April 24, 2014

The BBC Talks to dodgerfan.net about the State of the Dodgers

So who do the BBC go to when they want to talk about Frank McCourt and the Dodgers?  That’s right, dodgerfan.net!  Check out our interview on the BBC Global News podcast.

We’re the last story (at about the 24.45 mark)…right after an interview with Barbara Walters(!) on the upcoming Royal Wedding.

Frank McCourt’s Last Straw

We’ve held off on commenting on the events of the last 24 hours here at dodgerfan.net given the complete media blitz on the topic (other than a few tweets). The action by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball signals that there are serious issues afoot in the McCourt camp and the $30 million loan needed by McCourt to make Dodger payroll (as reported by the Los Angeles Times)was as red a flag as I’ve seen in my 30 years of watching baseball. The consensus is clear – McCourt’s alleged financial difficulties make it next to impossible to for him to manage the team and MLB is no longer willing to be an idle party in what could otherwise be the destruction of a proud franchise.

Jon Wiseman of ESPN Los Angeles had, what I consider, one of the most thoughtful views on what has transpired over the past several weeks in this article posted yesterday evening. I’d encourage you to stop reading my post and click through to his assessment and then come back.

Wiseman makes the observation that this is more than the alleged mismanagement of the team’s finances – at the core is the horrific Bryan Stow beating and the shock of the initial reaction of McCourt who felt nothing could have been done to prevent that ruthless attack. Many fans simply decided making a trip to Dodger Stadium wasn’t worth it – whether it was for safety reasons, performance reasons (the team’s record), or financial reasons.

Wiseman also points out that, while this wasn’t an organized protest, it’s clear that many fans have simply thrown up their hands and turned their back on the organization:

The thing is, it hasn’t been an organized boycott, not on any widespread level. It’s been people on their own coming to the conclusion that life was too short to waste on a franchise in this condition.

This includes people like my father, who chose during the offseason not to renew my family’s season tickets for a 30th season. It also includes the people who typically would improvise their ticket purchases after the season was underway.

That’s not to say Dodger Stadium was or would be empty. Some still show up because they love the team through thick and decidedly thin. The game’s pull remains strong. I myself have been trying to figure out when to get my kids to their first game of 2011.

But things haven’t been this low at Dodger Stadium before, have they? I think back to 1992, the worst team in Los Angeles Dodger history playing against the backdrop of a city torn by riots, and there was not such bitterness over the state of ownership.

Dodgers fans have been wandering through a desert of uncertainty and dismay for well more than a year since the McCourts’ marital strife put control of the team in limbo. What the Bryan Stow incident did, besides put the life of a man in jeopardy, was amplify the fear that with McCourt in charge, there might be no bottom.

Selig’s actions yesterday have certainly limited how much further the team could tumble down the rabbit hole, but what now? Can McCourt really make a comeback from this? Does he have any supporters left? I can’t think of a way out of this other than a forced sale at this point, but perhaps I’m wrong on this one. I do hope, however, that Jon Wiseman and I are right – because that hope is what many of the remaining Dodger fans are clinging to at this point.

Week One of the McCourt Divorce Rolls On

We’re not legal experts over here at dodgerfan.net, so when it comes to interpreting the moves and counter moves going on in the courthouse during the McCourt divorce trial, we highly recommend reading the great work of Josh Fisher over at DodgerDivorce.com.  In my opinion, this is what blogging is all about: here’s a Dodger fan with a professional speciality that gives him the ability to provide context to the legal maneuverings by Frank and Jamie.  Like a baseball game, Josh evaluates the players involved, their strategies and the results.  Brilliant.  He even made the trip back to Southern California from Minneapolis to cover the start of the trial.  Now that’s commitment.

Oh, and if you’re into the hour by hour minutia of the trial, you can also follow Josh on Twitter as he tweets from inside the courtroom.  Another expert on the McCourt divorce is Molly Knight from ESPN The Magazine, and she’s also on the scene in downtown LA so follow her on Twitter as well for another perspective.  You’ve got to love technology!

Breaking Down the McCourt Divorce Saga

I was preparing to write a story about how refreshed I was heading into the second half of the season, the performance of Ethier, Furcal, Kuo and Broxton in the All-Star Game and some of the good stuff we have planned for the next few months.  But then I read Molly Knight’s anticipated story on the McCourt divorce saga (the article is slated to appear in the July 26 edition of ESPN, The Magazine, but is also available online now).  My response? Ugh.

Molly is a great writer and does a fantastic and what must have been an exaustive job detailing the many twists and turns of the McCourt divorce.  This is no easy task, and frankly, I had allowed myself to forget about several of the numerous unfortunate moments since the couple bought the organization in 2004.

Rather than recap the article and what’s happened in the past, I’d like to discuss some of my big concerns for the future of the franchise:

First, I’ve long felt that the Dodgers are spending just enough to win the NL West, without really investing in putting the club “over the top” to win the World Series. 

Take your four best starters from the group of Billingsley, Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Ely, and see how they stack up to the Yankees rotation. Right now, I just don’t think they have enough experience to win without the addition of a #1 starting pitcher; an ace.  I really love a lot of these guys (with Kershaw and perhaps Bills being #1 starters eventually), but my concern remains that the Dodgers just don’t have the pitching firepower to win it all this season.  And that’s a big problem.  Here are both sides of this issue, per Molly Knight’s article:

While the McCourts were living large, the Dodgers, in 2008 and 2009, spent less than any other MLB team on the draft and international-player signings, an area the team once dominated. Frank told reporters during spring training that the divorce has nothing to do with the payroll; and multiple former club execs say there’s truth to the claim. “It was Frank’s plan all along to run a team with a payroll of about $80 million,” says a former high-ranking club official speaking on condition of anonymity. “His thinking since he bought the team was: ‘This isn’t the AL East. Why would I spend $150 million to win 98 games when I can spend half that to win 90, if that’s all it takes to make the playoffs in our division?’ ” So while the Dodgers have spent money on free agents such as Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez – plus Joe Torre, the game’s highest-paid manager — GM Ned Colletti has structured deals creatively, offering fewer years (Furcal, Jones) and deferring payments (Ramirez, Jones).When asked how the McCourts’ divorce is affecting the Dodgers’ payroll, Colletti, weary of the question, joked: “You think I can answer that?” He says he’s never “heard a number” like $80 million and holds the company line, saying the team would add payroll down the stretch if the right deal presented itself. If the Dodgers were to deal for, say, Cubs lefty Ted Lilly at the July 31 trade deadline, Lilly would be owed just $4 million for the rest of 2010, or roughly one-fifth of what McCourt will pay to divorce attorneys this year. “For the life of me, I cannot figure out why he hasn’t just settled,” says another former executive. “It’s like he’s lost his mind.”

Second, will the McCourt’s settle, or will this be a fight to the proverbial death?  Per a brief conversation I had with Molly via Twitter, she stated “As a fan you should hope they settle before Aug 30, though. And I think they might.”  That would indeed be great news, but how is Frank going to be able to pay Jamie off?  He can’t get a loan, and according to court proceedings, is borrowing money from his brother to make Jamie’s monthly spousal support payments.  If that’s the case, won’t the money have to come from keeping the Dodgers payroll in check and making a big enough profit to pay off Jamie?  Or am I missing something? (If I am, please let me know!)

Third, is Frank McCourt trying to hold on financially until the Dodgers’ television rights come up to bid after the conclusion of the 2013 season?  In February 2010, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times discussed court documents (submitted by Jamie’s team) that reportedly showed that the club intends to shrink the percentage of revenues spent on payroll through the 2013 season and hold thereafter. Per Bill Shaikin:

The document anticipates a significant rise in club revenue, from $295 million in 2008 to $529 million in 2018, and in the average ticket price, from $29.40 in 2007 to $53.50 in 2018.

Dodgers attorney Marshall Grossman, asked via e-mail what the club would tell fans wondering why the rise in revenue might not be accompanied by a similar rise in the player payroll, responded with an e-mail that noted financial plans are subject to regular revisions.

“It is prudent for a well-run business to engage in ongoing financial modeling and planning,” Grossman wrote. “When the Los Angeles Dodgers have financial information relevant to the public and the fans, it will be made public by the Dodgers.

“The Dodgers’ commitment is to operate on and off the field as a premier baseball organization, for the benefit of the fans and the Los Angeles community. The Dodgers continue to honor that commitment.”

The Dodgers spent 46% of revenue on player compensation in 2007 and 42% in 2008, according to the documents. The projections call for that percentage to fall to 25% by 2013 and remain at about 25% through 2018.

Commissioner Bud Selig encourages teams to spend about one-half their revenue on player compensation, according to two high-ranking major league executives contacted by The Times.

If the document cited in the LA Times story is true, a new television network could give Frank McCourt the financial leverage to pay off Jamie in a settlement, right?  I’m definitely not a lawyer or an expert in divorce proceedings, so will leave this to others that are much more knowledgeable, like the always educational Josh over at Dodger Divorce.

And it continues today: both Molly Knight and Jon Weisman have short pieces on the legal wranglings around the post-nup agreement (it involves forensic scientists and staples….seriously!).

Regardless, this is all a LOT for the casual Dodger fan to take in.  I know a majority of the fans out there don’t care about all of this and just want the ownership to deliver the best possible roster of players and managers to make a run at a world championship.  Unfortunately, both sides of this divorce battle seem intent on keeping it in the public eye until the ownership of the Dodger franchise is ultimately resolved.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Delgado (File)

Torre, Mattingly Share Thoughts on the Passing of George Steinbrenner

The death of George Steinbrenner (1930-2010) this morning at the age of 80 made me reflect on how great an owner he was for the New York Yankees.  Yes, he was controversal in more ways than one, but he delivered results, restored glory to the Yankee organization and changed the way baseball was run with the introduction of revenue sharing.

As the McCourt divorce continues to slowly (and excrutiatingly) plays out, I’m reminded of how great ownership can truly shape the direction of a franchise.

Following are quotes from those within the Dodgers organization that knew George Steinbrenner best (quotes courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers PR staff):

“George was a friend who I admired very much.  He was a giant in our game and he built an empire.  All he was was a winner.  He wanted to give the fans a winner, and that’s exactly what he did.” 

- Dodger Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda

“I will always remember George Steinbrenner as a passionate man, a tough boss, a true visionary, a great humanitarian and a dear friend.  I will be forever grateful that he trusted me with his Yankees for 12 years. My heart goes out to his entire family. He will be deeply missed in New York, Tampa and throughout the world of baseball. It’s only fitting that he went out as a world champ.”

– Dodger Manager Joe Torre

“I am deeply saddened to hear the news of George Steinbrenner’s passing.  His vision, passion and commitment to winning, recharged the New York Yankees and revolutionized the game.

I remember a man driven to succeed.   He was the owner, “The Boss” and number one fan of the Yankees.  Our relationship was built on mutual respect.  I will never forget and always be grateful for how he treated me and my family both during my playing days and after I retired.

I will miss him very much and extend my deepest condolences to his wife, Joan, and all the members of the Steinbrenner family.”           

– Dodger Hitting Coach Don Mattingly

“George Steinbrenner was the first owner to contact me to congratulate me when I purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers.  From that day forward we built a strong and meaningful friendship.  He was a larger than life owner who cared deeply about winning.  George helped shape the game of baseball during his incredible stewardship of the Yankees.  My deepest sympathies go out to his wife, Joan and his four children, Hal, Hank, Jennifer and Jessica and the entire Steinbrenner family.”

– Dodger Owner Frank McCourt

Rest in Peace, George Steinbrenner!

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Chris O’Meara