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Tampa Bay Lightning's owner shows uncommon altruism

Now he's gone and done it.

If Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik insists on continuing to engage in this kind of treasonous heresy, he's going to find himself more persona non grata among his fellow big-shot sports team owners than U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas unexpectedly showing up for Thanksgiving dinner at Anita Hill's door.

For Vinik has committed the unpardonable, the unforgiveable, the mortal sin of sports team ownership. He actually paid for something. Out of his own pocket. And he expects nothing in return. Was that hell freezing over?

And yes, that was the collective Edvard Munch-like The Scream in the executive suites of the jock class, howling: "Nooooooooooooo! You can't pay for stuff. That's what the little people are for."

But Vinik did 40 million times over. Even worse, the hockey team owner explained he dropped $40 million of his own treasure on improvements to the St. Pete Times Forum simply because it was the right thing to do. Did you just hear a Gregorian chant somewhere?

Bolts fans would probably approve canonizing Vinik, while his fellow owners would likely have him Baker Acted.

After years of hockey team ownership that vacillated between mysterious, never seen Ernst Blofeld characters and chaps who were more dysfunctional than Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Vinik has been a down-to-earth, savvy businessman who comes off as your next-door neighbor, who simply happens to be worth a reported $500 million, perhaps $40 million or so lighter.

Indeed Vinik is one of the few owners over the team's 20-year history who hasn't looked like a walking Dr. Phil episode.

Vinik acquired the team in 2010 and immediately made plans to refurbish the Forum. The work is almost done and includes new seats, new paint, a reconfiguration of some seating, a high-tech organ and a thingamajig that will shoot coils of lightning when the team scores a goal — which it could do a bit more of so far this season.

While Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his imps, Window and Dressing, who would obligate your first born to indentured servitude before they would pick up the tab for so much as a bottled water out at Hellooooo Sucker Stadium, Vinik took the more altruistic approach in gussying up the Forum.

Vinik simply thought a new and improved Forum was good for the community, good for the fans and good for the building, giving it in his words a "soul." Did the Chicago Cubs just win the World Series?

Perhaps Vinik's civic largess wouldn't seem like such an act of Nobelesque corporate citizenship if it didn't loom in stark relief to Glazer and his rug-rats Henny and Penny.

It was the Bucs' owner who once promised to pay for half of Wanna Buy A Duck? Field more than 15 years ago and has yet to put up so much as a bus token to honor his long welshed-upon pledge.

A few years ago, when the original seats at Teapot Dome Stadium faded in color, what did Glazer and his tots, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with an estimated family wealth of $2.4 billion, press the Tampa Sports Authority to do? Sue for the company that made them to cover $1.5 million in replacement costs.

Jeff Vinik just cut a check for new Forum seating.

Of course hope springs eternal. It is always possible one of these days Glazer and his bundles of joy, Quantitative and Easing, will announce upon further review that, following the example set by Jeff Vinik, they've decided to pony up their half for Somali Pirate Park.

But that's probably skating on thin ice.

Tampa Bay Lightning's owner shows uncommon altruism 10/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 22, 2011 4:31am]
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