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Torre aside, McCourts' credibility an issue

November 06, 2007|Bill Shaikin | ON BASEBALL

Maybe you can buy credibility. As the Dodgers welcomed Joe Torre to town Monday, the video board hovering above left field displayed his Hall of Fame resume.

Jamie McCourt all but skipped across the outfield, her enthusiasm genuine, her smile broad. Torre managed the New York Yankees to 12 consecutive postseason appearances, six trips to the World Series, four championships.

"All those times in the World Series?" she said. "I'd put my money on the guy -- and I did, by the way."

She delivered those last few words with a playful poke to my arm, the message unspoken but perfectly clear: Torre is the highest-paid manager in baseball, and we're the ones paying him. How's that for commitment to winning?

It is just shy of four years since she and her husband, Frank, bought the Dodgers. The skepticism has yet to abate.

No one can question the McCourts' passion for Los Angeles, for the Dodgers, for victory. But they're still learning on the job, on their own, preferring to run the organization themselves than entrust it to an experienced sports executive.

So, on what should have been a glorious day for the Dodgers, too many questions revolved around credibility. The Dodgers employed one manager, Grady Little, while they searched for another: What did Torre know, and when did he know it? What about Ned Colletti, the general manager? What about the McCourts?

This is not the first time credibility issues have overshadowed personnel decisions. The McCourts inherited Dan Evans as general manager and said they would consider retaining him, followed minutes later by Jamie McCourt telling the Daily News, "When we get a GM . . . "

The Dodgers hired Paul DePodesta. He lasted two seasons as general manager, then found out from a reporter that the Dodgers would fire him the next day. They did, three weeks into an off-season in which Frank McCourt publicly backed DePodesta in dumping Jim Tracy, then the manager.

This time, the Dodgers said nothing, for several weeks. Two years after soliciting the services of a public relations firm with the motto, "If you don't tell your story, someone else will tell it for you," the Dodgers let Torre's people -- and Joe Girardi's people -- tell their story for them.

The McCourts don't need these headaches, these constant reminders about what comedian Stephen Colbert calls "truthiness." Yet, their spirit has not waned. They are proud of running the Dodgers as a family business, and they have no desire to let someone else run it for them.

"I think it's really important that we have showed this is a family endeavor, this is a family organization and we have family values," Jamie McCourt said. "To really show that commitment, you have to be a part of it."

The commissioner's office is watching the Dodgers' situation closely, concerned about the McCourts' scorecard -- four seasons, three managers, two general managers, one playoff victory -- and the recurrent dysfunction that appears to surround personnel decisions.

The McCourts repeatedly proclaim their commitment to winning. Torre can help translate that commitment into reality, and so could a seasoned sports executive. If the McCourts wished to hire a chief executive, a survey of baseball officials and Southland sports leaders turned up several intriguing options.

Brian Burke, the Ducks' general manager, would be a perfect fit. The Stanley Cup says proven winner, and the Harvard Law graduate has worked as a league executive, team president and agent. He invited Colletti on a Ducks trip this winter and certainly could work with him.

Ron Shapiro, the father of Cleveland Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro, represented such stars as Cal Ripken Jr. and Kirby Puckett with unquestioned integrity and commands enormous respect in baseball.

Jimmie Lee Solomon, an executive vice president under Commissioner Bud Selig and another Harvard Law grad, has experience at every level of baseball, handling operations from the major leagues to the Arizona Fall League.

Gillian Zucker, president of California Speedway, has revitalized that facility with boundless energy, a rising star among NASCAR executives. She got her start in baseball and has a solid working relationship with Jamie McCourt.

On many scores, the McCourts have done a terrific job in Los Angeles. They have remodeled Dodger Stadium rather than abandoning it, embraced Dodger tradition and engaged the team with the community. They root for their team, from the front row, with welcome passion.

They could sit in the front row, enjoy all the privileges of ownership, make the major decisions, and leave the daily hassles to someone else.

No way, says Frank McCourt.

"I'm committed to winning. I take it very seriously," he said. "There are three goals to our stewardship, and the No. 1 goal is to win. We are going to win. That's my pledge to the fans.

"I'll stay very involved to make sure that happens."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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