“We will not go quietly into the night!
We will not vanish without a fight!
We’re going to live on!”
Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whimore in the movie
Frank McCourt may have uttered similar words after being told that Major League Baseball was taking control of “his” Los Angeles Dodgers. But unfortunately for McCourt, this isn’t a movie, and it’s doubtful that his outcome will rival the one in Independence Day.
We can debate forever whether Commissioner Bud Selig made the right call at the right time, but the uniqueness of the move – it’s never been done before in MLB – speaks volumes about the concerns the commissioner had regarding one of the flagship franchises in his league; indeed, in all of sports. The Dodgers aren’t “just” a baseball team; they’re a part of American history. This is the team that signed Jackie Robinson and changed not only baseball, but the course of the entire country. This is the team that Walter O’Malley moved across the continent after the 1957 season, breaking hearts in Brooklyn but at the same time opening up the sport to legions of new fans on the left coast, not to mention new sources of revenue.
The Dodgers have been privately owned for most of their existence, so financial information is difficult to come by, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that they are the second most successful MLB franchise in history off the field in addition to being one of the league’s most successful franchises on the field. They were the first team to draw three million fans and according to the website ballparksofbaseball.com, between 1959 and 1989 the Dodgers led all of MLB in attendance twenty-one times and finished second in attendance in each of the past two decades.
When you think of the Dodgers’ organization the words that come quickly to mind are success, stability, class, honesty and integrity. When you think of the McCourts – Frank and soon-to-be ex-wife Jamie – you think of just the opposite.
Fred Claire, the former long-time Dodger executive who has more class in his little finger than the McCourts have – collectively – in their entire beings, summed up the takeover of the franchise best when he said, “It’s a sad chapter of Dodgers’ history. But it is also a sign that things are going to get better.” They can’t get much worse.
Credit Selig with recognizing the depth of the Dodgers’ problems and taking decisive action to address the issues, something the ever-cautious commissioner is usually loathe to do. But it’s unlikely that Dodgers’ fans will soon forgive Selig for his role in setting the franchise on the path to destruction. When Fox was desperate to sell the team in 2004, having decided that the concept of vertical integration was more attractive in theory than it was in practice, Selig arranged a quickie marriage with the McCourts, an arrangement that was doomed from the start. Frank and Jamie – she reluctantly, according to her testimony during the acrimonious divorce trial – purchased the equivalent of a fillet mignon on a McDonald’s budget.
Selig relied on the “best interests of Baseball” language in Article II of MLB’s constitution to justify the takeover. Based on that language, courts have given the commissioner wide latitude to act as he sees fit to protect the sport, provided that he doesn’t act in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. Translation: While McCourt has a number of legal arguments at his disposal, in the end, the odds are heavily stacked against him.
Should McCourt follow through on his threat to bring legal action against MLB, the case is likely to drag on for months, perhaps years, unless and until McCourt comes to the realization that all is lost and settles for a buyout, ala Chuck Greenberg in Texas. Only this time we’re talking more than the estimated $25 million Greenberg received in exchange for his interest in the Rangers.
McCourt’s buyout could be paid by MLB or the new Dodgers’ owner, whoever he may be (yes, it will be a “he”). And when that day arrives, it will end the saddest chapter in Dodgers history, one that should never have happened but for the blind eye turned on the McCourts’ finances by Selig and twenty-nine MLB owners. Hopefully, next time they’ll get it right.
“We will not go quietly into the night!