LOS ANGELES – Frank McCourt has a choice.
He can fight Commissioner Bud Selig, who, after seven years of watching the Los Angeles Dodgers recede into financial and moral chaos, of measuring McCourt’s assurances that the ugliness and gluttony was temporary and solvable, on Wednesday took the extraordinary measure of seizing control of McCourt’s team.
Or he can surrender the Dodgers, get on with his life, skin some other suckers in some other town, and take his three-deep roster of lawyers with him.
In the next few days, a trustee from Major League Baseball will knock on the door at 1000 Elysian Park Avenue in L.A.
McCourt could hide in the executive washroom.
Or he could hand over the keys.
I mean, assuming he hasn’t melted them down for the copper.
By now, after all the angry cries from the people who sit behind him at his lovely ballpark, after his season-ticket sales fell by nearly 40 percent, after the letters to the editor and the diminishing revenues and the roster gone all Aaron Miles(notes), I think he knows how L.A. is leaning on this.
But, McCourt, bless his litigious little heart, probably has other plans.
Nobody knows how this plays out. Baseball generally doesn’t do hostile takeovers, since most owners make plenty of money, keep their mansions to a neat handful, and understand it’s not in their interests to suck the ballclub dry with private jets and barbers who apparently spin hair into uranium.
We’ve learned, however, that Frank McCourt isn’t your ordinary owner. He is, instead, a man on a losing streak.
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Dig a pothole in the middle of your street, fill it with sewer water, and within hours Frank McCourt would walk along and step in it.
Fill a stadium on opening day, and Frank McCourt will draw the two homicidal idiots.
The stuff is just finding him now. Kind of like a boomerang.
Sadly, for baseball, the Dodgers and their fans, too much of the past seven years has been less about bad luck and more about self-inflicted offenses. After the O’Malleys got out and left the organization to the stiff collars at Fox, this should have been easy for Frank and Jamie McCourt, too. Show a little humility. Be just a little smart, a little clever. Show a little deference to the people, rather than raking them for every nickel. There would have been a parade, except without the pitchforks and torches.
Instead, the Dodgers never seemed big enough for them. Like the Dodgers were a foothold, and the fans’ faces were footholds, on the way to something better.
Years ago employees were advised by the McCourts to consider the McCourts the brand and the Dodgers the product, and to sell the two as such, and in that order.
They said it a lot, too. Though, to be fair, they fired so many people there were always new people to educate on the subtleties of McCourt-onomics.
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Selig, by recent weeks, simply had had enough. The team he once delivered to the McCourts was now in ruins. The McCourt empire, such as it is, looked to Selig like it was in the same condition. The two were going down together, up to their necks in debt and divorce and empty promises to clean it all up. And Selig had grown weary of opening letters from distraught and livid Dodgers season-ticket holders, the few that remain.
So, on Tuesday, he drafted a letter to Frank and had it overnighted. He followed it up with an e-mail.
Your baseball team now belongs to me, was its message. You spend not a dollar before it is cleared by my man on the ground, who will have an office in your stadium.
Presumably, it will not be Jamie’s old office, though Jamie voiced her support for Selig undoing a mess she’s half-responsible for making.
“As the 50 percent owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers,” she pointed out in a statement, “I welcome and support the Commissioner's actions to provide the necessary transparency, guidance and direction for the franchise and for Dodgers fans everywhere.”
Frank McCourt responded with a short statement that expressed dismay: "Major League Baseball sets strict financial guidelines which all 30 teams must follow. The Dodgers are in compliance with these guidelines. On this basis, it is hard to understand the Commissioner's action."
Well. This, you should know, is not only about McCourt’s inability to make payroll last week, for which he secured a $30 million loan from Fox, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Nor is it only about firing the security chief just before he let all the people into his building. Nor is it only about funding his divorce through season-ticket and beer sales. Nor is it only about a team that sometimes looks like it should be in Pittsburgh and not the second-largest market in the country.
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This is about all of it, every stinkin’ inch McCourt has taken, when he should have given two. This is about a franchise that can’t know how it will live tomorrow, since it never thinks about tomorrow, since it’s already borrowed against all of tomorrow’s money. This is about an owner securing a $30 million loan, using as collateral the settlement he expects to win from suing his own former attorneys at Boston’s Bingham McCutchen, which drafted the faulty marital property agreement. And then about being so desperate to take a below-value television deal in L.A, potentially devaluing other owners’ future contracts in places that aren’t L.A.
So a trustee shows up soon to run McCourt’s business for him, the ultimate humiliation. If it’s not John McHale Jr., who was at Dodger Stadium last week to assess the club and its policies, it will be somebody like him. And maybe soon a new owner shows up. If it’s not Mark Attanasio or Dennis Gilbert or some L.A. tycoon, it will be somebody like them.
And then McCourt will have his choice.
Does he act in the best interest of baseball in Los Angeles, as Selig just did? Or does he act in the best interest of Frank McCourt?
I think we know how he’ll be leaning on this.