SI Vault
John Underwood
December 28, 1981
Surprised but not annoyed to discover I couldn't remember his name, I call the sports department of a local newspaper to help me.
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December 28, 1981

A Bouquet For What's-his-name, The Man Who Owns The Dodgers So Well

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"Illusions? What illusions?"

"See what I mean? People forget illusions ever existed. The illusions of allegiance. Of loyalty to team and place."

I clear my throat and continue on.

"Owners used to be guys who willed sport to the people, like philanthropists. They didn't do it for the money; they usually had enough of that already. They did it for the joy of it. The involvement. To be beloved in their hometown or in towns they made their homes. They were the players' patrons and friends, not their adversaries. I'm talking about the Rooneys and the Wrigleys and Tom Yawkey and people like that. They'd have been in it even if they couldn't make a dime. Sometimes they lost their shirts. But they were 'sportsmen.' And the fans believed that the team they rooted for and bought tickets to see play really was their team. Boston's team. Cleveland's team. It was very important."

"So what's so different?"

"The illusion is gone. The losing team in the World Series clearly wasn't the New York Yankees, it was the George Steinbrenner Yankees. As long as Charlie Finley owned the Athletics, they were the Finley A's. Refuse to build 'em a new stadium and they'll go to Memphis."

"I take it you have a solution."

"Not one that I've refined."

"Try it on me," says the sports department. "I'm all ears."

"I think municipalities should own professional sports franchises. I think the cities that bear their names and put up with their flops and failures shouldn't only run those teams but benefit from them when they win, fiscally as well as socially and spiritually. I think with all that television money floating around, it's time the fans got a return on their investment, which is quite considerable when they have to tax themselves to build fancy new stadiums."

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