Dodgers owner Frank McCourt gets his picture taken with some Dodgers fans… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Seven years ago, in his first day on the job, Frank McCourt hosted his most important investors for lunch.
They were about two dozen season-ticket holders. They met in the stadium club on a bright January afternoon above an empty field full of promise. McCourt wooed them, wowed them, pushed them to believe in the words behind his funny accent and the ideas inside his bold vision.
Then, by most accounts, he abandoned them.
Nowhere has McCourt's abuse of the Dodgers brand been more evident, or costly, than in his neglect for the group whose loyalty and passion he should have valued most. While much of the recent attention has been placed on the alienated fans who have turned Dodger Stadium into a sea of empty seats, perhaps the most betrayed have been the faithful few who have refused to give their seats up.
When times were good, McCourt gouged the season-ticket holders, astronomically raising the costs for his most loyal and lucrative accounts. Now that times have gone bad, he has simply ignored them.
The final straw for some occurred early Monday, when season-ticket holders awoke to learn that the Dodgers owner had filed for bankruptcy…. then never heard it from the owner himself.
"I caught the story about three minutes after it hit, and followed it all day while wondering whether I would receive an email or some kind of communication from Frank McCourt," said Michael Roth, a Westside lawyer. "I never received anything."
Actually, he did receive something, a Dodgers email urging season-ticket holders to vote for Matt Kemp for the All-Star game, although Roth never read it.
"These days, I delete most email I get from the Dodgers without ever opening it up," he said.
Roth and his wife Sharon were among those in attendance at McCourt's debut lunch. They are a baseball-savvy couple who have had four field-level seats for two decades. On that afternoon they talked to McCourt about the possibility of kosher hot dogs, listened to him explain that he had no control over the Dodgers' failure to acquire Vladimir Guerrero, and generally seemed to like him.
"While I really didn't think he was completely forthcoming on the Guerrero issue, it seemed like he a really nice guy, and it seemed like he really wanted to connect with fans," Roth said.
Roth was right about the first part — even before McCourt was the official owner, he was cutting costs, ordering team officials to renege on a verbal agreement to sign Guerrero, allowing him to slip to the Angels.
But Roth was wrong about the connections part, because, with the exception of the annual holiday card, he has not had any contact with McCourt in the seven years since that debut lunch.
"We've never heard anything from McCourt on the Dodgers, on the bankruptcy, on anything about the divorce," Roth said. "My family still loves going to the games, but not hearing from McCourt underscores the disconnect between the owner and the fans."
The Roths are knowledgeable and loyal Dodgers fans whom I've approached for several years in hopes of gaining insight into their opinion of the Dodgers owner. Yet, citing their love for the team and the Dodgers' family atmosphere in which they've raised two children, they've always politely refused.
On Tuesday, finally, quietly, carefully, perhaps speaking for the silent majority of season-ticket holders, they talked.
"I think new ownership is in the best interest of the team and baseball and city," Michael said. "I wish the matter would resolve quickly. I hope the matter resolves quickly."
Like most loyal season-ticket holders, Roth was not quick to judge McCourt's personal life, preferring to focus on the players and the game. But this winter changed everything.
"The light went on when all the disclosures came out. That was a turning point for us," Roth said. "When we were able to look behind the curtain and see how he was really running the team, that changed everything."
Roth compares the McCourt divorce to the timeworn tale of the two Coney Island kids who each pay a nickel for a 10-cent ice cream cone. One kid spits into the cone so the other kid cannot share it. The other kid then spits into the cone so neither can eat it.
"If the McCourts were able to settle their divorce quietly and amicably, none of this would have happened," he said. "They shined the lights on themselves, they aired all their dirty laundry, it wasn't necessary, it didn't have to happen this way, they brought it on themselves."
Not that McCourt ever tried to explain himself to his most important investors.
"I have not spoken to him since that first day, complete non-communication," Roth said. "We haven't heard from him in a long, long time."
A Dodgers spokesman said Tuesday that, though the team considered sending messages from McCourt, it decided it was more appropriate to let him speak to season-ticket holders through the media.
Like many of the strategies followed by McCourt's legal handlers, it didn't work. When the Dodgers' most connected fans are using the word, "disconnect," you've severed your lifeline.
"We are still season-ticket holders because we love baseball and the kids love the Dodgers," Roth said. "The byproduct is that we're supporting Frank McCourt, but that's not our intent."
Tell me again why this guy is fighting so hard to keep a team he can't afford for fans who want him gone?