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Dodgers need big reality check

November 27, 2008|BILL PLASCHKE
  • Frank and Jamie McCourt, photographed at Dodger Stadium in July 2006,  announced Tuesday that the club's charitable foundation will help build 42 youth fields around Southern California. Jamie McCourt said Wednesday, "Building a team and helping the city is not an either-or thing. We want to do both.??
Frank and Jamie McCourt, photographed at Dodger Stadium in July 2006, announced… (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles…)

So it wasn't exactly a free turkey.

To enjoy it, you had to buy a newspaper or own a computer.

But as Thanksgiving gifts go, this season the Dodgers owners were downright philanthropic.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jamie McCourt gave every fan something so awkward and ill-conceived, it bobbed its head and gobbled.

The turkey was dressed in quote marks and stuffed with outrageousness. While Dodgers fans will certainly have fun chewing on it, they will never, ever swallow.

In speaking to The Times' Dylan Hernandez at a news conference to announce the Dodgers' charitable building of youth fields, McCourt wondered if fans would rather see their money used for these projects than for free agents.

"If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you?" she said. "That's what we're trying to figure out. We're really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We're really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?"

Then, later in the conversation, she acted as if the Dodgers couldn't afford to pay the big free-agent contracts that are always guaranteed.

"I think, oddly enough, if things weren't guaranteed, then maybe we could pay for it," she said.

Finally, she finished her Leno-worthy monologue by implying that high salaries were bad for the neighborhood.

"Whatever money they are guaranteed could be money that we could otherwise have given to the community," she said.

Reaction? Where do I start?

No, No, No, No.

No, $30 million is not weird, it's the price of competitive baseball.

No, fans should never be forced to choose between a charity and a championship, that's absurd, is this a baseball team or a telethon? The fans want their money to go to one field only, the one occupied by the Dodgers, anything else is unethical and even immoral.

No, guaranteed contracts are not the deal of the devil, they are common baseball business.

No, fans should not have to worry that signing CC Sabathia means some poor child doesn't eat that night, that's beyond belief. Who runs this team, Charles Dickens?

(Should a columnist in a town that has had major league baseball for more than 50 years even have to write those last four paragraphs?)

There is only one affirmative in this mess.

Yes, these quotes now place the Dodgers in an even more impossibly hotter and tighter spot this winter.

If they spend the right money and make the smart moves, fine, everyone will forget about these Horn O'Ugly quotes.

If they don't, fans will remember nothing else.

"We already own all the pressure," Jamie McCourt said Wednesday. "Nobody can put any more pressure on us than we already have."

When I called the Dodgers' president for an explanation, she brightly responded with, "Happy Thanksgiving!"

I told her if she really believed her quotes, Dodgers fans wouldn't be having one.

She laughed.

"I always forget how a nice conversation can be so misconstrued," she said.

OK, so clarify.

Do you really expect Dodgers fans to accept a lesser team for the greater community good?

"Of course not," she said. "Building a team and helping the city is not an either-or thing. We want to do both."

Then why did you say it?

"It was a philosophical discussion, not a literal decision-making process," she said.

So, philosophically, you think it's wiser to invest in charity than championships? If you really believe this, should you even be owning a baseball team?

"What? We love owning the Dodgers more than ever, that has nothing to do with it," she said. "I was just talking about how buying players for high salaries seems insensitive when you contrast it with buying these dream fields. The difference is so stark, so vivid."

Dodgers fans can understand the contrast. What they will not understand is if the Dodgers use that contrast as an excuse to not spend the money needed for this team to improve.

"We would never do that, that's just silly," McCourt said. "We are going to do whatever it takes to win, that's our No. 1 mission, whatever it takes to get a world championship."

Then why did you even imply otherwise?

"In these tough times, with so many people losing their jobs, isn't it fair, philosophically, to at least ask about the dollars?" she said.

Oh. There it is. That's the reason for the quotes. That's the thinking behind the nonsense.

In all her statements Tuesday, Jamie McCourt was dropping a line, testing the waters, fishing.

She wanted to see if fans would view the Dodgers off-season dilemma -- many holes, much money to fill them -- through the prism of this country's tough economic situation.

She wanted to see if fans, understanding their own obscenely tough times, would forgive the Dodgers for not emptying their wallets for players asking for obscenely large money.

She used charity as her bait, but her desired catch was something much bigger.

She wanted to know, will Dodgers fans judge their off-season performance by connecting the real world to the baseball world?

The answer is, again, no, no, no, no.

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