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Friday Five: Best owners

New Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez,

New Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, center, is flanked by general manager Theo Epstein, left, and team owner John Henry, during a news conference in Boston. (Dec. 6, 2010) (Credit: AP )

What the hell. I just finished attending the owners' meetings, and we haven't done this since 2008, so is there a better time than the present? Don't think so.

1. JOHN HENRY, Boston Red Sox

This marks the 10th year of the John Henry-Tom Werner-Larry Lucchino triumvurate running the Red Sox, and really, what is the biggest misstep they've made?

Probably the Lucchino-fueled shenanigans that led Theo Epstein to resign following the 2005 season. But that lasted only a few months. Epstein was back in place by the start of the 2006 campaign.

Otherwise, though? Henry and his lieutenants turned Fenway Park from a perceived, past-its-prime dump into a valued jewel. By choosing Epstein as their GM for the 2003 season, they instituted a baseball operations department that functions as well as any in the game. They've set up countless successful marketing initatives.

To paraphrase Joe Esposito, they're the best around. Nothin's gonna ever keep them down.

Well, maybe that second sentence is a stretch.

2. HAL STEINBRENNER, Yankees

In looking back at my 2008 list, I'm not sure why I didn't credit the Steinbrenner family for its time served. After all, you could look at Hal Steinbrenner as carrying his dad's torch in a continuous ownership.

It's murky, though. While the Hal Steinbrenner reign looks quite similar The Boss' - a huge payroll and aggressive efforts to monetize the Yankee brand - in other ways, it looks quite different. Brian Cashman is largely allowed to do his job, and even when something like the Rafael Soriano signing occurs, it's not like the old days when Cashman might learn of it at the same time as the rest of us.

It's also vague as to when we actually should credit the Hal Steinbrenner era with starting. Officially, Hal became the Yankees' control person following the 2008 season, and he and his brother Hank were elevated to the key decision-makers after the 2007 campaign.

Unofficially, however, as Bill Madden's biography on George Steinbrenner confirms, The Boss' health started to fail back in 2003. Although, just to complicate things some more, Steve Swindal worked as his father-in-law's appointed successor before Swindal divorced Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal in 2007.

So let's do our best to split the difference and acknowledge both The Boss' amazing run - which, let's not forget, also featured myriad chaos and 12 years (1982-1993, discounting strike-shortened 1994) without a playoff berth - and the new regime. Let's put them behind the Red Sox, just because Boston has enjoyed such a high rate of success with the Henry group.

3. DAVE MONTGOMERY, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies really have become a model franchise: Beautiful, modern ballpark; high payroll; strong baseball operations. And Montgomery, the team's general partner and CEO, deserves credit for creating and overseeing it.

Shoot, when your baseball ops group foolishly trades Cliff Lee and then, a year later, Lee is lobbying you to come back, blowing off the Yankees and Texas in the process, you're doing something right.

4. MIKE ILITCH, Detroit Tigers

It's a pretty simple explanation on this one: The pizza tycoon consistently spends money, lots of it, in the interest of putting together a winning team. He believes in stability at the baseball operations level, as he just re-upped both general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland.

It also should be appreciated just how hard Ilitch worked on behalf of Detroit, the city which has struggled to stay afloat. Most notably, in 2009, Ilitch put up the signs of the Big Three auto companies - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - at no charge, with a sign, "The Detroit Tigers Support Our Automakers."

5. STUART STERNBERG, Tampa Bay Rays

He's relatively new on the scene, having taken over the Rays for the 2006 season, and there's the minor issue of the fact that the Rays play in a horribly located ballpark, as we discussed last week.

But my goodness. Sternberg certainly has tried to engage area fans, lowering concessions prices and booking post-game concerts and trying pretty much anything and everything else. And more important, Sternberg has put together a baseball operations department that has been so impressive and successful that he has given himself leverage in the ongoing stadium drama: "We have a club that scares the daylights out of the Yankees and Red Sox despite the fact that we spend $1 for every $4 that they spend. We've proven that this ballpark simply can't support a team no matter how good it is."

If there's any justice in the baseball world, Sternberg and the Rays will someday find a suitable home. 

Tags: John Henry , Hal Steinbrenner , Dave Montgomery , Mike Ilitch , Stuart Sternberg

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