Gilbert emerges as suitor for Dodgers

In Dennis Gilbert’s first endeavor to buy a big-league team, he made a run at the Texas Rangers only to come in second in the bankruptcy court to a group headed by Hall of Fame pitcher and living Texas legend Nolan Ryan.

But he wasn’t deterred.

He is ready to get back in the bidding again. This time it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers that have caught his attention.

And so far it looks like his competition includes groups headed by Peter O’Malley, whose father Walter brought baseball west of the Mississippi back in 1958 when he moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn; Steve Garvey, an All-Star first baseman for the Dodgers during his playing days; and Fred Claire, a longtime Dodgers employee, including serving a term as the team’s general manager.

Then there is Gilbert.

Born in Brooklyn in 1947, and raised in Los Angeles, he’s a former minor-league player turned insurance executive, who at one point was a power broker among baseball’s player agents. More recently he has returned to running his Beverly Hills insurance business and serving as a special assistant to Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago White Sox.

He also put up his own money in January 2003 to create the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, which assists scouts who are faced with financial or medical setbacks, and also funded the construction of a baseball stadium at Southwest College in South Central Los Angeles that serves as the home field for Major League Baseball’s Revising Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI).

He, however, hasn’t bled Dodger Blue — at least not yet.

And that, most likely, will be a challenge he will face in his attempt to buy the Dodgers.

But then challenges are nothing new for Gilbert.

He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where he was the only Caucasian on an American Legion team that featured the likes of Bob Watson and Bobby Tolan. He went undrafted out of high school, but signed with the Boston Red Sox, spent a year at the low-A level with the Sox and then a year in High A with the New York Mets before being sent home.

He resurfaced in Mexico for three years, and when that didn’t work out, returned to Southern California where he coached at the junior college level, was introduced to the insurance business by the father of one of his players, and went from an insurance newcomer making cold calls to customers to the insurance agent of the stars, which, in itself, underscores Gilbert’s determination.

He never felt comfortable with the cold-call business. So he started showing up outside the Los Angeles courthouse, and when he would see a couple exit the building carrying the packages that signified they were just married, he would approach them about buying insurance.

Then he started stopping by the cafeteria at the UCLA medical school early in the morning to have coffee, and chat with medical students, who figured he was also in school, which led to a new avenue of clients.

And finally, during one of his seminars, which featured a dinner buffet, he caught the attention of an agent whose client list included Johnny Carson, who purchased some annuities from Gilbert that went sky high, and word of mouth led to a list of Hollywood-types becoming his clients, including Whitney Houston, Liza Minelli and the Oak Ridge Boys.

As lucrative as selling insurance was, it did not help Gilbert divorce himself from a desire to be involved with baseball.

Then, one day in 1980, Bobby Brett, an older brother to Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, approached longtime friend Gilbert and asked for help.

Bobby handled George’s finances, but Bobby and the late Ewing Kauffman, who owned the Kansas City Royals, didn’t get along. Bobby asked Gilbert to negotiate a contract for Brett.

A door had opened for Gilbert to be back in baseball, and he didn’t hesitate. He built an agency that included among its clients Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Curt Schilling, Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds.

By the turn of the century, however, Gilbert decided to return to his insurance business, and in November 2000, he was hired by Reinsdorf to help in contract negotiations and consult on baseball-related issues.

It gives him an excuse to be at Dodger Stadium for virtually every game the Dodgers play, and more often than not slip over to Anaheim Stadium to watch the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Now, however, Gilbert is looking to be more actively involved.

He wants to be an owner.

The Rangers perked his interest, but he was no match for the package put together by Ryan and his investors.

Now, with the foundation of his group from his bid in Texas and the addition of Southern California investors, Gilbert is ready to make another run at ownership, with the Dodgers.