Bud Selig says MLB will run Dodgers
NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball is taking the extraordinary step of assuming control of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team increasingly paralyzed by its owners' bitter divorce.
Once among baseball's glamour franchises, the Dodgers have been consumed by infighting since Jamie McCourt filed for divorce after 30 years of marriage in October 2009, one week after her husband fired her as the team's chief executive. Frank McCourt accused Jamie of having an affair with her bodyguard-driver and performing poorly at work.
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Baseball commissioner Bud Selig told Frank McCourt on Wednesday he will appoint a trustee to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the club. At the same time, Frank McCourt was preparing to sue MLB, a baseball executive familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because McCourt had not made any statements.
"I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club," Selig said in a statement.
Seven hours after Selig made his announcement, Frank McCourt issued a statement expressing puzzlement.
"Major League Baseball sets strict financial guidelines, which all 30 teams must follow," McCourt said. "The Dodgers are in compliance with these guidelines. On this basis, it is hard to understand the commissioner's action today."
A person familiar with Selig's thinking said the commissioner may choose to force a sale. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because Selig's statement did not mention that.
"I consider it a sad day for baseball and a sad day for the Dodgers," general manager Ned Colletti said.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had his 50th birthday Wednesday. He said he saw the news on television and then Colletti talked to the team.
"It's hard to imagine it would happen somewhere like the Dodgers, but there's crazy stuff going on everywhere. You're seeing monster major banks going down, so obviously it can happen," Mattingly said before the game against Atlanta at Dodger Stadium.
Baseball officials could not recall another instance in modern times when the commissioner seized control of a team from its owner. Before Tom Hicks sold the Texas Rangers last year, Selig appointed MLB executive John McHale Jr. to monitor the Rangers but technically left Hicks in charge of the franchise while McHale worked behind the scenes.
Even when suspending George Steinbrenner from the Yankees in 1990 and forcing Marge Schott to sell her controlling interest in the Cincinnati Reds in 1999, the commissioner's office allowed the owners to choose their successors as the controlling executive.
"This is one of the great franchises. It's hard to imagine a mess like this ever having happened," former commissioner Fay Vincent said. "It's a very sad situation. I feel very bad for baseball and for Bud."
Selig said he will appoint his representative within a few days. Former Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals chief executive Stan Kasten is a possible candidate, the person familiar with Selig's thinking said. Reached by telephone, Kasten declined comment.
Despite speculation that McHale could be a prime candidate for this position, a source close to McHale said that is unlikely. He and his family are based on the East Coast, so it would be difficult for him to assume a position that would require him to spend much of his time in California.
Corey Busch is a possibility, the baseball team executive said. Busch, a former San Francisco Giants executive vice president under Bob Lurie, helped negotiate the McCourts' acquisition of the Dodgers.
Colletti said Wednesday he hasn't spoken with McCourt or anyone from MLB yet, but he expects to hear from someone in the league office soon. He added that while he didn't know whom he would report to, he didn't think the situation would negatively impact his ability to run the team.
In December, Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon in Los Angeles invalidated a March 2004 postnuptial agreement giving Frank McCourt sole ownership of the team, allowing Jamie to seek one half of the franchise.
"It's unfortunate what the organization and the team is going under the last couple of years," Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said Wednesday. "There's a lot of people in the city and the fans who want to see a good Dodgers organization, a good Dodgers team and be proud of it. I know there's a lot of players in this locker room that want to make this come true for the fans in this city, the die-hards that want to be here every day for us. There's nothing we want to do more than win and make them proud of us."
Mattingly was surprised by the news, but didn't anticipate any negative effects on the team's on-field performance.
"Yeah, I was surprised because you don't think about it," Mattingly said Wednesday. "But, really, this shouldn't affect us at all. They're still not going to have any control over if we make good pitches or get good pitches to hit or we make plays. It shouldn't have any effect on what we do on the field. I'm sure there will be a little more media attention over the next few days and maybe over the next few months, but still, it shouldn't have any effect on how we play."
Selig's move came after The Los Angeles Times reported this week that Frank McCourt had arranged a $30 million loan from Fox, the team's television partner. Selig has not approved a $200 million loan from Fox to the club, which was first proposed by the Dodgers last summer, and the Times said the money was needed to make payroll.
The team has been criticized for its poor security since Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten as he left Dodger Stadium following the season opener. Stow remains in a medically induced coma.
Entering Wednesday, the Dodgers had averaged 39,205 fans per game, down 11 percent from their average last season.
A Lawsuit From The Past
If Frank McCourt does end up filing a lawsuit against Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, it won't be the first time an owner has sued the commissioner.
In 1976 -- the final season before free agency began -- A's owner Charlie Finley tried to sell All-Stars Vida Blue to the Yankees and Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox for a combined $3.5 million. His claim was he would need the money to sign players and rebuild after those three inevitably left after the season.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the sales in "the best interests of baseball." One of the forceful proponents urging Kuhn not to allow the deals: Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley.
Finley said Kuhn "sounds more like a village idiot than a commissioner of baseball" and sued to have the deals go through, charging restraint of trade. Kuhn would prevail, the three players would sign elsewhere for 1977 and things got so bad during that '77 season the A's players actually asked MLB to take over the franchise. (Under Finley, A's attendance would drop to 306,000 in 1979.)
"As the 50 percent owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I welcome and support the commissioner's actions to provide the necessary transparency, guidance and direction for the franchise and for Dodgers fans everywhere," Jamie McCourt said in a statement.
The Dodgers have not won the World Series since 1988, the longest barren stretch for the franchise since winning its first title as the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955.
"I commend baseball commissioner Bud Selig's [wresting] control of the Dodgers and bringing integrity back to the game," Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said. "It is my hope that the commissioner appoints a representative from the O'Malley family to oversee the team's business affairs during the investigation -- a return of the O'Malley family to the Dodgers would be a home run for fans and the Dodgers."
Walter O'Malley first owned part of the team starting in 1944. After he died in 1979, his son Peter and daughter Terry assumed ownership before selling to the Fox Group in 1997.
The McCourts purchased the Dodgers from Fox, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., for $430 million in 2004. Payroll dropped in both 2010 and 2011; even though it stands at nearly $104 million, the Dodgers were 12th among the 30 teams on Opening Day.
"My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt's ownership," Selig said. "The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future."
Selig's move might be seen by some as a precedent should the New York Mets have additional financial problems. With owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz under pressure from a lawsuit tied to the Bernard Madoff swindle, the Mets borrowed $25 million last year from Major League Baseball. Unlike the McCourts, Wilpon is a longtime friend of Selig.
Matt Kemp and the rest of his Dodgers teammates aren't worried about who will be signing their future paychecks now that baseball is taking control of the troubled franchise.
"All I'm worried about is playing baseball and winning games. That's it," Kemp said Wednesday.
Kemp added: "I don't want to go anywhere else. This is what I know, being a Dodger. I've been here, been with the Dodgers for nine years. I got drafted by them. This is all I know. All my friends are here. I have a lot of friends out here in L.A. This is where I want to be. But, like I said, you never know what happens. I can't control any of that stuff."
Frank McCourt sent an email message sent to Dodgers employees on Wednesday, according to an MLB.com report.
"In light of the Commissioner's announcement today, I ask that you please continue to conduct business as usual with our complete dedication to the game and our loyal fans," McCourt wrote in the email, according to MLB.com. "Each of you has represented this organization with class, and while this is no doubt a challenging time for all of us, I truly appreciate your efforts."
Beyond that, though, no one on the team or in the stands is sure what to expect.
"It's sad," said Tom Lasorda, who managed the Dodgers to their last World Series title in 1988 and serves as special adviser to McCourt.
"I've spent 62 years in this organization and I've never seen anything like this happen. Frank loved the Dodgers. A lot of people may not realize that, but he really loved the Dodgers."
McCourt has drawn the ire of Dodgers fans throughout his tenure, especially after details of the couple's lavish lifestyle and spending came out during their divorce hearing.
"Maybe he'll have to sell a few of his homes," said Lee Kracker, a 35-year season-ticket holder from Brea, Calif.
Kracker said she thought McCourt's purchase was a good thing at the time "because they were a family like the O'Malleys. You want that family feeling."
The Dodgers were long considered one of baseball's glamour franchises, with such greats as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Sandy Koufax on the roster.
"I'm in shock about the whole issue," said former pitching great Don Newcombe, who has been in the organization for 56 years, including the last 41 as director of community relations.
Information from ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne, Blair Angulo and The Associated Press was used in this report.