Is Your Team’s Owner a Major League Asshole?

Mother Jones

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In early February, a US Patent and Trademark Office court in Washington, DC, confirmed what baseball fans had suspected for more than a century: The New York Yankees are evil. After an internet startup, Evil Empire Inc., had attempted to trademark the phrase “Baseball’s Evil Empire,” the Yankees filed an injunction, and the panel of judges agreed. As the court put it, “The record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees.” If only it were true. The ranks of Major League Baseball owners include some of the richest men—and they are almost exclusively white males—in the country, as likely to open their wallets for a super-PAC as they are a top-shelf free agent. Viewed in the context of the competition, with its anti-discrimination settlements and SEC investigations, the Yankees are, like their Opening Day roster, fairly pedestrian.

So where does your team’s ownership rank? We took a stab at it, analyzing each franchise by its level of political activity (based on campaign donations and office-seeking) and relative degree of evil—copyrighted or not. Read below the matrix for the full breakdown.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Baltimore Orioles: Peter Angelos made his big break in 1992, when his law firm scored $100 million from a class-action lawsuit against asbestos manufacturers. Henceforth, he made bank by (mostly) sticking up for the little guy—taking on more asbestos companies, the lead paint industry, and a diet pill manufacturer. But he also uses his money and influence to get what he wants. Angelos agreed to take the lead in a massive suit by the states against tobacco giant Philip Morris only after demanding 25 percent of the winnings—far greater than any other attorney received. (He eventually settled for half that.) Angelos and his wife gave $1.8 million to Democratic candidates and PACs last fall.

Boston Red Sox: John Henry, the team’s majority owner, purchased the franchise in 2002 with the earnings from his commodities futures trading company. Hedge funds, of course, have produced some of the worst excesses in an industry notorious for them, while arguably producing little of merit for society. But there are probably worse ways to make your money than what Slate’s Matt Yglesias calls “a scam where one class of rich people rips off another class of rich people.” When minority partner Phillip Morse (who founded a medical device company) chartered his private jet to the CIA, he never expected that it might end up being used for something nefarious—like the rendition of terror suspects to countries with less humane methods of interrogation. ”I was glad to have the business, actually,” he told the Boston Globe. “I hope it was all for a real good purpose.” But Morse wanted to make one thing clear in his interview with the Globe: “When it’s chartered, it never has the logo of the Red Sox on it.” Henry gave almost $1 million to Democrats between 1992 and 2004, but nothing in 2012.

Chicago White Sox: Jerry Reinsdorf made his fortune as a real estate developer who specialized in building tax shelters. One of the league’s most anti-union owners, he was accused of colluding with fellow owners to drive down player salaries in the 1980s. He gives millions to charter schools, but takes even more out of the city’s coffers thanks to a sweetheart deal that allows him to pay just 25 percent of the standard property tax rate for the United Center (home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, which he also owns). Reinsdorf also threatened to move the White Sox unless the city and state agreed to build it a new $125 million stadium on the South Side. In March, he teamed up with a former Secret Service director, a top aide to Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, and a private prison lobbyist to launch SRB2K LLC, billed as a “global security firm.” (We’re guessing they’ll come up with a better name.) Whatever happens, though, he’s probably better than Charles Comiskey.

Cleveland Indians: The worst thing about lawyer Larry Dolan is actually his nephew, James, the widely derided owner of the New York Knicks. One thing Larry hasn’t done: change that awful logo.

Detroit Tigers: Little Caesar’s founder Mike Ilitch can’t compete with the team’s former pizza-mogul owner, Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan, who built his own quasi-theocratic township in South Florida. Ilitch and his wife, Marian, gave $184,000 to federal candidates in 2012, mostly to Republicans.

Houston Astros: Jim Crane’s company, Eagle Global Logistics, was forced to pay the federal government more than $4.3 million to settle charges of war profiteering related to contracts in Iraq. In 2001, Eagle paid a $9 million settlement after an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation found rampant racial and gender discrimination at the company. (Among other things, the agency’s report included an allegation that Crane had told subordinates, “Once you hire blacks, you can never fire them.”) Crane gave $45,800 to political causes in 2012, most of it to the Obama Victory Fund—which may explain why he went golfing with the prez and Tiger Woods in February.

Kansas City Royals: In 1992, when he was still president and CEO of Walmart, David Glass was confronted by NBC’s Dateline with evidence of child labor at a T-shirt factory in Bangladesh. His response: “You and I might, perhaps, define children differently.” As Glass explained, looks can be deceiving—Asians are short. Then he ended the interview. Meanwhile, as the Royals’ owner he’s pocketed profits without making any discernible investment in the on-field product. He also once revoked press credentials of reporters who asked critical questions.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: They say your first billion is always the hardest. Arte Moreno made his hawking roadside billboards. Staunch Republicans, the Morenos gave $100,000 to the Romney Victory Fund in 2012. Moreno’s worst move as an owner was his insistence on giving his team its clunky new, multi-city moniker. But in his defense, nothing says “don’t be evil” like lowering the price of beer.

Minnesota Twins: Jim Pohlad, a Minneapolis banker, hasn’t had much time to prove himself after inheriting the franchise from his late father, Carl—who was infamous for volunteering to kill off the team in exchange for $150 million from Major League Baseball. That is, until Hennepin County ponied up $350 million for a new stadium. In 2012, the Pohlad clan doled out $644,000 to political causes and candidates, almost all of it to Democrats.

New York Yankees: The Steinbrenner brothers’ father, shipping magnate George, was banned from baseball twice—once for paying a gambler to spy on his own player, and once for attempting to cover up illegal donations to Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. Current Yanks owners Hal and Hank haven’t given anything to candidates. They did, however, manage to copyright the expression “Evil Empire.”

The Bronx Bombers pay their respects to the Sith Lord.

Oakland Athletics: Lewis Wolff, a real estate magnate and hotel developer, bought the A’s in 2005 and has talked openly about moving the team more or less ever since. But his biggest crime may have been shutting down the upper deck of the mostly-empty O.co Coliseum, which had become a refuge for fans wishing to smoke pot during the middle innings. He gave just $2,500 to federal candidates in the 2012 cycle; now politicians know how the A’s fans feel.

Seattle Mariners: Hiroshi Yamauchi is the former president and chairman of Nintendo, and the man responsible for introducing the world to Pokémon—even though he can’t stand video games. Or even baseball: He has been the owner of the Mariners for the last two decades, but has never once been to a game. It’s time to seriously consider the idea that Yamauchi, whom profiles describe without fail as “autocratic,” is actually just a bot. His fellow owners are a bit more active, though. You may know minority owner Wayne Perry as the president of the Boy Scouts of America, which is still weighing whether it should keep discriminating against gay children. Last year, Perry and co-owner Robert Glaser gave six figures to Republican and Democratic super-PACs, respectively.

Tampa Bay Rays: Goldman Sachs alum Stuart Sternberg took controlling interest of the club in 2005. He had left Goldman in 2002, two years after it had acquired his firm, Spear, Leeds & Kellogg—and six years before Goldman helped bring down the global economy. SLK was no angel either. Prior to its acquisition by Goldman, it had been fined $1 million by the National Association of Securities Dealers for delaying paperwork in order “to secure a competitive advantage, protect its interests and maximize its profits or minimize its losses.” But by the standards of 21st-century Wall Street, the Rays’ Goldman-stocked front office—ably chronicled in Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2%looks more George Bailey than Bernie Madoff. Sternberg’s only political gift in 2012, a grand total of $1,000, went to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Texas Rangers: Compared with one of its previous owners, George W. Bush, who went on to invade two countries and enter the United States into an intractable War on Terror, the Rangers’ current front office is downright tame. Principal owner Ray Davis made his billion on gas pipelines; in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita his company, Energy Transfer, paid the federal government $10 million to settle an allegation of price manipulation (the company did not admit to any wrongdoing). Bob Simpson, Davis’ co-chair, sold his fracking giant XTO to Exxon Mobil for $41 billion. Former hurler Nolan Ryan, who also has a stake in the team, was instrumental in getting Ron Paul elected to the House in 1996.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays are one of only two Major League teams owned entirely by corporations. In this case, it’s the Canadian telecom giant Rogers Communications, which is prohibited by law from contributing to American political campaigns. We don’t really have anything to add to that.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Arizona Diamondbacks: Ken Kendrick made headlines back in April 2010 when he announced that he had purchased one of the rarest and most expensive baseball cards ever produced—a 1909 Honus Wagner—for $2.8 million. Soon thereafter, he was back in the news: Arizona legislators passed the state’s draconian anti-immigration law, SB 1070, and activists were calling for boycotts of the Diamondbacks and the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field. Why? While Kendrick claimed to oppose the bill, the Republican donor also reportedly held a private fundraiser for an SB 1070 proponent, state Sen. Jonathan Paton, in his private box at Chase Field.

Atlanta Braves: Liberty Media started as a spin-off of cable giant Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI). Its chairman, John Malone, currently owns more land than any other American—2.1 million acres. (Interestingly enough, America’s No. 2 landowner is none other than former Braves owner Ted Turner.) Malone, according to a 1994 Wired profile, was “widely considered the Darth Vader of the infobahn” because of his insatiable push to conquer the industry. His Wall Street nickname is marginally more favorable: “swamp alligator.”

Chicago Cubs: Remember the plan hatched last year by Cubs family patriarch Joe Ricketts to defeat the “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln” (a.k.a. Barack Obama)? ‘Nuff said. The Ricketts family, which owns the team through a trust, spent almost $14 million on elections last year. Most of it went to Republicans, but daughter Laura, an Obama bundler, gave more than $575,000 to Democrats. (She also launched a super-PAC to support LGBT candidates.) Pete Ricketts, one of Joe’s three sons, is a Republican National Committeeman from Nebraska and former US Senate candidate; he may run again next year.

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Cincinnati Reds: Robert Castellini took over his family’s business and turned it into one of the nation’s largest fruit, vegetable, and flower distributors. Profiles of the septuagenarian invariably mention how, when he was starting out, his workdays would start at the crack of dawn (hard work!) and how he promised Reds fans a World Series when he bought the team in 2006 (passionate and driven!). In 2011 and 2012, he gave more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and committees, including $30,800 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Colorado Rockies: From the family that brought you factory farms and coked-up cattle! Charlie and Dick Monfort helped run the eponymous Big Ag empire until 1987. That’s when family patriarch Kenneth Monfort sold out to ConAgra, and the Monfort boys became ConAgra execs. Kenneth made his fortune by busting the union that served his workforce and replacing union workers with immigrant laborers—many of them undocumented. (At one point, the company’s annual employee turnover rate hit 400 percent.) Also represented in the Rockies’ ownership group is former GOP senate candidate Pete Coors, purveyor of super cold beer and brother to Joe Coors Jr., who once predicted that Armageddon would arrive in 2000. Here’s Pete explaining how poor people caused the financial crisis:

Los Angeles Dodgers: Lead owner Mark Walter’s financial house, Guggenheim Partners, is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over his ties to former junk bond trader Michael Milken. Walter and co-owner Magic Johnson (yes, him) teamed up to give six figures to the Obama Victory Fund. The families of Dallas investor Bobby Patton ($93,800) and Todd Boehly ($169,000) gave big to both Democrats and Republicans. The most offensive thing about this ownership group was probably The Magic Hour.

Miami Marlins: Jeffrey Loria, the millionaire art dealer and Charlie Brown-as-philosophy author, is widely considered the worst baseball owner of his generation. The Marlins’ boom-and-bust cycles were already diminishing the team’s shaky South Florida fanbase when along came the Miró-inspired Marlins Park. Built last year with $474 million in public financing, the deal, which will end up costing Miami-Dade County $1.1 billion, has made Loria the second least popular person in South Florida (behind Fidel Castro), according to one 2012 poll. Carlos Gimenez, who parlayed his opposition to the stadium deal into a successful run for Miami-Dade mayor, described Marlins Park to Sports Illustrated‘s S.L. Price as “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Milwaukee Brewers: By all accounts, Mark Attanasio is a laid-back, baseball-savvy guy who also happens to run an investment company that manages some $11 billion in assets. Commissioner (and former Brewers owner) Bud Selig had this to say about him in the New York Times: “Mark is quiet, thoughtful—he has a personality that really fits Milwaukee, even though he’s not from here. He has the same passion I have for the game, and he lives and dies with each pitch, which I can understand completely.” But Selig is terrible, so never mind. Attanasio didn’t give to any candidates in 2012, but his co-owners chipped in about $1 million.

New York Mets: Sterling Equities cofounder Fred Wilpon famously was a major mark for Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme: At one time, according to The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Toobin, Madoff had 480 accounts from Sterling employees or clients. By the time the scam fell apart in December 2008, Wilpon and his partners had invested some $550 million. On top of that, the Mets’ stadium sold its naming rights to Citigroup in 2006 for $400 million, shortly after the bank had received $45 billion in TARP money. As if all that weren’t enough, an Amway meeting space/recruiting center recently moved into Citi Field.

Philadelphia Phillies: David Montgomery worked his way up through the ranks in the Phillies organization, even working as the team’s scoreboard operator in the early ’70s. But his long tenure hasn’t exactly made the mild-mannered “Gentleman Dave” a fan favorite, probably because he’s said things like this: “I just believe the organization needs an image that’s not directly tied to wins and losses.” The ownership group’s $200,000-plus in 2012 contributions came mostly from pipe-tobacco magnates John and Leigh Middleton.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Nutting family has had an ownership stake in the Pirates since the mid-’90s, and a majority share since 2007. During that time, the team hasn’t had a single winning season. Robert Nutting apparently has been content to collect handsome profits without reinvesting in better personnel—although the Pirates did manage to secure $228 million in public funding for PNC Park. Nutting’s contribution to the general collapse of society has been negligible, however. He runs a four-star resort in Pennsylvania* and a chain of small newspapers.

San Diego Padres: Last year, Southern California beer distributor Ron Fowler headed up an ownership group that included the son and four grandsons of former big-league owner Walter O’Malley, the guy who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

San Francisco Giants: Charles B. Johnson, a mutual-funds baron and the 211th-richest person in the world according to Forbes, spent some $200,000 to try to defeat California’s Proposition 30, the sales and income tax increase that included elements of the state’s millionaire’s tax initiative. (Prop. 30 passed in November.) Other political expenditures: $50,000 for Prop. 32, which would have kept unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions to bankroll political activity, and $200,000 for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

St. Louis Cardinals: In the early 1990s, William DeWitt Jr. helped put together an ownership group—including George W. Bush—that would go on to buy the Texas Rangers. Years later, he would buy the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect (and reelect) his former partner.

Washington Nationals: “Nobody tells Ted Lerner what to do,” former business magazine publisher Bill Regardie told the Washington Post. “Ted Lerner is not used to being told what to do. In the last 30 years, no one has told this man to do anything.” One of the things Nationals’ owner Lerner hasn’t done, whether told to or not, was to pay for a doctor or certified athletic trainer at the team’s Dominican academy, even after teen prospect Yewri Guillén died of a brain infection in 2011.

Correction: This piece originally placed Robert Nutting’s luxury resort in West Virginia.

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Is Your Team’s Owner a Major League Asshole?

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