LOS ANGELES – The opponent in Frank McCourt’s fight to retain control and even ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers may have a single face – Commissioner Bud Selig’s – but it has many voices.
Selig’s seizure of the team is being guided in part by the concerns and frustrations of many of McCourt’s fellow owners, who fear the devaluation of their own franchises through McCourt’s financial and operational ineptness, sources said Thursday.
Whatever the assurances by McCourt that the Dodgers are not trundling toward ruin, and whatever the assertions by McCourt’s new vice chairman Steve Soboroff that Selig is a misguided, uninformed bully, Selig’s greatest authority lies in the consensus of The Other 29.
Selig spends large portions of his days conferring with owners of the 30 MLB teams, and McCourt’s ownership practices have been picked over by baseball’s executive council, which consists of eight owners, four from each league.
“When the big markets are big,” said one high-level American League official, “certainly the boats rise with that tide.”
Selig’s “deep concerns” with the direction of the Dodgers are shared by enough owners to have led to Wednesday’s announcement, that a trustee will oversee business and day-to-day operations of the club.
“This has been an ongoing sentiment in the industry,” said a source familiar with the owners’ thinking. “The embarrassment and frustration has been evident for a while.”
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Without the oversight, baseball owners fear a desperate McCourt would undersell his television rights, diminishing the value of their own future broadcast deals. McCourt is believed to have a $3 billion agreement with Fox to televise Dodgers games for 20 years, beginning with the 2014 season. Selig has yet to approve it, primarily because of suspicions some of the money would fund McCourt’s divorce (he has not settled with his ex-wife, Jamie) and other personal debts, leaving the club in disrepair.
Recent news that McCourt secured a $30-million personal loan from Fox that covered his April payroll served to heighten Selig’s concerns, along with those of other owners. If McCourt one day would need to be rescued and the Dodgers sold, the television rights would be among the team’s most valuable assets. By moving now, Selig could save them for a future owner.
“Otherwise,” the AL official said, “you’d be left with a carcass. This is an attempt to stave off further disaster.”
McCourt appears to be readying for battle, even if it’s one vs. 29, and could mount a legal challenge. Baseball officials say, however, that Selig would not have taken such an aggressive action without being secure in his – and baseball’s – legal standing, if only by virtue of his “best interests of baseball” powers.
McCourt’s only public reaction came in a statement in which he claimed to be in compliance with MLB guidelines. Speaking to reporters Thursday at Dodger Stadium, Soboroff referred to the incoming trustee as “the Wizard of Oz” and the commissioner’s decision, “irresponsible.”
“Don't talk to me about his financial situation,” said Soboroff, who has been on the job only a few days. “Give me a break. Let's compare it to other places, to other big-city situations. How do you single him out and you don't single the Mets out? Come on.”
Selig – and therefore many owners – indeed view the Dodgers’ and New York Mets’ situations as somewhat similar. Both are large-market, signature franchises experiencing severe financial problems. The difference, as Selig appears to view it, is in the organizations’ reactions to the cash-flow crises.
Mets owner Fred Wilpon has chosen to sell off a portion of the team in order to become solvent. McCourt, on the other hand, falls deeper into debt, further harming the Dodgers.
One rival team executive said Thursday that McCourt should know that Selig has the support of much of baseball, and that Selig probably won’t stop until he’s forced McCourt to sell.
“If Frank was smart,” the executive said, “he would become an ally of Bud and work with him to get the best price.”