ROLDO: No One All Bad; No One All Good – Art Modell

By Roldo Bartimole

There was one time I felt sorry for Art Modell.

It was in a court room. I’ll get to that.

What bothers me now of the attacks on Modell by our sports writers and fans are that they for so long kissed his ass. He was the Big Dog.

Just as they do now for Jimmy Haslam. Is Haslam any better than Modell? Nah.

Between whining about LeBronJames and Art Modell, the town earns a reputation – a city of cry babies.

Modell left Cleveland because he lost political power. He lost it because he was a poor businessman. He could no longer get what he wanted. Dick Jacobs aced him out.

One bad business decision in particular made his trouble public. He tried to scam his silent partner – venture capitalist Bob Gries.

Modell himself owned the Stadium Corp. The firm leased the old stadium from the city. It had a sweetheart deal. Not near as good as Haslam has, however.

Back in 1971 Modell needed dough. Badly. He was heavily in debt. Very high interest rates, up to 21 percent. That’s how Gries became a heftier minority owner. But still a silent one. Modell cashed in Browns stock for some $4.1 to $4.8 million. It lowered his ownership from 59.4 percent to 47.2 percent. Gries’s interests went up from 17.1 to 43.3 percent. Way back in 1971. Modell gained an income tax advantage for himself, too.

No one knew about this at the time. Until Modell sold the Stadium Corp. to the Browns at what Gries felt was an inflated price. Gries sued. After all he was paying 43.3 percent of the cost, his percentage of ownership.

The battle was on. It got down and dirty. One headline in my newsletter Point of View showed the animosity: “Art to Bob: “Impudent”; Bob to Art: “Childish.”

It got as petty as such fights do. Public too.

Modell informed Gries, an owner and board member, he was unwelcome to attend “any staff, media, or team activities unless invited, and (I) will enforce my authority to do so if it becomes necessary.”

Gries snapped back. “… Are you perhaps suggesting that my very presence serves as a reminder of the fact that you are not the sole owner of the Browns…?” It even got uglier.

Gries sued over the Stadium Corp. sale. My headline of the court case was “Modell, Gries Trial – LOSERS.” Both of them.

Maybe this was the real end of the Browns in Cleveland. It was 1984. Jacobs bought the Indians for a pittance in 1986. He wasn’t about to pay rent to Modell in that old stadium. Not for long anyway.

The trial was like a show trial.

Here’s how I saw it in 1983:

“This courtroom becomes a small, self-contained world for five hours a day – 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. – with not only contestants, trial lawyers and judge, but the audience as well becoming part of the whole.

“As one day passes into another an environment is created. What’s there seeps into the consciousness and subconscious where it mixes with other values and feelings.”

Here’s where I felt sorrow for Art Modell, a figure I had often criticized:

“Modell is there alone. No family. Usually grim. During recess he usually slips into a back room. He’s just recovered from severe physical problems.” (He had a heart attack and heart by-pass since the start of this case.)

Gries carries an entourage. Wife. Sister. Offspring. Other relatives, friends. They sit there daily. No knitting. But diet Pepsi socializing. They might be attending a Browns game or a social event.”

I noted that Gries helped keep Modell’s salary at $60,000 for 20 years though Modell got much more in bonuses. Gries, with no operational duties, got $6,500, including expenses.

The case, heard by Judge John Angellota, involved two prominent Cleveland lawyers. Marvin Karp of Ulmer Berne for Gries. Pat McCartan of Jones Day for Modell.

Even they couldn’t escape the pettiness. Lots of bickering. Even with high-priced lawyers.

McCartan slips in unsympathetic characterizations of Gries: Gries, off on business in East Asia. McCartan asks mockingly whether he was “off looking after your sugar interests in the Third World.” McCartan also slips in, “You’re a very careful man” and “You’re covered. Don’t worry, Mr. Gries, you’re covered.” It follows testimony of some Gries moves against Modell.

Even Karp and McCartan tussle. Karp tells McCartan if he continues to shout at him, “then I’ll leave with my witness.” McCartan shoots back, “You leave and the sheriff is going to bring you right back.” These are big time lawyers.

As part of the sale of the Stadium Corp. to the Browns Modell also sold land in Strongsville (Modell may have had plans to move and build). He placed a $3.8 million value on the Strongsville land. Gries said it was worth from $330,000 to $600,000. Sam Miller of Forest City told Gries, “If you got $500,000 for that property, you’d better take it and get out of town before you get arrested for grand larceny.”

And so it went.

Angellota ruled for Gries. Modell suffered another blow.

We probably should have known then that Modell needed an escape. A sugar daddy. Like Al Lerner. The one he got.

So Art gets turned down again on Saturday. I don’t care. And today Art doesn’t care either. The Cleveland substitute Browns just sold for $1 billion. And you kick Art?

Only the team fanatics care. So what?

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For the full coverage of this episode see Point of View at the library: Vol. 15 #22, #23; Vol. 16 #24.

 

 

Roldo Bartimole has been reporting since 1959. He came to Cleveland in 1965 to report for the Plain Dealer where he worked twice in the 1960s, left for the Wall Street Journal in 1967. He started publishing his newsletter Point of View in 1968 and ended it in 2000.

In 1991 he was awarded the Second Annual Joe Callaway Award for Civic Courage in Washington, D.C. He received the Distinguished Service Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, Cleveland chapter, in 2002, and was named to the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame, 2004. [Photo by Todd Bartimole.]

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12 Responses to “ROLDO: No One All Bad; No One All Good – Art Modell”

  1. THANKS for putting up w/Mr.Roldo…..maybe Im naive or a neophyte or nerd BUT…. all this *$*@… I THINK the HOLD on Browns fans BROKEN.or weaksn…..NOT sure of THAT but… in a bizarre way ALL this courtroomcorporatecrap ALMOST MORE fun then the actual game…REALLY SAME could be said for REST of the politico world….but wha do I know.. on STRONGSVILLE land….that is out my way…gads..a MESS on i-71…be like the Old Richfield Coliseum which quite frankly H much successful,fun,etc. EXCEPT for the poo natives who dealt w/trash and STANDING CARS on end during concerts,games,etc.

    BACK from time ART M bought said franchise to maybe ’81 folks kinda rolled with it n Ok fine…BUT A LOT OF “STUFF” has gone under the bridge SINCE THEN AND I DONT think mood is there….

    SOME of US THINK HASLAM gonna clean up organization,find some talent,not play tooo many games (PRAY),give it some time and let the chips fall were may…THAT MAY change after 3 or 5 YRS….

    GOSH ONLY knows wha area,City gonna be like…SOMEHOW I THINK OTHER events gonna be H more benefiicial to average soul THEN this bizarre whutever… I KNOW WHA I REALLY WANT to say WHA think BUT…..

  2. IF the browns can pull it off or least BECOME BETTER…FINE….. IF can make it playoffs then the town can go crazy…DONT begrudge Ravens their wins… or due… NAME thing thou is enough thing… RAVEN IS A feathered scavenger… think crow or a possum with feathers…BUT hey… I THINK named for Edgar Allen Poe’s infamous raven of lore… I just dont take it this seriously and wunder WHY I bother pontificating… I VIEW it as a game…have some beer,soda..munch some chips… NOT gonna freeze tailfeathers WAY up there in hi priced seats HOPING can get attn of ANYONE coming near one selling ANYTHING at THAT point…

    On strongsville land… MAYBE that statment THEN by good Ol Sam MAYBE SPOKE VOLUMES n maybe HE already knew all this semi unsustainable…THEN again THAT was wha 1984…THINK OF THE UPROAR…steel,auto,machine tool,etc. EVEN NOW… LATEST building is SENIOR housing of sorts..SCHNEIDER reserve…HATE naming names but this ol horse farm turned condo type deal…

  3. Oh…CHECK out BURKE LAKEFRONT….WTF WGW… I GUESS SAY NEVER say die… GOoood luck finding ANY politico or ANY financier for THAT….

  4. BY burke I meant THAT article IN THIS issue..I KNOW I KNOW..A DIFFERENT AUTHOR and His own schtick,etc. Ok fine I can understand turf thing….BUT…. WHA trolling for ANY interest…gooood luck…MAYBE Im A FOOL…..TOoo many wannabe projects, tooo little $,patience,etc.

  5. Richard

    Can anyone translate this gibberish for me?

  6. Dick Peery

    We get angry at the players when the real guilty party is the game. As long as the NFL and other sports leagues are free to use robber baron bludgeons to batter cities into submission we will continue to rage against villains while we forfeit our children’s futures to pay for millionaire playgrounds instead of education.

  7. Dear Richard..PUT IT THIS way…WE have too many UNNEEDED buidlings,too little money,too much corruption, too much unneeded land and way too many people with too many bad ideas that dont pan out…DID I MAKE THAT GIBBERISH CONCISE ENOUGH FOR YOU?…WE are soo wrapped up in these IDIOT SPORTS crews who jerk our chains beyond belief..DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT RICHARD!? I HOPE SO… DO I spiel tooo long MAYBE…..

  8. Roldo Bartimole

    Good to hear from you Dale. Please let us know when your latest book
    comes out. Too many people don’t know you are a local guy with a lot to say.

    Bob: I too often don’t get your message. I’m an old guy and all those
    abbreviations aren’t in my head.

    Richard & Dick, thanks for reading and commenting. Always appreciated.

  9. Larry Durstin

    Who cares if Cleveland has some kind of
    “cry baby” reputation amongst a bunch of people who don’t give a shit about the town and would dismiss it no matter what. Ridiculous to even mention that. Anyway, as Shakespeare said, “Reputation is an idle and false imposition oft got without merit and lost without deserving”

    P.S. How on earth do you know that Haslem isn’t any better than Modell? Silly comment

  10. Roldo Bartimole

    Nobody likes a crybaby, Larry.

    And Haslem has already joined the
    Cleveland Clinic, starting right off as a good Corporate
    citizen following the style of Art.

    I didn’t know you were so protective and sensitive of billionaires.

  11. SORRY Mr.Roldo…MY fault..meant no insult to You… My regret..Take care..sorry bout the Western Union style of writing… I just dont see much future support for many or any projects.

  12. IF want honest truth…RATHER take the money put into these projects..HIRE demolition crews to LEVEL building wrecks..(I DONT care HOW much corruption and/or which interests get the money just so long as stuff pulled down). I THINK that would be good for all of us…iif need public facilities Ok that is one thing. NOT this bizarre makework type stuff… DIMORA DEBACLE actually DID some good for us in lot of ways…

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