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Supreme McCourt

New owner says team needs a sense of urgency and he will do what it takes to win

January 30, 2004|Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writer

The cameras and microphones were gone. Frank McCourt and his wife, Jamie, sat in a Dodger Stadium luxury suite Thursday as twilight shrouded the diamond and darkness closed in on his first official day as the club's new owner.

"Indescribable," McCourt said of his emotions. "A kid's dream. All of this is going to take a while to set in."

In the last week of January, with the Dodgers scheduled to open spring training in about three weeks, McCourt knows he doesn't have a kid's luxury of time.

He repeatedly made that clear during a stadium news conference and a private interview later, saying the Dodgers needed to add the hitter they have failed to add through the first three months of the off-season.

"Things need to be done and will be done," he said. "The team lacks excitement, and I want to win this year."

Where that hitter is coming from this late in the winter isn't clear, but that's how it was as McCourt -- who reached an agreement in principle to buy the team from News Corp. on Oct. 10 -- finally braved the hornet's nest of community and media skepticism regarding his highly leveraged purchase, ability to operate the Dodgers at a competitive level and intentions for Dodger Stadium.

Accompanied by business associates and public relations assistants and saying it had been painful to hear and read some of the things that had been said and written while he was prevented from responding by baseball rules governing prospective owners, McCourt first delivered what equated to a 20-minute induction speech and ultimately made promises and pledges beyond the addition of a hitter.

Although vague at times and swaggeringly confident at others, he said the organization clearly needed to be "reenergized and refocused," that the 15 seasons since the last victory in a playoff game represented an "unacceptable drought," and that the "boldness and innovation" that had long characterized the Dodgers had to be restored.

"It really comes down to a sense of urgency," McCourt said. "It seems to me that the Dodgers have become complacent [on and off the field]. We have to regain that sense of urgency."

In the process, he said, there are "zero plans" to move out of Dodger Stadium, he is committed to keeping the Dodgers in the top quarter of the payroll rankings, he will begin regular meetings with season-ticket holders today and he considers himself to be the right man at the right time.

"I've been part of a 110-year-old [construction] business with a track record for success," the Boston real estate developer said. "I know what it takes to inspire and to lead."

How many of the current senior staff will remain with him to lead is unclear.

McCourt, 49, announced that his wife would be vice chairman. His transition point man, Corey Busch, is expected to take a high-level position with the club.

Chairman Bob Daly, who held a 5% stake under News Corp., is definitely leaving, and President Bob Graziano is likely to as well.

McCourt said he would give the senior staff a chance to plead their case, but "I intend to act quickly and decisively in making the necessary changes."

As for General Manager Dan Evans, the new owner refused to discuss specific positions.

However, industry sources said the Dodgers planned to look into the availability of Pat Gillick, who is now basically unattached and living in Toronto after putting together championship teams with the Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners.

McCourt was asked during the private interview if the fact that the Dodgers still needed a hitter this late in the off-season didn't equate to a decision-making problem in regard to Evans.

"I certainly draw those inferences," he said, "but I need to delve a little deeper. It's not fair to pretend I have all the answers. Basically, I'm just a fan."

In Evans' defense, McCourt also added that "it was to Dan's credit that he did a good job of protecting the young players this winter. It's important for the farm system to be given a chance. At the end of the day, it takes a combination of players from your system and players acquired in trade and free agency. I suspect that there are a lot of [general managers] who would have traded one of those kids just to make themselves look good."

Evans made it his line in the sand. He refused to trade Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller or Franklin Gutierrez in deals that would have landed the needed right-handed hitter. In addition, the Dodgers have been saying suddenly that his hands were tied by the ownership change.

Although McCourt said repeatedly Thursday that he was prevented from being involved in club decisions, industry sources said again that Evans and Daly had made a legitimate offer for outfielder Vladimir Guerrero before he signed with the Angels but that McCourt refused to approve it when Commissioner Bud Selig couldn't assure him that a major investment might not prompt some owners to oppose his purchase.

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