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A Fast Change of Face

With the team getting a new owner for the second time since 1998, many jobs are in jeopardy. McCourt already has former Giant executive Corey Busch set for a top spot.

October 11, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

Dodger Chairman Bob Daly and President Bob Graziano will address employees Monday at Dodger Stadium, hoping to allay concerns amid the uncertainty of another ownership change.

It won't be easy.

The Dodgers are still recovering from organizational purges that followed News Corp.'s purchase of the club in 1998, and now Boston real estate developer Frank H. McCourt is on the verge of taking control and changing their direction again.

McCourt and News Corp. reached a purchase agreement Friday for $430 million, and Major League Baseball is expected to approve the sale. The deal might be finalized by a vote of owners in mid-November, triggering more upheaval in an organization that has thirsted for stability during News Corp.'s tumultuous six-year reign at Chavez Ravine.

The once-staid Dodgers have come to expect change since Peter O'Malley sold the club -- and more is on the horizon.

"We have been through an ownership change in the past and realize how important it is to remain focused and to continue performing our duties in the interim," said Derrick Hall, senior vice president. "We have to do our jobs without distraction."

Some in management, though, won't have jobs much longer with the Dodgers if McCourt receives approval in a vote of owners.

The property magnate, baseball officials said, already has assembled the top members of his business-side team.

Corey Busch, a current baseball executive and an advisor to McCourt, will have a high-ranking front-office position after overseeing the transition. Busch formerly worked for the San Francisco Giants.

Daly, who has a 5% ownership stake in the club, plans to depart once a deal is completed. That would leave the club's more than 320 employees to look to Graziano for reassurance throughout the transition.

Graziano, whose 18-year tenure was briefly interrupted in 1999 when News Corp. fired him for a few weeks, will play an important role in the process because of his knowledge of every facet of the club's operation, officials said, but he probably won't be retained after McCourt completes the reorganization.

"I understand he'll have some experienced baseball executives working with him," said Boston Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, whose group in 2001 outbid McCourt for that franchise. "They'll be able to hit the ground running."

And then there's the status of General Manager Dan Evans and Manager Jim Tracy. Each is under contract for $500,000 in 2004 -- the final guaranteed seasons of their multiyear deals.

The team has failed to qualify for the playoffs in Tracy's three seasons.

Evans was roundly criticized within the organization this season for assembling a batting order that produced fewer runs than the lowly Detroit Tigers.

McCourt's plans for the baseball-operations staff are not known, and the Dodgers are facing major payroll issues.

Based on the luxury-tax formula, the club has almost $68 million committed in guaranteed contracts to only nine players. In real dollars, however, the figure is at more than $78 million.

All-Star closer Eric Gagne -- expected to receive a substantial raise after a 55-save season -- is among seven key players eligible for arbitration. Evans had planned to be a player in this season's talent-rich free-agent market after dropping more than $19 million from the 2004 payroll, but officials said the Dodgers' off-season strategy is among the issues that will be reviewed during the transition.

"We anticipate a smooth transition, and certainly hope there are no bumps in the road during this process," Hall said. "However, News Corp. remains the owner of the Dodgers at this time, and we all still have work to do."


Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

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