Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig apparently thinks owner Frank McCourt no longer seems capable of running the Los Angeles Dodgers in a sensible and sustainable way, so Mr. Selig announced this week that the league will take over that responsibility. Should we care about that? ESPN and Only A Game baseball guy Tim Kurkjian is among the many who think we should because this isn't the Montreal Expos we're talking about.
“You could make a strong case that this is greatest franchise in the history of the National League,” Kurkjian said. “And maybe after the Yankees, the greatest franchise in baseball history.”
Great as the Dodgers franchise has been - and in this case, great means not only championships on both coasts - six of them, altogether - and the L.A. glitz factor, but also Jackie Robinson and the decades during which the Dodgers occupied first place in the hearts of Brooklyn residents - according to Tim Kurkjian, the contemporary baseball scene in Los Angeles has been discouraging and worse.
“It's just not what it used to be. There are long lines at concession stands. There’s graffiti in the bathrooms. There was a near death in parking lot. And on a Sunday afternoon, 77 degrees at Dodger Stadium, they drew 27,000 people. That is unheard of,” Kurkjian said. “And a former Dodger texted me the other day and said we have the 30-year anniversary of us winning the 1981 World Series and the Dodgers aren't going to do anything about a reunion.”
Some of the financial problems have come about as a result of the divorce between Frank and Jamie McCourt. But according to New York Times sportswriter Richard Sandomir, at least one of the most flagrant lapses in sound management of the ballclub transpired when the McCourts were still borrowing money together, before it occurred to them that they no longer wished to be married to one another.
“Probably the worst thing is the revelation that came out in court documents during the divorce trial,” Sandomir said. “Frank and Jamie McCourt took $108 million out of the Dodgers for their personal use to buy real estate and for personal mortgages, money that could better be used to improve the team.”
The borrowing escalated recently when Frank McCourt went to the Fox network for help…a development which, for various reasons, caught the attention of Commissioner Selig. Dylan Hernandez covers the Dodgers for the Los Angeles Times, and he's been following the team's downward spiral.
“What we did know is that Frank McCourt had to borrow $30 million from Fox to make payroll. The money that they borrowed from Fox didn’t go directly to the team because had that been the case, Selig would have been able to shoot that down,” Hernandez said. “He has veto power over any kind of loans between broadcasters and teams. So instead what happened was that Fox loaned the money directly to Frank McCourt and from what we heard Selig was not happy about that.”
Dylan Hernandez characterizes the current Dodgers roster as underwhelming, at least for a team in one of baseball's major markets, and he says the turmoil in the front office hasn't gone unnoticed by the players, even though distractions come with the territory in Los Angeles.
“It's kind of an annoyance probably for the players, just in that there are probably four or five times as many reporters as usual. Some players have big crowds around them asking them, ‘What do you think about this?’ But when you really look at it, this is nothing new for this team,” Hernandez said. “There have been a lot of distractions here over the years. Frank McCourt’s divorce. Obviously when Manny Ramirez was suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs that was a big day. When Manny showed up that was a big day. When they got rid of Manny that was a big day.”
As part of their coverage of the McCourt Saga, Hernandez's colleagues at the Los Angeles Times have been talking to fans at the ballpark. An unscientific survey suggests that they're relieved by Commissioner Selig's decision.
“Most of the fans seem to be very, very delighted that there might be a resolution to this situation that McCourt’s ownership might be coming to an end,” Hernandez said.
Unhappily for those fans eager for an opportunity to concentrate on baseball rather than divorce, loans, and diverted funds, the resolution of which Dylan Hernandez is speaking may be some time in the realization. Frank McCourt may not go gently. At the end of the week, he was apparently exploring the possibility of suing Major League Baseball.
This segment aired on April 23, 2011.