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BILL DWYRE

Frank McCourt isn't off the roster yet

The Dodgers dangle as Joe Torre and Rick Caruso say they're pulling out of bidding. At issue: Frank McCourt's hold on the parking lots.

February 24, 2012|Bill Dwyre
  • Dodger owner Frank McCourt arrives for the dedication of the Dodger Dreamfield at Mona Park in Compton on November 14, 2011.
Dodger owner Frank McCourt arrives for the dedication of the Dodger Dreamfield… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Each of us, like it or not, finds his own calling in life. Frank McCourt has found his. He parks cars.

We all stretch for bigger things. It is human nature. Draftsmen see themselves designing skyscrapers. Five-foot-eight high school basketball players see themselves in the NBA.

McCourt saw himself as the owner of the Dodgers. After a while, we saw otherwise. We aren't sure exactly when the Peter Principle set in with McCourt, but the day he got on the plane in Boston and headed west is as good a guess as any.

In the sports vernacular of the day, we thought we had put him behind us. He had walked down a dusty street at high noon, and Bud Selig drew first. He got himself into the gunfight with the commissioner by making the fatal rich-guy mistake: You can schmooze the bankers and employees and customers with spin and subterfuge and all the lawyers money can buy. But you can't schmooze an angry ex-wife.

Divorce brings anger and heartbreak. The McCourts' brought us revelation. It showed that there is a finite number of houses and swimming pools and hairdressers and nut-case psychics that will destroy a baseball team and a storied tradition.

Now we have a new wrinkle. Frank may not be going away.

He has until April 30 to sell the Dodgers. A big divorce settlement payment comes due then. We heard that April 30 date and the mandate to sell, and that's all we heard. Relief was a gusher.

Sure, those paying really close attention knew it could still get complicated. It always does with Frank McCourt. At last count, there were 14,576 citizens of the United States that he had yet to sue, but he is expected to eventually get to all of them.

We had heard the word "sell" and waved our goodbyes.

Then came the letter to Major League Baseball from one of the main bidding groups, saying it was pulling out because McCourt was demanding to keep the parking lots around Dodger Stadium, which, unlike the team, are not in bankruptcy and were split off into a separate corporation by McCourt in 2005. MLB let him buy this team in the first place and then let him split off the parking lots. That's two strikes, Bud.

Remember that McCourt was able to buy the Dodgers in the first place from News Corp. with some pocket change, a couple of loans and the look of wealth provided by the parking lot he owned near Boston's Logan Airport.

He came to town, T.J. Simers aptly named him the Parking Lot Attendant, and the rest is history.

The bidders backing out Thursday were, in the judgment of most, main players. They were the group headed by businessman Rick Caruso and baseball legend Joe Torre. Caruso had the expertise for finance and Torre for baseball. Caruso developed the Grove shopping mall, and Torre developed the Yankees.

It seemed like a good team, although there were others, including separate groups with Magic Johnson, Peter O'Malley and Dennis Gilbert, to name just a few. O'Malley's and Gilbert's groups have already left the bidding and the Caruso-Torre departure made it at least three now gone.

The very existence of the letter in public probably violates some element of the nondisclosure agreement that all bidders had to sign at the start of this process. Apparently, all is not fair in love and war and bidding on the Dodgers. If it is a bluff, made public in the hope that McCourt will back off under the pressure of bidders and an increased price for the whole package, then McCourt answered, maybe bluffing himself, by saying that he has at least one bidder willing to make the deal without the parking lots.

There are at least two elements of angst in this for Dodgers fans.

One is that McCourt could still be around, still have a stake in the action. Many Dodgers fans have said that unless he is totally gone, they will be too. Some have even said that if he keeps the parking lots they will park elsewhere. The feeling runs that deep. But it doesn't matter if they park in his lots or not. Right now, if a group buys the Dodgers without also buying the lots, McCourt gets from it a $14-million annual lease payment, even if not one car ever rests on his asphalt.

Also worth angst is that Dodgers parking lots, tough to get into and out of with decent crowds, could become a nightmare if portions are broken off for development. The number of available spaces might stay the same, but they might be found in parking structures.

And you thought the exits were jammed now.

Any McCourt development projects in his parking lots would be difficult, at best, because they would need the nod of city fathers, who need the nod of city voters, many of whom have long ago shaken their heads on anything to do with McCourt. Still, the thought of McCourt ending up with a piece of the Dodgers action, even though it is just a parking lot, is frightening.

There are about two months to go in this circus. McCourt gets to pick the group he wants to sell to. Major League Baseball gets to approve or disapprove of that pick.

Yogi Berra was right. It's not over till it's over. McCourt's chutzpah is amazing. Unless he is bluffing, he wants to park cars in the one spot in the entire world where he is least wanted.

To get back to where they were, the Dodgers need to rebuild.

From the asphalt on up. Literally.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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