It was announced on Wednesday that Major League Baseball is
taking over the running of the $400million-in-debt Los Angeles Dodgers. The
team’s ostensible ownership partners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, are in the
middle of an interminable divorce battle and Commissioner Bud Selig has stepped
in “because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the
Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club”.
He may move with the alacrity of a hibernating sloth, but
don’t let it be said that it takes Selig more than seven years to come to terms
with reality. Or in this case, to have reality rammed down his neck – he should
have done this in 2003.
NewsCorp’s decision to sell prior to 2004 was based on its
inability during the six-year ownership of the franchise, to come close to
breaking even. In fact they contrived to lose $30-50m during the last three
years of their ownership, despite playing in the nation’s largest market.
Frank and Jamie McCourt purchased a controlling interest in
2004 for $430million, bidding more or less against themselves, as Rupert
Murdoch’s NewsCorp retained television rights and thereby scared off most
bidders who saw nothing but a bloated payroll and little way of funding it.
As if that wasn’t scary enough, most of the was paid through
debt financing, including about $140million to NewsCorp itself, as most of
Frank McCourt’s money was as liquid as the dozens of acres of parking lots he
The McCourt purchase was a stitch-up, by McCourt, of
himself. Approval was granted by Selig and with a unanimous vote by the owners,
who for some reason still get to decide who is allowed to join their cartel…I
mean group. In McCourt they saw a rich, personable baseball fan with no
disposable income and a shaky grip on the financing of his debt. This was
perfect for them as it more or less guaranteed their clubs would be playing a
Dodgers franchise that would be hamstrung for the next decade or more.
Five years later, when Frank McCourt fired his wife from the
Dodgers organisation and she responded by filing for divorce, the medium-term
ignominy of the Dodgers was assured.
Here was a franchise with arguably the best young,
home-grown nucleus in the major leagues: pitchers Chad Billingsley, Clayton
Kershaw and Jonathan Broxton, and hitters Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James
But thanks to NewsCorp’s ineptitude, Bud Selig’s blindness
and Frank McCourt’s delusions, the club has been unable to retain the stability
or the financial flexibility to get full value out of them. And now as that
not-so-young nucleus nears free agency, this year may be the last they all play
together, and by extension the Dodgers’ last chance at a World Series win
before the next era of rebuilding begins.
As a fan of a rival National League club I’m hardly losing
sleep over their misfortune.
As a fan of baseball I find it inexcusable that the
Commissioner should have been so complicit in the pillaging of a franchise now
staring into the competitive abyss.