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Bud Selig says league is 'moving as fast as we can' on Dodgers inquiry

Baseball commissioner says he is not stalling waiting for Frank McCourt to run out of money. McCourt presses urgency of timing on Fox TV deal, but may face another hurdle involving ex-wife.

May 12, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig gave no timetable Thursday as to when baseball will make a decision on a proposed television deal between the Dodgers and Fox.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig gave no timetable Thursday… (Bebeto Matthews / Associated…)

Reporting from New York — On the day after Dodgers owner Frank McCourt made his long-awaited personal pitch to Bud Selig, baseball's commissioner said he has not stalled his investigation into the Dodgers' finances so McCourt would run out of money first.

"We're moving as fast as we can," Selig said Thursday, before evoking a favorite college basketball metaphor. "Nobody is using the Dean Smith four-corner offense."

McCourt said he had impressed upon Selig the urgency in approving the Dodgers' proposed long-term television contract with Fox, which would provide McCourt with the funding he now lacks to meet the team's May 31 payroll.

"I just emphasized the importance of timing," McCourt said as he arrived for the final day of a quarterly meeting of Major League Baseball owners.

Selig has said he would neither accept nor reject the Fox contract until after the investigation is complete. Even if Selig were to approve the deal by the end of the month, McCourt might have to overcome another significant hurdle.

Fox does not plan to move forward with the contract until the company can be assured Jamie McCourt — Frank McCourt's ex-wife — would not challenge the deal, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

Frank McCourt has said the contract is "completely negotiated, ready to be signed and ready to be closed." He also has said Jamie McCourt has not contested his right to operate the Dodgers on a day-to-day basis.

However, Jamie McCourt owns half the team — at least until Frank McCourt could prove otherwise in court — and she could object to any deal she believes would minimize the value of a marital asset.

In correspondence with the commissioner's office, Jamie McCourt has asserted her right to a say in the Dodgers' television deals, according to a person familiar with the communication. It is unclear whether her claim would prevail in court over Frank McCourt's right to manage the asset, family law experts say.

Fox is willing to sign the contract even though the McCourts have not settled their divorce, but the company is not willing to sign without her assent for fear the contract could be contested in court, said the people, who spoke after the owners had left.

Frank McCourt was not available Thursday night to comment on the Fox issue, said his spokesman, Steve Sugerman.

Before business began Thursday, McCourt would not say whether his meeting with Selig had changed his position that the outcome of baseball's investigation was "predetermined" so as to steer the Dodgers toward new ownership.

Selig declined to discuss his meeting with McCourt or to say whether there was a chance he would eventually approve the Fox contract and McCourt would remain as the Dodgers' owner.

But he denied the inquiry was for show, citing the involvement of trustee Tom Schieffer in overseeing the Dodgers' day-to-day operations — "I talk to Tom Schieffer about four times a day," Selig said — and the retention of an outside law firm to lead the financial probe. "We wouldn't have to go through all this if it was predetermined," Selig said.

If McCourt does not meet his payroll, Selig could pay the bills for him, seize the team from him and put the team up for sale.

Officials in the commissioner's office expect McCourt to file suit against Selig at that point — if not before — but the commissioner said he does not fret over McCourt's objections to Schieffer's appointment.

"I'm not in the least concerned," Selig said. "We're doing this very thoughtfully, very sensitively, with a lot of planning. I'm very comfortable with where we are. I gave up worrying about owners complaining about 18 years ago."

In his most pointed comments about the Dodgers' finances, Selig did not mention McCourt by name, or even the name of his team.

McCourt has said Selig is treating him differently than the owners of the New York Mets at a time both teams need cash, but Selig has been angered that McCourt has refused to sell any share of the Dodgers.

"The Mets are doing what, when you have a problem, you have to do," Selig said.

"They're selling part of their team and putting equity into the team."

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