published Thursday, April 21st, 2011

MLB takes control of Dodgers

  • photo
    Groundskeepers at Dodger Stadium cover part of the infield several hours before the Los Angeles Dodgers' game against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, in Los Angeles. Major League Baseball is assuming control of the Dodgers, a team increasingly paralyzed by its owners' bitter divorce. Once among baseball's glamour franchises, the Dodgers have been consumed by infighting since Jamie McCourt filed for divorce from her husband, Frank McCourt, after 30 years of marriage in October 2009. (AP Photos/Nick Ut)

By Ronald Blum, The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is taking the extraordinary and historic step of assuming control of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team increasingly paralyzed by its owners’ bitter divorce.

Once among baseball’s glamour franchises, the Dodgers have been consumed by infighting since Jamie McCourt filed for divorce after 30 years of marriage in October 2009, one week after her husband fired her as the team’s chief executive. Frank McCourt accused Jamie of having an affair with her bodyguard-driver and performing poorly at work.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told Frank McCourt he will appoint a trustee to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the club. Frank McCourt, however, has retained Sullivan & Cromwell and was preparing to sue MLB, a baseball executive familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because McCourt had not made any statements.

“I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club,” Selig said Wednesday in a statement.

A person familiar with Selig’s thinking said the commissioner may choose to force a sale. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because Selig’s statement did not mention that.

“This is one of the great franchises. It’s hard to imagine a mess like this ever having happened,” former Commissioner Fay Vincent said. “It’s a very sad situation. I feel very bad for baseball and for Bud.”

Selig said he will appoint his representative within a few days. Former Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals chief executive Stan Kasten is a possible candidate, the person familiar with Selig’s thinking said. Reached by telephone, Kasten declined comment.

McHale is another possibility as is Corey Busch, the baseball team executive said, also on condition of anonymity because Selig didn’t make any announcements. Busch, a former San Francisco Giants executive vice president under Bob Lurie, helped negotiate the McCourts’ acquisition of the Dodgers.

In December, Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon in Los Angeles invalidated a March 2004 postnuptial agreement giving Frank McCourt sole ownership of the team, allowing Jamie to seek one half of the franchise.

Selig’s move came after The Los Angeles Times reported this week that Frank McCourt had arranged a $30 million loan from Fox, the team’s television partner. Selig has not approved a $200 million loan from Fox to the club, which was first proposed by the Dodgers last summer, and the Times said the money was needed to make payroll.

“As the 50 percent owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I welcome and support the commissioner’s actions to provide the necessary transparency, guidance and direction for the franchise and for Dodgers fans everywhere,” Jamie McCourt said in a statement.

Baseball officials could not recall another instance in modern times in which the commissioner’s office seized control of a team from its owner. Before Tom Hicks sold the Rangers last year, Selig appointed MLB executive John McHale Jr. to monitor the Rangers but technically left Hicks in charge of the franchise while McHale worked behind the scenes.

Even when suspending George Steinbrenner from the Yankees in 1990 and forcing Marge Schott to sell her controlling interest in the Cincinnati Reds in 1999, the commissioner’s office allowed the owners to choose their successors as the controlling owner.

The Dodgers have not won the World Series since 1988, the longest barren stretch for the franchise since winning its first title as the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955.

“I commend baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s wrestling control of the Dodgers and bringing integrity back to the game,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said. “It is my hope that the commissioner appoints a representative from the O’Malley family to oversee the team’s business affairs during the investigation — a return of the O’Malley family to the Dodgers would be a home run for fans and the Dodgers.”

Los Angeles was bought by the McCourts from Fox, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., for $430 million in 2004. Payroll dropped in both 2010 and 2011; although at nearly $104 million the Dodgers were 12th in the major leagues on opening day.

“My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt’s ownership,” Selig said. “The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future.”

Selig’s move might be seen by some as a precedent should the New York Mets have additional financial problems. With owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz under pressure from a lawsuit tied to the Bernard Madoff swindle, the Mets borrowed $25 million last year from Major League Baseball. Unlike the McCourts, Wilpon is a longtime friend of Selig.

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