Dodgers hire Steve Soboroff
LOS ANGELES -- In the latest response to criticism over safety issues at Dodger Stadium, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced on Tuesday that they have named local civic leader and former mayoral candidate Steve Soboroff as vice chairman with responsibility for "leading efforts to improve the fan experience at the stadium."
The move comes at a time when chief operating officer Geoffrey Wharton is on the way out, according to multiple sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Although it isn't clear whether Wharton's departure is voluntary, one source said it was completely unrelated to the hiring of Soboroff.
Wharton didn't immediately return a voicemail message left on his assistant's line.
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Soboroff, who wrote an op-ed piece in support of unpopular Dodgers owner Frank McCourt that appeared in the Los Angeles Times last Sept. 26, will report directly to McCourt. He said he wasn't given an ownership stake in the club, nor was he given a contract. Soboroff also said he has supreme confidence in McCourt's ability to retain ownership of the club despite his on-going divorce and financial difficulties.
"To me, that is a non-issue,'' said Soboroff, who added that McCourt had shown him at least some of his financial records. "I can read a balance sheet, and I can read income statistics. You look at assets, you look at liabilities, you look at assets that have been realized and assets that haven't been realized. There is no question in my mind [that] Frank McCourt is financially fine.''
Asked if there was anything specific in those records that told him that, Soboroff gave only a vague answer.
"There are short-term and long-term assets,'' he said. "Cash flow, that is what banks are in business for. ... Frank is going to make payroll, this team is going to have good players, this team is going to have good players next year, and this team is going to have the money to have good players.''
Soboroff's additional responsibilities will include strenghtening ties to the region's community and philanthropic organizations and expanding conservation and sustainability programs at the ballpark.
According to the release, Soboroff is widely credited with bringing the Staples Center to downtown Los Angeles.
Soboroff, 62, will begin his role immediately and will be in charge of coordinating and implementing the recommendations made by former Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton and his team from the Kroll company. They were brought in by the club last week to make safety recommendations in the wake of an attack in the stadium parking lot on three fans wearing San Francisco Giants apparel following the season opener between the clubs on March 31. The two suspects, who witnesses say were wearing Dodgers apparel, remain at large.
One of the victims of that assault, Bryan Stow of Santa Cruz, remains in a medically induced coma in a Los Angeles hospital.
Amid widespread complaints that the overall atmosphere at the ballpark has taken a turn for the worse in recent years, Soboroff said he will take a grassroots approach to changing that culture that begins not at the ballpark, but in the community.
"What I want to try to impact is changing that behavior, but it doesn't start with the turnstile,'' Soboroff said. "It starts with parenting and community pride and self-esteem. ... When I was parks commissioner, I got reports every Monday from 400 parks about parents fighting in the stands or screaming at kids. So we instituted a pledge for everyone who signed up, a pledge from each parent to each child that 'I will not embarrass you by my behavior,' and incidents went down 40 percent.''
According to the release, Soboroff plans to meet with fans and other Dodgers stakeholders to hear their ideas for improving the overall experience.
"You will see me in every section of the ballpark, checking things out, listening to fans and taking strong actions in a number of areas,'' he said in the release. "And I'm in a hurry. The Dodgers are one of the great professional sports franchises in the world and an important civic institution in Southern California. Frank has empowered me to set a new standard when it comes to the fan experience and the Dodgers' impact on the ... community.''
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.