Lawyers are an amazing bunch. Divorce attorneys, and now bankruptcy lawyers in Los Angeles, are taking their best shot at ruining the Los Angeles Dodgers. Antitrust lawyers in Minnesota are taking one more shot at submarining the 2011 NFL season, and still more barristers are on track to threaten the next NBA season, too.
First, let’s talk about the Dodgers. In October of 2009, owners Frank and Jamie McCourt announced that they were separating and getting a divorce after almost 30 years of marriage. The split has been acrimonious, and many details of the McCourt’s private lives were revealed during the proceedings.
For instance, two McCourt sons are employed by the team for a combined $600,000. However, one son attends Stanford, and the other is an investment banker. They don’t have to do anything serious for their money. In another deal, the McCourts bought two houses next door to each other with Dodger money next to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion, and at a cost of more than $70 million. Frank made $5 million a year as his salary from the club. Jamie, until he fired her, made $2 million as its CEO. The couple borrowed more than $100 million against the club.
Now, one of baseball’s storied franchises has filed for bankruptcy. Frank McCourt wanted to accept a $3 billion TV contract from FOX, and part of the advance money would go to settle his divorce. But MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who must approve all TV contracts, rejected this one. He didn’t want FOX having such a large stake in the Dodgers. More important, he didn’t want McCourt’s ownership of the team to be completely reliant upon a TV deal with FOX. And most important, Selig doesn’t want McCourt living an outrageously abundant life only because he owned a Major League Baseball team.
So McCourt sent his attorneys to bankruptcy court on Monday morning, and had them file for Chapter 11. That means that Manny Ramirez will have to wait for his $20,992,086, Andruw Jones for his $11,075,000 and Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Furcal, Ted Lilly and Juan Uribe for their millions. Even Vin Scully is owed $152,000.
For now, this one is in the hands of — you guessed it — the lawyers. McCourt’s people are going to try to prop him up, and to get baseball’s “best interests of the game” powers that the commissioner has ruled illegal. MLB will countersue, and almost assuredly try to take legal control of the Dodgers. For the time being, this one is out of McCourt’s and Selig’s hands, and in the hands of the attorneys.
Football is a little more unsettling. It drives me crazy to hear that negotiations took on a positive tone when meetings without lawyers were held. Apparently Jeffrey Kessler, a hired gun for the NFLPA, wants to go scorched earth during this lockout. On at least one occasion, PA executive director DeMaurice Smith has had to tell him to “stand down” when Kessler was getting particularly boorish during negotiations.
As momentum grows and we near the possibility of a season, who has to step in to spoil the party? Kessler, of course. He reportedly talked with some players on Monday and tried to persuade them to “not roll over.” Here are the players, on the brink of getting a deal that would net them 48 percent of a potential $18 billion in five years, and the lawyers are apparently saying “don’t roll over.” Hopefully, the players will see those attorneys for what they are: greedy, conniving, controlling, alienating dividers, and side with the people that run their union. The lawyers aren’t doing them any good at this stage. They’ve made their point, and now it’s time to get to free agency and football.
The NBA could see its season blown up by lawyers. The guys who run the union aren’t thrilled that owners don’t have a solid revenue sharing plan in place. The owners asked to ban guaranteed contracts, or at the very least limit new player deals to three or four years. Before they can do anything, owners have to have their attorneys draw up a plan and present it to the players.
This one will wind up in the hands of the lawyers, too. As Rammer likes to quote from “North Dallas 40,” “Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game.” The games right now, or the businesses right now, are in the hands of the lawyers. And until they conclude their business, we won’t see our games.