- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt expressed defiance and outrage during a news conference in New York on Wednesday after McCourt said baseball commissioner Bud Selig vetoed McCourt's agreed-upon deal with Fox for a regional sports network. McCourt said the deal would infuse the club with enough cash to be competitive on the field for the forseeable future.
McCourt went so far as to describe Selig as "un-American" for what he sees as an attempt by Selig to unlawfully seize McCourt's property after MLB assumed control of the Dodgers last week.
"No one handed me the Dodgers and no one is going to take it away from me," McCourt said.
McCourt spoke after meeting with several baseball officials, but not Selig, at MLB headquarters in Manhattan. It was at the end of that meeting that McCourt said he learned, through MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred, that Selig had vetoed McCourt's agreement with Fox on a regional sports network.
MLB took control of the Dodgers last week after it was revealed that McCourt had arranged a $30 million loan from Fox to meet payroll. Now baseball must approve any expenditure of more than $5,000 made by the team.
McCourt said the loan was used for the team and will have to be repaid.
McCourt has been embroiled in a nasty and costly divorce battle with his former wife and ex-Dodgers' CEO Jamie McCourt.
Court documents indicated the McCourts had taken out more than $100 million in personal loans from Dodger-related businesses.
A judge in December threw out a 2004 marital property agreement that gave Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers, clearing the way for Jamie McCourt to seek half the team.
McCourt said he would take $300 million from the TV deal with Fox and put it into the Dodgers and not toward funding a possible settlement in his divorce. McCourt said the 17-year deal with Fox could be worth more than $3 billion.
"The lack of a decision to allow us to do this media transaction is what's creating all of this noise about the financial duress of the Dodgers," he said.
McCourt said the team can meet its payroll.
"We are current on all of our obligations, all of our payments," he said. "We have never asked for a penny of emergency funding from MLB."
McCourt implied that Selig is attempting to force him to sell the Dodgers.
"It is my personal opinion that there has been a predetermined end result here and that this investigation is not a genuine one," McCourt said. "It is designed to interfere with our ability to close this transaction."
However, in a statement released after the news conference Wednesday, Manfred took issue with McCourt's comments, both for airing them publicly and for being "not accurate."
"It is unfortunate that Mr. McCourt felt it necessary to publicize the content of a private meeting," Manfred said in the release. "It
is even more unfortunate that Mr. McCourt's public recitation was not accurate. Most fundamental,
Commissioner Selig did not 'veto' a proposed transaction. Rather, Mr. McCourt was clearly told that the
Commissioner would make no decision on any transaction until after his investigation into the Club and its
finances is complete so that he can properly evaluate all of the facts and circumstances."
McCourt hinted at a possible lawsuit against Selig and Major League Baseball.
"I have not decided exactly what we're going to do, but we will keep you posted," McCourt said. "As I said, I am not going anywhere. This is the team I love and the community I love. These are my hard-earned dollars I put into this franchise, and I am going to protect my rights, obviously."
McCourt also was asked to clarify a statement he made to a television reporter earlier in the day in which he called Selig "un-American."
"What I said was un-American was somebody's property being seized unlawfully," McCourt said. "There are core values in this country, and fairness is one of them. Transparency is another, and private property is another. Thankfully, it's not appropriate for one person's property to be seized by somebody else just because they get divorced or just because of some arbitrary reason. That is one of the great core principles and core values of this country, and that is what I'm referring to when I say it's just un-American to me."
Selig appointed former Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer on Monday as a monitor to oversee the team's finances.
"There's nothing more American than following the law, and that's what we're doing in this regard," Schieffer said Wednesday night on 710 ESPN's Mason & Ireland radio show.
McCourt implied that he doesn't believe Schieffer is being sent to monitor the Dodgers so much as he is being sent to wrest the organization from McCourt's control and that, as such, McCourt isn't likely to cooperate with Schieffer.
"I am not sure that we got clarification on that because we did have discussions on that and there still seems to be some confusion as to what the responsibility of the monitor is," McCourt said. "Words are funny things just because you can call somebody a monitor and not make them a monitor. What was explained to us as the role of this monitor is nothing short of a receiver, somebody who would come in and control my business, and I'm not going to accept that for sure."
Meanwhile, Manfred challenged McCourt's notion that MLB had "seized" the Dodgers and disputed McCourt's claim that Schieffer's role with the Dodgers wasn't discussed during the meeting.
"There has been no seizure of the Los Angeles Dodgers," he said in the release. "Mr. Schieffer has been
appointed as a monitor, and a multi-page written directive from the Commissioner describing his role has
been provided to Mr. McCourt. In our meeting, no one from the Dodgers asked a single, specific question
about the terms of the document setting forth the monitor's role.
"Finally, Mr. McCourt is well aware of the basis of Baseball's investigation and has been provided an
eight-page document describing the issues of concern to Major League Baseball."
Schieffer held a news conference in Los Angeles later Wednesday, saying he has yet to be fully briefed on the team's finances and is looking forward to meeting with McCourt.
McCourt's defiant tone was in direct contrast to the folksiness of Schieffer, the brother of CBS' "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer.
"I look forward to talking to Mr. McCourt and hopefully we can have a nice visit and see what it is he's concerned about," said Schieffer, who listened to McCourt's conference call with reporters before his own news conference at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. McCourt's remarks delayed Schieffer's appearance at the podium by nearly 30 minutes.
McCourt said Schieffer's appointment has created "chaos."
Schieffer affirmed that McCourt was the owner of the franchise, but said that the commissioner of baseball was currently running the team. He viewed his position as a representative extension of the commissioner's office, operating from offices at Dodger Stadium "until the job is done."
Asked if he anticipated any problems with McCourt, Schieffer said, "I hope that there won't be friction but that's really his choice."
Pressed on whether he was concerned about his impending dealings with McCourt, Schieffer said, "I've dealt with the North Koreans."
Schieffer was U.S. ambassador to Australia and Japan under former President George W. Bush and is now senior counsel at a law firm.
Schieffer sought to reassure Dodgers fans about the future of the storied franchise, saying he wanted to "give them some confidence that the instability and turmoil is coming to an end."
Schieffer said he hoped to open an office at Dodger Stadium in the coming days and meet with team employees. He said he has no timetable in which to complete his job, and he said Selig hadn't discussed salary when he accepted the position on Monday.
Schieffer said on Mason & Ireland that he didn't think the Dodgers' baseball operations would be hamstrung by the turmoil, citing the Rangers' run to the World Series last year despite having an MLB-appointed overseer.
"[Dodgers GM] Ned [Colletti] is working under a budget, and he has the ability to move the numbers around with that budget and whatnot," Schieffer said. "Again, I think the situation in Texas is a good template. John McHale was there and he understood because he'd been through it himself as a general manager. He knew what it was to acquire that last piece of the puzzle to get [the Rangers] to the World Series. That's what they did. It worked, and I think that's a good template for all of us and one that could serve us well here."
When asked if he was surprised or shocked by the state of the Dodgers' financial situation, Schieffer took a lengthy pause, then said, "I'm not sure 'surprised' or 'shocked' would be the proper terms, but it was a little different than I expected."
Retired Dodgers manager Joe Torre was on hand for Schieffer's appearance in his new role as MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations, but he declined to take questions.
An emotional McCourt expressed regret about his and his ex-wife's lavish spending habits during their marriage that included owning multiple homes.
"I made some mistakes. I am sorry about that. I think everyone deserves a second chance," he said.
McCourt's primary purpose in meeting with MLB officials was to plead his case once again for Selig's approval of the Fox deal, which Selig previously had neither approved nor vetoed. McCourt also expressed frustration with the fact Selig, who primarily works out of his office in Milwaukee, declined to take part in the meeting. McCourt went on to imply that Selig won't even return his phone calls.
"I was disappointed, obviously, that the commissioner wasn't there," McCourt said. "I have asked to meet with the commissioner on several occasions, and he has been unwilling to meet with me on this transaction. ... I sent Commissioner Selig a letter a month ago, and I'm not going to go into detail because it was very personal, but telling him I wanted to move on and that I apologized for any embarrassment I caused him or the game of baseball because that is the last thing in the world I wanted to do."
McCourt also said he is willing to make adjustments to the deal with Fox at baseball's request as long as those requests are reasonable and in line with similar deals other major league clubs have in place.
"It is exactly the same as what other owners have set up," McCourt said. "We weren't trying to create a new model or a new paradigm. We were only doing what other owners have done. We said to Fox that we didn't want to break any new ground with this transaction. ... We weren't looking to push the envelope, so to speak, in any way, shape or form."
Schieffer said that neither he nor Selig had made any decision about whether McCourt could someday regain control of his franchise.
"I think we're all open-minded," Schieffer said. "One of the advantages I have coming in from the outside is that I don't know all the rumors, I don't know all the stories. The facts will speak for themselves."
When asked about the commissioner's motivation for taking control of the franchise's day-to-day operations, Schieffer said, "He wants this franchise to work. He doesn't want to take it away from anybody. He doesn't have any hidden agenda. He just wants the Dodgers to be a model franchise again."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and The Associated Press was used in this report.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg