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T.J. SIMERS

Alliance between Fox and Frank McCourt spells trouble for Dodgers

The TV network and the club's owner are linked to the sinking of the once-proud franchise, and they could be connected for years to come.

January 15, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, right, greets former owner Peter O'Malley at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena before the unveiling of a plaque honoring Walter O'Malley, the former owner who moved the team from Brooklyn to L.A.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, right, greets former owner Peter O'Malley… (Jon SooHoo / Los Angeles…)

We begin with a quiz.

When Dodgers history is reviewed years from now, who will deserve the most blame for the franchise's demise?

1. Peter O'Malley. His team failed to win a playoff game his last nine years on the job, and then he sold the Dodgers to Fox.

2. Fox. The company traded Mike Piazza and the Dodgers never played a postseason game during six years of ownership, winning 90 games only once.

3. Frank & Jamie McCourt. Their divorce revealed a reign of frivolous personal spending, front-office firings and financial deceit.

The answer is obvious. It started with Fox, continued with Fox and here we go again.

The Times reported Saturday morning Fox has advanced McCourt money, which suggests he doesn't have much.

In court documents, McCourt has said he wants to start a regional TV network. If it happens, it would be an easy fix for his financial woes.

But he lacks the start-up funds. To get those, he would probably have to give Fox a considerable ownership interest in the new network in exchange for a $400-million loan.

Such a deal would work in Fox's favor, keeping the Dodgers from taking their business elsewhere and giving them the potential of network ownership should McCourt default on the loan.

The McCourts would not have been able to buy the Dodgers in 2004 had it not been for Fox. Fox took a parking lot against a $200-million loan, and after the McCourts defaulted on the loan, Fox took ownership of the parking lot and later sold it.

McCourt obviously believes a regional TV network can save him as owner of the team. In court papers he said such a network might double to triple what the team presently gets from TV. Such club-owned networks have been very profitable in New York and Boston.

I sought a comment from Frank McCourt at the Century Plaza on Saturday night.

"Why don't you and me sit down and chat?" I said to McCourt.

McCourt's reply: "In your dreams," the expletive deleted from his response.

McCourt, who began his first day on the job as Dodgers owner promising transparency, continues to decline to comment on any subject.

Fox did not respond to a request for comment.

McCourt's recent trip to New York to gather support from Major League Baseball has all the appearance of a desperate man. Divorce court papers revealed he was more than $400 million in debt, more than $600 million considering long-term liabilities and now he's paying his wife to stay away.

He had to borrow money from his brother and friends to make good on payments to Jamie.

Throw in an estimated $400 million that could be borrowed from Fox to start a regional sports network, and McCourt would be near $1 billion in debt.

The interest on such debt would be astronomical, with the payment eating seriously into any cash flow. It would undermine the team's ability to improve the team in the future.

Dodgers fans -- yeah, you people -- saved McCourt previously. McCourt borrowed money based on future ticket sales. But that option apparently is no longer viable.

McCourt signed several players to contracts calling for deferred payments, but the banks have now restricted the amount of money deferred.

He had hoped to save himself by doing business with the NFL on a new stadium. But NFL owners don't like talking to people who have to borrow to get their money.

He hired folks to develop Chavez Ravine, but like Dodgers fans, the economy turned against him.

When he fired Jamie's chauffeur, the game was really over -- unless Fox can save him.

McCourt and Fox would need the approval of Commissioner Bud Selig. In other words, Selig would have to look Los Angeles in the eye and say, "Frank McCourt is the right man to lead your Dodgers."

He did so once before in allowing McCourt to buy the team. Would he repeat such a colossal mistake?

McCourt recently sought Selig's support for his financial plans to stay afloat, but did not get it. He would need such support to get further consideration from banks.

McCourt was known in Boston for filing lawsuits as often as Matt Kemp strikes out. Everything said these days between McCourt and Selig might very well be said again from the witness stand.

As financially leveraged as McCourt seems to be, MLB might one day have to take over the Dodgers as it did the Texas Rangers. The Rangers filed for bankruptcy.

But then, as Selig knows so well, the McCourts were financially leveraged from the day they bought the team.

McCourt's flacks like to point to the team's success during Frank's time on the job. But years from now, when Dodgers history is reviewed, all the credit for that should go to Manny Ramirez.

McCourt went through Jim Tracy and Grady Little before hiring Joe Torre. The Dodgers were nothing special under Torre until McCourt got Ramirez for free during the middle of Torre's first year.

Ramirez changed the clubhouse, the atmosphere in the stadium and twice nudged the Dodgers within striking distance of the World Series. The Dodgers were nothing special before Ramirez arrived and the same when it became understood he would not be back.

They begin the 2011 season with that same look.

Worse, the Dodgers move forward with an owner who has proven in court papers and testimony he cannot be trusted.

And Dodgers fans owe this all to Fox.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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