Commentary

Dodgers entering new territory

MLB's takeover of team heightens fans' contempt for McCourt ownership on wild day

Updated: April 21, 2011, 10:13 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- The day began like any other here. No hint or buzz that something enormous was afoot.

But revolutions have a way of sneaking up on you. Crashing down in a thunderbolt and reverberating for days and weeks afterward.

That's what it felt like at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, as if the ground had shifted in the wake of baseball commissioner Bud Selig's decision to assume control of the Los Angeles Dodgers, as if the landscape had been forever altered.

Never in the modern history of professional sports has there been such a hostile takeover.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was asked whether it was a dark day for the franchise.

"It's certainly a historic day," he said.

[+] EnlargeFrank McCourt
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesFrank McCourt was not heard from Wednesday, except for a short statement released by the Dodgers near the end of the day.

It was a sentiment echoed by Dodgers fans, who have had to accept Frank McCourt's tone-deaf, reckless and unaccountable ownership for the better part of a decade. Fans in Los Angeles didn't simply dislike McCourt and his former wife, Jamie McCourt. As their public fight for control of the team has raged on, they have come to loathe them.

And so they cheered Wednesday's bloodless coup as if they had stormed the Bastille themselves. On airwaves, on message boards and in the stands. Even the seventh-inning stretch Wednesday night sounded louder than usual.

"I think it's been a long time coming," said Steven Hoffman, a 21-year-old college student from Valencia whose family has had season tickets for 30 years.

"I don't think they should've been allowed to buy the team in the first place, so I'm happy they're on their way out now. It's been difficult the last few years. They've raised prices, broke promises, taken money from the team to pay for their personal lifestyles and been totally indifferent to the fans."

It's hard to fully explain how the public contempt for the McCourts reached such a low point, how and why the feelings became so personal and raw.

In the past few years, everything negative seemed to stick to Frank McCourt, weighing him down faster than he could fall by himself. His responses were always late and came off insincere. Even when he tried to do the right thing, such as last week when he offered to pay for the hotel stay for the family of critically injured San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, he appeared to be responding more to political pressure than doing what was right or speaking from the heart.

As the details of the McCourts' extravagant lifestyle were revealed by court documents filed in their contentious divorce trial, the couple became synonymous with arrogance, greed and corporate excess in the minds of many Los Angeles residents.

There is nothing to suggest the McCourts bought the Dodgers with the intention of ravaging them for personal gain; they were baseball fans first, owners second. But in the end, their personal failings led to an epic fall. And the damage they did to the reputation of a proud Dodgers franchise was something many fans could not forgive.

"Frank McCourt just shows a total lack of character," said Dave Eisenberg, 61, a former season-ticket holder who said he grew so furious with the McCourts and their excess that he refused to buy food at the concession stands or any merchandise for as long as Frank McCourt owned the team.

"He always says it's always about the fans, but in the end, everything is so commercial. I mean, there's even ads on these cup-holders. When Frank McCourt is no longer making money off it, I'll buy something to eat in the stadium again."

For 11 minutes Wednesday, Colletti stood in front of the cameras and said what he could. He had yet to be informed whom he reported to, how his job would be changing or even if his job was still his.

McCourt was nowhere to be found.

In the final innings of a game played under a surreal cloud of uncertainty Wednesday, he finally issued a statement.

"Major League Baseball sets strict financial guidelines which all 30 teams must follow," he said. "The Dodgers are in compliance with these guidelines. On this basis, it is hard to understand the Commissioner's action today."

The understated words seemed wildly out of touch with the situation. Disconnected from the mood in the city and the stadium.

Because something enormous happened at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night.

The place will never be the same.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.