Wednesday

7-14-10: A Tale of Two Owners

Hello again everybody...

I'm back! Sorry I didn't have anything for you Monday, but sometimes you go to the well and there's just nothing there.

Not the case today, I assure you.

I thought last week that I was finished with the LeBron nonsense, but unfortunately, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers fired off a letter that was so astounding, I had to comment on it.

As I was considering the various ways I could go about commenting on it, news came yesterday of the passing of a legendary baseball owner, George Steinbrenner. And that's when the muse kicked in. What better way to comment on one... I don't know, is “boisterous” the right word?... owner than by comparing and contrasting him to another?

That's how column ideas get born, boys and girls!

So let's get to the commenting...

Right after the quote.

”Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.”
- Orson Welles (1915 - 1985), American film director, writer, actor, and producer


Look, I'm all for grand pronouncements, lofty goals and national pride. But sometimes it's a bit much and you just want to know what's on the lunch cart, you know?!

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A Tale of Two Owners

I mean, did you actually read the letter that Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert posted on the Cavs website?! If you haven't, it's been removed, so you can't find it there. A simple Google-search, however, will reveal the text in several locations including here at HuffingtonPost.com.

Let me start by saying this: I appreciate a passionate owner. That doesn't mean I think every owner needs to be a ranting, raving, near-lunatic. But sports is something that engenders passion in fans, so if an owner projects an obvious passion, that gives fans something to connect to, and that's not a bad thing.

How that passion gets communicated? That's another matter entirely.

I get that Gilbert wanted to rally the troops. I get that he felt personally insulted by the manner in which LeDoosh (too strong? I'm still working on it...) decided to announce his decision to leave Cleveland. I get that Gilbert felt it was important to immediately grab the attention of Cavs fans away from despairing over LeDoosh, and turn it back towards focusing on a hopeful future.

The problem was, as is usually the case with these things, in the execution.

First of all, the one thing you can't grasp from the HuffingtonPost.com version of his letter, was the goofy font he chose to print it in.

The "Comic Sans" font can be seen in this SI.com article.

If you were the head of a multi-million dollar corporation, would this be your first choice of fonts? Would it even make the Top 100 of your choices? Somehow I doubt it.

And yet somehow, that's what it got printed in. Somehow, no one who was involved in the process of getting this letter from Gilbert's computer to the Cavs' website managed to say, “You know what boss? Maybe we should break out the “Garamond” or “Times New Roman” for this one!”

The second problem that leaps off the page is the glaring double-negative in the fourth graph:

“The good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.”

Now, I'm no English major. And I'm sure Mr. Gilbert could comb through the Writing for the Cycle archives and find many, many examples of grammatical errors.

I, however, am a random blogger. My writing represents just me, a schmo from Minnesota. Mr. Gilbert is the owner of a professional sports franchise. By his own quote, he represents “the hard-working, loyal and driven staff” of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Maybe he could've run the text of that letter by one or two of those “hard-working, loyal and driven” staff members, who might have told him that by saying “nor NEVER will betray you”, he was actually saying, “will very possibly betray you”? Maybe? I'm not sayin'. I'm just sayin'.

Thirdly, while again, I appreciate an owner who has passion and belief in himself and in his organization, “guaranteeing” that the Cavs would win a title prior to LeDoosh (has it won you over yet? I still can't decide) winning one is flat-out ludicrous. I don't say that because I think it's not possible. I say that because given the nature of their relative situations, it's extremely unlikely. Given that unlikelihood, the statement will be seen as lacking credibility, which means that Gilbert will be seen as lacking credibility. And that robs his entire letter of the impact that he desired it to have.

All of this could be solved by having people whom he trusted look over the letter and give a bit of polish. But that's not what happened.

Why, Dan? How can you say that? You weren't in the room when the letter was published? How do you know he didn't run it by some people?

Look, there are two options here: either he's surrounded himself with kiss-ass, yes-men who didn't care to help their boss by fixing a few of those mistakes, or, he didn't run it by anybody, and just emailed it to the webmaster with explicit instructions to post it as-is.

You decide which you think it was. My guess is it was the latter.

So why does a guy decide to do it like that? Why does a guy who's had tremendous success in other businesses which require him to depend on competent assistants, not show that same dependence when it comes to professional sports?

It's almost as though he's seen some other ranting, raving, near-lunatic of an owner have tremendous success by being a one-man band.

Say, someone like George Steinbrenner, perhaps?!

(See how I did that? Connected the two stories in a mere three paragraphs? You can admit it. You're a little impressed!)

Mr. Steinbrenner, as he was known to a legion of employees over the years, passed away yesterday at the age of 80.

Now, normally, it's an anathema to say anything negative about someone when they pass away. Steinbrenner, however, stretched that dogma to near it's breaking point. His personality was so complex, so multi-faceted, that while there are many great things to point out about his life, he simply can't be defined without pointing out some of the negative things he did.

Steinbrenner was the first modern owner to truly grasp the power of media. Not just in the sense of the traditional beat writer covering his team, but in the larger sense of building, marketing and selling a brand.

Sure George liked to have a drink and a cigar with the print-media. I heard story after story yesterday about how he used to tweak them and use them to send messages to his staff and players. And yet none of them resented him for it because he also gave them unprecedented access to him. Most owners prefer to have a buffer between themselves and the media. George didn't want a buffer between him and anybody.

But more importantly than that, Steinbrenner figured out where the relationship between cable and sports broadcasting was headed and was the first owner to put his games on cable TV. He was also the first owner to create his own cable network. And in doing both of those things in the most passionate sports market in the world, he built a franchise he bought for $8 million into a $1.5 billion behemoth.

Moreover, he sunk vast quantities of that value back into the franchise in the form of the most expensive roster in all of pro sports. Some folks complain about that. They say that the Yankees' gargantuan payroll tilts the competitive balance in their favor, which is bad for the overall game.

But George wasn't in charge of the overall game. He owned the New York Yankees, and by God, was going to do everything the rules allowed (and often things they didn't) to make his franchise the best in his sport, and perhaps the most iconic in all of pro sports world-wide.

It's the “often things they didn't” part that trips his legacy up however. I can't discuss George Steinbrenner without pointing out that the man was banned from baseball... twice.

The first time for making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. The second time for paying a known criminal $40,000 to dig up “dirt” on Dave Winfield because Winfield had filed a lawsuit against Steinbrenner for not making a $300,000 payment to one of Winfield's charities. A payment that was clearly spelled out in a clause in Winfield's contract.

It's not just the bans, though. Steinbrenner was routinely criticized for the manner in which he treated his employees. Some players, like current Yankee captain Derek Jeter, worshiped the man. Some, like Winfield, not so much.

The man who quietly gave millions to charity is the same guy who hired and fired manager Billy Martin five times and then hosted Saturday Night Live and did a sketch which lampooned the absurdity of that kind of management.

That, more than anything, illustrates the complexity of this man.

In all of the stories and comments you heard yesterday, one thread was consistent: George Steinbrenner loved baseball, loved winning, and loved the New York Yankees.

And isn't that what fans want in an owner? Don't they want a guy who lives and dies right along with them and their team? Don't they want an owner who bleeds their team's colors? Don't they want a guy in the front office, who's as big a fan as they are?

I think they do. And ultimately, I think that's why Steinbrenner will be remembered as a baseball legend, and Gilbert's letter will soon be forgotten.

… unless he uses that ridiculous font again!


That's going to wrap things up for today. I have every intention of providing you with a DFTU column on Friday, but I'll warn you right now... I'm working a 12-hour shift the day before, and turning 27 (for the 9th time) on Friday itself. In other words, my intentions are subject to change!

Until then (or whenever I post next), thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. "I'm sure Mr. Gilbert could comb through the Writing for the Cycle archives and find many, many examples of grammatical errors."

    I work very hard to make sure that is not the case.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know you do... and it's very much appreciated.

    But I'm sure there are one or two there. None of us are perfect, right?

    ReplyDelete