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Dodgers' Frank McCourt caused his own problems, senior MLB official says

Executive vice president Rob Manfred says inquiry has been hampered by lack of timely release of financial documents by Dodgers. McCourt again pushes for approval of Fox TV deal for cash infusion.

May 04, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • A Major League Baseball official says Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his management team are the responsible for the team's financial problems.
A Major League Baseball official says Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

In unusually pointed remarks, a senior Major League Baseball official said Wednesday that the Dodgers have not cooperated with baseball's investigation into the team's finances and that team owner Frank McCourt is responsible for his own financial troubles.

Rob Manfred, Commissioner Bud Selig's right-hand man, made his comments after yet another appeal by McCourt — this time through his lawyers — that baseball approve a lucrative television deal he says would allow the Dodgers to meet their obligations.

The Dodgers do not currently have the cash to meet their May 31 payroll, according to two people familiar with the situation. In recent media interviews — and in a lawyer's letter to MLB on Wednesday — McCourt has said that situation would be rectified if Selig would accept a $3-billion agreement the Dodgers negotiated with Fox.

MLB officials have been guarded in their public comments in anticipation of McCourt filing a lawsuit, but Manfred didn't mince words in his response. "Any financial problems faced by the Los Angeles Dodgers are the result of decisions made by Mr. McCourt and his management team over a period of years," MLB's executive vice president said in a statement.

Manfred attended a meeting in Milwaukee on Wednesday with Selig and Tom Schieffer, the trustee whom baseball appointed to oversee the Dodgers. McCourt was not invited. The meeting, intended for Schieffer to review his initial findings with Selig, is expected to resume Thursday.

Selig is expected to meet with McCourt upon the conclusion of baseball's investigation into the Dodgers' finances. McCourt has said he believes Selig has a "predetermined" agenda to force him from ownership and has said he would "protect my rights," remarks that appear to foreshadow a lawsuit.

Manfred's public statement was in part intended as a response to a letter sent earlier Wednesday from Robert Sacks, an attorney representing McCourt, to an attorney representing MLB. Sacks asked for immediate approval of the Fox contract and said Selig's failure to accept the deal has jeopardized the Dodgers' financial health.

"The commissioner's continued delay and his conscious decision to put the Dodgers into a state of distress and make it a matter of public discussion is harming Mr. McCourt and the Dodgers," Sacks wrote, in a letter not publicly released but read to The Times.

McCourt told The Times last week that the Dodgers would "cooperate fully" with Schieffer so that the MLB investigation could be completed in "far under a month." That would allow Selig to approve the Fox deal in time for the Dodgers to meet their payroll obligations. Manfred has said that Selig would not consider the Fox deal until the investigation was complete.

"The pace of the commissioner's investigation has been adversely affected by the Dodgers' failure to produce documents in a timely manner," Manfred said in his statement, "and by the complexity of the financial structures surrounding the club. The commissioner intends to complete the investigation promptly but will not accept less than a thorough investigation."

In a recent interview with The Times, McCourt did not dispute that the Dodgers' parent company is about $500 million in debt. The Dodgers' revenue flows through multiple companies, and Selig specifically mandated an investigation of "the Dodgers and related entities."

The debt service has eaten up the Dodgers' cash, putting McCourt in danger of missing the May 31 payroll without an infusion of money. If McCourt does not meet his payroll obligations, Selig can seize the team — an action McCourt believes the commissioner has effectively taken already, with Schieffer controlling the Dodgers' finances and Selig declining to take action on the Fox deal.

"The press now is discussing the Dodgers' ability to make its payroll at the end of May," Sacks wrote. "There would be no issue whatsoever about that issue — or any other issue involving the Dodgers' financial strength and viability — had the commissioner timely acted on Mr. McCourt's request for approval of the Fox transaction or were he to approve it now."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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