One afternoon, Frank is the keynote speaker at a luncheon for area grammar school children being honored for their artwork and essays. Frank warns the children about the dangers of obesity and smoking and tells them about the need to eat properly, get their rest and compete in sports, which he says will lead to higher grades. He is not a gifted speaker, offering choppy phrases rather than fluid sentences. After his address, Frank and Eric Gagne, the team's star relief pitcher, pass out awards to the children, a bouillabaisse of Angelenos: Anglos, Asians, Hispanics and African Americans wearing their best dresses and creased pants. Their parents and teachers are beaming from the audience or taking photographs close to the stage. One very tall girl bounds onstage and, with the smile of the innocent, wraps her arms around Gagne and hugs him. Her mother snaps her picture. The girl steps off the stage, still smiling, but crying, too. She hugs her mother, who also has tears in her eyes.
A few minutes later, walking outside the building, I ask Frank if Rupert Murdoch's Fox Group, the previous Dodger owner that bought the franchise from longtime owner Peter O'Malley in 1998, had ever hosted such events. He turns, furious, and snaps, "Are you [expletive] serious?" When he calms down, he says his plan for the Dodgers is not only to win games, draw fans and make money, but to make the Dodgers a dominant force in the life of the L.A. community.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 20, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
The McCourts: In West magazine's July 23 article on Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, the quotes from Bill Chadwick, former president of the Coliseum Commission, and Bernard Parks Jr., chief of staff for City Councilman Bernard Parks, were from a December 2005 story by the Boston Herald.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 03, 2006 Home Edition West Magazine Part I Page 5 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
In the article on Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt (July 23), the quotes from Bill Chadwick, former president of the Coliseum Commission, and Bernard Parks Jr., chief of staff for City Councilman Bernard Parks, were from a December 2005 story by the Boston Herald.
Later that afternoon, Frank is sitting in the topmost seat in Dodger Stadium. He looks out over the Dodgers' 300 acres, at the big "Think Blue" Dodger sign on a hill, and then glances down at all the seats below. He begins a runaway-train of a monologue about the $40 million he spent to renovate the stadium, replace the seats and repair the chipped concrete, and how, despite Angelenos' worst fears that he was underfinanced, he has now invested more of his own cash--$250 million (most from the recent sale of Boston land)--than any other baseball owner, ever.
"I'm gonna turn this franchise around," he says, referring to the Dodgers' dismal recent history. He plans to build up the Dodgers' farm system and stock the team with young talent alongside seasoned veterans.
"This franchise deserves to be great again," he says. "There's no asset more beloved by the community than the Dodgers. They want the Dodgers to stand for what they once did, and they were frustrated when we took over because they didn't know what to expect from strangers. It was the fear of the unknown." Frank nods and keeps going. "Some of their criticism was justified. I didn't communicate with the media. I was new to baseball. I made mistakes. I made a decision, right or wrong, not to bring in my own people right away but to work with the existing people and give them a chance to come along with us."
When they didn't go along with Frank's vision, he began the series of firings that brought the wrath of Dodger fans. "It was like I lanced a boil and all this poison came out," he says. What confused Frank was that it is the nature of baseball owners to fire general managers and managers and unproductive players. When George Steinbrenner axes executives or makes trades, he's called a shrewd baseball owner, but when Frank McCourt does the same thing, he is derided as someone who's tossing darts blindly.
Prodded to elaborate on those early decisions, Frank says: "Everyone was protecting their own job, their own turf. When they confronted a problem, they didn't want to solve it, they just wanted to position themselves so they wouldn't get blamed. Listen, [prior to my ownership], the franchise hadn't won a postseason game in 16 years, the team was losing $60 million a year, the brand was eroding and everyone's pissed at me [for making changes]! People were entrenched in jobs that paid $500,000 a year and they weren't trying to win, to make money, to do their [expletive] job. . . . I said, 'Let me get this right. The team's losing money, hasn't won, the brand's eroding and you're [expletive] complaining because I'm making changes?'
"So I brought in my own people. If we succeed, what's that got to say about the people who had a chance to make this franchise succeed before us? They're bitter because we embarrassed them. So they sabotaged us [in the press]."
The portrayal of the McCourts as carpetbaggers hurt most, Frank claims, because he has always seen his ownership of the Dodgers as a public stewardship. He didn't buy the team to strip it of land and make money, as Angelenos feared, though he does admit to "dreams" for the Dodgers' land. "Look around," he says. "There are 300 acres here. Great things can be built here. Why not? L.A. is all about the future."