TEXANS EXPECT THEIR professional football team owners to be brash (Bud Adams) or full of flash (Jerry Jones). So what are we to make of John J. Moores, the shy Houston multimillionaire who wants to bring a new NFL franchise to his hometown after the Oilers move to Tennessee? The man himself says he’s no “showboat” (when he donated $51.4 million to his alma mater, the University of Houston, in 1991, he didn’t even attend the ceremonies) or “hard-charger” (he would rather be “whipped” than go to a business meeting). But rather than take his word for it, look at the way he runs another sports franchise, baseball’s San Diego Padres.
Moores, who is 52, paid $80 million for the Padres in December 1994. In a single season he took a team with the worst record in the majors and made it into a legitimate contender, which is why new ticket sales are greater this year than in the last three years combined. “The guy has totally turned things around,” says Tony Gwynn, a six-time National League batting champion and a fifteen-year Padre veteran.
How? According to Gwynn, Moores has “spent the money to put the team in a position to be successful.” Indeed, upon taking control of the Padres he more than doubled the size of its payroll, allowing the team to lure seasoned veterans like outfielder Rickey Henderson and pitcher Bob Tewksbury. But as important, Moores has radically changed the owner-player dynamic. Unlike some owners, who rarely step down from their sky boxes, he makes casual visits to the clubhouse, usually wearing his Padres cap and eating peanuts out of a bag. “There’s not a guy on the team who’s afraid to say hi, ask him about his family, or even pick his brain,” says Gwynn, who adds that Moores’s unassuming air makes players “really want to win for him.”
And unlike other owners, who can’t resist meddling in the management of their teams, Moores knows his limitations. “I have a lot of strong opinions, like any sports fan,” he says, “but the worst thing in the world would be for anybody to listen to me.” Just as Moores delegated authority at Houston’s BMC Software, where he multiplied his initial $1,000 investment into $400 million before retiring as chairman in 1992, he’s been hands-off with the Padres. “He surrounds himself with the best and smartest people who can make things happen,” says longtime pal Tilman Fertitta, the CEO of Landry’s Seafood Restaurants. “Moores operates by finding the right people to run the show for him,” agrees San Diego Union-Tribune sportswriter Chris Jenkins, citing the hiring of Larry Lucchino—who masterminded the Baltimore Orioles’ turnaround—as the Padres’ president and CEO.
If he doesn’t enjoy the notoriety or the nitty-gritty, then why does Moores want to own another pro team? “I’m just a real sports fan. I always have been,” he says, recalling that as a little boy he carried film on the sidelines for his father, who photographed high school football games for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times . “There was so much excitement, you couldn’t help but get caught up in it.” Moores still gets swept away—only now, he gets to sit in the best seats and eat all the peanuts he wants.