Commentary

MLB shares blame in McCourt debacle

A league that is slow on change needs to look in the mirror regarding the Dodgers' mess

Updated: July 1, 2011, 12:43 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNLosAngeles.com

It seems abundantly clear that Frank McCourt is a deplorable owner, an individual who cares very much about himself and very little about the legacy of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His latest filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a desperate attempt to hold onto the Dodgers is trifling and pathetic. This is what you are when the fan base you're supposed to represent has left you with empty seats and a spacious parking lot with few cars, emphatically displaying their disdain for you. Yet, you're around. Fighting to stay where you're not wanted.

A former Dodger great puts things in perspective: "I grew up in that organization, in the O'Malley era, and I don't think there was a finer leadership group, ownership group, around than Peter O'Malley," Angels manager and former Dodger Mike Scioscia told me Tuesday. "I've been out of touch with that organization for a while. Been here in Anaheim going on 12 years now. So it's tough to comment on some of the internal things that have happened. But for an organization like [the Dodgers], one of the staples in professional sports, to file bankruptcy, that's an eye-opener. … Obviously, there's a lot of mud in the water right now they're going to have to sift through to get going in the right direction."

The first step in that direction would be for McCourt to come to his senses, pack his bags and skip town. And to do so without causing a stir.

[+] EnlargeBud Selig
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireBud Selig has been critical of Frank McCourt, but Selig should get his share of blame for the Dodgers' current mess.

But it's also time to acknowledge that before he leaves, perhaps it would be a good idea to highlight why he should not have been allowed to own the Dodgers in the first place. How he purchased the franchise with other folks' money. How he was able to do so because of an old-boy relationship between Commissioner Bud Selig and a local television network, and MLB's insistence on preventing a George Steinbrenner type from buying championships out west.

But understand, McCourt is not the only problem in all this. McCourt is a part of Major League Baseball, part of a disappointing history of baseball owners, and part of a pattern of old-guard decisions, resistant to any steps toward the modern era, made by Selig and Fay Vincent before him.

Which brings us to Mark Cuban. How can there be any debate as to whether Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, would be good for the Dodgers? How can anyone question whether he's good for baseball?

If Vincent was truly serious when he said recently he wouldn't embrace Cuban as a baseball owner, we have to ask why. We have to ask what he is preserving.

"I'd be interested in the Dodgers," Cuban reportedly said more than a week ago, just days after his Mavericks captured the NBA title. "But that situation is a mess." The truth is, so is Major League Baseball. There's little else that can be said when every time we turn around, the debate involving MLB pertains to tradition in some way, shape or form.

The designated hitter rule was introduced in 1973, and folks are still complaining about it nearly 40 years later. The same could be said about the introduction of wild-card playoff teams in 1995. And although MLB now uses instant replay on a limited basis, it didn't do so until 2008. And then only for home runs, and nothing else.

If this were the 1920s … all right, the 1950s or even '70s … we could understand. If this were what every other sport was doing in this day and age -- holding onto history for dear life -- we could stomach it. But while it is bad enough everyone from the NBA to the NFL has matriculated to the 21st century with barely a shrug, what's more troubling is this notion that MLB gets to walk around as if its history is so stainless, there's no need for change.

[+] EnlargeMark Cuban
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireMLB's seeming resistance to letting Mark Cuban into the ownership club could have to do with Cuban's track record for telling it like it is.

From integration finally taking place in baseball with Jackie Robinson in 1947, to Curt Flood dragging a sport that kicked and screamed its way toward free agency in 1972, change has always moved at a snail's pace with this archaic institution. The same could be said today, with everything from MLB's unwillingness to re-evaluate Pete Rose's banishment to, of course, the steroids issue MLB dragged its feet on for years before finally getting pressured by Congress to address it at the turn of the century.

And here's the No. 1 reason baseball desperately wants to find someone other than Cuban to own one of the game's most storied franchises: Cuban would tell the truth.

He'd say it was foolish to have brought McCourt on board. He would tell Selig and his contemporaries, to their faces. Then he'd go out and explain exactly why he feels that way to the viewing and paying public, understanding it's their right to know. He would shake things up. He would argue for change. He would question old habits and the value of tradition for tradition's sake.

Maybe that makes him too good for baseball, in the eyes of everyone but baseball itself, because the cat would be out of the bag.

They wouldn't get to scheme in private anymore. And baseball could never tolerate that.

Stephen A. Smith is host of the "Stephen A. Smith Show" on 710 ESPN Radio and a columnist for ESPNLA.com.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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