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This Announcement a Bolt From the Blue

SELLING THE DODGERS / O'MY! O'MALLEY ERA ENDING

Reaction: Baseball laments the loss of one of game's most-established names, reflects on the legacy left behind.

January 07, 1997|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Perhaps spotting an aging "Save the Brooklyn Dodgers" bumper sticker Monday was sort of cosmic signal for New Yorker Richard Picardi, a hint that something truly earth-shattering was going on 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles.

"I guess David is still here and Goliath is leaving the field," said Picardi, part-owner of the Brooklyn Dodger Sports Bar and Restaurant.

Picardi, who fought a four-year legal battle with the Dodgers and the commissioner's office over use of the team's nickname, nevertheless was surprised that Dodger owner Peter O'Malley was putting the team up for sale.

"I don't know why I'm surprised," Picardi said. "[The Dodgers] seemed like such a nemesis and the organization is embodied in the O'Malleys. I just never thought it would go away."

He chuckled, saying, "I don't think it'll mean the Dodgers are moving back to Brooklyn. I don't believe in extraterrestrials."

Others involved in the baseball world--ranging from former commissioner Peter Ueberroth to current owners to interim Commissioner Bud Selig to civic leaders--shared his amazement.

"The O'Malleys leave to baseball a rich and powerful legacy," Selig said. "I want to assure Dodger fans, Peter and the team that we will work with them to keep the franchise in Los Angeles."

Ueberroth had come close to purchasing the Angels, forming a group of investors to buy the team before Disney entered the picture last year.

"I am surprised because I always viewed the excellent Dodger ownership as the most stable franchise in baseball," Ueberroth said. "I don't think it's part of a trend--when somebody sells a sports team, it's a personal decision. I'm sure the O'Malley family thought long and hard.

"I don't think it has any negative effect on the city of L.A. as long as a buyer of the same level and integrity is found."

The Angel experience has not deterred Ueberroth from making another attempt, he said:

"Our group would definitely be interested in pursuing the purchase of the L.A. Dodgers franchise. However, I think it would be a longshot, because the Dodgers, in my view, will go for a substantial premium over and above value. Without question, it'll break any previous record."

The man largely responsible for the standing record, of $173 million, is Baltimore Oriole owner Peter Angelos. Angelos was also surprised and disappointed, calling O'Malley "one of the top owners in the game and adding that, "losing him is a substantial loss."

Tony Tavares, president of the Angels, expressed his surprise in a statement: "We were shocked to hear the news today. Peter O'Malley has done a lot for major league baseball and the family name is synonymous with this great game. He has had a strong, a respected voice throughout major league baseball. He'll be sorely missed."

San Diego Padre owner John Moores said he was stunned.

"If I lived in Los Angeles I'd be extremely motivated to buy the team," he said. "Even though it might cost as much as $500 million. I assume it will be a hot property in Los Angeles. It's a remarkable asset, probably the most valuable sports franchise in the world, literally."

Moores pointed out that the recent labor agreement and the prospect of five years of peace may have been a catalyst behind the decision.

"This might be the best time [to sell], but I really am stunned." he said. "I know how much Peter loved baseball. This couldn't have been an easy decision. He was born to the game."

Colorado Rockies' owner Jerry McMorris was asked whether the selling of a stable and valuable franchise reflected negatively on the game.

"My sense is that the game is back on the upswing," McMorris said, alluding to the labor agreement. "We obviously face some key decisions on the commissioner and leadership, and that process is about to begin. We've all had periods of frustration, but personally I continue to be optimistic."

McMorris would not estimate the value of the Dodger holdings, but said, "It's obviously one of the respected franchises. It's in a great market and had great success. It will be interesting to see how it plays out."

Said New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, "Peter's father was one of the smartest men I've ever met in our involvement in sports, and the acorn never falls far from the tree. I certainly hope that Peter does not leave baseball."

Buzzie Bavasi, who was the Dodgers' general manager from 1951 to 1968, said the die was cast when Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, one of the leading hawks among the owners in the labor dispute of 1994-96, signed Albert Belle late last year for a record $55 million for five years.

"I always thought when Jerry Reinsdorf gave that guy $10 million [a season] . . . smarter heads in baseball would realize it's no fun anymore and get out," Bavasi said. "[The O'Malleys] were in it to have fun. They've enjoyed it, but I'm sure they're not enjoying it anymore."

Times staff writers Ross Newhan and Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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