We're all Indians fans around these parts and I'd venture to guess that I am not the only Cavs and/or Browns fan in the neighborhood. For the past few months, if not longer, our Cleveland brethren have taken a beating for poor performances on the field/court and even worse performance in the front office. As all this was happening, and in the shadow of a 90-win season that included hosting a postseason game, there was this:
It is a sad state of affairs when the Dolans are the most productive owners in Cleveland sports.— NOTSCCleveland (@NOTSCCleveland) January 30, 2014
I don't mean to call out @NOTSCCleveland, which is admittedly a parody account, but this tweet got bunches of retweets, replies and favorites, and was far from the only time I saw or heard someone express this sentiment.
There seems to be a base-line assumption around the Cleveland sports scene that Larry Dolan and his son Paul are brutally bad owners, only made to look reasonable in comparison to the debacles elsewhere in town. It is not a new phenomenon, the Dolans have been a punching bag for local fans (including some readers of this site) for years, and honestly, I don't get it.
I mean, I understand the frustration when we have to ship out or best players before they reach free agency or when we pass on the big name free agents. But what I don't understand is all the people who look past the overwhelming evidence that Dolan is an excellent owner.
To me, the owner of any operation has three jobs:
- Provide whatever value you can, while knowing your own limits
- Hire the best people you can to run your organization
- Stay out of their way.
That's it. And it works not just in sports, but any business. If you own a restaurant, but can't cook, hire a great chef, and get out of their way. If you own a magazine but can't write, hire a great editor, let him or her hire the best writers, and get out of their way.
From what I can tell, the Dolans sign off on the budget (and we will get back to the budget in a minute), then give Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and the front office those two have assembled free reign to run the baseball side of the organization as they see fit. Shapiro and Antonetti are among the best in baseball at their jobs, by all accounts highly regarded within the industry. There are reasons we heard for years that Antonetti was a candidate for other jobs, before he succeeded Shapiro.
"But the Dolans are so cheap! You can't just brush off the budget!"
This has been the narrative long enough that the Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn signings feel like aberrations, but there is a lot of evidence the fans are inventing an issue here. If Shapiro thought Dolan was not providing him with the support to build a winner, don't you think he would have taken another job? Would Chris Antonetti have patiently waited his turn when, by all accounts, other organizations were ready to offer him a job?
Along the same lines, do you really think Terry Francona would have left the comfy confines of retirement just for a team stymied by stingy ownership? You have to believe Shapiro, Antonetti, and Francona all believe Dolan is doing the right things.
In baseball's economic environment, Dolan has done almost everything right. How many of you saw this yesterday?That's Baseball America telling us the Indians were 4th in international spending in 2013. In the international market, good scouting, recruiting, and quick movements can turn a hefty profit on a relatively small investment.
In the meantime, the Dolans get blasted for not buying up free agents, but they cannot possibly be expected to outspend the Dodgers or Yankees or Red Sox. Besides, any baseball economist can tell you that there is no worse return on an investment than a free agent. When you sign a free agent, you are usually just hoping the first years are good enough to make up for the last years, which are probably going to be a huge waste of money. The Dolans have hired smart people, enabled them to find talent, provided the cash to sign young players to long-term deals, and stayed out of the public spotlight while the front office does its job.
Fans think they want the deep pockets of the Steinbrenners running the team, but that seemingly unlimited cash flow comes not from a family but from a city and a media market. If you want the Indians to spend like that, just wait for Cleveland to surpass New York's population, or for the team to move to a bigger market, or for baseball to make fundamental changes in its economic system.
Since Dolan took over the team in 2000, the Indians have developed and traded for some terrific young talent (Victor Martinez, Carlos Santana, Grady Sizemore, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and more). The team has finished first or second 6 times and have never finished in last. The organization has had the kind of stability the Browns and Cavs can only dream of.
And honestly, I am not sure what more you can ask of an owner.