The O’Malley Group: An Ideal Padres Purchaser?

By:  Andrew Riley, Intern (Twitter:  @BuriedTalents)

Peter O’Malley is leading the efforts to purchase the San Diego Padres from current owner John Moores.  The Padres were put on sale earlier this year for the second time in four years. The first time the Padres were put up for sale was in 2008, instigated by the divorce of Moores and his wife of 44 years. A divorce, and the subsequent dividing up of 50% of the community property under California law, is akin to ones business partner taking half of the assets used in a joint venture and going home. Even the savviest businessperson would have to reassess his business. In this case it apparently made the most sense to sell the team. In 2008, Jeff Moorad, ex sports agent, was leading a group to purchase the Padres. The deal was all but complete, as far as Moores and Moorad were concerned, except for the MLB vote to accept the deal as the remaining hurdle. That hurdle turned out to be insurmountable and Moorad withdrew his bid in March 2012 with reports suggesting it was because he could not get the necessary votes from the MLB owners.

It’s now July 2012, and the Padres are again up for sale and the Peter O’Malley group have emerged as the frontrunner. The O’Malley group consists of himself, his two sons, two nephews, and pro golfer, Phil Mickelson. The group was recently awarded excusive negotiation rights and reports have already suggested the negotiations are in the details stage. Commissioner Selig has hinted, publicly, that even though a deal is not complete there is little hindering its completion and in effect has his blessing. Commissioner Selig stated that, ”San Diego fans and the club deserve great ownership,” Selig said on a conference call last week. “The O’Malley tradition is remarkable, going all the way back to Brooklyn and to Walter and on to Peter, and now you’re getting the sons and nephews involved.” The deal appears to be inevitable but one question still remains. Are the O’Malley’s suitable owners?

What makes a good owner? A good owner will be one who provides/maintains an overall high quality baseball product while keeping with MLB values. This could be measured by attendance, local reputation, a focus on winning, and business success. Success on the field (i.e. championships) helps the aforementioned categories however there are too many external factors to use it as a primary measure of the quality of ownership. To further explain, an owner who actively pursues to better the ball club via trades, signings, drafting strategy, is more likely to have a more successful Major League ball club. However, the creation of a winning team is not a mathematical equation where a definitive answer results. In baseball, injuries occur, slumps happen, and other teams go on remarkable winning streaks where you may be a victim, and all these affect your recorded success. In saying that, if such a record can be contributed to an owner, as it does with the O’Malley family, it may be an indicator of future success.

The O’Malley family history is strongly intertwined in baseball and Dodger history. The O’Malley family ran the Dodger organization from 1950 until 1997. One would be hard-pressed to find ownership with as much executive baseball experience as the O’Malley group. Peter O’Malley was the CEO of the Dodger’s from 1979 until 1997 before he sold the team. His son, Kevin O’Malley, and nephew, Tom Seidler, are current owners of the Visalia Rawhide, the Class A-Advanced affiliate to the Arizona Diamondbacks. If nothing else can be taken from the experience of the O’Malley family, they surely have baseball operations in their blood.

How do the O’Malley’s compare to the above factors? During the time the O’Malley’s ran the Dodger organization they were above the league average every year for attendance. From 1950 to 1997 the Dodgers won 6 World Championships, which one can infer there was an effective focus on winning. When the club was sold in 1998 to News Corp, the purchase price of $311 million was reportedly the highest ever for a baseball club. Therefore, one can again infer that during the stewardship of the O’Malley family the Dodgers, as a business, was a success. The fourth factor, regarding local reputation, is a little more abstract to determine, especially in the case of the O’Malley’s. History has shed a positive light on the contribution of the O’Malley’s on baseball and the Dodgers. However, if baseball fans in Brooklyn were polled the results may not be as positive since Walter O’Malley was responsible for moving the Dodgers to the west coast from Brooklyn. This is important because any time a sports team is up for sale there is major concern by the residents of the city, that the new owners have local ties. Peter O’Malley understood this when he was vying for a chance to repurchase the Dodgers a few months ago by declining financial investors who did not reside in Los Angeles. How will San Diego respond to the team being sold to an outsider?

The answer will likely depend on the efforts made by the O’Malley group to express their loyalty to San Diego. A local fan wants to see the passion for not only winning but also for their community in the leaders of their team. In this case the legacy of the O’Malley’s may hinder the acceptance by San Diego residents because there are not only questions of loyalty due to his connection to the Dodgers but they also have precedent of moving a franchise across the country. Peter O’Malley has expressed that his son Kevin and nephew Tom, who will be running the team, and will be moving to San Diego immediately upon the completion of the deal. This is a great first step, but efforts like this one will likely have to continue if they want the fans get over their hesitancy and fully invest in their leadership.

As expressed earlier, there is no equation that definitively results in a successful Major League Baseball Club. However, if it were possible to create an ideal Major League Baseball team owner, they would have an excellent reputation in baseball, proven track record of baseball business and on-field success, and who has an obvious passion for baseball. On paper it appears that O’Malley has put together a group with all the right components for success, but as all sports fans know playing the game proves the true character of the team.

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