Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Perspective

Status check: Are we still doing the Lerners-are-cheap thing? If we are, it’s been some time, so I'm just checking.

But no matter. The Lerners may be cheap, but their brand of cheapness is a mere cap pistol compared to what was Vince Naimoli’s hand-cannon of closefistedness. Oh, but Naimoli wasn’t only cheap. So recounts Jonah Keri, in this excerpt from his new book about how the current Tampa Bay Rays’ ownership did pretty much everything the opposite of how Naimoli did things, and, therefore, became successful.

By definition, professional sports team owners, having done something exceedingly few people can actually do (own a professional sports team), can be described aptly as “exceedingly” such-and-such. Even the bad ones. Some of the bad ones are exceedingly cheap, and some are exceedingly arrogant, and some are exceedingly mean, and some are exceedingly dumb. The lines dividing these descriptions are not always clear, so there’s often some bleed-over. But only a precious few are capable of blurring those lines so hamhandedly as Vince Naimoli.

When he owned the (Devil) Rays, Naimoli was exceedingly cheap, and he was exceedingly arrogant, and he was exceedingly mean, and he was exceedingly dumb. The Deadspin excerpt of Keri’s book provides a treasure trove of Naimoli’s cumbersome brand of backwardness. It’s not just the Snyder-level stuff, like threatening to sue the local paper for depicting him in an editorial cartoon as Tony Soprano. And it’s not even the cheap stuff, like holding out for years and years before flicking out the de minimis cash it cost to give his team employees official email addresses, and that's the kind of stuff that transcended even the most laughable instances of Lernerfied cheapness. Naimoli wasn't just an histrionic pug or a cut-rate operator; Naimoli was . . . fascistically inept:

The Devil Rays also banned outside food. Many other teams had the same policy. But the way personnel enforced the rule, and who did the enforcing, was unique. Not surprisingly, ushers were the first line of defense against the scourge of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If they failed to detect the contraband, though, the Devil Rays had a backup plan: Detective Naimoli. The owner sat in the stands for most games, bringing him closer to the action, and to the fans. If he spotted a fan eating outside food, he'd walk over and ask where he entered the stadium. He would then call, find out who was manning that entrance, and have that person fired on the spot.

There's also a story about how a wheelchair-bound diabetic lady who came to the Trop on a seniors bus wasn't allowed in the park because Naimoli's crew discovered that she was carrying a bag of cashews. So the lady and her husband sat in the bus until the game was over. Big fun.

Anyway, somewhere along the way Keri discusses how Tampa Bay's current ownership group used Wall Street strategies to their great benefit on the baseball diamond, and I'm sure that's entertaining reading too -- buy the book. But, if we grasp nothing else from the story, we should thank whatever it is you or I thank at night that Vince Naimoli did not, does not, and never will own the Washington Nationals.


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