Friday, October 30, 2009

What If George Steinbrenner Bought The Buccaneers?

One of the several big media stories Wednesday was that George Steinbrenner would be at Yankee Stadium for Game One of the World Series. Now 79 years old, The Boss's health has reportedly been in decline for some time. His public appearances have been few and far between, and the man who was once a daily quote machine for the New York tabloids now speaks only through rare and bland statements released through his public relations man. But without George and his dedication to expending every possible resource to win, it's unlikely there would be a new Yankee Stadium to visit, and equally unlikely there would be a World Series Game One to attend.

Thursday, a seemingly unrelated story broke. Tampa radio station WDAE reported that the Glazer family was putting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers up for sale, citing the family's reported two billion dollar debt as owners of the English Premier League's Manchester United as the cause for the Bucs hitting the market. The Glazers denied the report later Thursday afternoon.

The two stories falling on successive days made me think back to the mid-nineties, the last time the Bucs were up for sale. Original owner Hugh Culverhouse died August 26, 1994, and his estate decided to sell the team. Long the laughingstock of the league and playing in dilapidated Tampa Stadium, the franchise was ripe for relocation.

The Rams and Raiders were a year away from leaving Los Angeles, with the Raiders returning to Oakland and the Rams heading to St. Louis, which the Cardinals had vacated six years earlier. The Colts had moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore ten years earlier, and the Charm City was two years away from poaching the Browns from Cleveland to replace them. The Oilers were three years away from leaving Houston for Tennessee. In other words, plenty of cities were in the market for an NFL franchise.

As the bidders lined up for the Bucs, several potential ownership groups hung their hat on a promise to keep the team in Tampa. One such bidder was a Tampa resident with an extensive history as a sportsman in football, basketball, horse racing, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and baseball: George M. Steinbrenner III.

On January 17, 1995 the team was sold to Malcolm Glazer, another bidder who promised to keep the team in Tampa. Glazer's offer exceeded Steinbrenner's by about $12M and the sale included a provision for a $35M penalty if the franchise was moved within 10 years. Three years later the Bucs opened state-of-the-art Raymond James Stadium, less than a mile from the Yankees Spring Training complex and what is now George M. Steinbrenner Field. In his eighth season as owner, Glazer hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, a far cry from his team's current 0-7 state.

As the Yankees chase their seventh World Championship of the Steinbrenner Era, I can't help but wonder how the past 15 years of Yankee history would have unfolded had Steinbrenner bought the Bucs. At the time of the sale, baseball was embroiled in the worst labor dispute in its history. Steinbrenner was less than two years removed from returning from his second suspension at the hands of Major League Baseball, and since his return had taken a less active/disruptive role than he had in his heyday. He had owned the Yankees for more than twenty years at that point, and had often been criticized for running the franchise like a football team, likely stemming from his time as a graduate assistant at Ohio St and as an assistant coach at Purdue and then Northwestern in the 1950s.

At the time of the sale, the NFL had a bylaw prohibiting its owners from owning other sports franchises. Less than two years earlier, Wayne Huizenga, who already owned the Florida Marlins and the NHL's Florida Panthers, upped his minority share in the Miami Dolphins to a majority share. As a result of the NFL's bylaw, Huizenga was forced to place his Dolphins ownership stake into a trust until the league evaluated the situation. They eventually rescinded the bylaw, but not before Huizenga spent four years as an absentee owner.

No sooner did the NFL allow Huizenga to keep all three teams, the financial strain forced him to begin selling. His Marlins won the World Series seven months after the ruling came down, but he immediately gutted the team and the next year sold them to current Red Sox owner John Henry. Three years after that he divested himself of the Panthers as well.

We'll never know what would have happened had Steinbrenner bought the Buccaneers. But we do know that in light of the Huizenga situation he would have entered the purchase eyes wide open, knowing his ownership of the Yankees would have posed a problem to the NFL. Would Steinbrenner, a notorious control freak, have had the self-restraint to put his $180M investment in a trust for two years? Or would he have wanted to return to the sport that was his first love and play with his new toy right away? Steinbrenner had reduced his level of control with the Yankees and was already making threats about moving in his quest for a new stadium. Had he purchased the Bucs might he have put the Yankees up for sale? Or, if he kept them both would he have been forced to sell at some point, as Huizenga was? Would his sizeable investment in an NFL franchise have prevented the Yankees payroll from expanding year after year?

Thankfully we never had to discover the answers to those questions. In the fifteen years since Steinbrenner lost out to Glazer, the Steinbrenner Family has reaffirmed its commitment to the New York Yankees. They've captured seven pennants and four Championships, with a fifth just three wins away. They've built a brand new stadium in the Bronx and have invested close to two billion dollars in player payroll since then. Though George has faded to the background, his children have shown no signs of changing things. The organization appears to be in good shape for years to come.

1 comment:

  1. don't tug on superman's cape
    don't spit in the wind
    and don't mess around with the Yanks