View Full Version : Former Cleveland Indians owner Dick Jacobs dies after long illness

06-05-2009, 02:39 PM
Dick Jacobs agreed to buy the Indians in 1986, and his decision to do so assured his legacy with Indians fans.

But it is what the team did under his ownership that will linger most in their minds.

Jacobs brought back the glory days of Indians baseball. His teams won five straight division titles from 1995-99 and reached the World Series in 1995 and '97. Those things will be what people in Cleveland will miss most.

They will, of course, miss Dick Jacobs, too. He passed away early Friday morning at the age of 84, after a lengthy illness.

"Today is a very sad day for the Cleveland Indians organization," current owner Larry Dolan said in a statement released by the club. "Dick engineered the renaissance of Cleveland Indians baseball and achieved success at the ownership level that hadn't been experienced in Cleveland since Bill Veeck in the '40s."

When Jacobs and his brother, David, bought the team in December 1986, few fans could have imagined the string of success that would follow. Certainly, they had high hopes for the team; fans in Cleveland always do. But they had witnessed more than 30 years of failure, so they were skeptical.

He allayed their worries.

Jacobs, an easy-going, no-frills boss, hired John Hart as general manager and then gave Hart the freedom to rebuild the farm system, make trades and put together a championship-caliber club.

Granting such freedom was a rare thing for an owner to do, but Jacobs was a rare owner.

"He resisted the temptation to become a baseball expert, to pop off about where Manny Ramirez should bat in the lineup or who should manage the team," Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto once wrote. "He was one of the few owners in baseball history to really leave baseball decisions to his baseball people."

When the Jacobs brothers came along, they silenced rumors about the team, mired in mediocrity, moving to Florida. They spent $40 million of the fortune they had made in their Cleveland-based real estate business, the Jacobs Group, on the future of baseball here.

In the first year under its new owners in 1987, the team lost 101 games.

But Dick and David Jacobs had grand plans, and their plans started with getting the ballclub out of rundown Municipal Stadium. They urged local politicians to build a new ballpark.

"The team would leave if it didn't get a new ballpark, funded with tax money," Plain Dealer columnist Dick Feagler once wrote. "Once, such a threat would have been branded pure extortion. The politicians sniffed the wind and embraced it as new reality."

So did Cuyahoga County voters.

In 1990, they passed a "sin" tax on alcohol and cigarettes to finance the Gateway project, which included the new ballpark for the Indians and an arena for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.

The renaissance hit full stride in the middle of the '91 season, when Mike Hargrove was brought on as manager and Hart took over as GM.

Work on the new ballpark began in early 1992, just months before David Jacobs, 72, died of pneumonia.

Dick Jacobs then became the sole owner of the team. The success that was soon to follow would cement his place in the hearts of the Indians' many fans.

One of his shrewdest moves was approving the team's move to the AL Central Division for the '94 season. Had the Tribe continued to compete in the East against the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles, its streak of division titles that was about to begin might never have happened.

The Tribe's beautiful new ballpark, which bore Jacobs' name, opened in 1994, and the team established itself as a contender before the players' strike in August cut the '94 season short.

When play resumed in 1995, the Indians won 100 of their 144 games in the strike-shortened season, propelling them into postseason play for the first time in 41 years.

That glorious '95 season ushered in a stretch in which the Tribe won a record-tying five straight division titles. The streak, as well as Jacobs' ownership of the team, ended in 1999.

While success on the field was an end result of his ownership era, Jacobs never forgot his business roots. In 1998, he made history by turning the Indians into the first publicly traded team in Major League Baseball. Stock in the Cleveland Indians Baseball Co. opened on the NASDAQ stock market at $15 a share.

Jacobs knew the Tribe's amazing run of success in the late '90s had to end at some point. He recognized that an unprecedented run of 455 straight sellouts at Jacobs Field was just one sign that the organization was at its peek.

By 1999, he knew it was time to sell.

The Indians, in turn, became the target of wealthy suitors, eager to become the owners of the dynasty Jacobs built from scratch.

But Jacobs wasn't going to sell his Indians to a faceless conglomerate. He knew better than to do that. He wanted to find somebody based in the Northeast Ohio area, somebody who understood what the team meant to the city and the fans.

Jacobs found his man in Dolan, a Cleveland native who was the president and managing partner of a local law firm. Jacobs sold the team to Dolan for $320 million, a hefty return on the $40 million that he and his brother had paid for the team.

"Dick is my greatest asset and my greatest liability," Dolan was once quoted as saying. "He's an asset because of all the outstanding things he's done for this organization and this city. But he's a liability, because he's going to be a tough act to follow."

No doubt, Dolan was right. Fans here are still waiting for the return of the good ol' days of Indians baseball. Those glory days of the 1990s will be Jacobs' legacy.

"Dick Jacobs was the caretaker and impetus for a special era of Cleveland Indians baseball," current general manager Mark Shapiro said. "All of us who worked with him and for him were inspired by his strength, wisdom and toughness. He will be missed."

At the press conference to announce the sale of the club, Jacobs was asked about the legacy he was leaving behind.

"I don't believe in legacies," he said. "I hardly believe in obituaries. I try to avoid both. As far as my legacy goes, people can think what they want to think."

And here's what people in Cleveland think: Dick Jacobs was one of the greatest sports franchise owners the city has ever had.


06-05-2009, 03:45 PM
RIP. Great owner and even better person.

Ghosts of 1990
06-05-2009, 08:59 PM
The guy was loved in C-Town and a great owner. He's the reason why it will always be "The Jake" or Jacobs field to me.

06-06-2009, 02:54 PM
I lived in Cleveland at the tail end of the Jacobs era. He was a great owner and will be greatly missed. I'm a die hard Reds fan but will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Tribe because of my time in Cleveland.