Wednesday, August 28, 2013 • 8:57 AM Comments (43)

Astronomical Ownership Chicanery: How the Worst Team in Baseball Is Its Most Profitable

posted by Pete Redington

Release ... Rotation ... Splash.

Keith Olbermann is back on ESPN (where once upon a time he was a most formidable SportsCenter host), with a new, live, nightly show that looks a lot like his defunct, politically-charged Countdown broadcast, but is sportscentric in the issues it covers. (A nice combination, to be sure.)

One aspect of the Countdown legacy that's been transferred to ESPN's sportsdom (no pun intended) is the "Worst (Sports) Persons in the World" segment. And who was the opening night's winner? Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

A longtime NL franchise, the Astros are spending this inaugural season in the league of the designated hitter firmly entrenched in the basement of the AL. Why? Because they have the MLB's smallest salary. (Amazingly, more than sixty major league players individually make more than the entire Astros team put together.) No matter for Jim Crane, though, because Forbes recently reported that the Astros are nonetheless the most profitable team in baseball. In fact, in all of baseball history.

Not the most valuable (ie worth the biggest price tag if they were to be sold). That is, of course, the New York Yankees. But the most profitable, in that Crane and his cronies will rake in more dough this season than any other MLB team ownership group. In fact, as Olbermann reported, this year's Houston Astros, one of the more pathetic excuses for a major league team in recent memory, is more profitable than all of the previous six World Series Championship teams (going back to the 2007 Boston Red Sox) combined. Now that is some impressive, ridonculous, ownership chicanery, indeed.

But Crane is just the latest owner to cash in by fielding an awful team. (See "When Good Things Happen to Bad Owners: The $160 Million Miami Marlins Salary Dump," Free Sport, 11/20/12.) As Deadspin reported a few years ago ("MLB Confidential: The Financial Documents Baseball Doesn't Want You To See, Part 1"), between revenue sharing, television deals, and more, it is absolutely possible to make a buck with a bad team. "If there is a thread running through all of these financial statements," notes Deadspin, "it is the incredible ability of baseball teams - whether they're winners or losers, big market or small, "rich" or "poor" - to make their owners a fat pile of money."

Nice work, if you can get it.

Nice too, to have Olbermann ("Way downtown ... bang!") back on the sports beat.

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