The ownership situation with the Atlanta Braves frustrates me to no end. I have been very vocal, probably even to my detriment, about the lack of an involved owner of this baseball franchise.
I won’t say I’m fanatical about it, but as we move along here in the baseball offseason and see teams in the Braves’ division improve for the upcoming season, only to see the Braves stand pat because of an apparent lack of competitive finances, it bothers me.
It seems like almost every thought I have about this team ends with, “Well they don’t have the money,” and then, “because they don’t have any ownership.” It does seem relevant to most topics with this franchise.
The people in charge of the Braves are not really able to comment about this. They know I’m right. They know it’s true. But it’s not like they can come out and say the things that I’m writing about. Why would they jeopardize their seven-figure salaries?
They’ll tell us that the franchise has the necessary funds to be competitive. They’ll tell us that they have been competitive in the last few years, even though ‘the run’ has been over for six years. They’ll tell us the talent is there to compete with the clubs that have better financial resources because of the good work they’ve done in building an organization.
But the one thing that cannot deny is that the Braves have been different since they’ve been in the hands of a corporate structure. The difference started with Time Warner, who bought Turner Broadcasting from Ted Turner. They decreased the payroll. They erased the personal touch the franchise had when Turner was running up and down the aisles in his flip flops giving high-fives to fans.
He cared about his team. It was his toy, but he wanted it to do well. He had a personal interest, even beyond financial, in the Braves.
And all that went away when the franchise became just another piece of property in a spread sheet.
Now the Braves are owned by Liberty Media, a billion-dollar media company. They got the Braves in a stock deal. Bud Selig, baseball’s grand poobah, made Liberty Media promise they’d hold onto the team through 2011 – when the latest collective bargaining agreement expired.
That’s over now. Liberty can sell the Braves if they want. They could even hold onto the Braves if they want. But have they given the fans of this franchise any reason to hope they keep the team?
I'm not asking that someone simply increase the payroll to $125 million. That would be nice. But it would be good if the Braves could simply remain competitive when the other teams are making moves. Instead, they are handcuffed by Liberty and locked in without much flexibility.
Baseball teams must have financial flexibility. They have to handle the budgets carefully so they can maintain that flexibility. But in this situation, with the Phillies, Marlins and Nationals all getting better, the Braves need someone to step in and say, "We need to get better too!"
Liberty recently had to pay the IRS $136 million dollars to settle a tax dispute. Somewhere in that $136 million was perhaps money to give the Braves an additional bat for the lineup.
Liberty is run by John Malone, a billionaire who recently surpassed Turner as the largest single landowner in the country. He’s known as someone who creates complicated business deals in order to avoid paying taxes, and that’s how he got the Braves.
Malone is worth a reported $2.4 billion. That’s just him. He’s the face of Liberty Media, and yet it is believed Malone has only been to one Braves game since his company owned the team – and that was when the Braves were in Colorado (where Liberty is headquartered) to play the Rockies.
That’s not the kind of owner I want for this franchise. That’s not the kind of owner the fans want for this franchise. It’s an absentee ownership group. Sure, they allow Terry McGuirk and John Schuerholz to run the franchise. And while they can say they set the budget, we all know better.
If there was someone – a person – that owned this franchise that could approach general manager Frank Wren and ask what he could do to help the Braves compete with these improving teams in the division we'd all feel better. But where is Wren to go now?
Malone doesn’t have an office at Turner Field. I wonder if he’s ever even spoken to Wren.
I wonder if Malone even knows that someone named Tyler Pastornicky is about to become the new starting shortstop for the Braves. Wouldn’t it be nice if the owner of the franchise knew who Tyler was?
Wouldn’t it be nice if an owner could walk into Wren’s office and say, “Frank, do you really think Tyler is ready, or do we need to go get someone better?”
Personally, I’d like the owner of the Braves to know who the shortstop is going to be for 2012. It’s nice that Malone probably knows who Chipper Jones is, but that’s not really that impressive.
But John Malone probably doesn’t know who Tyler Pastornicky is. Unfortunately, he probably doesn’t give a damn. And that’s the problem. The fans want someone that does.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.