I didn't see this posted anywhere else.
From yesterday's Enquirer. Nothing earthshaking but some interesting parallels.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
While Reds' fortunes slid, new owners found success in similar baseball market
By Cliff Peale
Enquirer staff writer
New owners mean a new era for Ken Griffey Jr. and the Reds.
CARDINALS V. REDS
Since 1996, when the Cincinnati group led by Bill DeWitt bought the Cardinals:
General managers: 1
Payroll in 2005: $92.1 M
Attendance in 2005: 3.5 M
Meanwhile, here in Cincinnati, the Reds took a very different path:
General managers: 2
Payroll in 2005: $61.9 M
Attendance in 2005: 1.9 M
Bill DeWitt remembers 1997, when his St. Louis Cardinals went into the baseball season gearing up for a run at the National League pennant.
The Cardinals knew there might be some impact players available at mid-season that would help. So the club decided to risk losing some money on the season in exchange for an established star.
They traded for slugging first baseman Mark McGwire, forking over $2 million for the last two months of the season. McGwire hit 24 home runs the remainder of the season, including 15 in September alone.
"We felt it was an investment in the franchise, and it would enhance not only 1997 but also future years," says DeWitt, a Cincinnatian who is the Cardinals' chairman and principal owner.
McGwire signed a four-year deal in St. Louis and became one of baseball's storied home-run hitters. And with six playoff teams during the past decade and a payroll of $92.1 million last season, the Cardinals have become one of the game's model franchises by spending wisely and establishing the winning atmosphere that draws both players and fans.
The new owners of the Cincinnati Reds - Bob Castellini, Tom Williams and Joe Williams - know the story well because they were minority owners of the St. Louis club with DeWitt. Thursday, Major League Baseball is expected to approve the group's purchase of a controlling interest in the Reds, with Castellini taking over as chief executive officer from Carl Lindner.
While the new owners won't comment in deference to MLB rules, it's clear they will lean heavily on their 10 years with the Cardinals in running the Reds.
The "homecoming" of the Castellini group should be good news for Reds fans frustrated by the team's five straight losing seasons. The Cardinals' owners have demonstrated their willingness to invest in the best players and build on those investments as their revenue increases. And the new Reds owners clearly are more comfortable with the ways of modern professional sports than Lindner, who seemed to struggle with the financial realities of baseball and the fickle affections of sports fans.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in less than a month, fans are optimistic.
"Year after year, the Cardinals are competitive," says Rob Matteucci, a retired Procter & Gamble Co. executive who grew up in Greenhills rooting for the Reds. "They seem to develop players, and they seem to have a strong commitment to winning.
"I think the move I want to see from the Reds is that commitment to winning," he says, "and then the plan that's going to achieve it over the next two or three years."
While the Castellini group hasn't officially taken control, there is some evidence the Reds already are putting lessons from the Cardinals to good use. The Reds offered a multiyear contract to free-agent starting pitcher Matt Morris in December, though he eventually signed with the San Francisco Giants.
DeWitt resists talk of a "St. Louis model," noting the Cardinals have been lucky and that they can't support the kind of payroll that is paid to players by the Boston Red Sox ($123 million) or New York Yankees ($208 million).
But the plan his group implemented after buying the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch in early 1996 has included several strategies, including:
Continuity: The Cardinals have kept team president Mark Lamping, general manager Walt Jocketty and manager Tony LaRussa in place for a decade. In that same period, the Reds have had five managers.
Investment: As attendance increased, the club gradually put the bulk of those funds into player payroll.
High standards: From minor-league stadiums to radio deals, the Cardinals are determined to be viewed as the best in baseball, DeWitt says.
"We've always taken the position that we're going to do the right thing in our view and not make changes just to make changes," he says.
Smith College baseball economist Andrew Zimbalist says the Cardinals' ownership has been smart and lucky.
"They've just ignited the fan interest in St. Louis, and management has been smart enough to maintain that," Zimbalist says.
There is plenty to bind the Reds and Cardinals. The St. Louis metropolitan area includes about 2.6 million people, about one-third more than Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Both markets hold great baseball traditions, with Cardinals heroes ranging from Stan Musial to Lou Brock to the current-day Albert Pujols, while Reds icons include Ted Kluszewski, Pete Rose and now Ken Griffey Jr.
St. Louis will open the new Busch Stadium this spring, while Cincinnati opened Great American Ball Park in 2003. Both have traditionally been regional franchises, drawing fans from well outside their immediate areas.
In the early 1990s, those similarities extended to the team's financial condition. In 1995, the year after a crippling players' strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series and delayed Opening Day the next spring, the Reds attracted nearly 80,000 more fans than the Cardinals. The Reds' $37.2 million payroll that year was $6.2 million more than St. Louis' payroll.
From there, the clubs have taken divergent paths.
The Cardinals drew 2.65 million fans in 1996. Attendance keeps rising, hitting 3.5 million last season. The team's payroll has kept pace, jumping to $52.6 million in 1998, the year after acquiring McGwire, and steadily increasing after that. Last year, the Cardinals posted the sixth-highest payroll in baseball at $92.1 million.
The Reds have gone the opposite direction. The team's payroll has been mostly less than $50 million, although the Lindner-led ownership spent $17 million more last season to push the payroll to $61.9 million. Attendance spiked at 2.57 million in 2000, the year after the team almost won its division and then traded for Griffey. But it fell back after that, settling at 1.9 million last year.
DeWitt points to that acquisition of Griffey, and the injuries that have ruined nearly every season for him since then, as a critical point for the Reds.
"When Griffey came to Cincinnati, I thought it would be like the McGwire phenomenon in St. Louis," he says. "And it was initially. He just got hurt."
Of course, the ultimate divergence between the two franchises has been their performance on the field. The Cardinals lost in the World Series in 2004 and posted baseball's best record in 2005 with 100 victories. With stars including Pujols and Scott Rolen signed to long-term contracts, the outlook is bright.
The Reds have posted five straight losing seasons since the magical 1999 ride that nearly got them to the National League playoffs. They have not been able to develop the kind of pitching that would allow them to compete with higher-spending clubs.
That has sparked some fans to unfavorably compare Reds CEO Carl Lindner with DeWitt, the implication being that the Cardinals care about winning and the Reds don't. DeWitt, whose father owned the Reds from 1962-67, disagrees. He also points out that the Cardinals generally plan break-even budgets before the season starts. That practice has earned Lindner criticism here.
"There's nobody who doesn't want to win or isn't trying to win," he says. "Carl Lindner certainly wanted to win and spent money last year trying to do so."
Lindner wouldn't comment.
Even before Lindner took control of the Reds in 1999, the franchise was not able to establish a real identity. Former Reds owner Marge Schott's suspensions from Major League Baseball left Reds officials hamstrung in their ability to set a real strategy for the club.
DeWitt is hopeful about the Reds' future under Castellini's stewardship.
"I think they have some great ideas, and they're going to make changes, which is good," he adds. "I think the fans should be optimistic about the kind of results they'll see."
Change and continuity
When DeWitt's group bought the Cardinals before the 1996 season, Anheuser Busch had recently hired Jocketty as general manager and LaRussa as the field manager. Jocketty and team president Lamping both report to DeWitt.
The Cardinals owners - who include Cincinnatians Mercer Reynolds and Dudley Taft as well as Castellini and the Williams brothers - did not rip up the entire operation. Instead, the first changes came when the Cardinals moved their spring-training home to Jupiter, Fla., bought a Class A franchise, and moved it to Jupiter and Palm Beach County's new stadium there.
DeWitt says those moves established a winter home for the franchise and started to build the kind of winning atmosphere that players notice.
The club also moved aggressively to push for a new ballpark in St. Louis, which is almost completely privately financed, DeWitt says. The Cardinals also are co-developers for a six-square-block mixed-use project in downtown St. Louis called Ballpark Village.
And in a deal announced last year, the team is switching the team's radio home away from KMOX, which held the rights for 50 years. It switched to KTRS-AM and bought half the station. That will allow constant cross-promotions.
"We control our destiny because we will own 50 percent of the station," DeWitt says. "We can do more Cardinal-oriented product."
But the most successful part of the strategy has played out on the field. The owners have tried to give the team a chance to win every year, enticing premiere players to take less than full market value to stay there. That worked with McGwire, who retired after the 2001 season, and has worked since then with both third baseman Scott Rolen and Pujols.
"We've had a good run, no question," DeWitt says. "We've been fortunate too. It's hard to be a winning team."