Eugene V. Klein
January 29, 1921|
The Bronx, New York
|Died||March 12, 1990
Rancho Santa Fe, California
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Residence||Rancho Santa Fe, California|
|Occupation||Businessman, sports team owner, racehorse owner/breeder|
|Known for||Seattle SuperSonics, San Diego Chargers, Lady's Secret, Winning Colors|
|Board member of||National General Corp., Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, University of San Diego|
|Children||son Michael, daughter Randee|
|Honors||Eclipse Award for Outstanding Thoroughbred Owner (1985, 1986, 1987)|
Eugene Victor Klein (January 29, 1921 – March 12, 1990) was an American businessman who was Chairman of the Board of Directors and chief stockholder of National General Corp., an insurance and entertainment company based in Los Angeles, California. Klein was also a founding partner of the Seattle SuperSonics of the National Basketball Association, owner of the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League from 1966 to 1984, and a major figure in Thoroughbred horse racing.
Born in The Bronx, New York, Gene Klein made his money and reputation in California where he owned a very successful used-car dealership. He was an investor in National Theaters and Television, Inc., which became National General Corp. When the company ran into severe financial difficulty, Klein stepped in to save his investment. As a member of the Board of Directors he became actively involved in the company's restructuring and not only restored it to profitability but turned the company into an industry powerhouse. He would end up being appointed its president and chairman.
In 1969, National General Corp acquired Great American Holding Corp., owner of the Great American Insurance Company. In 1973 they merged to become American Financial Group.
A long-time Democratic Party supporter, Klein helped finance Pierre Salinger in his 1964 election campaign for the United States Senate. When Salinger lost, Klein hired him as National General's vice president in charge of advertising. In 1972 Klein left the Democratic party to support the 1972 Presidential candidacy of Republican, Richard Nixon.
Sports franchise investments
Always an avid sports fan, but an entrepreneur who recognized the potential on the U.S. West Coast, in 1960 Gene Klein unsuccessfully lobbied Major League Baseball owners to obtain an American League franchise for the city of Los Angeles.
On December 20, 1966, Gene Klein and business associate Sam Schulman, plus a group of minority investors, obtained the National Basketball Association franchise for the city of Seattle, Washington. Schulman would be the active partner, serving as president of the basketball team and head of operations. Prior to this, Klein and Schulman had already made a major investment in sports following the June 1966 announcement of the merger of the American Football League and the National Football League. On August 25 they led a group of investors who purchased the San Diego Chargers for $10 million, at the time, a record price for a National Football League franchise. The majority owner, Klein served as the team's president and head of operations.
During his time with the Chargers football club, Klein became involved in a much publicized feud with Al Davis, the then managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders. Their differences resulted in a lawsuit in which a San Diego Superior Court jury held Davis responsible for a heart attack Klein suffered in 1981. The verdict was overturned on appeal.
While he was the owner of the San Diego Chargers in the mid-1970s he hired coach Don "Air" Coryell and assembled a very interesting team that kept people fascinated with the Chargers because of the high scoring offense. During this time the Chargers offense had three future NFL Hall of Fame inductees with Dan Fouts as quarterback, Kellen Winslow at tight end, and Charlie Joiner at wide receiver. Other notable receivers were All-Pro's John Jefferson and later Wes Chandler. The town became highly engrossed in such a franchise and pro football led all professional teams in the area because the baseball team and basketball team did not compete in their respective sports nearly at the same level. The Chargers won AFC West division titles in 1979-1981 and also made the playoffs in 1982. In 1980 and 1981, they reached the AFC Championship game but lost both times and never advanced to the Super Bowl under Klein.
Klein refused to renegotiate player contracts, most notably Jefferson's and defensive end Fred Dean's contracts at the beginning of the 1981 season. The situation led to both players being dealt away by the Chargers. While Jefferson was replaced by Chandler, future Hall of Famer Dean's departure on defense coincided with the Chargers surrendering the most passing yards in the NFL in both 1981 and 1982.
In 1984, Gene Klein sold his interest in the San Diego Chargers to Alex Spanos.
On his death, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said of Gene Klein: "He made a great contribution to the league, not only in San Diego, but on the television committee, where he was a visionary" and that Klein "was a valuable and valued owner and he will be missed."
Thoroughbred horse racing
Gene Klein entered the thoroughbred horse racing business in 1982. He established Del Rayo Racing Stables, a 237-acre (0.96 km2) stables, breeding operation, and training center in Rancho Santa Fe, California. He hired D. Wayne Lukas to train his horses.
Among Klein's famous Thoroughbreds:
- Tank's Prospect - 1985, won the Preakness Stakes
- Lady's Secret - 1986, voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1992
- Winning Colors - 1988, became only the third filly in history to win the Kentucky Derby. Voted 1988 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Three-Year-Old Filly. Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2000.
- Open Mind - 1988, won Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, voted Eclipse Award for Outstanding Two-Year-Old Filly. 1989, voted Eclipse Award for Outstanding Three-Year-Old Filly
Gene Klein had horses win seven Breeders' Cup races:
In just seven years of racing, Gene Klein raced six champions, two of which are in the Hall of Fame, and earned a total of eleven Eclipse Awards, including being personally voted the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Owner three years running from 1985 to 1987.
In the mid-1980s, Klein also undertook an offshoot business near his stables property in Rancho Santa Fe. He developed two luxury residential real estate projects called Del Rayo Estates and Del Rayo Downs. Forbes.com ranked its 92067 as the second most expensive ZIP code real estate market in the United States for 2005
In poor health, in 1989 Gene Klein retired from racing, selling off his 146 horses just a few months before he died. In 1995, his stables at Rancho Santa Fe, California were sold to Sidney and Jenny Craig of weight loss fame.
Gene Klein was a benefactor to a number of charities and was a major donor to the The Scripps Research Institute. He was also active in the San Diego Hall of Champions, the San Diego Museum of Art, the American Cancer Society and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
- "CNNSI.com - NFL Football - Say It Ain't So: San Diego Chargers - Wednesday March 07, 2001 10:39 AM". Retrieved 2008-10-19.
- "1981 NFL Opposition & Defensive Statistics - Pro-Football-Reference.com". Retrieved 2010-07-02.
- "1982 NFL Opposition & Defensive Statistics - Pro-Football-Reference.com". Retrieved 2010-07-02.
- Horstman, Barry M.; Distel, Dave (March 13, 1990). "Ex-Charger Owner Klein Dead at 69". Los Angeles Times.
- New York Times article on Eugene Klein's racing stable
- San Diego Chargers history, Official website
- February 7, 1969 Time magazine article on National General Corp.
- New York times notice of Klein/Davis lawsuit
- Time magazine article on Pierre Salinger
- The Baseball Journals with copy of letter from Eugene Klein to the President of the American Baseball League
- Seattle Times article re NBA franchise
- March 13, 1990 Los Angeles Times obituary and detailed biography of Eugene V. Klein