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Tampa Bay area's jokers flipped for owners of more effort

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, left, chats with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg on Thursday night in Tampa.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, left, chats with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg on Thursday night in Tampa.

TAMPA — In other towns, owners were moguls. Barons. Titans.

In another era, owners have been despised. Ridiculed. Vilified.

Here, they are something different. Right now, they are something better.

In Tampa Bay, we are in our own golden era of sports owners.

Naturally, this is a relative designation. I mean, who really loves a sports owner?

On any given day, they are either too cheap, too greedy, too bossy or too aloof. They are either interfering with success, or they are ignoring failure. And they all seem to agree that beer is just slightly behind gold in its cost per ounce.

Having said that, Tampa Bay appears to be ahead of the curve.

It is not so much the day-to-day decisions being made by Stuart Sternberg, Jeff Vinik and the Glazer family. Because, when it comes to the details, there is still plenty to disparage.

For instance, you can criticize the Glazers for budget tightening to an extreme. Some years ago, the Buccaneers were as profitable as any team in the NFL, and yet the Glazers stopped investing in payroll around the same time they bought Manchester United.

And you can throw darts at Sternberg for his rush to impatience when he knew full well that he was able to buy the Rays at a bargain price due to many of the same circumstances he is complaining about today.

As for Vinik, he is still on his honeymoon. That is, provided he can get Steven Stamkos signed to a long-term deal.

But in a grander sense, the Bucs, Rays and Lightning have never been in better hands. And if you doubt that, try reading Hugh Culverhouse's will with a straight face.

For every time you want to scream at the Glazers for skulking around like the CIA on a black bag job, and every time you curse Sternberg for letting another free agent skip town, I would remind you of three names:

Culverhouse.

Vince Naimoli.

Oren Koules.

They are the unholy trinity of ownership. In the name of cheap, crazy and devious, amen. Seriously, has one market ever been cursed with such a rogue's gallery of clownish front men?

The Culverhouse of terror was so disastrous, even 17 years after his death the Bucs are 31st out of 32 NFL teams in all-time winning percentage.

Naimoli had a relatively limited stay in the owner's suite at Tropicana Field, and yet managed to tick off his employees, partners and an entire region of fans before he sold out.

Koules? I'll just remind you he's one of Charlie Sheen's advisers now.

The point is we sometimes forget how bad we had it. The Bucs used to be a late-night punch line. The Rays were teetering on the edge of collapse. And the Lightning was passed around more often than a frat party bong.

What Sternberg, Vinik and the Glazers have done is stop the comedy. You may not trust their bookkeepers, and you may not agree with their decisions, but you have to admit the franchises are on more solid footing than they had ever been under previous ownership.

The only other owner that came close to providing this type of stability was the late Bill Davidson and the Lightning, but even he was an absentee caretaker forever trying to sell the team. And his designated point man in Tampa Bay was despised by his head coach.

For the most part, what the current owners have done is hire some of the brightest young executives in sports, and allowed them to run the franchises with minimal interference.

Whether you realize it or not, that should be every fan's dream.

For what you hope for in an owner is someone who seems to care as much as you do. Someone willing to spend. Someone who puts the focus on his players, and not his ego.

At one time or another, all three of the local ownership groups have fit that description. Maybe not every season, and maybe not to your complete satisfaction, but certainly more than previous owners we've seen in this market.

In the end, all we really ask of our owners is to give the community a franchise worthy of our devotion.

You have to admit, the Glazers, Sternberg and Vinik have done just that.

Tampa Bay area's jokers flipped for owners of more effort 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 12:18am]
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