MLB ‘Buds’ in because Dodgers too big to fail

Even in the moviemaking mecca of Los Angeles, no one ever

dreamed up a script that began: ”Bud Selig rides into town on a

white horse and …”

But here he comes, anyway, determined to rescue the Dodgers from

the grasp of that crazy-fun couple, Frank and Jamie McCourt – not

mention an army of divorce lawyers and who-knows-how-many-more

debtors – and then nurse a once-storied franchise back to

glory.

Right man for the job?

Who knows? Tough is the last word you’d use to describe him.

Selig is a consensus builder by nature and an optimist by training,

having made plenty of money leasing cars. He’s conscientious, or if

you prefer, cautious to a fault and, above all, likes to business

with friends. None of it makes him quite leading-man material.

Plus, just like the steroid-fueled decade-and-a-half that Selig

just finished presiding over, this hostile takeover operation

caught him by surprise. And considering all the other problems that

fell from the sky during his watch, you can bet he wanted nothing

more than two quiet seasons to close it out. Not going to happen

now.

So here’s hoping that Selig can summon both the smarts and

energy to gets this one right – or at least belatedly right, as he

did playing catch-up with the supersized era. Given the mess the

Mets are mired in, and the woes facing a few other shaky franchises

at the moment, it might not be his last rescue operation.

If a cornerstone franchise like the Dodgers was allowed to

disintegrate much further, it would have sent the message that

nobody else in the game is too big to fail. That said, the McCourts

certainly were pushing it.

We won’t know until the divorce proceedings are final exactly

how much looting went on in LA. But what we’ve learned so far,

thanks to the Los Angeles Times, has been impressive: thousands of

dollars to a faith-healer to send out good vibes from hundreds of

miles away, millions to a son for a do-nothing front-office job he

wasn’t remotely qualified for; millions more in future ticket sales

pledged as collateral for what sounded like payday loans.

When the commissioner balked at that last scheme, somebody at

McCourt Inc. simply dreamed up another. Reluctantly, baseball

finally put its foot down. You might think uncoupling itself from a

lousy business partner would be reason enough for major league

baseball to step in, but as always, the commissioner couldn’t

resist saying McCourt’s fellow owners were thinking about the

fans.

”The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises

in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to

ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be

guided appropriately in the future,” Selig said in a statement

Wednesday, then passed up several opportunities to elaborate a day

later.

He’s right about the first part. The Dodgers have dripped

prestige. It was the ballclub that gave Jackie Robinson his debut

and baseball a West Coast anchor, home to perhaps the greatest

sustained pitching run ever (Sandy Koufax) and the most dramatic

home run (Kirk Gibson).

But it also became a running joke not long after Selig & Co.

let the McCourts buy their way into the club. Despite several

playoff appearances by the Dodgers, there were enough intimations

of trouble that the latest in a line of managers hired to cover up

a string of personnel gaffes wasn’t completely surprised.

”It’s hard to imagine it would happen somewhere like the

Dodgers,” first-year manager Don Mattingly said, ”but there’s

crazy stuff going on everywhere. You’re seeing monster major banks

going down, so obviously it can happen.”

There is some consolation. While different in scope and degree,

Selig has some experience with clubs melting down. MLB took over

the Montreal Expos and nearly ran the franchise into the ground. On

the other hand, Selig deftly inserted himself into a nasty

ownership fight in Texas, then pulled some strings helping former

pitching great Nolan Ryan get hold of the Rangers, and – viola! –

saw the club flourish and become a World Series contender.

Can he restore the Dodgers?

No idea. There will be plenty more questions than answers in the

short term. But if the management team Selig puts in place doesn’t

start pursuing left-handed relief with the same fervor the old

management team displayed locking up a faith healer, you won’t need

financial disclosure statements to guess how the experiment is

going to end.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org