a hefty profit. Was Huizenga a great owner, or a terrible owner?
Carl Pohlad, one of the richest men in America, purchased the Minnesota Twins in 1984. In both 1987 and '91, the Twins won World's Championships. Roughly a decade later, Pohlad threatened, quite bluntly, to simply fold the franchise. Was Pohlad a great owner, or a terrible owner?
Gerry Nugent took control of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1932. That season, the Phillies enjoyed their first winning season since 1917, but then the cash-strapped franchise finished in seventh or eighth-place in the eight-team National League in each of the next 13 seasons. Prior to the '42 season, Nugent had to borrow money from the league just to open spring training; the league orchestrated a sale of the franchise to young William Cox. Was Nugent a terrible owner, or just under-financed?
Cox came in and did some nice things, including building the Phillies' first real farm system, and attendance doubled in 1943. Cox lasted less than one full year; just two months after the World Series, Cox was handed a permanent suspension by the Commissioner, for betting on the Phillies. Was Cox a terrible owner for getting banned, or a good owner for laying a solid foundation for the next owner?
Charlie O. Finley purchased the Kansas City Athletics in 1961 and spent most of the next six years trying to move the A's to Louisville or just about any other medium-sized city that didn't already have a baseball team. After only seven seasons, Finley moved the A's to Oakland. He was a terrible owner for Kansas City ... but a pretty good owner for Oakland, building a club that won three straight World Series.
George Argyros owned the Mariners from 1981 through '89, during which time the M's posted losing records every year. Argyros's personal slogan was "Patience is for losers" ... and he once decreed that his club would play the lowest average player salaries in the majors. Argyros has been mocked for telling his front office to draft Mike Harkey instead of Ken Griffey, Jr. ... but that's sort of a bad rap, since he could have demanded the drafting of Harkey, and obviously did not. He was pretty terrible, though.
Frank McCourt ... Man, where do you start. The memories are still so fresh. But for all of McCourt's faults -- and there are so, so many -- his Dodgers did reach the postseason twice, and the club did ultimately wind up in good hands. He certainly wasn't a good owner ... but neither did he wreck the thing.
To some degree, Harry Frazee's gotten a bad wrap, because of course he sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. And traded a number of other good players to the Yankees. But before all of that, the Red Sox did win the 1918 World Series under Frazee's stewardship. And the Sox got a number of good players back from the Yankees in their dealings.
I don't have the space or the time to outline the many crimes of Bob Short, Brad Corbett, and Eddie Chiles, who took turns owning the Texas Rangers from 1972 through 1989. But Short did move the Rangers from Washington, D.C., which was good for baseball fans in the Metroplex. The Rangers did win 94 games in 1977, during Corbett's reign. And when Chiles checked out, the Rangers were on the path to perennial respectability.
We could go on and on in this vein, but instead let me stick up for Jeffrey Loria. Sure, he did little to keep his Expos in Montreal. And yes, he's told more lies to the people of Montreal and now South Florida than Pinocchio at his worst. But if you're a baseball fan in Miami, you might console yourself with this ... Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has done what Rays owner Stuart Sternberg hasn't: Loria hoodwinked the right people and greased the right palms, and the result is a shiny new ballpark that's likely to keep the Marlins in Miami for some decades.
At the moment, that might not seem like the greatest thing. But nobody lives forever. Someday the Marlins will be owned by someone who actually gives a tinker's damn about winning. And when that day arrives, the local fans might actually remember the man who built the ballpark with at least a tinge of affection.