- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

“Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League. Nowadays, according to SI.com, it should be “Washington, first in war, first in peace and [nearly] last in sports owners.”

The magazine’s Web site is offering its cyberspace evaluations of the best and worst individual or corporate owners in all four major professional sports. Guess which lists Dan Snyder of the Redskins and Ted Lerner of the Nationals are on?

When it comes to positive press, Abe Pollin of the Wizards and Ted Leonsis of the Capitals are the clear local winners, so to speak. Neither is rated among the best owners in the NBA and NHL, respectively, which might be an oversight. Then again, neither has been tagged with a scarlet “WORST” across his forehead.

SI.com says the criteria for its rankings include willingness to spend money, front office stability, amenities at the stadium or arena, interaction with fans and community and, oh yes, winning.

As we all know, such evaluations are highly subjective and open to dispute. It would seem, for example, that Leonsis has done a fine job building the Caps into winners on the ice and thus turning this into at least a mini-hotbed of hockey.

By the same token, Pollin should be hailed for his long, mostly frustrating stewardship of the Bullets/Wizards, as well as for reviving a slice of downtown D.C. by building Verizon Center in the late 1990s.

But what do I know? After all, I’m just an old-fashioned SI reader who wonders why Time Warner Inc. seems to be placing more and more emphasis on the magazine’s gimmicky online edition.

It should be no surprise that Snyder, everybody’s favorite local sporting despot, ranks near the bottom among NFL owners. Over his decade as the latest successor to Redskins founder George Preston “Lilywhite” Marshall, the team has rewarded its fanatical fan base with a 76-84 regular-season record and exactly no Super Bowl appearances.

Jack Kent Cooke never looked so good, right? Or even his boy, John Kent Cooke?

True, Snyder has constructed the NFL’s largest facility, 90,000-plus FedEx Field, but the Landover stadium is a sterile place whose lack of charm joins the ridiculously high price of tickets and parking as extreme negatives.

And how about Danny Boy’s refusal to hire a bona fide football man as general manager and insistence of flinging big bucks at washed-up free agents like Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Adam Archuleta? SI.com says Snyder runs the team “like a first-time fantasy football owner.”

Nearly two decades ago, George Allen helped revive the Redskins with his Over the Hill Gang, a moniker coined by beat writer Steve Guback of the old Washington Star. Now Snyder has appropriated the phrase involuntarily, but nobody is going to remember this bunch fondly.

SI.com places him third from the bottom among NFL magnates, trailed only by William Clay Ford of the recently winless Lions and Al Davis of the Raiders. How’s that for clueless company?

On the baseball side, the Web site calls Lerner the fifth-worst owner, apparently not knowing or caring that his son, Mark, runs the Nationals on a day-to-day basis. Actually, the biggest culprit in the club’s five-year history is departed general manager Jim Bowden, who made a series of silly trades and was involved in almost as many dubious dealings in the Dominican Republic as Gen. Rafael Trujillo, the longtime dictator.

Fortunately for Bowden, SI.com is not ranking GMs at the moment, although that probably is a subject for another day.

The Web site puts the knock on Ted Lerner because the Nats have finished last in the National League East three times in four years (and counting) while failing to cash in with their new ballpark. It also calls Bowden’s reported bonus skimming scandal involving overage Dominican prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez “perhaps the biggest recent impropriety in baseball outside of the Steroid Era,” which seems a bit much.

The worst owner in MLB is - or ought to be - a given: Peter Angelos, whose ham-handed leadership has turned the once-dandy Orioles into Bird droppings over 11 consecutive losing seasons.

In these gloomy assessments, the only possibly positive note for long-suffering local sports fans comes from Matthew 19:30: “Many that are first shall be last; and the last [or almost] shall be first.”

Someday some way.

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