LOS ANGELES – Frank McCourt was into hour six of day three, defending himself against Bud Selig’s takeover to every pancake-makeup-ed or ink-stained hack in L.A.
In suite 201, two tiers above field level and just off the third-base bag, he removed his sport coat, hung it on a hook near the door, and offered a beer. He drank water.
The Dodgers played the San Diego Padres through the glass and on the television over his head.
After all but losing his franchise on Park Avenue in New York, McCourt has taken his fight to the people of Los Angeles, the very people who’ve applauded Selig’s plan to smoke him out.
“I’m heartbroken they’ve had to go through this situation,” he says of Dodger fans, many of whom simply aren’t bothering to come to the ballpark anymore.
The club is on a pace to sell a half-million fewer tickets than it did a year ago, when it finished in fourth place in the NL West. Seven years ago, when Frank and his then-wife, Jamie, bought in, their attendance goal was four million. The Dodgers might not draw three million in 2011.
“I’m going to make it up to them,” he says, leaning forward in his chair.
He may not have the chance.
McCourt met Friday with Tom Schieffer, the Selig heavy whose job it is to go through the books, approve spending and generally keep the franchise operating. Later, as his first official act, Schieffer signed off on the May 1 payroll.
“A cordial meeting,” Schieffer said.
“Seems like a nice man,” McCourt said.
“I think he’d prefer I wasn’t here,” Schieffer said.
“There’s a very easy resolution to this,” McCourt said.
By mid-afternoon, Schieffer sat in section 11, row G, seat 1 at Dodger Stadium, watching the Dodgers take batting practice. He worked through a Dodger Dog – he’s a ketchup-and-mustard man – and a soda. As McCourt pushed his agenda (his 17-year, near-$3-billion Fox deal remains on Selig’s desk and unapproved, where it’s likely to stay), Schieffer introduced himself to the chief financial officer, the general manager and, after batting practice, to the players themselves.
As he did, Vin Scully arrived in the press box with a warm smile, his arms loaded with binders and folders. On a day the owner scrapped to survive, on an afternoon a stranger walked the corridors surrounded by two MLB-provided security guards and one MLB-issued PR man, as McCourt’s new vice chairman glad-handed half the ballpark, and at a moment of seeming chaos, Scully reported for work, game 27 of year 62.
Scully is one of the few things McCourt has going for him, doing more to soothe the tension in three hours than an army of image shapers could in a year. For six decades, the Dodgers were fine as long as Scully said they were, as long as he showed up and announced it was time for Dodger baseball and then somebody threw a pitch. This might be too big even for the great Scully.
“I have the same responsibility every day,” he says, “which is to be as accurate, as prepared, as informative as I can possibly be on that given day, period.
“Whether it’s war time, peace time, my responsibility is between those lines. Anything else would be a distraction. Anyone who is really interested will have read about it, heard about it. What I want to give them is what they tuned in for – the game.”
Other than that, he says, “I don’t want the game to be a downer.”
No, there’s enough of that going around.
Letters from Jamie McCourt’s attorneys fill Selig’s in-box, the missives reminding the commissioner that she’s to be apprised of all that affects the value of the franchise and her take down the line. Baseball’s investigation into McCourt’s finances commences Monday. Two offices, not far from Frank’s down the left-field line, house interlopers, undoubtedly viewed as league henchmen. Or worse, assassins.
In suite 201, McCourt pushes ahead. The little bit of warmth in the day came from the kind lady in the dining room. She told him she’s praying for him, for all this to go away, and he thanked her.
Though Selig “ducks” him, though not a single fellow owner has called to offer support, though Dodgers fans have deserted him, McCourt says he does not feel alone.
“No,” he says. “It feels to me like there’s something going on that is preventing what is an otherwise very good, sound media transaction.”
More likely, he doesn’t care if he is alone.
By the end of the night, McCourt had left his suite to watch the final outs from his field box. With two out, two Padres on base and the Dodgers holding a one-run lead, Tony Gwynn Jr.(notes) slid across the left field grass, the final out secure in his glove.
Jubilant, McCourt turned, held up his arms and hugged an usher.