LOS ANGELES -- Note to Bud Selig: Next time somebody tries to buy one of your crown jewel franchises, make them show you the money.
I wish Selig had talked to me when Frank McCourt was trying to buy the Dodgers seven years ago.
Folks in Boston knew McCourt would be a disaster for Major League Baseball. He was a smooth-talking, nicely-dressed, well-mannered guy with parking lots and delusions of grandeur. He fancied himself as a serious bidder for the Red Sox in 2001 when the Yawkey Trust put the team up for sale, but nobody in Boston took McCourt seriously because he didn't have enough of his own money.
The "sale" of the Red Sox turned out to be a bag-job of the highest order. Cable czar Charles Dolan submitted the highest bid, while Boston businessman Joe O'Donnell was viewed as the local favorite to get the team.
Tire-kicker McCourt was never in the running. In December 2001, Selig announced that John Henry's bid was the winner. Selig was beholden to Henry (former owner of the Marlins) and put him together with Tom Werner (former owner of the Padres) and Larry Lucchino (former Orioles and Padres boss).
Selig denied all charges of a fix, but later admitted, "Someday you'll thank me for this.''
He was right. Henry has been a spectacular owner. The Sox have won two World Series, made the playoffs six times in eight years, rebuilt Fenway Park, and established a record-breaking home sellout streak.
McCourt, meanwhile, has turned the Dodgers into a major league joke. On Monday the iconic franchise filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
I was stunned when McCourt and his wife, Jamie, got the Dodgers in 2004 -- by a unanimous vote -- virtually without any of their own cash.
The deal was a house of cards from the jump. And for the next six years the McCourts made the Dodgers their personal ATM. They hired their sons. They set up multiple residences. They invested in a psychic to send out good vibes. They gleefully paid Manny Ramirez.
And it has unraveled like a ball of string tumbling down the San Gabriel Mountains. McCourt fired his wife. The couple filed for divorce.
Frank and Jamie hired lawyers and argued about who owned the team. Court documents disclosed that the McCourts siphoned more than $100 million in loans from Dodger-related businesses.
That was only the beginning. The Dodgers discovered Manny was a quitter and cheater (something we also could have warned them about). While the McCourts squabbled over the family "fortune," a Giants fan was almost beaten to death outside Dodger Stadium on Opening Day. McCourt received a $30 million personal loan from Fox in order to make April's payroll. This prompted Selig to announce that MLB intended to take over control of the team.
McCourt, naturally, threatened to sue MLB.
It's been no better on the field. The Dodgers are experiencing the biggest drop in attendance in the majors and sit just a game above the basement in the National League West.
While the sorry season unfolds, Frank and Jamie reached a "settlement" which was contingent on a $3 billion TV deal with Fox. Selig rejected the deal (which nullified the settlement).
Citing the McCourts' "personal needs,'' Selig wrote, "Given the magnitude of the transaction, such a division of assets would have the effect of mortgaging the future of the franchise to the long-term detriment of the club and its fans.''
Finally, Bud is on to these characters. Too bad it took so long.
Here in Southern California, Dodger fans are wondering if everything finally collapses this week when McCourt can't meet his payroll obligations. He needs to come up with $30 million by Thursday. The new debt includes a whopping deferred payment to Ramirez, who still has a bundle coming on his two-year, $45 million pact. Dodgers vice chairman Steve Soboroff, hired by McCourt two months ago to reconnect the Dodgers with the Los Angeles community, resigned on Saturday.
It's a complete disaster.
Selig needs to untangle himself from the McCourts as fast as possible, but he's dealing with folks who love litigation as much as Charles Barkley loves cookies. Bet Frank sues MLB any day now.
Frank says he's willing to sell part ownership in the team in order to make payroll. MLB is no longer interested in such an arrangement.
If McCourt can't meet payroll Thursday, MLB would have to cover the team's debts since all contracts are guaranteed, but the bankruptcy proceedings would likely prevent Selig from putting the team up for sale.
Who would buy the Dodgers? It would be nice if Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates stepped forward, bailed out the team and hired good baseball people to restore the famous franchise to its former greatness. But what if Mark Cuban raises his hand?
Baseball owners are afraid of Cuban. The good old boys recoil at the notion of a Steinbrenner-esque loudmouth who'd spend wildly and complain about the umpires every day. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is a Cuban-basher and has the ear of Selig.
But the lesson of the McCourt disaster is that cash rules. The fabled Los Angeles Dodgers are on the brink of ruin. Frank McCourt is getting ready to sue. MLB should listen to anyone with cash who'd be willing to bail out the Dodgers.