In The Red: L.A. Dodgers Organization A Real Mess
Bankruptcy, chapter ten and chapter eleven.
They all conjure up thoughts of financial disaster for individuals or companies. It’s sort of like having a social disease.
But when the Los Angeles Dodgers declared bankruptcy last Monday, it was more a case of two spiteful, child-like adults picking apart the carcass of a once proud sports franchise that was historically so very important in this nation’s 20th century civil rights movement.
It is also a franchise with a colorful tradition of being the pride of the famous Brooklyn neighborhood known as Flatbush. That tradition went back to 1890 when the team was formed. Then in 1958 the Dodgers moved 3,000 miles west to gain the hearts and minds of the City of Angels as the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But along came Frank McCourt from Massachusetts who bought the Dodgers in 2007. There has been trouble in the Dodgers’ world ever since.
For the last two years, Frank McCourt and his former wife, Jamie, have battled long and hard in divorce court over their shares of the team as Jamie insisted on getting 50 percent of the Dodgers in the divorce settlement. In the end, neither member of this greedy twosome may get much worth fighting over.
Major League Baseball, led by its Commissioner, Bud Selig, is treating Frank McCourt as if he was an enemy to be squashed quickly. Selig has entered the struggle in a Delaware bankruptcy court as he attempts to see to it that Frank McCourt is ousted as owner of the Dodgers and replaced by an owner of Selig’s choosing.
That is how things turned out when the Texas Rangers declared bankruptcy 14 months ago in order to expedite the sale of the club. Selig saw to it that the sale worked out just to his liking with the Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan, and his associates becoming the current Rangers owners.
Frank McCourt, however, declared the Dodgers bankrupt in order to get a loan that Selig had previously refused to approve. McCourt needs money to meet his payroll for the next month. He got permission for some interim financial help last Tuesday from Judge Kevin Gross of the United States Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.
But that did not settle the team’s bankruptcy status or McCourt’s future as club owner. Chances are the team will be restructured and a new owner installed to replace McCourt.
Even though many MLB owners have operated on shaky financial ground during the more than 100 years existence of both the National and American Leagues, only five MLB teams have declared bankruptcy in that time. And three of those teams declared bankruptcy during the last 21 months.
It was not until 1970 that the Seattle Pilots, who played only one season in the American League (1969), became the first MLB team to take the plunge into bankruptcy.
A group led by Bud Selig, a Wisconsin automobile dealer, purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots. They moved the Pilots to Milwaukee and renamed them the Brewers of the AL four years after the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta.
Selig was appointed acting MLB Commissioner in 1992 and was named Commissioner in 1998, the year the Brewers moved over to the NL. They currently lead the NL Central Division.
The next MLB team to go bankrupt was the Baltimore Orioles, who did so in 1993 as the team’s primary owner, Eli Solomon Jacobs, suffered the collapse of his extensive investment empire. He was forced to sell the club, with its brand new ballpark, Camden Yards, to some Baltimore businessmen led by Peter Angelos for about $175 million.
The Chicago Tribune Company, which owned the Chicago Cubs, declared the team bankrupt in October of 2009 in order to better facilitate the sale of the Cubs. In this manner, the new owner may be able to avoid most creditors’ claims against the Cubs.
Then came the bankruptcy of the Texas Rangers in May of 2010. The result was that Commissioner Selig made it possible for Nolan Ryan and his group to achieve ownership of the Rangers, the team that once had a part owner by the name of George W. Bush.
The Dodgers are the most successful of the five MLB teams that have declared bankruptcy. Although the team won only one World Series as the Brooklyn Dodgers (1955), the Los Angeles Dodgers have won five World Series. The last of those victories was in 1988.
Don Mattingly, in his rookie year as a MLB manager, is struggling to keep the Dodgers out of last place in the NL West Division. But at least he has Matt Kemp in center field, a player who might just make a run at the NL Triple Crown. Batting over .330, Kemp led the league in homers with 22 the day the Dodgers declared bankruptcy and had well over 60 RBI.
But off the field, the Dodgers organization is a real mess.
Commissioner Selig claims the McCourts took off with the team’s profits in order to live a high flying life style in Los Angeles. For instance, the McCourts are reported to have purchased half a dozen very expensive homes in the metropolitan Los Angeles area.
Obviously the team is in dire straights financially. The reasons can be settled in court.
However the Dodgers came to this state of affairs, it is clear that fans, who once packed Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, are staying away by the thousands. The Dodgers’ 2011 attendance has fallen 372,083 below last year’s number for the first 43 home games. That is by far the largest decline in attendance in MLB this season and constitutes the MLB leading average loss of 8,653 fans per game.
The Seattle Mariners have a drop off of 225,850 for their first 44 home games this season while the New York Mets are third worst in fan loss with 144,754 fewer than in 2010 for their first 38 home games.
The Dodgers alone accounted for much more than the entire MLB attendance loss so far this year that amounted to 346,223 fewer fans through last Tuesday.
The Dodgers’ drop in attendance is not only because the team is losing. It is due mostly to a serious safety problem at Dodger Stadium.
Parts of the arena and its environs are being taken over by gangs with resulting violence during home games. This includes the horrible assault by two men against a San Francisco Giants fan, Bryan Stow, in the parking lot outside Dodger Stadium on opening day, March 31.
Stow remains hospitalized and in a coma.
Frank McCourt and his people have failed to address this intolerable situation, according to fans who remain far from Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers, who broke the racial barrier in MLB when they brought Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn in 1947, are being ruined by mismanagement and local thugs.
This team that had such great players as Wee Willie Keeler, Zack Wheat, Casey Stengel, Burleigh Grimes, Leo Durocher, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Pee Wee Reese, Pete Reiser, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills and many, many more would be welcomed back home in Brooklyn with open arms any time the Dodgers get fed up with those shenanigans in Chavez Ravine.
Flatbush is really a much more pleasant place.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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