McCourts show how not to run a ballclub

The Los Angeles Dodgers takeover by Major League Baseball raises the question: How can anyone mess up this badly?

Since abandoning Brooklyn, the Dodgers have led the National League in attendance 28 times. With a lock on the nation’s second-biggest market, the franchise has drawn in excess of 3 million fans for a record 15 consecutive seasons now. Looking out from the press box toward the verdant background in Chavez Ravine — maybe the best place in all of baseball to watch a game — I have to wonder:

How could anyone possibly manage to screw this up?

I’m not the only one asking the question, of course. The IRS reportedly wants to know how Frank and Jamie McCourt managed not to pay any taxes on revenues estimated between $105 million and $145 million. Investigators also want to know how the McCourts’ grown children were on the payroll for hundreds of thousands of dollars without doing anything most of us would recognize as work.

Me? I’m still wondering about the expatriate Russian physicist they hired to send “positive energy” from his home in suburban Boston to the team in Los Angeles. Was he a straight write-off? Or do his services depreciate?

Frank and Jamie McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004 from FOX. And while it is perilous to write about one’s employer, the basic facts are clear. FOX fronted them a lot of money to make the sale happen. The McCourts used a couple of Boston parking lots as collateral. Baseball (read: Bud Selig) approved the deal, and you have never seen two people happier to be in the owner’s box than Frank and Jamie. Unfortunately, while they were loving life, they were hating each other.

Now everybody hates them, especially out here. As a generation of Brooklynites still speak the name “O’Malley” with spite and venom, so, too, will Angelenos utter the name “McCourt.”

It should surprise no one that Jamie — whose divorce case centered on the claim that she owns half the team — fully endorses Selig’s move to take over the Dodgers. “I welcome and support the Commissioner’s actions to provide the necessary transparency, guidance and direction for the franchise and for Dodgers fans everywhere,” she said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. (By the way, this is the same Jamie McCourt who made law review at Maryland and who says she didn’t bother to read the marital property agreement she signed when the sale went through.)

Nor should anyone be surprised that Frank — who claims to be the rightful, 100 percent owner of the Dodgers — was nowhere to be found when news of Selig’s hostile takeover became public. Rather, that job went to his long-beleaguered general manager, Ned Colletti.

Who’s in charge, Colletti was asked. Who’s your boss?

“I’m not sure,” he said with remarkable candor.

“Shouldn’t Frank be here?” I asked.

“What?” he said, mustering a grin. “You don’t want me?”

It’s not that, I explained. It’s just that the guy who made the mess should be the one to answer the questions, no?

“I can’t answer that,” said the GM, allowing that “I consider it a sad day for baseball and a sad day for the Dodgers.”

Fair enough. You will hear a lot about the precedents for this kind of action. Baseball took over the Montreal Expos and made them into the Washington Nationals. The NBA owns the New Orleans Hornets. But Major League Baseball wasn’t viable in Montreal. And going back to the Jazz of Pete Maravich, New Orleans is neither big nor easy on pro basketball.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, are only the most storied franchise in National League history. According to STATS LLC, those 15 consecutive seasons of 3 million-plus attendance constitute the longest such streak in major league history. In all, the Dodgers have 25 seasons of better than 3 million in attendance, another record.

Again, how did this happen?

Some time ago, the McCourts defaulted on their loan, and FOX sold the parking lots. Then, earlier this year, Selig rejected a deal under which FOX, which broadcasts Dodgers games, would loan Frank McCourt $200 million. So McCourt negotiated a “personal” $30 million FOX loan to make payroll last week. Apparently, that put Selig over the edge and prompted him to use the “best interests” clause to, essentially, relieve McCourt of his duties.

It doesn’t make me a shill to note that my employer’s interest in finding a buyer and baseball’s interest in approving a new owner were never the same. FOX is in the television business; Selig is duty-bound to look out for the good of the game.

He did that on Wednesday. Just the same, he’s also approved a $25 million loan to the Mets, who are reeling from their involvement with an epic swindler named Bernie Madoff. The Mets, unlike the Dodgers, invested in their franchise. So again, I don’t think Selig had much of a choice.

But the strictest scrutiny has to apply to all teams, all the time. The idea that Frank and Jamie weren’t ideal owners isn’t exactly a novel concept. So going forward, Selig should consider the McCourts a lesson learned. This is what happens when you don’t have the financing, the savvy, or even the right physicist.

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