There’s No Such Thing As a Good Sports-Team Owner

Baltimore Orioles CEO and Chairman John Angelos. Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/TNS

By almost any measure, the Baltimore Orioles are the best non–Shohei Ohtani–related story in baseball right now. A proud franchise with a vast, rabid fanbase, an admired ballpark, and one of the sport’s signature icons — even if Cal Ripken’s play-every-day ethos would likely be mocked today as being too “try hard” — the Orioles have suffered through a near-decade of struggles before turning it around this year with one of the most exciting young rosters in baseball. And they are blasting past the expensively purchased powers of the Yankees and the Red Sox en route to what may be their third American League East title in 40 years. They’re ridiculously fun: brash, enthusiastic, electric, and impossible not to cheer for. I mean, there’s a fan named “Mr. Splash” who sprays people in the stands with a hose every time the Orioles get an extra-base hit — and there is a Dong Bong:

The vibes, as they say, are impeccable. Or at least they were until last week, when Orioles announcer Kevin Brown — one of the most respected young broadcasters in baseball — was reportedly suspended for annoying the team’s owner. Actually, it’s still not entirely clear why he was suspended. According to Awful Announcing, Orioles owner-failson John Angelos was upset that Brown, before a game with the Rays, pointed out that the Orioles had won more games against the team this year than in the previous two seasons combined. That’s the sort of rote, by-the-numbers factoid announcers have been dishing out for more than a century. (The stat was even included in the team’s official game notes.) The Awful Announcing report, which the Orioles have officially denied, said that the infamously thin-skinned Angelos was so upset by the stat, for reasons that boggle even the most ambitious of imaginations, that he ordered Brown off the air. (He returned to the broadcast over the weekend and has handled the whole thing as professionally as you could possibly fathom.) The suspension was so egregious that nearly every other team’s announcers stuck up for Brown, and blasted the Orioles, on their telecasts over the past week.

Off the field, it was a big buzzkill for a team that was rightfully becoming the toast of baseball. After all, who wants to cheer for a fun team with that guy as the owner? These kinds of distractions suck out all the joy.

Owner drama is also part of an ongoing problem. One of the most difficult aspects of being a sports fan is deciphering what, exactly, you are supporting. Are you cheering for the players? Well, you had better hope that no players you cheer for do anything untoward in their personal lives, or have different politics or personal beliefs than you do, or are, you know, Wander Franco. Are you cheering for the team’s city or geographic region? Well, I sure hope the local schools have some money left over after the city or state paid billions to build the team a new stadium. Are you cheering just to win money at gambling? Well, that’s become an ever-expanding scandal in sports and, uh, you’re probably going to lose all your money anyway.

Wherever you land on this question — I’m of the “your sports fandom is yours and can be whatever you decide it to be” school — one thing is definitely clear: Nobody roots for the owners of sports teams. Owners are, at best, absurdly wealthy individuals who have one of the most sure-fire, no-risk investments in capitalism. Owning a sports team is a no-lose proposition with massive profits guaranteed without having to do any of the hard work of actually playing or organizing any of these actual games. At worst, they’re meddlesome narcissists who destroy all the goodwill their franchises naturally incur as civic trusts — people like the Washington Commanders’ Daniel Snyder and the Phoenix Suns’ Robert Sarver, awful human beings who wreck everything in their path yet end up walking away with billions of dollars. Even the best sports-team owners — like the Atlanta Falcons’ Arthur Blank and the Mets’ Steve Cohen, who invest in their teams out of a desire to profit handsomely and win championships — are billionaires who still end up saddled with gross issues or controversies. Expecting more out of them than raising the payroll is pointless. They’re billionaires. They’re not in this for you.

But just as there probably isn’t any real way to be an ethical sports fan, deciding that you can’t cheer for a sports team because its owner is a loathsome character essentially guarantees that you can’t be a sports fan at all. If you can’t root for the Orioles because their delusional owner started throwing things at his television because he (nonsensically) got his feelings hurt, well, you can’t root for Shohei Ohtani and the Angels (their owner says it’s “very necessary” to vote for Trump and is one of his biggest donors) or Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets (their owner had to pay the city of St. Louis a $571 million settlement after allegedly committing fraud) … or any team or player in all of sports. There is nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.

The only solution, then, is to ignore the team owner altogether, or at least write them off as the necessary evil they probably are. Use them the way they use you: solely for your own purposes. Hope they’re someone like Cohen, who spends like crazy but otherwise stays out of the way; he is useful only for his money, like all owners, but at least he seems to know it. Ask them to spend,  hope they shut up, and try to ignore the fact that if your team wins, as happy as it makes you, it will mostly serve to make them even more money than they already have. Feel free to love the Orioles or at least love their incredible season, but ignore the Orioles’ owner, and all the owners, as best you can. They’re already probably doing the same thing to you.

There’s No Such Thing As a Good Sports-Team Owner