Frank McCourt is still technically the owner of the Dodgers. But his ownership seems less viable after his messy seven-year stewardship grew much messier during the past year. Commissioner Bud Selig has shown no inclination to approve McCourt's multiple Fox proposals for a new multi-billion-dollar TV contract he thinks could keep him afloat, and on Wednesday evening Selig announced that he was going to appoint a representative of the commissioner's office to oversee the finances and day-to-day operations of the franchise.
Selig's move shows his deep concern for the mess that McCourt has created. The commissioner is surely worried about the craziness that has surrounded the Dodgers, and the decision to put his own man in there is an attempt to stem the problems that are besetting the storied franchise. But ultimately, with all the ugly revelations that surfaced in McCourt's divorce battle with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Jamie and McCourt's obvious financial troubles -- he's needed to borrow $55 million to meet payroll obligations in the last seven months -- this could easily be seen as the transitional step toward more respectable ownership.
McCourt, a native Bostonian, is not popular with Dodgers fans, nor with his former lawyers, his ex-wife, or, most importantly, the powers at Major League Baseball. In other words, McCourt, who did not return an interview request, is desperately short on support at a time he is also running out of needed cash.
McCourt's lawyers met a few weeks ago with MLB bigwigs in New York in an effort to win approval on his latest proposed TV deal with Fox, which would funnel up-front money to McCourt quickly, so he can settle his divorce and win fullcontrol of the franchise. But the evidence suggests MLB, which already rejected McCourt's first plan involving a loan from Fox for $200 million (according to sources, that's almost the very amount he must pay his ex-wife), is disinclined to grant McCourt's request. Jamie, the team's president until her husband fired her in 2009, at the moment still has a claim to half the team after winning the first round in court.
McCourt's latest idea to keep himself as sole owner is a slightly different deal with Fox. This one involves McCourt receiving cash up front and an equity arrangement in a new TV agreement that is said to be worth at least $2 billion and perhaps as much as $3-to-$4 billion. Such a front-loaded arrangement could keep the debt-ridden McCourt afloat for now, but to do it he would still need approval from MLB. While baseball's powers like Selig have not yet given McCourt a definitive answer on his latest proposal it seems even more clear after Wednesday's announcement that Selig isn't about to grant that request.
The bottom line: Baseball doesn't want to see McCourt take future monies to pay off non-baseball expenses. And frankly, it surely doesn't want to see him around anymore.
One competing owner called McCourt's seven-year stewardship of the sport's great West Coast franchise a "train wreck.'' That assessment comes despite a generally successful on-field record for the Dodgers under McCourt's ownership (while this year's 8-10 team seems "lifeless'' at present, according to one long-time Dodger watcher, McCourts' clubs have averaged 85 wins per year, won three NL West titles and reached the postseason four times).
The almost unseemly details of McCourt's past seven years, which have spilled out in an ugly public divorce, suggest he came into the game cash poor and has apparently been using the team as his virtual personal piggy bank. Together, the McCourts could scarcely afford the team they bought from Fox for $430 million seven years ago; separately, he would seem to have almost no chance.
McCourt may still have one play remaining, though. While he signed a letter upon entering as owner that he would not sue baseball, litigation could be the aptly-named McCourt's last hope to keep the Dodgers.
Meanwhile, there is reason to believe there'd be a strong lineup of potential buyers for the Dodgers. Few names of prospective buyers have surfaced, but a prominent one is said to be Jason Reese, the chairman of Imperial Capital, an investment banking firm located in Century City, Calif. Reese's name has been connected to the Mets, but he isn't one of a select few willing to come to the Mets as a minority partner, as the club-owning Wilpons currently seek. Reese is well-heeled and well-respected and would have to be considered a major upgrade over McCourt. But at this point, it's hard to name someone with money who wouldn't.
Between the publicity surrounding a stormy seven-year reign as owner and a divorce trial that exposed many more embarrassing details, there isn't much to recommend McCourt keeping the team. At this point, we know he was overleveraged from the start, used Dodger money to fund a lavish lifestyle, utilized extensive tax loopholes, employed overt nepotism (their son Drew was paid a several-hundred-thousand dollar salary although his presence around the Dodgers seemed minimal), fostered incredible instability in the front office by constantly hiring and firing public relations people and other top executives and paid their buddy Howard Suskin one-fourth the entire budget of a charitable organization. The most serious error, though, at present must be considered the ongoing security issue. When Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten to a pulp at Dodger Stadium (Stow remains in critical condition with brain damage) on March 31, McCourt employed no head of security.
McCourt is currently hanging on by one manicured fingernail. He was momentarily bailed out by his friends at Fox, who gave him a $30 million personal loan so he could make the April 15 payroll, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. That loan is said to have been secured via a promise of settlement monies from the lawsuit against his former lawyers. The powers at MLB, a longtime partner of Fox, are said to believe the network's loan to McCourt was foolhardy in light of his many debts.
McCourt, who also took a $25 million loan last September to meet operating costs, has run out of money, he's almost out of friends in high places, and he will soon run out of time
• There was never any suggestion of trouble for young Reds starter Mike Leake before he was arrested for shoplifting six t-shirts worth $59.88 from Macy's in Cincinnati. Reportedly, he will likely enter a diverson program, and if he completes it, his slate will be wiped clean. Still, with Leake's $425,000 salary, unless some alternate explanation surfaces, this has to be the most shocking story to date this year.
• Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman threw 106 mph according to the Great America Ballpark scoreboard. But one scout said he and the other scouts there all had the pitch at 103, except one who had it at 104. The scout said he was consistently 100-103 mph. Chapman had been out with inflammation. But as Reds manager Dusty Baker said, "When you're throwing 100 mph, [there's] not a whole lot wrong with you.''
• Prince Fielder is off to a big start, batting .338 and leading the majors with 17 RBIs, but the Brewers understand they have no realistic hope to keep him long-term. They've offered longterm deals worth about $20 million annually with opt outs, which is a good try, but since Joe Mauer's $184 million deal, their hopes have been dashed.
• There will be growing speculation about a coming position change for the great Mauer following his latest ailments.
• It's been a very rough start for the Twins, but at least the broken leg of second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka is healing quickly.
• Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wasn't kidding when he said he'd find less stressful situations for Joe Nathan. In the first appearance after ceding his closer role to Matt Capps, Nathan came into a game the Twins trailed 8-0. Nathan, who is 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, was clocked at a high of 91 mph in a recent game, 4-to-5 mph short of his typical velocity.
• Kendrys Morales is running in Arizona and expected to go on a rehab assignment in another week to 10 days. The Angels have thrived so far even without their big lefthanded hitting threat.
• Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had no choice but to remove Ryan Franklin (four blown saves in five opportunities) from his job as closer.
• There is growing doubt within the Yankees about whether Derek Jeter -- hitting .237 and slugging .254 -- will regain his past greatness. And, according to one competing scout, "There should be.'' That scout said a bad sign is Jeter cheating a bit by starting his bat early. My take: I wouldn't count him out.
• Jed Lowrie is batting over.500 and is a real threat to take Marco Scutaro's starting shortstop job with the Red Sox.
• Boston's high evaluation of Jarrod Saltalamacchia is being called into question now that Salty is struggling at .194 with 13 strikeouts in 36 at-bats. "I don't see it,'' one scout said of Saltalamacchia's viability as a starter.
• Free-agent catcher Bengie Molina could be a candidate for the Red Sox. Other teams that might need catchers include the Astros, Padres, Mariners and Tigers.
• Carl Crawford will be fine eventually, everyone agrees. But many do wonder whether the pressure of Boston and the new contract are getting to him. He just nudged his average over his contract. He's hitting .143 after signing a seven-year, $142 million deal in the offseason.
• The Rays may look for an offensive threat to replace Manny Ramirez. But their budget won't necessarily support even the $2 million they've saved with Ramirez's retirement. Felipe Lopez and Casey Kotchman have been promoted, potentially eating up much of that money.
• Chris Archer has shown the great arm Tampa knew it was getting in the Matt Garza deal. But Archer's ascension won't happen until he solves his control woes. In any case, that deal looks like a success, thanks to the legend of San Fuld.
• People who have been around Scott Kazmir say a lack of maturity may wind up being his undoing. Everything came easily to him, so he is said to have taken things pretty easy. Kazmir, a two-time All-Star by age 24, has a 5.31 ERA since being traded to the Angels in 2009.
• Carlos Gonzalez's back has been a bit tight, possibly accounting for a lack of power thus far (the Rockies' outfielder has only one home runs).
• In an annual story, Orlando Cabrera is a good buy. The Indians are the beneficiaries this time. Wherever he goes, he wins.