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Strong Pitch by Eli Broad

January 21, 2004

There's a misguided notion in the land that baseball games last too long. It's really the proposed sale of the Dodgers that threatens to drag on past endurance. Fortunately, Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad has offered a good solution: He will spend the necessary $430 million, most of it cash, to buy his hometown team if the current proposed buyer cannot. It should mean there's no need to extend the Jan. 31 deadline for Boston developer Frank McCourt to conclude his purchase of the team from its owners, Fox Group. The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn in 1958. It's a mark of the devotion of fans to hometown teams playing the grandiosely proclaimed "national pastime" that many in Brooklyn still mourn. Los Angeles has not advanced to postseason play since 1996, yet 3 million fans each year watch them in their magnificent home, Dodger Stadium.

McCourt bid unsuccessfully to buy the Boston Red Sox as well as the Anaheim Angels back when they were called the California Angels, so he is persistent. His background as a developer raises the question of what he has in mind for the 300 acres at Chavez Ravine, site of Dodger Stadium. The ballpark has an enormous parking lot -- ask anyone who has forgotten where he parked the car -- where former owner Peter O'Malley once proposed adding a football stadium. Billionaire Broad also made his fortune in real estate development but recently has been better known for donating large sums to worthy endeavors and promoting civic institutions. He co-founded the Museum of Contemporary Art and led the fundraising effort to build Walt Disney Concert Hall. Broad is said to have no interest in building a new baseball stadium or developing Chavez Ravine. It would be good to know if McCourt feels the same, or if his major interest is the property rather than the team.

In Anaheim, Arte Moreno bought the Angels from Disney last year, months after the team won the World Series, and has spent large sums for good players. He also has lowered beer prices, winning fan applause. Contrast that with the Dodgers' feeble moves this off-season, the possible result of uncertainty about the sale and whether McCourt, if he buys the team, will have enough money to increase the payroll.

The owners of the 30 clubs should approve a sale quickly; the McCourt-Fox deal was announced in October. This isn't Milwaukee -- where the Brewers are up for sale -- or Detroit, home to baseball's worst team. Major League Baseball benefits from Los Angeles' tradition of World Series winners and staunch fans. Broad can be expected to enhance that tradition if given the chance, especially if O'Malley joins him.

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