Commentary

Mark Cuban, MLB owner … why not?

Franchise owners have a say, but commissioner Bud Selig still stands in the way

Updated: June 24, 2011, 1:23 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Charlie Finley, a man who used to parade a mule around the outfield, once owned a baseball team.

Bill Veeck, the man responsible for Disco Demolition Night, once owned a baseball team.

Marge Schott, a woman who turned her ballpark into a playground for her St. Bernards, once owned a baseball team.

So why can't Mark Cuban own a baseball team?

It's a question that people outside of baseball ask all the time. So today, Rumblings and Grumblings is going to try to explain it to you. It's a question we've posed to folks within baseball for weeks. It's a fascinating topic. So here goes ...

First of all, you should know this: It's not impossible.

[+] EnlargeMark Cuban
Brandon Wade/Getty ImagesCould Mark Cuban become the next owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers?

Less than a year ago, in fact, Cuban and Jim Crane lost an auction to buy the Texas Rangers in bankruptcy court. Baseball had cleared him to participate in that bidding, though not as a partner who would have had a controlling interest.

"There would have been significant opposition to him," says one source in baseball's inner circle, "as a 'control' guy."

Nevertheless, if Crane and Cuban had won that auction instead of Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg, Cuban almost certainly would be part of baseball ownership right now. Remember that.

Then again, Bud Selig and his sport would have had a tough time defying a bankruptcy judge. But crazier things have happened.

We should keep that Texas situation in mind, though, because it wouldn't shock anybody if Frank McCourt headed for bankruptcy court himself any minute now in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control of the Dodgers' fate.

So if the Dodgers wind up being auctioned off by another bankruptcy judge some day and Cuban wins that bidding, we'd love to see the drama that would ensue if the commish tries to challenge that outcome.

But let's just assume for now that the Dodgers' soap opera spins in a different direction. Let's assume that McCourt doesn't make payroll next week, that MLB seizes control of the team and that some day, in some fine courtroom in our land, McCourt's legal challenge to the commissioner's best-interest powers goes ka-boom.

Then what? Then don't look for Mark Cuban to be sitting in a Chavez Ravine owner's box, giving Joe West a piece of his mind, any time in the next century. That's what.

Why? Because this is still Bud Selig's empire, and Bud's vision of what a baseball owner is supposed to look like would not include the phrase, "loose cannon."

And the commish's current view of Cuban, says one longtime management source, is that "he's a squeaky wheel. … And that ain't Bud Selig."

Here's how another source, who has attended many an owners' meeting, puts it: "Bud does not have any interest in an owner who wants to be The Story. … Also, Bud's not interested in owners who are going to overtly challenge him publicly."

But we know what you're thinking: How is this just Bud's call, right? Don't prospective owners have to be approved by all 30 owners -- none of whom are currently named Selig? Don't they have a say?

Well, sure they do. And not all of those owners would oppose Mark Cuban. We know that for a fact.

"I think he'd be a good owner," says an official of one team. "He's got a lot of money -- probably not as much as people think, but he's got more than enough to buy a team. He's won a championship. He wants to win. He knows how to market. I think he'd be a great owner. And I'm not sure he wouldn't be approved."

Yet another source, from a similar background, reminds us that not so long ago, there was opposition just as vociferous to Jeff Moorad, a former agent, when he joined a group that eventually bought the Diamondbacks in 2004.

That sentiment, the source says, started out as "over-my-dead-body opposition." And eventually, Moorad didn't just get approved once. He was approved a second time when he fronted a group that bought the Padres in 2009.

So you'd think that if Cuban were told what Moorad was told -- that these are the rules baseball owners play by and that's the deal -- he'd be cool with abiding by those rules. Wouldn't you?

Uh, here's the trouble with that logic: Cuban once assured the NBA he'd stay out of the spotlight, too. And how'd that work out?

So most folks at MLB think Cuban would be tough for this commissioner to trust. And that's a deal-breaker, because ultimately, Selig figures to control the process of the Dodgers' sale the way he has controlled the process of every sale, in some manner or other, for years.

He's not a man who has to answer to 300 million Americans, remember. He only has to answer to 30 other people -- the 30 people who own major league baseball teams. And those 30 people have given him a massive amount of power over stuff like this.

So if baseball can manage the sale of the Dodgers the way it once managed the sale of the Expos after MLB took over operations of that franchise, history says Bud will get the outcome he wants to get.

You might recall that baseball didn't open that Expos sale to the highest bidder. Instead, it told the eight bidders: "Here's the price we're going to get. Now stop by for an interview so we can decide which of you is most worthy."

Now if that's the way the Dodgers' sale works, try to envision a scenario where Bud decides Mark Cuban is his dream date. Ehhhh, we don't think so.

Frankly, says one of the sources quoted above, Cuban fits "the exact opposite profile of what would work in a Bud Selig administration."

"Of course, we don't know," that source adds, "how long the Bud Selig administration is going to last. Who knows if that team will even get sold while Bud is commissioner. But Bud, even when he steps down, will have significant influence in the running of the game. I can assure you of that."

And if Selig continues to exert that influence the way he's exerted it for the past two decades? Let's just say you might get better odds on Lindsay Lohan being the next owner of the Dodgers than on Mark Cuban being the next owner.

That may not be fair. But it IS how life works in Bud Selig's empire, whether the rest of us like it or not.

Ready to Rumble

• Shocking as Jim Riggleman's resignation in Washington was, tension in his clubhouse had been simmering for weeks. One friend of Riggleman says the manager had grown concerned he was being undermined by several players, suspected he was on the verge of being fired before the Nationals' recent hot streak and felt that the only way he could re-exert control of his team was to have his option for next year picked up as a show of support from his bosses.

When he decided his owners and GM weren't willing to give him that support, it pushed him to make a decision that could cost him a chance to hold any significant baseball job again. We've always known Riggleman to be a man of strength and principle. But his principles, in this case, may have caused him to make a decision he could regret in time.

"I still don't understand," said one longtime friend, "why he wouldn't have played this out, let his team play .500 and let the record speak for itself, and then they would have HAD to extend him. Then [if they hadn't] it makes Mike Rizzo look like the bad guy. That sure isn't how it looks now." Phillies

• In Philadelphia, Charlie Manuel may be actively campaigning for a right-handed bat to slot into the middle of his order. But his general manager has other ideas.

"What I see," Ruben Amaro Jr. told Rumblings, "is us having to address our pitching."

With Jose Contreras on the disabled list until at least August, Brad Lidge's prognosis uncertain and J.C. Romero booted out the door, Amaro made it clear he thinks the Phillies need a veteran reliever, preferably left-handed, more than they need another bat. Rookie relievers Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes have allowed only 24 hits in a combined 50 2/3 innings. But Amaro's cautious reaction is: "Can we rely on kids to carry us all the way through September and October? I don't know that."

Teams that have spoken with the Phillies say Philadelphia isn't doing anything more than tire-kicking for another few weeks. They've checked in on a number of right-handed bats and veteran relievers. But unless they find teams willing to eat the salary of players they deal for, Amaro said firmly the Phillies have enough payroll flexibility only to make small deals, not big deals.

• Amaro also shut down speculation that the Phillies would look to trade Lidge next month to free up money, if he ever gets back and shows he's healthy: "I'd like him to add some depth," the GM said.

B.J. Upton
B.J. Upton
• More fodder for the B.J. Upton rumor mill: Scouts covering the International League report that the Rays have their own people bearing down on their most advanced outfield prospects, Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer, both of whom have played all three outfield positions for Triple-A Durham -- "just to get a better read on who would be the replacement if they do trade B.J.," said one of those scouts.

• More buzz from scouts covering the minor leagues: The Padres appear to be gearing up to jump the market by being the first on their block to sell attractive pieces like Heath Bell and Ryan Ludwick. Scouts say they've seen Padres scouts actively checking out the farm systems of contenders (such as Texas and Philadelphia) that they believe they could match up with in one of those deals.

• Our good friend Steve Berthiaume made a compelling case for moving the Rays in the SweetSpot blog this week. But one longtime baseball official says to forget that. In the eyes of MLB, there's no place for either the Rays or A's to move if their ballpark situations can't get resolved.

Las Vegas? "Intriguing, but Bud's just not there," he said. … Portland, Ore.? "Not a big enough market, and two hours away from another market [Seattle]." … San Antonio? The Rangers and Astros would block it.

"If you just want to look at population numbers and demographics," the source said, "it would make more sense to put a third team in New York or a second team in Boston. But that's not happening, either."

Giants

• Maybe the Giants won't wind up dealing for a bat. But we're hearing that scouts have spent a lot of time lately eyeballing their pitching-rich San Jose Club in the California League. Two power arms that have gotten some serious attention: Closer Heath Hembree (just promoted to Double-A) and Keith Law's top-rated pitching prospect in the organization, Zack Wheeler. One scout on Wheeler, who has piled up 138 career strikeouts in 119 2/3 minor league innings: "The ball jumps out of his hand. If they give him up, they're out of their minds."

Jayson Werth
Werth

Scott Boras
Boras

• One note in Tuesday's Rumblings detailed Scott Boras' efforts through the years to meet with other agents' clients who were about to become marquee free agents. But since that item appeared, one player we mentioned  Jayson Werth  has told us his switch to Boras last summer didn't fit that profile.

Werth has known Boras for years, since his days playing for the Dodgers, and that when he decided to switch agents last year, he invited Boras to his home for a meeting to "get a sense of who he was." In that meeting, he said, Boras "sold me on his knowledge of the game," from his philosophies on everything from the agent's business to how front offices work.

Werth said he interviewed many other agents and even spoke with players who rejected Boras' sales pitch. But in the end, he felt as though he courted Boras, not the other way around. Since we grouped him with players whose switch to Boras, just before free agency, smelled slightly suspicious, we felt it was only fair to let him present his side of that story. So there ya go.

• Marlins president David Samson on Jack McKeon: "My biggest concern was that this would become a 2003 Memory Lane event. But it hasn't. In the last week, Jack hasn't mentioned 2003 one time. He hasn't once said, 'Mike Lowell did this or Juan Pierre did that.'"

• More from Samson, on the worries from people on the outside that McKeon wouldn't be able to handle the insanity of the modern schedule: "I think in the last week, he de-aged by 10 to 15 years. He's amazing. But that's the power of doing something you love. Jack McKeon loves the grind of every-day managing. It's who he is."

• And one final McKeon story from a dugout observer: In one game this week, as Hanley Ramirez stepped into the box, a charged up McKeon began yelling, "Linea, linea." Translation: "Hit a line drive." But later that inning, when the not-particularly-Hispanic Wes Helms dug into the box, McKeon again screamed out, "Linea, linea." Whereupon one of his fellow coaches turned to McKeon and said, 'Hey Jack, that's Wes Helms. He's not Spanish." To which McKeon replied: "Aw, they all speak Spanish or English. Who knows what?" Jack McKeon, friends. There's only one like him.

Five Astounding Facts (Friday Edition)

Orioles

1) The Orioles' rotation may rank 10th in the American League in starting pitching ERA, but at least it can hit. Orioles starters have gotten a hit in five of six interleague games in NL parks this year -- and are even working on a four-game hitting streak. To find the last time Orioles pitchers got a hit in four straight games, you have to go deep into the pre-DH era, to Sept. 9-11, 1969, when Mike Cuellar, two relievers (Frank Bertaina and Al Severinsen) and Dave McNally pulled that off.

2) When the Nationals and Pirates surged to the top of Mount .500 on Wednesday, loyal tweeter Alan Elias wondered when both of those two star-crossed franchises found themselves at .500 or above this late in any season. The answer: Aug. 30, 1997, believe it or not, when the Pirates were 68-68 and the Nationals' forefathers in Montreal were 67-67.

3) The Phillies may be on the verge of losing Roy Oswalt, but their other three aces are heading for historic territory. They have one starter (Cliff Lee) leading the league in shutouts, another (Cole Hamels) leading the league in WHIP and a third (Roy Halladay) leading the league in Wins Above Replacement. If we use baseball-reference.com's calculations of WAR leaders through the years, there hasn't been any other team in the live-ball era that had three starters lead the league in those three categories.

Twins

4) We mentioned in a blog this week that on Tuesday the Twins became the first team in history to start a game by going single-double, single-double, single-double, single-double. But that's not all. Loyal reader Trent McCotter reports they're the only team in the last 62 seasons to go single-double, single-double, single-double, single-double at any point in ANY game.

5) And it's about time Mother Nature exacted a little revenge on San Diego for all that perfect weather. There have only been two games all season that were stopped by four different rain delays -- and the Padres have been mixed up in both of them. The first was an April 8 home game with the Dodgers. The second was their game Wednesday in Boston. Total rain-delay time: 5 hours, 55 minutes. Just wondering: Do they even own umbrellas?

Tweets of the Week

The real Jack McKeon doesn't know a tweet from a beet. But fortunately, his fictitious alter-ego, FakeJackMcKeon, has been tweeting away all week.

• Asked by a follower whether his wife said it was OK for him to go back to managing the Marlins, Fake Jack tweeted:

Told her I was going out for some milk.

• Upon his arrival for his first day of work, Fake Jack seemed confused by the 875th name change in the life of the Marlins' thinly disguised football stadium:

Just got to the ballpark, this new Sun Life Stadium doesn't look too much different from the old one. No wonder why the taxpayers are upset

• And, finally, Fake Jack also wanted to find a way to connect with his players via a gift of some newfangled technology:

I was thinking of buying all of the players a VCR… Any other gift ideas?

Late-Nighter of the Week

Finally, even David Letterman couldn't help but weigh in on the return of his favorite octogenarian to the dugout:

"Jack McKeon, 80 years old and managing the Florida Marlins. The guy is still getting it done, Jack McKeon. He won a World Series title with the Marlins, and now he's back, 80 years old, and dating a hot actress -- Betty White."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com