In Red Sox nation, hatred for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is almost unanimous. While we have very good reason to show our disdain for him, we need to face an important fact: one day he will either leave the post or die, and then a different person will take ownership of the Yankees. We must also consider the possibility that said person could be worse than the 77 year-old Steinbrenner. A lot worse.
Don’t think so? Let’s explore who Red Sox Nation could hate even more than the ancient shipbuilder.
Roman Abramovich. Seen here telling the citizens of Chukotka to shove it, Abramovich one of the most notorious club owners in the world. Since Buying England’s Chelsea FC in 2003, he’s made Steinbrenner look like a cheapskate, sparing no expense to bring all of the world’s top players to his team. (In fact, pretty much the only major player left from the pre-Abramovich era is midfielder Frank Lampard). Roman’s very own dream team was untouchable in 2004 and 2005, drawing the ire of opposing fans everywhere. But “Chel$ki” isn’t the only reason to hate him. He made his millions pillaging natural resources in Russia after the old Soviet Union dissolved. (Hey, blame Yeltsin.) In 2000 Abramovich was elected governor of Chukotka, an oil-rich, semi-autonomous region on the easternmost tip of Russia.
Well, don’t you see what he’s doing?!? Abramovich is planning world domination! He’s already dominant over the Russian oil market, he’s about to take over London with his Chelsea team, and he’s in perfect position to attack the west coast of North America with his army of yachts. All he needs to do is sign Chinese soccer player Wang Dong, and he can make hostile advances on China and all countries whose GDP depend on toilet humor, most notably Australia, the Netherlands, most of Scandinavia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They sure do love their phallic jokes in the African jungle.
My point is this: if Roman buys the Yankees, run. Run like you’ve never run before.
The City Of Green Bay, Wisconsin. At first, you may not think of Green Bay as a bad owner. In fact, they’ve managed to run one of the NFL’s most storied franchises in by far the smallest market in major American sports. The problem is that the Packers franchise is essentially run like a stock, and every season ticket holder has a share in team (though a share in the team does not guarantee tickets). The citizens of Green Bay prize prize the season ticket so much that there’s a 40 year waiting list to join the club. Hell, you’re better off making billions of dollars and buying your own team. Cheeseheads will go to almost any length to get their 0.0000016% stake in the Packers. Can you even begin to fathom what would happen if the Yankees were to apply that concept to their fans in the Bronx?
Silvio Berlusconi. Imagine that George W. Bush had more power. Imagine if Dubya, in addition to being president of the United States, was one of the richest men in the world as CEO of Microsoft, and owned all media assets of NewsCorp and AOL Time Warner combined. To top it all of, he owns the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, two of the most storied franchises in America.
If you manage to combine all of that into one person, you have someone with the power of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy.His exploits make Abramovich seem unambitious. Silvio has served as Prime Minister twice, is the richest man in the country, is a freemason, and controls most major media outlets. He has quite the Napoleonic complex, in part because he is a complete psycho and in part because he needs to wear these shoes just to be at eye level with cabinet members.
Berlusconi is one of the most notorious men an all of Europe. He just happens to own AC Milan, Italy’s most important franchise. Silvio has won seven Italian League and two UEFA Champions League titles in 21 years, all while grooming Paolo Maldini to become Europe’s next great dictator. What other explanation could possibly exist for Maldini to have been on AC Milan’s roster for Berlusconi’s entire tenure? That he’s one of the best defenders in the world? Yeah, right.
Shabtai von Kalmanovic. Shabtai, the tall young lad in the back left of this picture, is the owner of the Spartak Moscow Women’s Basketball team. While you may not think that’s a big deal, he pays top players more than four times the salary of the the maximum that the WNBA will pay. He reportedly loses $5-$6 million per year in doing so, so he just wants a winner. He’s okay as the owner of Spartak, but imagine how dangerous he could become if he was put behind the wheel of the Yankees. He might win the next 12 World Series with MLB’s first $1 billion payroll.
He’s also a bit of a shady character…to say the least.
“Begin with von Kalmanovic, the Spartak owner who is sort of the Mark Cuban of Russian basketball. Or he would be if Cuban dressed much, much better … and if he once owned a European championship team with Arvydas Sabonis … and once dated Liza Minnelli … and if he married one of his players (on his women’s team that is) … and once spied for the Soviet Union … and if a Google search linked his name with some shady innuendo. Among the tales alleged on the Web — that von Kalmanovic might have been involved in Africa diamond trafficking and that he was arrested for spying in Israel. von Kalmanovic says he made his first fortune in construction in Africa, though he does admit to being arrested as a spy in Israel.
He insists, however, that contrary to rumors he was not with the KGB: ‘I was in the military intelligence service. I was in the army of the Soviet Union. Later this year will be 20 years from the day I was arrested [for spying in Israel], and then it will become no more secret. I cannot tell you the truth now, and I don’t want to lie. So leave it. We’ll meet one year from now and I will tell you, if you are still interested.’ “
The national media would have a field day with this guy if he ran a Division II lacrosse team, let alone the Yankees.
Tsuneo Watanabe. He is the man behind one of Japan’s two largest newspapers, Yomiuri Shinbun. In turn, Watanabe had been owner of the Yomiuri Giants, by far the country’s most successful sports franchise for decades. Yet I had not known about him until very recently.
I asked Don, the man behind the Japan-based sports blog With Malice… if there were any nutjob owners of successful teams in Japan. I’m providing his full response because there is no way that I could have put it any better.
Within Japan, one of the most megalomaniac of all sports-owners was Tsuneo Watanabe. His Yomiuri Giants, or ‘Kyogen’ (‘Giants’ in Japanese) have dominated the landscape of Japanese baseball for years, and Watanabe has been behind the systematic retardation of Nippon Pro Baseball merely to benefit his team. Examples such as pushing NPB to adopt free agency merely to bolster his own fading team, as Kyogen are the richest team in the NPB… or the creation of a rule within the drafting process that states if a player drafted out of high school doesn’t want to play for a particular team, he may opt to play either college or ‘corporate’ league (a league for company teams) for 2 years, then play for the team of their choosing. More often than not, it’s the Giants, as being the pre-eminent team in Tokyo, they have a disproportionate share of the fan-base. Watanabe has been a direct influence working against the evolution of baseball within Japan, preferring to keep status quo within the league. Due to the popularity and monetary influence of the Giants, Watanabe has been able to hold court in the Central League, and bend all to his control.
In 2004, Watanabe was forced to resign because of ethical violations after bribes to college players (most notably 2 million yen to Meiji University pitcher Yasuhiro Ichiba). However, a year later, he was instituted as Chairman of the Giants, and pretty much resumed control of the Tokyo team.
A quote from baseball writer Robert Whiting: Watanabe is a “…blustering alpha male who did everything but urinate on the floor to make his mark.” (in his book The Meaning of Ichiro)
Tsuneo Watanabe could be described quite literally as George Steinbrenner’s “brother from another mother”, as the Giants have been styled as “Japan’s Yankees”. Verily, when it comes to impact on the Nippon Pro Baseball league, Watanabe’s worse – Steinbrenner-on-steroids.
Watanabe doesn’t have an entry in Wikipedia, so it’s still possible that it’s all a bad dream and he’s just a figment of Japan’s collective imagination. Like Samurai.
So the next time you lament the presence of George Steinbrenner looking down from atop Yankee Stadium and giving Brian Cashman ulcers with a single stare, count your lucky stars that it’s him sitting there in the booth and not one of these guys.
Dishonorable mention: Rick Hendrick
(Thanks once again to With Malice… for the scoop on Watanabe and the quote in the title.)