Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Sports-club owners continue to say the darnedest things

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BOSTON

What do you do when inmates run the asylum?

No, I'm not talking about players, but the folks who run the Red Sox, the Yankees and pro sports franchises in general, from Mark Cuban to Dan Snyder.

Wealth is not tantamount to knowledge or taste; the more you listen to this new breed of owner, the more you appreciate people like Wellington Mara of the Giants and Leon Hess, who owned the Jets until his death in 1999. Mara and Hess stayed out of the way for the most part and let people who know what they are doing run the operation. Mara, who has been with the Giants since he was a child, has the authority to speak. He prefers the low-key approach.

Last month, Woody Johnson, the Jets' owner, infuriated his coach, Herman Edwards, by saying that the Jets, who lost their starting quarterback in the preseason, had talent equal to or better than any other team's.

Even the Minnesota Twins' Carl Pohlad, 88, surely an old-breed owner, told me after the Twins defeated the Yankees in Game 1 of their division series, "What happens in cases like this is that sometimes teams like the Yankees will feel like they've already won, psychologically."

I'm sure Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wanted to say, "Mr. Pohlad, please keep your mouth shut, sir."

The Twins didn't win another game.

George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, has made a cottage industry out of outlandish comments, usually directed at his team. He has criticized star players, chided his general manager, Brian Cashman, and praised Boston's general manager, Theo Epstein, for putting together the current Red Sox team. Last month, after a Boston regular-season victory, Steinbrenner reminded Red Sox fans that they hadn't won anything yet.

On Sunday, those of us who previously had not been so honored were allowed to have an audience with three men from the Red Sox ownership group. On a day of news conferences, fines and statements, John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino gave Boston's version of Saturday's brawl-and-bullpen episode, which left a few people with minor injuries and the rest of the nation scratching its head.

I wound up shaking my head as these three members of Boston's brass -- one would think they would be the voices of reason -- incited passions by sprinkling kerosene on a smoldering flame. (I should point out here that The New York Times Co owns The Boston Globe and 17 percent of the Boston Red Sox.)

One reporter asked if the group felt that the injured Boston grounds-crew member was acting unprofessionally in leading cheers, or was acting in a partisan way, in the Yankees' bullpen.

"If that was poor taste or improper baseball etiquette or decorum, that's clearly something someone could question," Henry said. "Whether it merited an attack that had him in the hospital is certainly another story."

He added, "We do ask our employees to be fan friendly."

What does that mean?

These owners could not get their minds around the idea that someone might be annoyed - or worse - when a member of Boston's organization is leading cheers for the Red Sox in the Yankees' bullpen in a heated playoff game between the two rivals.

Henry said, as an aside, that he cheers for the Red Sox. Of course you do, John, you're an owner. You sit in your box and cheer. But we wouldn't expect you to go to the Yankees' bullpen and lead cheers.

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