Commentary

Cuban wouldn't be your typical baseball owner, which is just fine

Updated: October 11, 2007, 5:08 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Mark Cuban is not going to be the new owner of the Chicago Cubs. The Tribune Company, which is selling the team, knows it. MLB commissioner Bud Selig knows it. And I'm guessing even Cuban himself knows it.

Mark Cuban
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezCuban has kept a close eye on the NBA since taking over the Mavs. He'd no doubt be the same with the Cubs.

Nobody will come right out and say it, but Cuban is going to get blackballed by the old boys baseball frat house of Phi Gonna Lie. In "Animal House" terms, Cuban is Eric "Otter" Stratton, Selig is Dean Vernon Wormer, and longtime Cuban antagonist Jerry Reinsdorf is Doug Neidermeyer.

It isn't a matter of money. Cuban has money. He could buy the Cubs, Wrigley Field, and the Tribune's 25 percent stake of a local sports cable channel -- total price tag: an estimated $700 million-$1 billion -- and still have more than a billion dollars of net worth left in his money clip.

It isn't a matter of business sense. Cuban is a self-made man, an American success story who isn't against lots of commas and zeroes on a profit sheet. You don't become the 407th-wealthiest person in the world (according to Forbes Magazine) just because you can tango.

And it isn't a matter of sports savvy. Cuban turned a dog with fleas -- the Dallas Mavericks -- into one of the NBA's Best of Show. Since Cuban bought the the team in 2000, the Mavs have become one of the top revenue producers in the league and increased its value from $285 million to about $400 million.

"I happen to make the personal choice to reinvest 100 percent of it into players and organization," Cuban told me in an e-mail. "I don't know why anyone would be upset with that approach."

Upset? Some MLB owners aren't upset, they're mortified. Terrified. Petrified. The last thing they want is Cuban making them look bad with his reinvestment model.

It will take a three-quarters majority vote -- 22 of 29 -- for Cuban to be approved by MLB owners. There's a better chance of the Wrigley Field ivy being replaced by popcorn strings than there is Cuban getting those 22 votes. He will become the victim of politics, grudges and inertia.

Selig has made it clear he prefers local ownership. Sure, makes sense. Except that the Cubs have been locally owned for decades and have exactly zero World Series championships since 1909. So maybe it's time to try something else. Anyway, you don't have to worry about Cuban being an absentee owner. Ask the Mavs or NBA refs how absent he is. The guy becomes more attached to his teams than barnacles to a ship hull.

Cuban already has said his regular spot at Wrigley wouldn't be on luxury suite row of the stadium's mezzanine level, or in the plexiglass-protected seats (preferred by Trib execs) next to the Cubs' on-deck circle. Instead, Cuban has picked out some space in the right-field bleachers. For some reason, I don't see apparent bidding front-runner John Canning Jr., who just happens to be a Selig buddy and an investor in Selig's old team, the Milwaukee Brewers, sitting shirtless as a Bleacher Bum.

It also doesn't help Cuban that Selig is influenced by the advice of Reinsdorf, who is chairman of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls. And isn't it interesting that billionaire Sam Zell, who is taking Tribune Company private, is an investor in Reinsdorf's Bulls and White Sox.

ESPN Radio: Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban talked to Mike and Mike about training for "Dancing with the Stars," plus the possibility of buying the Cubs. Listen Insider

Twenty-nine NBA owners voted for Cuban after he bought the majority interest of the Mavericks in 2000. One didn't. That one was Reinsdorf, who happily will remind you of the final tally.

The powerful Reinsdorf isn't a Cuban fan (though, there are those within the White Sox organization who say the animosity is overblown). And he isn't alone. Cuban can be brash, theatrical, ridiculously over the top. He has a long, expensive history of yelling at refs and opposing players from courtside and closer. He has sparred publicly and privately with NBA commissioner David Stern. He warred with former Mavs coach Don Nelson. In short, he can be nuts.

But when it comes to the business of overseeing a franchise, Cuban is more serious than a triple bypass.

"Running a professional sports team requires the same level of attention and management skill that any other potentially billion-dollar business would require," he wrote in the e-mail. "Learning to understand a sport is easy. Learning to run a billion-dollar business, not so much."

There's a fear that Cuban would come in and do a Tom Hicks -- spectacularly overspend for a player or players, such as Hicks did with Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers. This is comical for all sorts of reasons.

First of all, Reinsdorf, who was on the front lines of the labor wars of the mid-1990s, overpaid for Albert Belle and made him the game's most expensive player. The White Sox couldn't wait to get rid of him and his bloated contract.

And this year, Reinsdorf's White Sox almost finished in last place of the AL Central, despite having seven players who will earn at least $10 million a year during the course of their contracts. So, please, no fiscal management lectures from Jerry and the fellas.

"In my mind, [ownership] means active involvement and using every business skill available in order to make a team competitive on the field and off," said Cuban. "The better you can serve your fans and customers, the more money you have available to invest in players and player development, regardless of the sport."

Cuban is active, all right. At times he's too passionate, too invested, too close. But he cares about something other than black on a ledger, which is more than you can say about some of these other mope owners in the NBA and MLB. Is there a chance he'd go for a Scott Boras-produced A-Rod contract spectacular? Maybe. But he wouldn't be the first owner to sign off on a Boras deal.

Could I see him yelling at an umpire from those bleacher seats? Sure. But remember, Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria already did it from much closer range a couple of years ago. Loria is also the same guy who gutted the Marlins after they won a World Series.

Cuban dances with the stars. He does Leno's show. He spends the $15,000 or so it costs to play in Michael Jordan's basketball camp in Vegas. Cuban isn't like you or me. And he's not like any other MLB owner, which is a good thing.

The original timetable for the Cubs sale was supposed to take place before the end of the year. Now the sale might not be completed until next spring. Nobody knows for sure.

In the meantime, Cuban waits to bid on a team that could use his money, his expertise and even his eccentricities. He's already led the Wrigley crowd during the seventh-inning stretch, once in 2002 and once in 2005. Now he's waiting for the Cubs to sing back.

To MLB owners, including Jerry Neidermeyer, Cuban comes in peace. He wants what Cubs followers want: to win. Like he said, why would anyone be upset with that?

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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