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Baseball owners are a scourge on the sport

The skills that enable you to make enough money to buy a baseball team are not the same skills that make you a worthy proprietor of said baseball team. So why are rich people the only ones who get to run baseball teams?

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels, is a bad owner. All owners are bad, and Arte Moreno is bad even by those lowered standards. He has done some things that other owners could only dream of: namely, repeatedly failed to capitalize on the contributions of the best player of several generations and possibly all of baseball history, and forced his team to first carry one of the dumbest names in history in an attempt to claim the mantle of a city it has no relation to. He’s bad.

But Arte Moreno is not a uniquely bad owner. He’s done lots of run-of-the-mill horrible stuff too: attempting your ordinary stadium funding extortion scheme, ordering the front office to offer a free agent foolish amounts of money, etc. And even the out-of-the-ordinary things Moreno’s done are illustrative of the ways that all owners are terrible, and why they’re a completely unnecessary aspect of modern baseball.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels
Bud Norris pitching in relief.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The story that sparked this article is this one, which details how the Angels had to pick a reliever to make a spot start on September 15. Rather than going with any of the swingmen in the Angels bullpen who had started in 2017 — Jesse Chavez, or Yusmeiro Petit — they went with Bud Norris. Norris, who earns an extra $500,000 if he makes 60 relief appearances this season, had made 56 relief appearances at that point. Jesse Chavez, who earns an extra $250,000 if he makes 22 starts and another $250,000 if he makes 24, had made 21 starts at that point. But don’t worry: Mike Scioscia wants you to know that the fact that the starter is relieving and the reliever is starting (and the Angels aren’t paying them) is just a coincidence.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Tuesday that he was unaware of the incentives in both players’ contracts.

“In my position as a manager,” Scioscia said, “I’m not privy to those contract things, and for good reason.”

This is the same Mike Scioscia who is generally seen as one of the most powerful managers in baseball, the same Mike Scioscia who won a power struggle with then-Angels GM Jerry Dipoto back in 2015, sending him to the curb and maintaining his vast power inside the Angels organization. If you don’t think Scioscia knows about the contracts of his players, I have some lovely land in Florida that I think you’d be interested in.

As a result of this decision, both Norris and Chavez are notably less likely to hit their thresholds, and the Angels are much more likely to end the season $750,000 richer.

There are two options here: a) this is an extremely weird coincidence that happens to perfectly resemble what the Angels would do if they were willing to sacrifice some (admittedly slim) advantages in order to save a few hundred thousand dollars; or b) it is what it appears to be. In the latter situation, there’s no way of knowing whether Moreno directly ordered the cost-cutting, or if some enterprising employee in the front office took it upon him- or herself to communicate with Scioscia about the relevant incentives and figures, but it really doesn’t matter; if Moreno isn’t directly responsible, then he is responsible for the organizational atmosphere that would allow this kind of move to happen.

And let’s be clear: this is a terrible move. You don’t need to do any math to prove that point; it’s enough to say that the Angels are thinking about how to save less than a million dollars while in the midst of an ultra-tight playoff race. At the moment, they’re 3.5 games back in the Wild Card, with just a 7.1 percent shot at taking the spot (per FanGraphs), but going into last Friday, they were two games back with a 25.8 percent shot. For a team in that position, saving money has to be allllll the way down the list of priorities.

I’m sure we could put together a back-of-the-envelope calculation that shows the likelihood of the Angels losing an extra game as a result of this tomfoolery, and the likelihood that they end up tied for the second Wild Card or missing out by just one game, and show that whatever money this saved wasn’t worth the lost possibility of playoff revenue and success. But we shouldn’t have to. Baseball teams do not exist to make money, but to entertain, and the way they entertain is by winning games and being generally successful. This was a clear case of a baseball team being used to make money rather than entertain.

But this shouldn’t surprise us, since the one trait held in common among all baseball owners is that they’ve made a lot of money at some point in their lives. Arte Moreno made his immense fortune by managing and eventually selling a billboard advertising company; it’s no wonder that he prioritizes cash over things with less easily defined intrinsic value.

Capitalism is premised on the idea that individuals will be naturally steered into the positions where they can do the most good. Someone who is better than everybody else at baking will be a baker; his neighbor, who is better than everyone else at farming, will be a farmer. But that system breaks down when something other than natural aptitude determines what role you play. If it costs, oh, $1.2 billion to open a bakery, the person who’s great at baking probably won’t be a baker, and the baker probably won’t be that good at baking. Having a ton of money doesn’t make you a good baker, nor does it (to end this tortured metaphor) make you a good baseball owner.

Private ownership of baseball teams is outdated, inefficient, and poorly aligned with the interests of the baseball-loving public. Public ownership is not a revolutionary idea; Dave Zirin proposed fan ownership of the Dodgers, back when MLB seized the franchise from Frank McCourt (another rich guy who had no business running a sports team). It is a good idea.

You and I are the constituents of baseball teams, the people who have a real interest in its success or failure. Rich people don’t care; rich people buy sports teams because they’re rich, and that’s what you do. We would do a better job than they would. We wouldn’t fuck over Bud Norris and Jesse Chavez. Get rid of owners.

Henry Druschel is the co-Managing Editor at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.