In a recent Kansas City Star article, David Glass dispelled rumors that he was selling the team.* Many fans and large swaths of the commentariat greeted this news with dismay. Some of the rumors have also suggested outspoken Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has an interest in the team, a proposition that excites many in K.C.. These reactions are not surprising. The Royals have been historically abysmal during David Glass’ ownership. Mark Cuban has done wonders for his NBA franchise, and his over-the-top style is something fans gravitate to, especially at a distance. I don’t want to further these rumors because I have absolutely no substantiation to them whatsoever, and I’d prefer writing things which I know are based in fact. Instead, I thought I would take a look at David Glass as an owner.
*Rumors which the Star suggested came from the blogosphere, but to which I can find no evidence. Every mention of this rumor came from either Jack Harry or sports talk radio. While the blogosphere does in many cases spread rumors, in this case it isn’t true. This is the first mention of this rumor on Royals Authority, and I’ve been unable to find mention of it on any of the more than a dozen Royals blogs I subscribe to.
How exactly does one grade an owner? At the most basic level it has to be about how well a team produces on the field. That isn’t a complete look at an owner, but it certainly is important, especially to fans. Identifying when David Glass became the owner of the Royals is kind of murky, since he was appointed the Interim Chairman and CEO when Ewing Kauffman died in 1993 and didn’t become the sole owner until April of 2000. For these purposes, I am going to use 2000 as the starting date of his ownership. Since 2000 the Royals have a 725-1019 record, which ends up being a .415 winning percentage. That winning percentage would average out to a 67-95 record. That is phenomenally bad, but you probably already know this. So if you were to judge him on the record of the ballclub alone then you have to rate him as one of the worst owners of all-time. Other than moving the team out of the city, he couldn’t have been worse.
However, grading the owner involves a bit more than just the record on the field. Although in the end, he can’t be a considered great owner until he builds a winner. Taking a step back from how this particular owner has been, I think it would be instructive to identify the qualities that one would want in an owner.
First, he has to be willing to spend money. It takes money to win. He is the guy that has complete control of the purse strings. You can’t be a good owner if you refuse to spend money in the draft, in development or in free agency. It’s just not possible. Of course what that amount should be is certainly up for debate, as is where specifically it should be spent. But where is less the owners job than that of the General Manager.
Second, a good owner doesn’t meddle in the baseball affairs of the club. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. I mean if Bill James was a billionaire and owned a ballclub, then I’d be happy if he put his two cents in. However it is pretty commonplace to have owners who do NOT have expertise in building winning baseball teams, and therefore when they get involved in specifics it almost never works out.
Finally, and this is more a subset of the first point, an owner should attempt to improve the ballclub as much as possible in an attempt to create a winning franchise. This point is in some ways the least important and in some ways the most. I believe that every owner in baseball truly wants to build a winning franchise. Yeah, they get into the game for the money and prestige, but I would be amazed to find any owner that genuinely didn’t want to win games, even if it cost them some profits.
So how does David Glass fit into this mold? Honestly, it depends on when you ask. If you were to ask that question in say 2004, by all accounts he was being extremely cheap and meddlesome. The team cut expenses in Latin America, spent little money in the draft or free agency and was widely rumored to have squashed deals or made his front office take certain players in trades. So on both counts he failed miserably. However, when taking a closer look at the David Glass of 2010, we find a completely different owner.
Spending the Monies
Glass has been notoriously known as a complete cheap-skate in terms of running the Kansas City Royals. However, he has improved in that aspect. The Major League payroll has ranked 21st overall the past two years, which is the highest it has been in the 10 years of Mr. Glass’ ownership. In 2000, the payroll was 28th in the MLB at $24.9m and has risen to 21st with $71.4m. So suffice to say, he has both increased the raw amount of money he has spent at the MLB level and done so at a rate greater than the overall increase in MLB payrolls during that time. Part of that does stem from the fact that so little was spent earlier in the decade, but he still has spent more money. Often, when people critique an owner this is where the analysis stops. They look at a major league payroll and assume that is all the money an owner spends on a team. However, that is just part of it.
Recently released documents from the Pirates and other MLB teams have shed some light on how much money some teams spend in all facets of the game and how much revenue they take in. For example in 2007 the Pirates spent $21m in player development and in 2008 spent $23m. It is unclear if those numbers include the bonuses paid in the draft, but the Pirates spent $9.7 in 2008 in that department. David Glass isn’t the owner of the Pirates, but the examples are instructive. Lots of money is spent on the organization beyond the Major League Payroll.
So beyond the payroll, Glass has spent $24.5m in draft bonuses from 2008-2010, which is fifth in the MLB. Part of that comes from having high draft picks which get higher bonuses, but they haven’t been cheap with those draft picks and have signed lots of guys for over-slot money in lower rounds like Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Brett Eibner, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb and Jason Adams. Add to that some Latin American signings like Cheslor Cuthbert ($1.4), Noel Arguelles ($6.9) and Humberto Arteaga ($1.1m) and you get lots of money being spent by the organization. Money that was not being spent in the early 2000’s.
However, spending money is all relative, right? Yes Glass was cheap earlier in the decade, but just spending more money doesn’t really make him a big spender. It could just make him a little less cheap. So, again let’s take a look at some of the recently released financial information. We can do a little extrapolating from the information to get a good gauge of how much money the Royals take in, then do some dirty math on expenditures and see just how much revenue is being put back into the team. We need to take a deeper look at revenues to determine what is adequate spending. I think it is fair to expect the team to turn a profit each year, and even to turn big profits if those can be spent in subsequent years to get that one free agent who can take a team to the playoffs.
The Pirates are a great comparison. They have been bad for a long time, but are in an established baseball community with similar attendance figures and likely similar revenue structures. In 2008 the Pirates received $39m in revenue sharing and got $30.3m in 2008. I don’t really see a reason to assume the Royals got much more or less than that. The Pirates received $39m in TV money, but I believe that is more than the Royals get from Fox. Across the board teams make about $5 per attendee in concessions, so with roughly 1.5m people coming to the K that is approximately $7.5m in concessions. The Pirates had gate receipts of roughly $33m, and received $2m from MLB Advanced Media. All told the Pirates had after tax profits of around $15m each year. They likely pull in more for TV, more for stadium naming rights and have spent a little more in the draft. However their major league payroll has been on the order of $20m less than the Royals the past few years. Looking at all of those numbers, my first thought is that I don’t see how the Royals have made a profit these past few years. They have claimed to break even or make a small profit, but without a major new source of income I don’t know how that would be. So in terms of what is spent vs what is coming in the door, I would say that lately Glass has been a very good owner in that regard.
This is a little harder to quantify. I am not around David Glass 24/7 or even .01/1, so I don’t know for a fact whether he meddles or not. I will have to go on rumor and what people much more connected than me say. But the consensus is that during the Allard Baird era David Glass regularly killed trades and meddled in free agent signings. On the flip side, I have never heard that rumor or even the hint of that rumor on the Dayton Moore era. In fact one of the biggest criticisms fans seem to have lately is that David Glass is never around. It’s almost assuredly a good thing that he isn’t around. It means he can’t get involved in baseball decisions that he doesn’t have the skill set to be involved in. It doesn’t take advanced statistics to realize that the presence of an owner doesn’t make the players on the field better.
Wanting to Win
This one is impossible. I almost left it out completely, but I know that people want to discuss it and it means something to them. But all I need to know is the numbers above. David Glass by all accounts is spending lots of money to create a winning franchise, you can argue whether it is spent properly or not, but that isn’t his job it is the job of the General Manager. I would say that spending the amount he has given what we know the revenues are, is about the biggest statement one can make about his willingness to win.
So in all three categories which make a good owner, David Glass has morphed from terrible into great. I am honestly trying to come up with things I wish he would do differently, and I struggle to find somthing. Every criticism and knock on him as an owner is something which doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The old David Glass is STILL killing this team due to the absolute ineptness the club was run with in the earlier part of the decade, so you can continue to blame him for that. But if you imagine that somewhere around 2006, a new owner bought the team with the same name as the old one I don’t know that there would be much criticism of him.
What I also find interesting is why he has changed and why he was so bad in the first place. A lot of fans talk about the Wal-Mart mentality, which is simplistic but accurate. The primary Wal-Mart mentality is that costs are the enemy. They must be destroyed everywhere possible. Rising costs will never benefit you in any way. I can’t imagine a guy so steeped in that culture can swiftly change to a baseball mentality where spending lots of money in the right places can help you to grow revenues significantly in the long run.
I also wonder how much of what David Glass did at the beginning of the decade was designed to bring about increased revenue sharing. It wouldn’t be surprising if he and Bud Selig got together and hatched a plan to help bring it about. A large part of the plan was that Glass had to be on Bud’s side in everything, from paying slot-bonuses to not over-spending in free agency. Together they worked on some other smaller market owners and got the luxury tax and revenue sharing instituted. In my mind the coup de grace is the 30 team even-split of MLB Advanced Media money, which is quickly becoming baseballs cash cow. If in fact, David Glass hurt his own team’s chances of winning to get these changes in baseball and it was the only way it could happen, then I think it was a good call. It would be a very tough decision in the near term and he took major heat from other owners and his own fanbase, but in the very long term he may have saved Kansas City as a viable Major League city. Maybe I am giving him too much credit for these changes, but I doubt we will ever know.
The other potential reason he has changed his ways could be due to hiring Dayton Moore. Most of the changes do coincide with Moore being hired as the General Manager. I have no doubt that Moore was aware of how much the spending had been cut under David Glass and how meddlesome he had become in baseball affairs. With that knowledge, I could see Moore asking Glass to let him run the baseball side of things and to increase the budget in all facets of the organization if he was to take the job. Frankly, if the only thing Dayton Moore accomplishes in his tenure as General Manager was to create David Glass 2.0, I would be pretty satisfied.
Throughout the decade of David Glass’ ownership of the Royals, the team has lost a record amount of games. Those losses without question are the direct result of the things Glass has done as an owner. However, from all the information available, it seems that he has become in many respects a model owner in recent years. His prior mistakes continue to haunt the franchise and will do so for at least a couple more years. He shouldn’t be given a pass for those mistakes; however he should be praised for changing his ways and doing the right things. Dayton Moore gets a lot of credit for building one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, and rightfully so. However, without David Glass increasing expenditures and letting the baseball people make the baseball decisions we wouldn’t be looking as hopeful at the 2012-2015 timeframe as we are now.
Nick Scott is the host of the Broken Bat Single Royals podcast. You can email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com or you can follow him on Twitter at @brokenbatsingle