Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

With another new Tampa Bay pro franchise owner on board, we rank the top 10 all-time area owners from best to worst.

The first lesson Jeff Vinik must learn about being a sports owner in Tampa Bay is a painful one. Man, does the Lightning's new owner have some small shoes to fill. Around here, we have had a lot more owners to endure than embrace. We have seen penny-pinchers and profiteers, braggarts and blowhards, cowboys and con artists. We have been promised tomorrow by men who have repeated yesterday. That's the amazing thing about Tampa Bay's sports barons. So many of them, it seems, have been competing for the title of worst owner ever. Looking back, so many of them have an argument for winning it. So who have been Tampa Bay's best sports owners? Who have been the worst? Not counting Vinik, who just got here, here's a look, from best to worst.

1. The Glazer family, Buccaneers

True, the popularity of the Glazers has faded lately. All you have to do is look at the empty seats in Raymond James Stadium to see that. The Bucs haven't won a playoff game since the Super Bowl in January 2003, and they have been so far under the salary cap, they need an elevator to go to the bank.

For all the criticism, however, the Glazers have won a Super Bowl, and they've had seven playoff seasons. On a franchise that made only three playoff appearances in the 19 years before they arrived, that's enough to keep them at No. 1.

Still, wouldn't it be nice if the Glazers worked harder toward replicating their run of 1997-2002? In those six seasons, the Bucs made five playoffs, largely because they weren't shy about spending the money to add a Simeon Rice, a Brad Johnson or a Keyshawn Johnson.

2. Stuart Sternberg, Rays

Sternberg owns the area's hottest team, and another trip to the playoffs would bolster his claim on the No. 1 spot.

The Rays have had the two best finishes in franchise history in the past two seasons, including a trip to the World Series in 2008. Considering the Rays play in professional sports' toughest division and that baseball has the fewest number of teams reach the postseason of any major sport, that is an impressive accomplishment.

There are those who have not warmed to Sternberg because of his desire for a new stadium or because he has acknowledged he will reduce payroll after this season. Still, considering how much of a payroll deficit his teams have overcome, it's hard to criticize him too harshly.

3. Bill Davidson, Lightning

Davidson wasn't exactly the most passionate owner Tampa Bay has seen. But what his Palace Sports & Entertainment conglomerate gave the Lightning that no previous ownership had was stability. Davidson let his front-office people do their jobs, and because of it, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Even in the final years of Davidson's ownership, when the payroll tightened, those who ran the Lightning believed if they could talk to Davidson face-to-face, he would spend money.

4. John Bassett, Bandits

Say what you will about the USFL not being on par with the NFL (and it wasn't), a lot of great players stopped by. And a lot of Tampa Bay fans had a lot of fun watching it.

Sports Illustrated once referred to Bassett as "the people's owner'' and his team as "the people's team.'' In three years the Bandits were 35-19 and reached the playoffs twice.

If it had been left to Bassett, the USFL would have played in the spring forever and the Bandits might be on the verge of another new season.

5. George Strawbridge, Rowdies

Again, don't talk of what the NASL was not. Remember it for what it was. Fun.

It was the Rowdies who won Tampa Bay's first pro sports championship (1975). That was one of three times the team played for the title. In all, the Rowdies won five division titles.

True, they had three losing seasons in Strawbridge's final three years of ownership, but he still finished with a record of 138-20.

6. Vince Naimoli, Devil Rays

He brought baseball to Tampa Bay. More than anything else, more than the losing seasons, more than the Hit Show, that should be Naimoli's legacy. He brought the ball to the park.

Did Naimoli step on toes? Yes. Was he prone to anger? You betcha. Did his teams lose too often? Sure. Still, a lot of people failed in their attempts to bring baseball to the area. Naimoli didn't.

7. Takashi Okubo, Lightning

Okubo, the principal partner of Japanese company Kokusai Green, did a lot of things wrong. Under him and his company, the Lightning lost games. Trades were blocked. The franchise was left more than $100 million in debt. For all those reasons, I was tempted to list Okubo as the worst Lightning owner.

Then I talked to Lightning founder Phil Esposito, the man whose blood pressure Okubo and his company increased.

"They tried to kill me,'' Esposito said, "but without their money, we don't get a team. And they did get the building (the St. Pete Times Forum) built.''

Maybe. But 19-plus years after Tampa Bay was awarded the franchise, Esposito still hasn't met Okubo. (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met him once). And it was Kokusai Green that allowed the Maloof family to run the Lightning (including engineering trades) when the family was considering buying the team.

8. Art Williams, Lightning

Poor Art. An owner has never come in with more bluster. Williams showed up on his first day talking about "studs and duds'' and winning championships. Nineteen wins and $20 million in losses later, Williams left so fast, he left skid marks. How bad was Williams? Have you heard of another owner who referred to his players as "pansies''? Give him credit for this much, however. He cleared a lot of debt from the Lightning before he left.

9. Oren Koules and Len Barrie, Lightning

In the end, the legacy of Koules, top left, and Barrie will be that of bad blood, bad trades and bad contracts. They were the cowboys, as coined by former coach John Tortorella. They traded Dan Boyle and Brad Richards. They hired Barry Melrose as coach, and they fired him after 16 games. They overpaid for Andrej Meszaros. They finished last and next-to-last. Most of all, they argued. In the end, the NHL was passing out deadlines and gag orders to deal with them.

10. Hugh Culverhouse, Buccaneers

If this list was 20 owners long, it's fair to assume Culverhouse would still be last. I almost ranked him behind Tom McCloskey, the Philadelphia businessman who was first awarded Tampa Bay's NFL franchise but balked at the payment schedule six weeks later.

Culverhouse was the owner who wouldn't pay Doug Williams, who didn't sign Bo Jackson, who was left at the altar by Bill Parcells.

In a league that does as much as any to help its bad teams (revenue sharing, scheduling, the draft), his record was 81-194-1. In his last 13 seasons of ownership, his team lost 10 or more games in each.

To be fair, Culverhouse's team did win one playoff game in 19 years. Judging from his payroll, he preferred the money.

Correction: A photo that ran with this column incorrectly identified Joel Kassewitz, Avie Glazer and Joel Glazer.

Gary Shelton can be reached at shelton@sptimes.com.

With another new Tampa Bay pro franchise owner on board, we rank the top 10 all-time area owners from best to worst. 03/06/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 7, 2010 1:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Bay Super Bowls: A brief history and some predictions for 2021

    Bucs

    At last, Tampa will host a Super Bowl again. It used to be that the Cigar City would host one a decade, but by the time February 2021 rolls around, it will have been 12 years since the epic showdown between the Steelers and Cardinals. Because it has been awhile, let's revisit those past Super Bowls while also peering …

    Santonio Holmes hauls in the game-winning touchdown in the Steelers' 27-23 Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Cardinals in 2009, the last time Tampa hosted a Super Bowl. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
  2. Rays bats go silent in second straight loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Sure, Alex Cobb was to blame for the Rays' 4-0 loss on Tuesday.

    Derek Norris strikes out with the bases loaded as the Rays blow a golden opportunity in the seventh inning.
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb made mistakes on back-to-back pitches to the first two Angels hitters Tuesday, allowing homers to Cameron Maybin and Mike Trout, but otherwise gave the Rays another solid outing, working into the eighth and scattering seven hits.

  4. Rays journal: Brad Miller won't return from DL when eligible

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — 2B Brad Miller (left abdominal strain) will not return from the 10-day disabled list Friday as he hoped. While he took ground balls Tuesday, he has yet to resume running.

    Rays second baseman Brad Miller, left, with infielder Tim Beckham, says he’s letting his left abdominal strain “cool down” before testing it by running.
  5. USF baseball rallies to beat Tulane in AAC tournament opener

    College

    CLEARWATER — With Tulane runners on first and second and two out in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday, USF's dugout watched as burly American Athletic Conference co-player of the year Hunter Williams' fly to left went deep.

    USF outfielder Chris Chatfield is congratulated by third-base coach Chris Cates after hitting a three-run homer in the third inning, tying the score at 3.