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T.J. SIMERS

Yes, it can get worse for Dodgers, even after McCourt

Take it from Steve Soboroff, a good guy who did a bad thing when he signed on with Frank McCourt last year: If McCourt keeps the stadium parking lots when he sells team, 'It can be 50 times worse.'

February 25, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, left, with then-team vice chairman Steve Soboroff last April, should sell the parking lots along with the team, Soboroff says.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, left, with then-team vice chairman Steve… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)

I don't like the Dodgers' new owner, and we don't even know who it is yet.

How can we trust the judgment of anyone wanting a fresh start while willing to include Frank McCourt as a business partner?

I already know what such bravado and naivete can do to someone who thinks they can rise above the disaster that is McCourt and still make a difference.

You remember Steve Soboroff, a success in Los Angeles in so many ways before choosing to commit professional suicide and sign on with McCourt as Dodgers vice chairman.

He has some more advice for McCourt: Sell the parking lots, fearing now that if McCourt does not, a new owner will make the same mistake Soboroff did in believing he can overcome it.

"People think it's just going to be better around here because Frank is gone, but it can be 50 times worse," Soboroff says. "The fan experience at Dodger Stadium can be better, but you know what, it can be worse too."

A sign reading "Frank McCourt Parking Lots" is probably not the first thing most people will want to see under new Dodgers ownership.

Soboroff understands; if only he hadn't been so clueless while throwing away his reputation to become McCourt's great defender.

"Some people aren't calling me now," admits Soboroff, who lasted two months on the job. "Those who do commend me for taking on such a challenge. But when they hang up, I'm sure they're saying, 'I'll never hire that guy, that's for sure.'"

Soboroff pitched himself to the team, hoping to use the Dodgers platform to effect change in the environment, schools, parks and areas of philanthropy. McCourt, meanwhile, was using him as yet another image maker.

"A lot of people were mad at me for trying to keep him here," Soboroff says. "But financially Frank was going to be OK because of the Fox TV deal. I thought, my God, this guy is still going to own the Dodgers so at least let me in there to fix this. I thought the Dodgers could be a community leader."

But McCourt was too far gone, Soboroff apparently the last to know. Major League Baseball seized control of the team the day after Soboroff arrived.

"I quit because Frank didn't have control of the team, and I couldn't do what I wanted," says Soboroff, whose contract was never approved by MLB. "I could see litigation coming, and the only lawyers I want to see are on 'Perry Mason.'"

It's one thing to go to work for McCourt, quite another to become his most passionate supporter. Eight months later, Soboroff offers no apologies.

I've always liked Soboroff. Not everyone does, or he would have finished better than third in the race to be mayor of Los Angeles years ago.

He gives away millions to people in need as chairman of the board of the Weingart Foundation, and has recently volunteered to oversee the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour to stand permanently at the California Science Center.

He was also L.A. Live before someone dreamed up the name, the driving force to get Staples Center built downtown, and later the bully to finally finish off Playa Vista.

Now he's just the knucklehead who said, "We need more people like Frank McCourt," which is a pretty good legacy killer in this city.

He was convinced McCourt was a changed man, and yet Soboroff goes on to say McCourt once asked him, "Why, why"' were people so down on him?

"Arte [Moreno] comes to town and lowers the price of beer by 50 cents; you buy a $50-million home," Soboroff says in explaining what he told McCourt. "Who are people going to relate to? That was six houses ago, a long way to go to get people back. But I heard him say he was sorry; I believed him."

McCourt was a sorry owner, all right, and Soboroff was a lot quicker to forget than most. He admits McCourt was paying him well and allowing Soboroff, the do-gooder, to work on behalf of the city. So he had his reasons to be more supportive.

"I felt because it was sports and the attention it gets, I could get 20 times the work done for L.A. while working with the Dodgers than I could being mayor," he says.

He says McCourt was open to his advice. So what would he tell him now?

"I'd tell him to sell the parking lots to the new owner," Soboroff says. "What's the best-case scenario under the lease agreement for the parking lots? No problems. The worst case is horrendous. You have a landlord-tenant relationship; you have a rental relationship; developmental relationship.

"I'd say, 'Frank, you're going to have a lot of money, this is a down real estate market and you can do a lot better in a place where you will be welcomed.'

"I'm not saying he has to leave the country; he can move four blocks. He can still do a tax exchange to benefit him. And with what's happened in the redevelopment agencies lately, a guy with $300 million that wants to participate is going to get the red carpet rolled out."

As for Soboroff, he has only a one-fifth interest now in the season tickets that he used to own, and before using them he wants to see what the new owner will do for L.A.

As a word of caution, he says, the folks in L.A. will probably want someone bleeding blue to own the team. But he says this is now "a media deal and baseball is the tag along."

If that sounds something like Fox — and haven't we already been down this bumpy road? — consider a partnership among a TV company, whoever buys the team and McCourt still owning the parking lots.

Could anything be 50 times worse than what we just experienced? We might find out.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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