Stu Sternberg generally visits his Rays when they stop in Baltimore and Monday was no exception. He also made himself available to the media again and took questions on the futures of Andrew Friedman, Joe Maddon, and Tropicana Field.
I know that seems like a minor story (it is not even on the front page in my St. Pete Times). Owners talk to the press all the time. But Stu is a different kind of owner and he proved it again yesterday.
First, and this is important, he talked to the press about topics they wanted to talk about. The vast majority of owners in professional sports are not going to engage in speculation over the future of key personnel or potentially negative stories (like the ballpark issue) while their team is in a pennant race. [SIDEBAR: I just said that Stu's team is in a pennant race. I know this isn't news but that sentence just hit me like a bag of potatoes falling from a tall building. Stu's team --OUR team-- is in the hunt again. This is too good to be true.] Rather, good PR strategy says that you turn the conversation back to topics you want to talk about and away from “distractions.” Not Stu, when he stands with the press he answers their questions, and I respect that.
Second, I am always impressed by Stu’s humility. I do not know him but from the outside it is clear that he is not a prototypical owner.
Owning a sports franchise is a lot more about ego than it is about finance. All things considered, professional sports is a really bad place for rich people to make money. The cost structure is so out-of-whack that teams need to bilk their customers at every opportunity just to make a few bucks. Few of the teams in pro sports turn significant profit and some operate at a perpetual loss. Buying a sports team is the uber-rich-guy equivalent of buying a Harley. It is an asset you purchase to make a statement about yourself.
Stu doesn’t seem to be effected by this ego problem. (In related news, Tampa Bay might have TWO owners who aren’t egomaniacs now that Jeff Vinick is turning into an incredible owner as well). When was the last time you heard Stu lash out and demand credit for the Rays’ run of success? Can you imagine Vince Nailmoli sitting by so idly while Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman reaped so much credit in a similar situation?
Stu’s lack of ego and willingness to stand back while others bask in the spotlight might be the real key to the Rays success. Look back at his quote about Friedman’s future. Stu doesn’t “believe” Friedman will leave because Friedman is a “partner.” Based on Stu’s other statements, you can tell he considers Joe a “partner” as well. Who wouldn’t want to work for a guy like that? Did George Steinbrenner ever treat any of his managers or general managers as “partners?” No. They were employees, and they were treated as such. Same goes for Theo and Tito in Boston. Employees. Not in Stu’s front office. Everyone rows because everyone has a figurative ownership stake in the boat. They aren’t laboring (and trust me, working in baseball is labor — long hours, low pay) for the greater glorification of Stu Sternberg. They work for the brand, for the ballclub. That has to make these guys come to work everyday with energy to produce good results.
I know that I go on and on about Stu in this space. In fact, some friends asked if I still work for the club secretly. I don’t. I just think we need to take the opportunity to appreciate a good owner like Stu because they are so rare in sports. Perhaps my own vision is tainted because I worked for the worst owner ever. Nevertheless, Stu makes this team fun to root for and his approach makes me want to build him a stadium. There, I said it.