Farewell, Frank: Dodger Faithful Have Reason to Rejoice

Our long national nightmare might soon be over.

The L.A. Times‘ Bill Shaikin reports that embattled Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is close to a bankruptcy settlement that would include selling the team, Dodger Stadium, and its surrounding parking lots for at least $1 billion.

The most obvious impact of settling with McCourt would be local, with Dodgers fans poised to rid themselves of one of pro sports’ worst owners (like, ever), hopefully in favor of an owner who will invest in the product, cease being a distraction, and not loot the damn team. But the issue really is a national one, with McCourt’s malfeasance throughout his years owning the Dodgers threatening to have an impact that extended well beyond Southern California. Had Major League Baseball not stepped in, a dangerous precedent would have been set: Convince the league to let you buy a team, and you can do anything you want to it. Anything.

How bad was it? Read Larry Behrendt’s thorough account over at It’s About The Money, Stupid. With the help of dogged blogger Josh Fisher at DodgerDivorce.com, Behrendt chronicled the following instances of shadiness by Frank McCourt, with an occasional assist from his ex-wife and ex-Dodgers CEO Jamie:

  • From the start, it was clear that McCourt didn’t have anywhere near enough money to buy the Dodgers; at the very least, he didn’t have the will to spend it. Instead, he bought the team using $421 million in debt. In a sense this is really MLB’s fault, more than McCourt’s: Baseball’s owners will raise holy hell to prevent a new owner from buying into the club if they think he might shake up the status quo. They apparently have no such qualms about owners violating the debt-to-equity ratio limits that are supposed to protect the league from financial disasters.
  • The McCourts withdrew either $109 million (Frank’s estimate) or $141 million (Jamie’s estimate) from the Dodgers to fund their lavish lifestyles and various other debts and business interests. Since buying the team, the McCourts purchased four homes in the L.A. area, for a combined $89 million.
  • The Dodgers didn’t get the proceeds from their own ticket sales; or at least they couldn’t until Dodgers Tickets, LLC, one of many, many spinoff companies started by McCourt to facilitate and shield money transfers, paid off the $390 million in debt it had accrued.

Also … you know what? Screw it. Just check out this list of 57 jaw-dropping actions taken by the McCourts since they bought the team, meticulously compiled by another excellent blog, Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. Or check out some of the work Molly Knight has done on the McCourt saga, both at ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. (About the only good thing to come out of this whole mess is all the great work done by various blogs and mainstream writers, and the recognition that should be tossed their way.)

With the whole debacle hopefully just about over, we can only hope that MLB has learned its lesson, and that future would-be owners will be better vetted, both financially and on the wackadoo scale. That baseball allowed this to happen to the Dodgers, the team of Jackie and Pee Wee and the Duke, is a black eye from which it might take years to recover.

And if the baseball gods are just, hopefully the Dodgers’ next owner will be someone who restores this jewel of a franchise to its rightful place in the sports world. We already have our own favorites for the job. But even if it’s someone else, the good news is this: We might be a short while away from never having to hear the name Frank McCourt associated with anything other than your local book club.

Jonah Keri’s new book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, is a national best-seller. Follow him on Twitter at @JonahKeri.

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Filed Under: Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB

Jonah Keri is a staff writer for Grantland. His book The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First is a New York Times best seller. The paperback edition of his new book, Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available.

Archive @ jonahkeri