I'm not sure if I'm willing to call Peter Angelos the worst owner in sports, but he's definitely the snakiest. The Orioles are one of baseball's crown jewels in history and prestige, and since Angelos bought them in 1993, the team ditched its proven method known as The Oriole Way. The downward spiral started slow, but after the Jeffery Maier incident in 1996, Baltimore bottomed out thanks to a series of terrible management decisions. Nothing new so far, but Angelos also attempted to sell the Orioles for a significant gain, then brought them right back off the table. He also took the word "Baltimore" off the team's road jerseys, and refused to call the team the Baltimore Orioles. Things got so bad that fans got fed up enough to begin staging walk-outs, and think of the absurdity of that: Buying a ticket only to leave the game well before it's over. Angelos wasn't spurred into action; he responded by making the condescending statement that anyone who was part of that demonstration had no idea what it took to run a baseball team.
I don't think I need to say that the bottoming out was Rafael Palmiero's finger-waving steroid denial coming just weeks before he tested positive, and signing a washed-up Sammy Sosa who was clearly at the end of his rope was a desperation get-asses-in-seats move too. What's really humiliating for Baltimore, however, is what it took for Angelos to finally recognize and act on his disconnect with fans: Another baseball team encroaching on what was once his exclusive turf. In 2005, the Montreal Expos left their longtime home and moved into nearby DC, becoming the Washington Nationals. In the few years they've been there, the Nats have stacked their farm system with a collection of exciting young talent, and are now beginning to explode. Angelos was the only dissenting vote when MLB decided on the move, and now he's facing the prospect of having to either spend money on a good team and promotions or face en masse fan defections to the Nationals.
Blazers owner Paul Allen also owns the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, who went through their greatest period of success with him as the owner. Allen knows how to run a team. Unfortunately, while Allen was apparently able to build and patiently wait for results in Seattle, his approach to turning the Portland Trail Blazers into real contenders was much more crashing. It almost completely alienated one of the most fervently devoted fanbases in the NBA, one so devoted that the team signed an ironclad contract with the city which would keep them there in the event of a sale. The team gambled by trying to assemble an all-star team to get over the hump they couldn't conquer in the 90's, but they did it at the expense of chemistry and character. What resulted was one of the messiest fiascos in the league, which resulted in the era becoming known as the Jail Blazers era.
Many of the team's crimes were the typical athlete arrests coming from drugs or misused privilege. But one was arrested for dogfighting. Another was for sexual assault. Rasheed Wallace threatened a referee, Darius Miles (who is black) used some very bad racial slurs against his coach (also black), and Bonzi Wells told Sports Illustrated that the fans didn't matter to the team. While the Blazers have since been reborn, the old Jail Blazers image has been very difficult for them to shake.
Say what you will about the successes of the New York Mets; the Mets can at least safely claim the title of baseball's most successful expansion team, having won four Pennants and two World Series titles. The Clippers have to bear the grief of Los Angeles basketball with the consistently powerful Lakers laughing at them in the same division. Owner Donald Sterling is largely to blame for the team's genuine embarrassments, though. His frugal spending has led to the Clippers best season since their 1978 move to California being a paltry 47-win year in 2006. Every other team in the NBA - with the possible exception of the new Charlotte Bobcats - has won 50 games at least once. Those 47 wins are even two wins less than the team's best season, their 49-win 1975 season back when the Clippers were the Buffalo Braves.
The inexcusable, defection-causing embarrassments are comments which would make the KKK proud: "Black tenants smell and attract vermin." Hispanics "smoke, drink, and just hang around the building." He was sued for discrimination by the damned US Department of Justice in 2009, sued multiple times for sexual harassment, lied about developing some housing he bought in the 60's, pledged to spend $50 million to develop a homeless service provider for the eastern end of downtown Los Angeles which never materialized, denied the Clippers' coach money to pay for an out-of-network operation for his prostate cancer, and heckles his own players. Blake Griffin, Elton Brand, and a nice new training facility aren't nearly enough to excuse all that.
The Curse of Bobby Layne may not have actually happened, but it does make for great theater. Layne said the Lions wouldn't win for 50 years - sayeth the legend - and its been just a little over 50 since Layne was traded out of Detroit. As everyone knows, Lions fans have swallowed maybe the most godawful football in the league since. Barry Sanders, the greatest Lion, got so fed up that he simply walked away without explanation just one season away from the all-time rushing record. Maybe - MAYBE - two.
Unfortunately, the Lions of the millennium made the mistake of hiring Matt Millen to run the team. Every team makes mistakes as bad as Millen. It goes with the territory. But they kept him on for a bit too long, watching him draft receivers in the first round constantly and, when he didn't, sign total bombs. Again, part of the territory, but rock bottom hit in large part because the owner didn't recognize Millen's lack of talent and kept him on far longer than Millen should have been there. Fans started showing their displeasure at games, and discontent really took off because the team saw it fit to throw fans out of games for carrying "Fire Millen" signs. Then the fans wore opposing teams' colors to games and cheered against the Lions. Despite all this and the constantly bad performance, what it took for Ford to finally give in was the mother of all hand-of-the-Devil seasons, one in which the Lions went completely winless.
The Cubs are a very unique case on this list because in regards to the way the team performs, the ownership and management actually care a great deal. They've cared a great deal since the team's awful Pennant drought began after 1945, and they've been able to pull some truly remarkable talent up from their system (Ernie Banks), make good trades (Ferguson Jenkins), try innovative ideas (the school of managers, which seemed like a great idea on paper), and make smart hires for managers (Leo Durocher, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella). Every now and then, they fielded some truly fantastic teams who just faultered when it really counted (1969, 1984, 2003, 2008). The fact that their crosstown rivals won the World Series - thus ending an 88-year drought of their own - really seems to have spurred the upper brass of the Cubs into action, and they're fighting harder than ever.
So why are they here? First of all, their stoic refusal to renovate the rotting Wrigley Field doesn't look good. Wrigley was built during the privatized stadium days and doesn't receive public funding. In the meantime, their current owner is trying to use the White Sox' public funding as leverage to avoid making repairs while fishnets are the only things holding up parts of the stadium. Yet, they've lately been selling advertising spots on the beautiful field itself! But what really does the trick is the team's willingness to make losing and cuteness its calling card. The Lovable Losers is the team's nickname, and fans appear to have adopted it as a sign of a divine right to ignore the team and use the stadium as a bar and frat house. That's the big reason I adopted the White Sox over the Cubs when I moved to Chicago myself - one of the most unusual loyalty moves a baseball fan can make.
Joke about their Super Bowl futility. I'm used to it because everyone else does. But from 1988 to 1993, the Bills played in five AFC Championships, winning four of them, all in a row. Although those glorious years went down a little after 1993, the team won plenty of games after that, and when the 90's closed, the Bills had the second-best record of the decade. They had shown sustained greatness for the first time when their lynchpin, Jim Kelly, retired and they installed Doug Flutie and continued to do well. At the outset of the millennium, big things were expected of the Bills, who finally looked like they were on the verge of reversing their cursed historical misfortunes for good. Unfortunately, at the start of the new millennium, the Bills were faced with a quarterback controversy which was important to their future. They chose to install sack king Rob Johnson over fleet and speedy Flutie, thus taking the guy who was visibly inferior. It set the tone for the following decade, and the Bills have not yet made the playoffs in the 21st century - the only team with that distinction.
The Bills hired a carousel of unknown, untested coaches over qualified applicants. When they finally hired a veteran, it was the incompetent Dick Jauron over the very good Mike Sherman. When ownership sensed it was beginning to lose fans, it made a move to win some back by hiring Marv Levy - the coach of those Super Bowl teams - as General Manager. To his credit, Levy was the only GM in the insufferable carousel who didn't screw around with the draft. The Bills, desperately trying to create the image of a hard defensive team for themselves, kept taking running backs in the first round. When owner Ralph Wilson decided to finally get serious and hire real football guys to manage and coach, his GM hire was Buddy Nix, who came from inside the organization. His coach was Chan Gailey, whose only previous experience was a two-year tenure in Dallas. Their first draft together brought in CJ Spiller, who to their credit is emerging as a useful player, but he was still a first-round running back on a team for which running backs were the only real position that had no problems. The Bills would be further up this list, but after that first draft disaster, Nix and Gailey are beginning to show signs that they actually know what they're doing after all.
Rock bottom, however, is shipping a home game to an audience in Toronto that doesn't want them there every year now. The team needed the money. But the league is now clearly trying to use Buffalo as its abroad-conquering pawn, grooming it for a move to Canada. That's bad enough, and it's amplified by the fact that Toronto doesn't want them - they're satisfied with the CFL's Argonauts, who have won more titles than any football team on the continent, including the Green Bay Packers. The real kicker is that Buffalo can't afford to keep the Bills either, so their very continued existence in Buffalo is detrimental to the city's revival.
Look, no one blames or holds a grudge against the great Knickerbocker teams of the 90's for failing to win at least one championship. Although they spent the decade with a great window of opportunity, said window always had the Jordan/Jackson/Pippen Chicago Bulls on the other side, and the murderous, bloodthirsty drive of those Bulls teams preventing other great teams from winning titles is a recurring theme throughout the decade. Yes, they lost their only two Finals appearances of the decade, but it wasn't like the Houston Rockets (their 1994 opponents) or San Antonio Spurs (their 1999 opponents) were punchless or undermanned teams that had lucked into playoff spots.
In the millennium, the Knicks lost their leaders when Patrick Ewing retired and coach Jeff Van Gundy suddenly resigned. You can even forgive them for plummeting after that. But by now, sports fans know what's coming. I doubt people expected the years Isiah Thomas spent running the Knicks into the ground would result in wholehearted embarrassment, from a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2006 to a brawl with the Denver Nuggets to the ownership placing Thomas at head coach after the Larry Brown disaster. Thomas in the front office couldn't do anything right. He lacked a clear understanding of the salary cap or a good basketball acumen, but for some reason, the Knicks re-signed him in 2007 despite constantly falling out of playoff contention.
The Knicks now look like they're making the effort to return with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmello Anthony leading the team and Jeremy Lin looking like a solid player. But their coach, Mike D'Antoni, quit on them three quarters of the way through the 2012 season and after showing progress, the Knicks limped to the end.
Perhaps worst for the New York Knicks was the fact that, while they were screwing up every aspect of running a basketball team, the crossriver New Jersey Nets, a hidden Mickey Mouse team for most of their existence, broke out of their shells and went on a glittering run of their own which culminated in two Conference Titles. The Nets, a survivor of the ABA merger, were stealing attention from their glamor brothers in the tri-state area for the first time and winning fans by being the cool, rebel alternative. And with them now crossing the river themselves and becoming the Brooklyn Nets, they're bound to attract a lot more attention from players and fans alike. It's do or die time for the senior New York Knicks, but the way things are going, what happens from here on out is anyone's guess.
Nothing is going well for the New York Jets right now. Over the last couple of years, they were on the verge of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since their stomach-punch upset of the Baltimore Colts in the 1968 season. I don't blame their coach, Rex Ryan, for being a cantankerous and bombastic bozo because he can field a great team when he needs to, and he's probably sick to death of everyone automatically ceding the AFC East to the New England Patriots every year. And you can't forget, they're forced to share their stadium with the senior New York Giants.
It doesn't speak well for the team's quarterback situation that they see their future in Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is a piss-poor quarterback known for rotten decision-making as it is, but the Jets hit rock bottom when they decided to trade for Tim Tebow, thus kicking off The Quarterback Controversy That Shouldn't Be. Sanchez may be merely decent, but he's an atmosphere above Tebow, a guy who won in Denver because he was largely supported by a good rush and a guy whose only "clutch" plays occurred only through incredible luck, a guy who repeatedly makes the worst possible throws. A guy who, sadly, has a legion of fans who will follow him anywhere because of his All-American Good Christian Boy routine - one so insufferable that fucking Kurt Warner advised him to back off! The Jets have officially stopped going anywhere and, with Tebow, are going for attention through fan service rather than good football.
If there's an entire league that compounds fan embarrassment, the Gary Bettman NHL is it. Even the no-fun, see-no-evil NFL is better run these days. Bettman's mass expansion of the NHL - which doubled the size of the league - placed teams in markets which often literally didn't know those teams existed. Atlanta had TWO NHL teams removed to almost no fanfare. It resulted in the appearance of what NHL fans refer to, in varying terms, the who-the-hell-are-THEY?! teams. Those are teams placed in warm-weather markets with absolutely no tradition or history or cultural ties to the sport. Most of them go ignored and some have been sold or even moved within a few years of their creation due to lack of fan interest. The only people who go to their games are transplants from the hockey-crazed northeast and northern midwest who only buy tickets when the team they cheered for in the north visits town.
The Nashville Predators are one of the who-the-hell-are-THEY?! poster boys. First of all, the original NHL plan for Nashville was to let them steal the New Jersey Devils at a time the Devils were about to launch their Trap Dynasty. When the Predators were created, they had their expansion troubles, but over the last few years they've been fielding strong teams. Even with the addition of Peter Forsberg, though, the Preds had such trouble finding fans that even in a season in which they finished with 110 points - third in the league and only three points behind the Detroit Red Wings and President's Trophy-winning Buffalo Sabres - that rumors were still flying about relocation and team sale until the middle of the following season.
At one point, the Predators were to be sold to Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie who, without even owning the team, set in motion plans to move them to Hamilton, Ontario. That has to be the rock bottom embarrassment moment because, while that location is in Canada, Hamilton is placed smack dab in the middle of broadcast territory for two of the league's most popular teams: The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. When that didn't go through, a rumor began about a move to Kansas City before it was sold to a Tennessee ownership group run by William Del Biaggio III, who was later tossed into legal hot water for using fraud to acquire the money he used to buy the Predators.
Another one of the who-the-hell-are-THEY?! teams, the Phoenix Coyotes showed up when Steven Gluckstern and Richard Burke, two idiots who bought the Winnipeg Jets, decided to move the team from its natural home in Winnipeg, Manitoba to the damned desert of Arizona. How much hockey culture do you think exists there? But the guy was blinded by that sickening combination of words which always sends a shudder up a hockey fan's spine: "Market Potential." The fact that they already owned the NBA's Phoenix Suns probably didn't work in the Jets' favor. And because Gary Bettman has the brain of a lemur, he agreed that a move would be a good idea. To the surprise of absolutely no one other than the Suns owners and Gary Bettman, the Coyotes don't have any fans.
Things actually didn't go too bad on the ice in Phoenix at first. The team made some smart pickups and drafted some talented young 'uns, and they properly deferred to their past by retiring the number of legendary NHL player Bobby Hull, who played for them when the Winnipeg Jets were an upstart team in a rebel league. But in 2006, Wayne Gretzkey was coaching his kids' little league hockey team. It inspired him, and he decided maybe coaching an NHL team would be his next big move. This is the rock bottom embarrassment. The Yotes quickly snapped him up in an asses-in-seats move clearly banking on the idea that Arizona natives knew who The Great One was.
The Suns owners ended up selling the team, by the way, and it changed hands a few times until it found its way into the hands of trucking magnate Jerry Moyes, who after massive losses gave it back to the NHL to control. With what power he had left, he filed for bankruptcy before being given an offer to sell the team to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Moyes rejected that idea and instead tried to sell it to, uh... Jim Balsillie! Who intended to, er, move the team to, um... Hamilton, Ontario. Remember that? So did the NHL, which responded by stripping Moyes of all his remaining ownership rights. Winnipeg, meanwhile, finally got its team back last season when it heisted the Thrashers from Atlanta.
Yeah, it's pretty bad when the great leaders of a team's latest dynasty turn out to be 'roidheads. But the unforgivable, rock bottom embarrassment is that here we have a team that found a way to slug it out with baseball's big boys with about 1/20 the payroll. And instead of keeping it in a vault ten levels beneath the Oakland Coliseum, the team spat their entire system to a sports journalist who wrote a bestseller about it. Even Moneyball author Michael Lewis now admits what he did cost the team its window because other teams read the book and started employing the same sabremetrics techniques. And instead of using merely a handful of scrappy, bargain bin players who put up the necessary statistics in only the stat categories Oakland needed, the big money teams went out and started buying up all the players who not only excelled in the minute statistics, but also the big glamor statistics like batting average and ERA too. Now the A's suck again, and unless San Francisco enacts legislation which forces the rich Giants to redistribute their wealth to the Athletics, their current suckitude will probably carry on for around three more decades.
The irony is that the Ducks are one of the very, very few teams of the Bettman expansions that worked out well. Us nor'easterners tend to doubt California as a hockey market, but all the teams there have had successes and they appear to have good, knowledgeable fans. The Ducks were the first of the California teams to win the Stanley Cup when they went all the way in 2007. Unfortunately for their fans, that means their beloved team is now more visible, and all NHL fans know the Anaheim Ducks began their life as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and yes, they were named after the Disney movie.
Fortunately for them, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim officially changed their name to the simpler, punchier Anaheim Ducks the year they won the Stanley Cup, which spares them the indignity of the larger part of America knowing the origin of their name. They've distanced themselves from their Disney past, but it will be a bit longer before NHL fans forget the old name and logo.
Another team with prominent mythology in Disney, much of the above can be said about the Angels. The poor Angels endured all kinds of embarrassments - Bo Belinsky, the great collapse of 1995, and a shitty remake of Angels in the Outfield. They didn't give Dodgers fans a whole lot of reason to defect until they won the World Series in 2002. They haven't been back, but they've been one of the best teams in the AL, and for the first time, Angels fans were able to hold their heads high and look Dodgers fans in the eyes.
Then came the dumbass name change. Los Angeles and Anaheim are 20 miles apart, in different counties. And here people had finally just stopped saying "Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles." It's one thing to pander to people in a metro area that isn't the team's. It's another to change the team's name to do it.
You have to look at the Bobcats and wonder, what did they expect? A team President who once played basketball isn't going to necessarily have the basketball acumen needed to find talent and run the team, even if that former basketball player does happen to be Michael Jordan. This is rock bottom because it means the ownership of the Bobcats was banking on having the greatest player in NBA history in the skybox to try to lure fans. Jordan is clearly done as a player, so it wasn't like anyone was ever going to see him suit up again. That's not to say a player will make a bad President, but that's exactly what happened with Jordan, and his tenure as President resulted in the Charlotte Bobcats just having the worst season any basketball team in history has ever had. That's bad enough, but Jordan's recent gambling troubles coming to light doesn't help very much.
Al Davis died last year. It spared Raiders fans the humiliation of more zombie jokes. But aside from a Super Bowl appearance in 2002, the last ten years are ten I'm sure Raider Nation would rather forget. Davis had one of the great football acumens of his day, but by the time he took his last breath, his acumen was outdated and replaced with a raging ego.
His deal to send Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay and replace him with Bill Callahan looked good at first because Callahan took them to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, Callahan didn't bother changing the playbook, and when the Raiders met Gruden's Buccaneers in the Super Bowl and crushed them, it was a bad omen. The Raiders spent the next several years floundering, and for the next seven seasons, they lost at least eleven games a year. They had carousels for just about every important position - quarterback, running back, and coach. There are a few rock bottom embarrassments with these guys: The Super Bowl disaster is where everything started going south, but there was the return of Art Shell, the Aaron Brooks experiment, and Davis firing coach Tom Cable - the one guy he hired who looked like he might have had some success turning things around - for a petty remark which was also a very honest assessment of the team.
My personal pick, however, is the JaMarcus Russell disaster. Word of god says Davis forced his coaches to start Russell, and man did they pay. His work ethic was questioned, mainly because Russell constantly showed up overweight and out of shape. Although not quite the bust Ryan Leaf was, Russell has his reverse fans who place him above Leaf in the bust pantheon.
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