Ownership focus on Mets, Padres, A's

Published Mar. 31, 2012 1:00 a.m. EDT

The Los Angeles Dodgers are about to be put in good ownership hands.

All, however, is not well in baseball’s ownership circles.

There is still the uneasy life of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, the uncertainty of San Diego owner John Moores, and the unrest of the Oakland A’s.

First things, first.


Baseball is about to create a new chapter for Los Angeles ownership.

From a group of three finalists, Frank McCourt decided to sell the team to a group built around the financial strength of Mark Walter, CEO of Guggenheim Partners, baseball expertise of former Atlanta Braves/Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, and iconic status of former Los Angeles Laker star Magic Johnson.

"You don’t have enough time for me to tell you that," Commissioner Bud Selig said when asked about the positive impact of settling the Dodgers ownership. "It’s been a long, difficult process."

But the stories remain to be written with those three other franchises.

After it became apparent that a group headed by former agent Jeffrey Moorad was not going to be approved to buy controlling interest of the Padres, Moorad stepped down as the team’s CEO, and Moores, who still owns 51 percent of the franchise, is expected to become active in the franchise’s operation again.

There is a feeling that given the lucrative television contract the Padres recently negotiated with Fox Sports Net, Moores is comfortable retaining ownership.

"I have talked to John quite a bit lately, but I don’t know what John’s long-term goals are," Selig said. "They made a terrific television deal. Everybody is making terrific television deals, which is one of the primary reasons baseball teams have shot up in value. The sport has never been healthier, but you look at some of the prices for teams in the last year, they are stunning."

The Dodgers, as an example, brought a price of $2 billion from the new ownership group, well above the previous baseball franchise record of $845 million, which the Ricketts Family paid for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.

The Houston Astros were sold to a group headed by Jim Crane for $610 million last year, Crane receiving a $70 million reduction from the original price for agreeing to move his franchise from the National League to the American League in 2013. A group that included Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan purchased the Texas Rangers out of bankruptcy court for $593 million in 2010.

By contrast, 49 years ago, the late George Steinbrenner paid $8.7 million for the New York Yankees.

Earlier this month, Wilpon reached a $162 million settlement on a lawsuit brought by the court-appointed trustee of victims of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme, which will not require Wilpon to make any cash payments for three years, if at all. It’s a far cry from the initial lawsuit of $1 billion, and about half of what a potential trial would have cost.

"Certainly in the short run, it (brings peace to the Mets ownership struggle)," Selig said. "Fred is such a dedicated baseball guy whose heart is in the right place. One of the unfortunate situations in life was he invested with someone who he thought was a friend, and so did a lot of other people. It turned out to be one of the tragic financial stories of the last 10, 20 years or longer."

Wilpon is baseball’s longest tenured owner, having purchased the Mets, along with Nelson Doubleday, from the original owners, the Payson family, in January of 1980. Plus, there was a buyout of Doubleday’s half interest in August of 2002. Wilpon has been a chief lieutenant of Selig, both during Selig’s time as an owner and more recently as the game’s commissioner.

The challenges for Oakland A’s is not finding a buyer, but rather coming to agreement with the San Francisco Giants on the A’s desire to move their franchise to San Jose.

"Both sides are deeply positioned and I am in the middle of trying to fashion some type of an agreement," Selig said. "It is very complicated."

No other two-team market has territorial rights, but the Giants claim they control the San Jose area, and contend that was a critical part of their ability to finance AT&T Park. Giants officials also argue that Lewis Wolff and his partners were aware of that agreement at the time they purchased the franchise from the Haas Family, which is why they were able to buy the team for $180 million.

"It is different because in 1990 when Bob Lurie wanted to move the Giants to San Jose, Walter Haas, the wonderful owner of the Oakland club, who did things in the best interest of baseball, granted permission," Selig said. "What got lost there is they didn’t feel it was permission in perpetuity. He gave Bob permission to go down there. Unfortunately or fortunately, it never got changed. We are dealing with a lot of history here."

It’s part of the challenge of being commissioner.

"Nobody ever said it was going to be an easy job," Selig said.

At least the Dodger headache has been cleared up.