The Los Angeles Dodgers "are running out of air," the team's vice-chairman said Thursday.
Strangled, he said, by baseball.
Smothered, he said, by a leisurely investigation.
Suffocated, he said, by a rigged game.
The Dodgers have told Major League Baseball they probably can cover their May 15 payroll, and will not be able to cover it on June 1. Players are paid twice a month.
"The question is, do we deserve a chance?" Steve Soboroff, the new man on owner Frank McCourt's staff, said. "We're getting the death penalty for, maybe there were some traffic tickets."
Over a 30-minute interview, Soboroff accused MLB of unfair play and possible negligence, some of which McCourt had to clean up later in the day.
The commissioner's office is sorting through McCourt's financial records and in the process delaying a decision on a long-term TV rights deal reached between Fox and the team. Without that, McCourt might not have the cash to run the club through the end of May.
In the event the Dodgers cannot pay their players, MLB will, thereby keeping the players from filing default notices and becoming free agents.
As a condition of assisting McCourt, MLB likely would ask him to put the club up for sale, as it required of Tom Hicks last year in Texas. If McCourt resisted, he would be found in violation of the sport's constitution. According to that document, failure to meet such financial obligations is grounds for terminating his ownership of the franchise.
McCourt is unlikely to walk away. His attorneys sent letters to MLB on Wednesday demanding approval of the Fox deal, missives baseball officials took as a warning shot of future legal action.
If McCourt is unsatisfied with baseball's ultimate decision, Soboroff said, "Then [he's] got to try to find a truth some other way, the fair process this country allows you to go through."
Major League Baseball will not approve – or reject – the contract until after its investigation separates the traffic tickets from the greater infractions, assuming it discovers any. A day after MLB claimed any perceived delays are McCourt's doing and, by the way, he still hasn't provided what it requested, Soboroff was again on the offensive.
Citing too few MLB operatives in and around team offices over the past week, Soboroff called their work, "a shell of an investigation," implying commissioner Bud Selig was more interested in bleeding McCourt of his last dollars than reaching an honest conclusion.
"If they're doing an investigation, where are the people?" Soboroff demanded. "Unless they've already figured out the answer and this whole thing is a rope-a-dope."
In a digital age, Dodger Stadium wouldn't necessarily have to be overrun by accountants in order for baseball to conduct an investigation.
Baseball officials say that until the Dodgers provide them with the proper documents and in the proper format, the investigation cannot proceed quickly. MLB has asked for the records in paper form or on a compact disc. The Dodgers placed them in a virtual data room, where restrictions were attached.
"The commissioner is committed to a prompt and thorough investigation," MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said. "And as soon as the Los Angeles Dodgers comply with the commissioners directives to produce documents in acceptable form that investigation will proceed with all possible speed.
"This is not about personalities. This is about the future of the Dodgers."
Trustee Tom Schieffer recently observed – light-heartedly – that there was too much information to digest, likening it to trying to take a drink from a fire hose. Soboroff replied, "You can't drink out of a water fountain or a fire hose if your mouth's not open." Baseball hopes to complete the investigation by the end of the month, or about the time McCourt could be running out of cash.
Soboroff also complained that in the wake of the Osama bin Laden assassination, trustee Schieffer and baseball officials were unreachable, leaving the team with a decision to add security at Dodger Stadium at a cost beyond $5,000, the maximum allowed without permission from the commissioner's office.
Baseball officials say they received an email mid-morning and authorized the request two minutes later.
Several hours after Soboroff detailed the possible security issue, McCourt issued a statement denying that account, along with other comments Soboroff made regarding Schieffer.
"Not only did Mr. Schieffer respond immediately to our request for permission to increase security at the stadium," McCourt said, "he volunteered to assist the organization in any way that he could. I apologize to Mr. Schieffer for the inaccurate statements that were made about him."
While baseball begins to wrestle with the details of McCourt's management of the franchise, it hopes to answer some of the larger questions hanging over the team, his stewardship of it and the spectacle it's become.
Also, and because of that, the current liquidity issues are puzzling to baseball. The majority of teams are flush this early in the season, when season-ticket payments are arriving.
The notion, then, that a high-revenue, low-payroll team would run aground in May – despite a $30 million loan – has perplexed baseball's analysts. Additionally, that McCourt's solution is to pull television revenue from three years out (the Dodgers' current deal with Fox runs 2 ½ more years), has not instilled confidence in the commissioner's office.
The Dodgers should have been stronger yesterday, it believes. They should be stronger today.
Soboroff, however, maintained this is not a Dodger problem, except as to what MLB inflicts on them.
"They're moving so slowly, anybody would run out of cash," he said. "We are running out of air. And so would Warren Buffett be if he was not given access to what was his.
"All we want is transparency and flexibility. Is it because they've already made up their mind? Then tell us you've made up your mind."
- Steve Soboroff
- The Dodgers
- Major League Baseball
- Frank McCourt