League's Ownership Includes Some Heavy Hitters

Times Staff Writer

Team owners in the Class-A California League are investors in a variety of areas such as law, investment banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals and, now, entertainment.

One of these is actor Mark Harmon, part-owner of the San Bernardino Spirit. Harmon, a native of Southern California and a former UCLA quarterback, financed the club's move from Ventura to San Bernardino in 1987 and retains a minority interest in the team.

Harmon says that his friend and attorney, Barry Axelrod, brought him into the bush league business but that it didn't require much arm-twisting.

"It didn't take much talking to get me fantasizing about owning a minor league club," said Harmon, who played baseball at Harvard School in North Hollywood.

Harmon, like most owners in the California League, said money wasn't the motivating factor in his decision to buy a minor league club with Axelrod.

"This isn't something either one of us got involved with as an investment," Harmon said. "We weren't looking for a return on our money. This is something you do for the love and support of baseball."

But it has turned out to be a fine financial move for Harmon, as San Bernardino fans have turned out in league-record numbers.

Harmon, who says he spent a lot of time in the San Bernardino area as a youngster and sold sneakers in the expanding inland empire, is removed from the day-to-day operations. But he has found time to make it to the park as a spectator a few times this season.

"Barry and I are more apt to buy a hot dog, sit in the general admission seats and take in a game. That was our original intention," Harmon said.

Harmon's next movie is called "Stealing Home," and the opening and closing scenes take place at San Bernardino's Fiscalini Field, with Harmon dressed in a Spirit uniform.

Other California League owners in the entertainment business are San Jose owners Tony Cox, chairman of Showtime, and Dick Beahrs, senior vice president at Home Box Office--two friends who are business competitors in one area and partners in another. The Palm Springs Angels are headed by an ownership group of 106 investors from the entertainment industry, including performers such as Tony Orlando.

California League President Joe Gagliardi said he has been approaching show business investors in an effort upgrade the quality of club ownership.

"We have some high-gear owners who are worth millions of dollars," Gagliardi said.

Then there are the four Brett brothers--including George, the Kansas City Royals' All-Star; Ken, the Angel radio broadcaster, and Bobby, a Manhattan Beach real estate broker--who are owners of the Riverside Red Wave.

The Bretts first bought a minor league franchise in Spokane, Wash., in 1985. The endeavor was a financial success, and the brothers added Riverside to their acquisitions this year and moved the club from Salinas.

"When we first bought Spokane, we thought it would be fun. We weren't really looking to make money," said Bobby Brett, the Red Wave president. "We didn't want to lose money, though. We hoped to make money, but it wasn't the primary motivator. Once we found it to be successful and profitable, we thought of purchasing a franchise in the L.A. area. Our home base is generally L.A., and it was our idea to have a team closer to home."

So far the Bretts haven't realized the same success in Riverside as in Spokane, but they are a little more prepared for it.

'When we first went into operation in Spokane, we really didn't know what we were doing," Bobby said. "When you make a profit, it's always a little more fun."

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