Friday, June 05, 2009

RIP - Richard "Dick" Jacobs

Jeez, it's been a rough week. Dick Jacobs, the former owner of the Cleveland Indians, has died at 84. For Cleveland sports fans, Jacobs was a godsend - a smart owner who invested heavily in his team but was wise enough to let his very able general managers (John Hart and Mark Shapiro) make the personnel decisions. In 1986, Jacobs bought the Indians in the midst of some of their thinnest years (and for a team that hasn't seen a World Series title since 1948, that's saying something). They consistently went nowhere, and often made such wise decisions as trading all of their pitching for hitting, so that they could go from losing 2-1 to losing 10-8.

Yet by 1994, there was genuine hope in Cleveland - young players like Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar Jr., "Joey" (only later was he "Albert") Belle, Jim Thome, and in the farm system, Manny Ramirez were all really positive signs that the Indians, after 40 years, had a direction. What was more, they had ditched the awful Cleveland Municipal Stadium owned by Art Modell (may he burn in hell forever) for a beautiful new stadium, a stadium for which Jacobs himself plunked money down to have the naming rights. It wasn't "Jacobs Field" out of any vanity on his part - the only other bidder was the MacDonald's investment company, and he did understandably did not want a field that made people think of crappy fast-food burgers. The strike of 1994 ended a season in which the Indians were in a pennant race for the first time in 40 years, a typical twist of events for a city filled with generations of multiple heartbreaks across all three major sports.

Yet in 1995, the Indians, under Jacobs' ownership, won the pennant for the first time in 41 years, and went to the World Series. While losing wasn't fun, it was dulled by the fact that Jacobs had had the presence of mind (unlike some owners) to let his GM do his job, and that the Indians finally were heading in a direction other than "south," with a deep farm system and potential to contend for years. 1997 was absolutely devastating, certainly, but whereas the years before Jacobs' ownership were filled with false hopes, now it seems every year, the Indians may genuinely contend. Jacobs sold his ownership in 2001, but the direction has remained largely the same. Without Jacobs' ownership of the Tribe, who knows where the Indians would be now. Ultimately, Jacobs was a quiet man, but the team he ran speaks volumes for him. He's still highly beloved in Cleveland, and his loss marks a very sad day for the entire Tribe family. Rest in peace, Dick, and thanks for all that you've done for the Indians and for Cleveland.