If Liberty Media hung a For Sale sign out front of Turner Field next month, would Mark Cuban be permitted to purchase the Braves if he was the highest bidder? Or at this point, given the way baseball has treated him in the past, would he even bother bidding for the Bravos?
Under the terms of the agreement when Liberty Media bought the Braves in 2007, the Denver-based conglomerate could sell the team only after baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires, which is Dec. 11. A sale doesn’t appear imminent, unless there is a lot of advanced negotiating going on that we haven’t heard anything about.
Anyway, I was asked again last week about Dallas Mavericks owner Cuban potentially buying the Braves. I really don’t know if he has much interest, but the iconoclastic 52-year-old billionaire has previously expressed interest in buying a baseball team and generally drawn negative reaction by the Old Boys of major league ‘ball.
Of the reasons that most other owners and perhaps commissioner Bud Selig don’t want him in the club — the owners vote on new members — here are the main ones as I see it: he’s brash, outspoken, and particularly hasn’t bitten his tongue when criticizing the establishment — in the NBA and elsewhere.
Baseball establishment tends to frown upon that sort of thing.
But also — and they’ll never say this — I’m pretty sure other owners are apprehensive, even fearful, of this fact: While most owners want to turn a tidy profit, Cuban showed with the Mavs that he could stomach losing many millions for years in order to build a championship team.
It was more than just a business for him; it was his expensive hobby/passion, and he wanted it done right.
In both of those respects — brash, willing to lose millions — Cuban is a lot like Ted Turner, who spoiled Braves fans back in the day by being an iconoclastic, colorful billionaire who didn’t mind losing millions pursuing his passions– Braves, America’s Cup, CNN, etc.
To me, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t a few other owners who have the passion, daring or whatever else it takes (besides obvious deep pockets) to lose money in order to win. At least not lose millions on any consistent basis over a period of years.
I covered the Marlins when Wayne Huizenga owned the team and funded a 1997 free-agent buying spree that ended with a World Series championhip. Early and mid-season attendance was so low and his losses so high in ‘97, Huizenga decided even before the playoffs that he would blow up the team and sell off most high-priced players as quickly as possible.
Now here is Cuban, who has the funds to do what he wants, and has shown he has the stomach to take big losses in a sustained drive to build a title team. If Cuban had owned that Marlins team, you can be assured he would have kept it together in ‘98, and players from that team, guys like Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and Moises Alou, will tell you they were more certain they could win another World Series or two than they were of any other team they ever played on.
But I digress…
Baseball has a lot deeper revenue streams these days than a decade ago, and can be a lot more selective with who it lets in its owners club — for better or worse.
If only the owners and Selig would have been more selective when voting on the likes of Frank McCourt, and maybe a little less uptight when considering Cuban. Now that McCourt has flamed out spectacular fashion with his Dodgers ownership debacle, might it make someone with the unquestioned resources of Cuban just too solid for baseball to pass up if he makes a serious bid for that team or another, perhaps for the Braves?
(Cuban told the Los Angeles Times last week that he looked into buying the Dodgers, but that the current asking price of $1 billion to $1.2 billion was too high. From what I gather, the Braves might go for roughly half that amount, if Liberty decides to sell.
One more thing I’ve thought about: It seems a bit hypocritical to laud the late George Steinbrenner for how he ran his Yankees, full of bluster while spending double, triple, quadruple or more what most other teams spent on payrolls, while coming up with excuses for not providing a good reason why it won’t invite Cuban to the party.
I dare say Mark Cuban has a better connection to younger fans than any current owner. And as good a job as baseball has done raising revenues and increasing attendance in the past 15 years, it could do even better with the younger audience. Cuban has shown not just a willingness but a strong desire to sit down front in a Mavs T-shirt (and I’m sure, a baseball jersey if he owned a ballclub) and cheer along with fans on a nightly basis.
He’d be the visible owner that so many fans relish the opportunity to see, displaying a passion for his team and not just for its bottom line.
But trust me Braves fans, if he’s not buying your team then you wouldn’t want him owning a competitor in your division, or probably not even in your league. Because money talks, and free agents listen intently. If Cuban ever buys a team, they’ll be well-funded. And win.
♣ Rookie of the Year on Monday: When the National League Rookie of the Year is named on Monday, it’s almost certain to be an Atlanta Brave. The question is, which Brave?
Closer Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman are regarded as the leading candidates for the award from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Most reporters expect the balloting to be close between the two.
There has been much discussion and debate over which is more deserving: Is it Freeman hitting in the middle of the order for a contending team much of the season, batting .282 with 21 homers and a .795 OPS while also playing strong defense? Or Kimbrel, who tied for the NL lead with a major league rookie-record 46 saves and led major league relievers with a whopping 127 strikeouts in 77 innings?
Many people have asked me for whom I’d vote, and I’ve honestly gone back and forth between those two guys more than for any two award candidates in any category in recent years.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution doesn’t permit writers to vote for awards, and in this instance I’m almost glad — it meant I didn’t have to worry about possibly being one of two Atlanta chapter BBWAA members with a rookie vote, and having to decide between Freeman and Kimbrel. Honestly, they’re both equally deserving in my view. They really are.
Phillies pitcher Vance Worley, Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa and Braves pitcher Brandon Beachy could also get plenty of votes, creating the possibility of the top five finishers coming from the NL East.
Kimbrel and Freeman, however, seemed to separate themselves from the field as the season wore on. The only other candidate who might be close to them is Worley (11-3, 3.01 ERA), who was outstanding but pitched in only 25 games (21 starts) and spent 1-1/2 months in Triple-A.
While his performance would be good enough to win the award many years, Worley is up against two Braves who were integral parts of the team from Opening Day.
Kimbrel has already won a couple of other awards including Sporting News NL Rookie of the Year. Braves right fielder Jason Heyward won the Sporting News award in 2010, then was edged out for the BBWAA award by San Francisco catcher Buster Posey.
The BBWAA and Sporting News NL rookie winners have different in three of the past five years, including each of the past two. In 2009, the BBWAA award went to Chris Coghlan and the Sporting News award to Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ.
In 2006, SN voted for then-Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla while the writers award his Marlins teammate, shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
Freeman, who didn’t turn 22 until Sept. 12, led NL rookies in doubles (32) and RBIs (76), tied Espinosa for the home run lead, and led NL qualifying rookies in batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging percentage (.448).
Kimbrel, 23, was 4-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 79 appearances. He converted 25 saves in a row during a streak of 38 consecutive scoreless appearances from June 14 to Sept. 8, a stretch of 37-2/3 innings that was the majors’ longest scoreless streak in 2011.
The Alabama native’s otherwise terrific season ended with a rough stretch that included a blown save in the Braves’ final game, an excruciating 13-inning loss against the Phillies that, coupled with a St. Louis win that same night, kept the Braves from playing St. Louis in a one-game tiebreaker for the wild card.
After Sept. 8, Kimbrel was 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in eight appearances and blew three of six save opportunities, after blowing five of 48 previously. The Braves lost 18 of their final 26 and blew what had been an 8-1/2-game wild-card lead over St. Louis on Sept. 5.
Freeman and most other Braves hitters also struggled in September. After batting .333 with nine homers, 30 RBIs and a .922 OPS in 48 games from July 3 to Aug. 25, he hit .239 with three homers, 12 RBIs and a .663 OPS in his last 29 games.
Voting for all BBWAA awards is solely based on regular-season performance; votes are in before the postseason begins. The NL and AL rookie awards will be announced Monday, followed by the AL Cy Young on Tuesday, the AL and NL Manager of the Year awards on Wednesday, and the NL Cy Young on Thursday (Nov. 17).
The AL MVP will be presented on Nov. 21 and the NL MVP on Nov. 22.
♣ Kimbrel, Hanson and K’s: Going through the sortable stats to get the top 100 strikeout totals in the majors in 2011, guess how many pitchers on the list had 130 or fewer innings?
Three, two of whom were Braves: Kimbrel and Tommy Hanson.
Hanson had 142 strikeouts in 130 innings over 22 starts, tied for 57th in the majors with Pirates starter James McDonald (142 strikeouts in 171 innings over 31 starts).
Kimbrel ranked 72nd with 127 strikeouts in 77 innings. His were obviously all in relief, making him the only pitcher in the top 100 with fewer than 17 starts. (San Diego’s Cory Luebke had 154 strikeouts in 139-2/3 innings over 46 games including 17 starts.
Kimbrel was the only full-time reliever in the top 100. In fact, Luebke was the only other pitcher on the list with fewer than 20 starts.
Besides Kimbrel and Hanson, the only pitcher among the top 100 to work 130 or fewer innings was Seattle’s Erik Bedard, who struck out 125 in 129-1/3 innings.
♣ OK, let’s close this with one from Guy Clark, off his masterful debut album Old No. 1, which you can hear by clicking here. I had the privilege of seeing Clark do this one last week during his set at the end of a 70th birthday tribute show in Austin, Texas, which features performances by Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, James McMurtry, Jerry Jeff Walker, Shawn Colvin, Rosie Flores and a bunch of other folks, all doing Clark covers. It was terrific. Even better than the brisket, jalapeno hot link and mac & cheese I ate at Lamberts in downtown Austin – and that’s saying something. (Damn, that was good eating.)
“DESPERADOS WAITING FOR A TRAIN” by Guy Clark
I played the Red River Valley
He’d sit in the kitchen and cry
Run his fingers through seventy years of livin’
And wonder, “Lord, why has every well I’ve drilled gone dry?”
We were friends, me and this old man
We’s like desperados waitin’ for a train
Desperados waitin’ for a train
He’s a drifter, a driller of oil wells
He’s an old school man of the world
He taught me how to drive his car when he was too drunk to
And he’d wink and give me money for the girls
And our lives was like, some old Western movie
Like desperados waitin’ for a train
Like desperados waitin’ for a train
From the time that I could walk he’d take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
There was old men with beer guts and dominos
Lying ’bout their lives while they played
I was just a kid, they all called me “Sidekick”
Just like desperados waitin’ for a train
Like desperados waitin’ for a train
One day I looked up and he’s pushin’ eighty
He’s got brown tobacco stains all down his chin
Well to me he was a hero of this country
So why’s he all dressed up like them old men
Drinkin’ beer and playin’ Moon and Forty-two
Jus’ like desperados waitin’ for a train
Like a desperado waitin’ for a train
The day ‘fore he died I went to see him
I was grown and he was almost gone.
So we just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen
And sang one more verse to that old song
(spoken) Come on, Jack, that son-of-a-bitch is comin’
We’re desperados waitin’ for a train
Was like desperados waitin’ for a train
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog