Getting Owned: 10 Sports Team Owners Who Were Suspended, Banned, Or Forced To Sell
Things are getting pretty hot in Cleveland for a certain newbie Browns owner. In April, the FBI alleged that executives of the Pilot Flying J gas station chain, which was founded in 1958 by the father of current CEO and new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III, had been skimming money from fuel rebates owed to trucking companies. Since the news broke, an employee has testified that management was aware of the scheme, though Haslam denies previous knowledge of the misdeeds—even telling ESPNCleveland that he is “absolutely not” selling the Browns.
But as broken down by Browns blog DawgsByNature, the federal investigation could ultimately compromise Haslam’s ownership of the team, and even his freedom. If indisputable evidence emerges and Haslam gets suspended from operations or compelled to sell the team, he’d find himself in rarefied air: the rogues gallery of sports team owners who have received such severe punishments by their leagues is small, but distinguished.
Horace Fogel, Philadelphia Phillies (1909-1912)
Banned: 1912 (Reason: Delusional, drunken tirade)
Philly Sports History has a fascinating retrospective of Fogel’s stint as owner of the Phillies. Fogel, the story goes, was a figurehead. The team was financially backed by Cubs president Charles Murphy and the Taft family of Cincinnati. After a night of heavy drinking, which was not so uncommon for Fogel, he unleashed a one-man campaign against the National League in which he accused league president Thomas Lynch of instructing umpires to call games in favor of the league-leading Giants and against the Cubs and Phillies. (Philly finished 30.5 games out.) The charges were ultimately found to be unsubstantiated and Fogel was banned from baseball for life.
William D. Cox, Philadelphia Phillies (1943-1943)
Banned: 1943 (Betting on baseball)
Cox bought the Phillies in March of 1943. He would be out of baseball by 1944. The new owner fired manager Bucky Harris in the middle of the season, and friends of Harris told commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that Cox had been gambling on Phillies games.
Via Cox’s New York Times obituary:
Mr. Cox, who had already been forced by the commissioner to get out of horse racing because of that sport’s involvement with gambling, at first denied the charge. Then he admitted it, but said he had not known about the rule barring an owner from betting on his own team. He said he had stopped as soon as he was told about it.
Later he said he had made only small, sentimental bets with friends, even though he had previously admitted to the commissioner that he had placed bets with bookmakers, a false admission, he later argued, that he had made to smoke out a disloyal Phillies employee.
Cox would end up selling the Phillies to the Robert R. M. Carpenter family, who owned the team until 1981.
Harry Wismer, New York Titans (1959-1963)
Forced out: 1963 (Franchise insolvency)
Pro Football Researchers has the incredible story of the 1962 New York Titans. In Week 3, the AFL team’s players went on strike after not receiving their paychecks for the first two weeks. Owner Harry Wismer came up with the money mid-week and the team suited up, but he wasn’t able to sustain that magic act for long.
Some paychecks bounced, as the Irving Trust Company paid checks only up to the variable amount of the team’s account. First come, first served was a very real principle as applied to Titans paychecks. The team no longer kept the locker room stocked with toiletries, the trainer didn’t have enough tape for all the players, towels and socks were no longer laundered regularly, and the team broke down into distrustful cliques.
On Monday, assistant AFL commissioner Milt Woodard told the press that some Titans paychecks for the San Diego game on October 28 had bounced. Woodard added that “we do understand that payment will be made.” Woodard addressed the possibility of future reoccurrences: “I don’t think the league will permit this for very long. We’re morally obligated not to permit this to happen. We want the Titans to settle their own business. Yet we assure the commissioner will step in if it happens again.” On Wednesday, the public relations agency representing the Titans quit for lack of payment.
There are more details like that in PFR’s story, and they have another article on the franchise’s sale:
[Commissioner Joe] Foss had given Wismer over a month to sell the team. When the season ended without a sale, Foss decided to invoke Article I, section 14, of the league constitution, which read:
“The Commissioner may, after notice and hearing, expel any member club, any director, officer or stockholder of the American Football League, cancel or forfeit the franchise of any member club or the interest of any director, officer or stockholder in any club in the American Football League … if, in his opinion, it, he or they are guilty of any act or acts which are or may be detrimental to the American Football League or to the sport of professional football, provided the Commissioner’s decision is approved and ratified by a vote of three-fourths of the member clubs.”
The deplorable financial state of the Titans could easily be considered detrimental.
The AFL had been covering the team’s payroll since November. In March of 1963, the Gotham Football Club — a five-man syndicate led by Sonny Werblin — purchased the Titans for $1 million. That April, the team became the New York Jets.
George Steinbrenner, New York Yankees (1973-2010)
Suspended: 1974 (Election fraud)
The fiery, once-loathed-but-posthumously-kinda-loved Tampa shipbuilder was suspended by commissioner Bowie Kuhn for two years in late-1974 when he pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. Steinbrenner only ended up missing one full season after Kuhn lifted the suspension nine months early.
Ted Turner, Atlanta Braves (1976-1996)
Suspended: 1977 (Tampering)
During the 1976 World Series, the burgeoning media mogul and new Braves owner revealed his intent to poach impending free agent Gary Matthews away from San Francisco, telling Giants owner Bob Lurie, “No matter what you offer Gary, I’ll do better.” Because the “obviously inebriated” (his own words) Turner was speaking before the start of free agency, he was suspended from Braves baseball operations for one year by commissioner Kuhn.
“I’m thankful he didn’t order me shot,” Turner said of Kuhn when the suspension was upheld.
George Steinbrenner, New York Yankees (1973-2010)
Suspended: 1983 (Intemperateness)
Again. In 1983, The Boss was suspended for a week after calling the integrity of umpires Darryl Cousins and John Shulock into question: “Umpires Cousins and Shulock, who are two umpires who worked during the strike, and who other umpires refuse to talk to, have both been put on the same umpiring team and it has resulted in a very poor team,” Steinbrenner said in a statement after star outfielder Dave Winfield was ejected from a game following a first-inning dust-up while the opposing player(s) were not.
A.L. president Lee MacPhail later called Steinbrenner’s remarks “intemperate” and promised disciplinary action, prompting Steinbrenner to retort, “I will not have my people nor myself be gagged from making what I believe is a factual statement.”