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Baseball weighs options as McCourts' spectacle plays out

With the prospects of a protracted legal battle, Selig is said to be concerned about the potential for lasting damage to the Dodgers and league. But his hands may be tied for varied reasons.

September 14, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

The inability of Frank and Jamie McCourt to settle their divorce case and the prospect of several more years of litigation has prompted Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to consider intervening on behalf of the Dodgers.

Selig has remained virtually silent on the issue since the McCourts filed for divorce 11 months ago, saying only that the legal proceedings needed to play out.

However, according to four people who have spoken with him, Selig is dismayed at the public spectacle surrounding the divorce and concerned about the potential for lasting damage to the league and its flagship West Coast franchise. He has told those people he wants the Dodgers' ownership situation resolved long before his scheduled retirement in 2012.

The trial to determine who owns the Dodgers is set to resume Monday and end by Sept. 30, after which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon has 90 days to rule.

Yet, with both sides openly discussing possible appeals and additional legal maneuvers, a final decision on whether Frank McCourt is the sole owner of the team or Jamie McCourt is a co-owner could be two to three years away, according to attorneys involved in the case.

It is uncertain what options Selig might consider. Selig declined to comment after last week's "Stand Up to Cancer" telecast, during which he was honored for MLB's $30-million donation to the anti-cancer initiative.

Steve Susman, the attorney for Frank McCourt, said Tuesday that MLB has not leaned on his client to settle or sell. Selig, regarded as a consensus builder who works best behind the scenes, could ask McCourt to settle, sell, or broaden team ownership beyond his family.

"I think it's very unlikely any commissioner in any sport would get too much involved in a mess like that," said Fay Vincent, whom Selig succeeded as commissioner in 1992.

Vincent noted that Selig encouraged Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott to sell in 1999, after she had been suspended twice. Vincent prefaced his comments on the Dodgers by saying he is not certain how his powers might have differed from the ones Selig now has.

"Whatever his authority, there are economic risks in trying to intervene," Vincent said. "I think it would be very difficult to try to take the franchise away or order it to be sold."

No owner has been forced to sell his team since 1912, according to Hall of Fame research, when the Philadelphia Phillies' Horace Fogel was banished for repeatedly impugning the integrity of umpires and opponents.

Vincent suggested the forced sale of one franchise might lower the value of others.

"Nobody will want to buy into baseball if the commissioner can get upset and move to take away" a franchise, Vincent said.

In addition, he said, a forced sale could result in lowball offers.

"You'll undercut the investment," Vincent said. "McCourt would be in a position to sue."

Sal Galatioto, whose New York investment firm advises buyers and sellers of sports franchises, said McCourt would not need to entertain lowball offers if he were to sell the Dodgers.

"There would be plenty of buyers," Galatioto said. "The team is profitable. It's Los Angeles."

The list of potential buyers is headed by Southern California residents, including Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, former player agent Dennis Gilbert, Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner, former commissioner Peter Ueberroth and real estate developer Alan Casden.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and software mogul Larry Ellison also have been mentioned as potential buyers, and one baseball source said Asian investors might explore a bid as well.

The interest was not nearly so widespread in 2004, when Fox sold the team to McCourt and helped finance the purchase.

According to court documents, the Dodgers lost $177 million in the final four years under Fox management, including $55 million in 2003.

In the last four years, all under McCourt management, the Dodgers turned a profit of $111 million, including $38 million last year.

"The Dodgers would not sell at a distressed price," Galatioto said. "There would be very strong bids if the team goes on the market.

"It's a tribute to the McCourts and the job they have done with the team."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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