With the death of legendary Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and the sale of Golden State by soon-to-be-former Warrior owner Chris Cohan, we felt it was appropriate to look back at some of the greatest sports owners in the history of the region.
The legacies of Steinbrenner and Cohan are stark portraits in contrast. One was an incessant egomaniac who constantly thrust himself in the spotlight. The other was a paranoid recluse who valued his privacy and went out of his way to stay out of the limelight. One mellowed out in his elder age and began delegating his authority to others who knew better how to organize a baseball team. The other continued to meddle and meddle despite having a seemingly low basketball IQ, overreacting to the slightest failings and installing his cronies who were great at politicking and poor in building competitive teams.
One owner was a visionary who not only won championships, he mastered the business aspect of the sport. The other owner had no clue about how to run a team, but was a master moneymaker throughout. The lesson here? Being a fan of the team can really really suck if you have a crappy owner.
For the people on this list though, being a fan of the teams of these owners was anything but.
5. Peter Magowan, San Francisco Giants (1993-2008)
Without Magowan, the Giants might have left San Francisco--one group vying for the Giants ownership bid wanted to move them to Tampa. Thankfully the NL owners rejected this takeover, and the path was cleared for Magowan.
Without Magowan, there would be no AT&T Park, and the Giants would probably still be playing in "Oh God do we have to drive there" Candlestick. Magowan drew up the plan for a baseball park right off the McCovey Cove. The Giants have been near the top half in generating revenue for their team for most of the past decade.
Without Magowan, the Giants would never have signed Barry Bonds, who eventually paved the way for seven years of success between 1997 and 2003. The team made the playoffs six times (and were eliminated on the final day of the regular season the other time), earning the division title three times, and winning the pennant in 2002 (they would lose the World Series to the Angels).
Not a bad run at all.
4. The Gund Brothers, San Jose Sharks (1991-2002)
This isn't as much about success as it is vision and determination (although there are plenty of both traits from these two). Without Gordon and George, there would be no Sharks, and they certainly wouldn't be in San Jose. The Gund brothers brought hockey to the Bay Area in 1991, and moved them from the Cow Palace to HP Pavilion two years later. San Jose has never looked back, making the playoffs seven times during their tenure, and winning their first division championship in the final year. Strong marketing and aggressive management have kept San Jose on the cutting edge of the NHL and built up their fanbase to one of the most passionate in all of sports. It seems like their Stanley Cup breakthrough could come any year.
Gordon still owns a minority stake in the team, but his biggest accomplishment was pushing the NHL to bring an expansion team here in the first place.
3. Walter A. Haas Jr., Oakland Athletics (1981-1995)
Fate intervened for the son of the former president of Levi: The Athletics were about to be sold by Charles Finley to Marvin Davis, a businessman intent on moving them to Denver. When the Oakland Raiders made their move to Los Angeles though, the city made it clear that they wouldn't lose the A's too. Finley ended up looking for a local buyer, ending up with Haas.
Worked out well for Oakland fans: Haas ditched the gimmickery of the '70s A's, refurbished the image of the team (changed the name back to Athletics, changed the uniform colors to make them less flashy and more professional, even changed the mascot), raised attendance levels back to record heights thanks to his community approach. Baseball-wise, he rebuilt the minor league system to help produce talented youth like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, and hired Tony LaRussa to manage the team.
To think that none of this would've been possible without Al Davis. Speaking of Ol' Freddy Kreuger ...
2. Al Davis, Oakland Raiders (1966-1972 part owner, 1972-present principal owner)
Davis is obviously past his prime, but it shouldn't diminish his accomplishments in a long and storied career. The Raiders stunk before he became their head coach in 1963, and his ascension to ownership assured a longer stay in the Bay (the infant AFL considered relocating from Oakland because of the poor turnouts and the turnover in management). Well, at least until he could find a better stadium.
Under his stewardship, the Oakland (and for a period, LA) Raiders enjoyed a sustained period of excellence nearly four decades long. They've reached the playoffs 21 times and won 15 division crowns. They've made the Super Bowl five times (four of them in different decades), winning three of them.
The recent failings of the Raiders have eroded Davis's stature, but when he leaves us, he's probably the likeliest guy on this list to get the Steinbrenner treatment media-wise. It might've been hard to like him, but it was hard to ignore him.
1. Edward J. DeBartolo, San Francisco 49ers (1977-2000)Yes, his first hiring of Joe Thomas was a catastrophe. Yes, DeBartolo was a notorious drinker, gambler and womanizer (Niners president Carmen Policy and his father often each covered up his bad behavior; his eventual comeuppance was inevitable). Yes, he nearly fired Bill Walsh in a drunken stupor (although Policy "forgot" the order). And yes, his tendency to overpay for big-time players (especially in the run for the final Super Bowl ring) had long-term ramifications, dooming the Niners to a downward slide for over a decade when the salary cap era hit home.
However, the objective in this game is winning, and no one had a better tenure in the Bay Area than Eddie. San Francisco won their division 13 times during his tenure. They missed the playoffs TWICE over an 18-year span. He brought in Bill Walsh early on to act as coach/general manager. Walsh would go on to revolutionize modern football with his West Coast offense and evaluate and stockpile talent superbly. The end result? The Niners became the Team Of The Eighties, and finished DeBartolo's reign with enough Super Bowl rings to fill up the fingers on one hand.
Sadly, the Warriors have yet to enjoy strong ownership in the modern era. One can only hope Joseph Lacob will one day join that list.