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A Victory Lap for McCourt in Boston

June 12, 2004|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — On day three of the Frank McCourt homecoming tour, there were a few minutes to kill. The interview at the radio station was done and the one at the television station was an hour away, and McCourt was hungry for breakfast.

So, just before 9 on Friday morning, the new owner of the Dodgers walked into an International House of Pancakes. The irony -- the man who bought a major league team largely on loans eating at the home of the Rooty, Tooty, Fresh and Fruity special -- was not lost on McCourt.

"T.J. will have a field day with this," McCourt said, chuckling. "We'll see if they have a Boston Parking Lot Attendant Special."

Friday could have been a day for vindication, a day of pointed barbs for Times columnist T.J. Simers and other critics on both coasts who wondered whether the Boston developer could close a deal to buy the Dodgers and persuade major league officials he could afford to run them.

But McCourt preferred to consider Friday a day of celebration, the day the kid who grew up rooting for the Red Sox came home with a team to call his own.

The Dodgers last played the Red Sox in Boston 88 years ago, as the Brooklyn Robins, in a World Series at Braves Field. Here they were again, this time at venerable Fenway Park, under the new ownership of a man whose grandfather once owned part of the Boston Braves. The Red Sox welcomed McCourt home by inviting him to catch the ceremonial first pitch, thrown by the Dodgers' Hall of Fame broadcaster, Vin Scully.

"It's so romantic," said McCourt's wife, Jamie, the Dodgers' vice chair.

"It is about as good as it gets," McCourt said. "It's an incredible and unique thing, the fact that we could buy the Dodgers and barely 100 days into our first season, we're back at Fenway for the first time ever in the history of the Los Angeles franchise.

"It's very, very serendipitous. That's the best word I can think of. It's an amazing thing."

From his 25th-floor downtown office, McCourt points out the ongoing demolition of an elevated freeway that blocked the waterfront view for the previous generation of Bostonians and the underground roadway that restored the view for the current generation. The family construction company, in business since 1893, helped build the elevated freeway and, decades later, the underground roadway that replaced it.

Public works, however, did not persuade his fellow Bostonians that he would be a successful major league owner. As negotiations to buy the Dodgers dragged on for months, locals painted McCourt as a man whose dreams exceeded his abilities.

He couldn't get a deal done to sell 24 prime acres on the waterfront, currently used as parking lots. He couldn't get a deal done to buy the Red Sox, or the Angels.

Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey lampooned him by starting "The McCourt Appeal, designed to help our parking lot attendant realize his dream of owning a major league team."

But McCourt got the Dodger deal done, for $430 million, and his hometown embraced him this week, with enough media interviews to do a politician proud. On Thursday, he rang the opening bell at the Boston Stock Exchange, then joined a host of dignitaries -- including the governor and mayor -- at the grand opening of Boston's new convention center. He spoke at a luncheon Wednesday and a dinner Thursday.

He joined Tom Lasorda at a youth clinic Wednesday, then dropped by the Little League where he used to coach his kids' teams, where the game stopped so Lasorda could conduct an impromptu clinic.

He got about 150 tickets for friends and family for each of the three games of the series. With an afternoon game today, he's throwing a dinner party for 250 tonight, with Scully as master of ceremonies and Robert "Arliss" Wuhl among several entertainers expected to attend.

On the morning show at WEEI on Friday, co-hosts Gerry Callahan and John Dennis called the Dodgers "a pretty good consolation prize" after McCourt failed in his bid to buy his hometown Red Sox.

"I'm maybe the luckiest guy in the world," said McCourt, who wore Dodger blue Friday -- a navy blue blazer over a dress shirt with blue and white stripes.

"What I can't emphasize to you guys enough is how thrilling it is to own the Dodgers. This is not a consolation prize. This is one of the greatest franchises in all of sports."

He laughed at but skirted talk about the possibility of pending free agent Nomar Garciaparra's following him from Boston to Los Angeles, mindful of baseball's tampering rules. McCourt spoke jokingly on that subject earlier in the week, earning him a warning call from Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.

The hosts also teased McCourt about an item in Friday's Wall Street Journal, which noted McCourt had listed his Boston home for sale at $22 million, what would be a record price for the region.

But the local kid has gone Hollywood. He owns a sports team, so he's a celebrity now. McCourt's new home is in Holmby Hills, and Callahan asked the question foremost on his mind:

"Do you really have a view of the Playboy Mansion?"

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