Frank McCourt fired his wife and claimed sole ownership of the club. Court papers indicated that the couple had taken home more than $100 million in personal distributions from the Dodgers — using the team's revenue "as if it was their personal ATM or credit card," financing a lifestyle that included homes in Holmby Hills and Malibu. It was also revealed that the couple had paid a healer to channel positive thoughts toward the team.
As Frank McCourt's personal and financial troubles deepened, the public's attention turned to his front-office and off-field antics. The owner began to upstage his team.
"I think he put Frank McCourt before the Dodgers," said Robert Daly, the former head of Warner Bros., who grew up worshiping the Dodgers in Brooklyn and later served as the team's managing partner, chairman and chief executive.
Since 1988, when the Dodgers and Lakers both brought home championships, the Lakers have won five more NBA championships and are currently in the hunt for a sixth. The Dodgers have won nine playoff games — total.
By now, the Dodgers' fervent fan base has begun to drift away. Season-ticket sales have fallen by more than a third since 2007. The Dodgers still sold 3.6 million tickets last season, ranked third in baseball. But they are ranked sixth in attendance so far this season, and the Angels are expected to outdraw the Dodgers for the first time in the 51 years they have shared Southern California's baseball market.
Then, at the Dodgers' home opener in March, Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten in the parking lot, leaving him with a fractured skull.
Another low point — the final straw, perhaps — came when The Times revealed April 16 that McCourt needed a $30-million loan from Fox to meet the team's first payroll this season. It was the second time in a year that Fox had given money to McCourt to cover expenses, and this time the money went straight to McCourt personally, not to the Dodgers, according to people briefed on the deal.
Selig announced his decision four days later.
Hope and sorrow
Baseball's announcement has had the unusual distinction of being greeted, simultaneously, as a sign of great hope and sorrow.
Daly saw it as the nadir of a long slide.
"The franchise is in bad shape. It's sort of an embarrassment," he said. "It's not over till it's over, as Yogi Berra said. But I cannot say that I am not rooting for a change in ownership."
But Lasorda said he was stunned.
"I never dreamed of anything like it," said Lasorda, whose voicemail on his cellphone warns friends that they might not get into heaven if they fail to pull for the Dodgers. "They have to win back the fans. You can get them back, believe me. All you have to do is make them happy."
Ownership issues are just one piece of what the Dodgers face in repairing their relationship with Los Angeles.
It starts, Lasorda said, with a winning team — and with players who are home-grown through the Dodgers' farm system, not imported at a high cost because of what they did for another club last year.
Others say the Dodgers must become more accessible and more responsive to their fans. Cey, for instance, said that in his day, team executives frequently sprinkled players around the stadium to sign autographs — a simple gesture that went a long way.
Others suggested that the team find a way to make an immediate peace offering to the city, something that would be perceived as substantive, such as a reduction in parking prices, without further eroding the team's finances. Baseball is a business, Yaroslavsky said, but "an American institution" as well — and the team "has a responsibility to the community."
Yaroslavsky said that when he was a member of the Los Angeles City Council in the 1970s, he asked Walter O'Malley the secret of the Dodgers' success. O'Malley replied that he cared less about ticket prices than other clubs because he knew that if he could get someone in the door, he could create a fan for life — and would make money in the long run.
"Their world isn't just a world of people who can afford box seats. It's also a world of 10-year-olds who will one day hope to afford box seats," Yaroslavsky said. "You want to hook 'em early.… Obviously, the Dodgers organization is in a world of hurt right now. But all of us hope that they can pull out of this for the good of the city."
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.