Commentary

McCourt takes Dodgers' name in vain

Updated: June 28, 2011, 10:07 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

The first words in Frank McCourt's statement Monday morning stopped me cold. It was a written release, so any one of the high-priced lawyers or consultants he employs to continue reminding him of his rights, instead of the right thing to do, could've written it. But it sounded so much like McCourt, I think it had to be him.

"The Dodgers have delivered time and again since I became owner, and that's been good for baseball," McCourt said in the statement.

The premise is laughable. There isn't a fan in Los Angeles, not even the handful who might still be on his side or feel sorry for him, who would say McCourt's tenure has been "good for baseball."

The first part of what he said struck me deeply. The part where he takes the Dodgers' name in vain.

For years, McCourt has used the term liberally and recklessly. He says "The Dodgers" as a cover to speak for the team instead of himself and, worse, uses it to leverage one of Los Angeles' great brands for his own personal gain.

He is still the team's controlling owner, so that is his right in some cases. But in this matter, it feels fraudulent.

The Dodgers aren't bankrupt; Frank McCourt is.

The Dodgers are a profitable franchise. McCourt admitted as much in his statement when he said, "We turned the team around financially after years of annual losses before I purchased the team."

But even more importantly, "The Dodgers" are bigger than Frank McCourt. They are a brand built by decades of great players, managers, executives and owners. They are a team with a storied history, having created memories a judge can never divide up.

I've never been able to figure out whether McCourt just doesn't get that or whether he does and simply doesn't care.

The only obvious thing for McCourt is the Dodgers are a company. Five companies, actually: Los Angeles Dodgers LLC, Los Angeles Dodgers Holding Company LLC, LA Holdco LLC, LA Real Estate LLC and LA Real Estate Holding Company LLC.

On Monday, all five of those companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Yet the news release announcing the bankruptcy filing states that "The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for protection ... in order to protect the franchise financially and provide a path that will enable the Club to consummate a media transaction and capitalize the team."

None of that sounds like what "The Dodgers" would want to do.

All of it sounds like what Frank McCourt needs to do in order to walk away with the best deal possible.

At every turn in this sad tale, McCourt has had a chance to do what was in the best interests of the Dodgers. Each time, McCourt has done what was best for himself.

I'm sure he believes his ownership is what is best for the Dodgers.

Like any political candidate whose campaign has run out of money and momentum, McCourt's faith in himself and his ideas won't fade until long after his polling numbers have plummeted and his headquarters have been shut down.

But even Howard Dean stepped aside once he lost in Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. McCourt is still going to South Carolina! And Oklahoma! And Arizona! And North Dakota! And New Mexico!

Fighting, until the bitter end.

Only McCourt is not fighting for ideas or even "The Dodgers." He's fighting for himself, and employing a mercenary army of lawyers, consultants and handlers to do so.

I'm not sure whether someone is born this way or whether it's a learned pugilism. But something happens to a man when the people he confides in the most are paid to serve him. A decent man can grow hard. A hardened man can grow angry. An angry man resolves to fight and make everyone else feel as much pain as he does.

In the past two years, Frank McCourt has lost his marriage, his social status and whatever respect he was ever going to have in this town. The team is the last thing he has left.

He is desperate to hold on to it. But his fatal mistake is in never realizing "The Dodgers" were never his to hold on to.

The Dodgers belong to Los Angeles, not to Frank McCourt.

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

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