Cuban Revolution? Maverick Mavs owner could be a hit with Cubs
Prospective Cubs owner Mark Cuban got as far as the front row last week in Wrigley. But although it would be a treat to see the Dallas Mavericks' outspoken owner also own baseball's beloved 99-year loser, he still may never get any closer to the owner's box than he was the other day.
Said to be one of "seven to eight'' serious bidders in the mix for the jinxed/storied franchise, Cuban is a billionaire and a proven winner as a team owner. Beyond that, the marriage of the wacky Cuban and the Cubs would be a lot of fun (I truly envision him in the bleachers with the Cubs crazies, not in the front row).
Yet, Cuban is far from a shoo-in. Baseball has proven to be conservative in choosing owners, and it's no given that Cuban fits the mold. He has some serious hurdles that are as tall as Dirk Nowitzki.
But first let's dispense with a couple issues that really should not be issues.
That Cuban isn't a Chicagoan shouldn't matter one bit. He isn't from Dallas, either (he's from the Pittsburgh area), and lots of other successful baseball owners aren't locals, from George Steinbrenner to John Henry.
It can't be an issue, either, that Cuban already owns another major sports franchise. Not with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch also owning the Detroit Red Wings. And with Jerry Reinsdorf (who co-owns Chicago's other baseball team with Eddie Einhorn) also owning the Chicago Bulls.
So here are the real hurdles, broken into two main categories ...
1. Loose cannon theory. Baseball hasn't exactly embraced ownership candidates who may be viewed as loose cannons. Reggie Jackson's very viable groups were virtually ignored in bids for the A's and Dodgers while owners with no baseball credentials were chosen.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has a rapport with NBA commissioner David Stern and has watched Stern do battle with Cuban during Cuban's eight years in Dallas. Cuban's unvarnished honesty is entertaining for the fans and media, but he often has been a thorn to Stern, who hasn't appreciated it, to the reported tune of well over $1 million in fines (although Cuban should be given credit for his good behavior lately; perhaps he's maturing).
MLBs powers might also prefer an owner who pledges to be fiscally conservative -- or at least not break the bank -- but Cuban can't honestly do that since he's spent freely as Mavericks owner. But if MLB does make being cheap a determining factor, that's plain wrong. There's no reason that long-suffering Cubs fans should be deprived of their best chance to win.
2. John Canning theory. Canning, a longtime limited partner of the Brewers (he reportedly owns 11 percent of Selig's former team) and great friend of Selig, has to be considered the favorite, or at least an extremely formidable candidate. The Chicago finance man is said to have "deep-pocketed'' partners, Canning has already made a great impression in baseball circles, and another friend of Selig's said that "if all things are equal [monetarily speaking], [Selig would] probably love Canning to have the team.''
This is no small thing. While new Tribune owner Sam Zell would insist on being able to make his best deal, baseball has been very careful about who gets its teams and is in position to reconfigure groups to get an owner it trusts. History suggests that being a FOB (friend of Bud) does seem to go a long way.
The case of the Red Sox is instructive. There were reportedly groups -- including one led by Cablevision chairman Chuck Dolan -- who originally had higher bids than Henry before MLB helped form a group with Henry, former Padres chairman Tom Werner and longtime baseball executive and Selig loyalist Larry Lucchino that enabled them to match the high bid.
MLB's concern regarding Dolan was that his brother Larry, the Indians' owner, also is dependent on Cablevision monies. In any case, that was a good call by MLB, as Henry and his group are doing a superb job in Boston, and the guess is that after seeing Chuck let his son Jim destroy the New York Knicks, the Dolans wouldn't have done nearly as well.
Baseball also helped the Lerners align with longtime Selig ally Stan Kasten to buy the MLB-run Nationals at a set price of $450 million after finding flaws with a couple other prospective groups. And Selig's University of Wisconsin friend Lew Wolff was the choice over Jackson and others in Oakland.
It has also been reported that when Cuban's record $280 million purchase of the Mavs was approved by a 29-1 margin, the one dissenting vote came from Reinsdorf, who happens to be Selig's biggest confidant among baseball's owners. While those reports are unconfirmed, Reinsdorf has never said anything to dispel them. Not having Reinsdorf in his corner could hurt Cuban's chances for the Cubs.
Cuban surely knows the hurdles he faces and is doing his best to stay in good graces. He saw his Mavs eliminated quickly in this year's playoffs, and he reacted graciously (other than firing coach Avery Johnson). When I e-mailed him about his Cubs' chances, Cuban politely declined to comment. Forty-six minutes after I made the request by e-mail, he responded, "Pass, thx for asking.'' He surely has lots of thoughts on the matter, but he probably understands that his best chance is to stay silent for now.