Who Will Pull Dodgers Out of the Doldrums?

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to take the Los Angeles Dodgers away from Frank McCourt because of his financial dealings, one of the most storied franchises in sports will probably be available to a rich Californian for pennies on the dollar.

McCourt tried to finance the club’s debts with a new deal he had negotiated with Fox, but commissioner Bud Selig turned that idea down, wanting more solvency. McCourt turned to Fox again, this time asking for a $30 million loan to cover team payroll. He did that behind Selig’s back, and once the commissioner found out about that, he took action.

I have some thoughts on this maneuver, not the least of which is incredulousness that a franchise which featured Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax, Steve Garvey and Mike Piazza could be in such trouble.

The Dodgers were the first team to draw over three million fans, and they usually draw more than three million. Last year, they were in the top four in attendance, even though the turmoil surrounding the team was known throughout baseball.

The NHL had trouble with the Blues in the early ’80s, when Ralston-Purina left the franchise to the league to take care of. Eventually, the NHL sold the team to Harry Ornest at a bargain price, and he made a handsome profit when he left town. The NHL has had other similar situations, like when Kings owner Bruce McNall was sent to jail and the team had to find a new owner in L.A. The league has run the Phoenix Coyotes for the last year and a half, and it’s had multiple problems with the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders.

Last year, MLB took over the Rangers in between the Tom Hicks and Nolan Ryan ownerships. When the franchise entered bankruptcy, Selig had no choice but to take over. Ryan and Chuck Greenberg wrested control of the team, and led the team to a storybook World Series appearance.

So, there is precedent for a league to run a franchise. But not to come in and stage a hostile takeover. McCourt thinks he’s still solvent, and wants to continue running the franchise. Baseball sees a $430 million debt. It sees that the club didn’t have a security director – and hadn’t for six years – when a Giants fan was attacked to within inches of his life in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after this year’s opener. And it sees the IRS closing in on McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie.

McCourt reportedly is preparing to fight the takeover in court, but eventually he’s going to run out of money. There are plenty of rich people in Southern California able to buy the franchise, and if McCourt files suit, those with an interest will have plenty of time to prepare an offer. Someone is going to get a heck of a deal.

Selig wants to make sure the club is run reasonably well right now, and wants to make sure it’s a viable commodity for the next owner. He can be trusted based on the Rangers’ experience. The Dodgers are part of the fabric of L.A., and baseball needs to maintain their integrity after the franchise’s guts have been torn out. The shell is fine; it looks like a team that is close to competing, but the Dodgers can’t get the players they need to compete at the highest level.

The Los Angeles market is interesting. For the most part, if you aren’t winning, you aren’t drawing. Unless you’re the Dodgers. They’re the only team with a long history at one stadium there. The Lakers’ move to the Staples Center turned their franchise into a more corporate entity. The Clippers and Kings are peripheral. The Ducks and Angels are in Anaheim. The one team that three generations of Los Angelinos can go see is the Dodgers. For almost 50 years, Dodger Stadium has been a destination. In the last year, they’ve lost 10,000 season-ticket holders, and that trend needs to turn around.

While there’s certainly reason to have concern about the short-term future of the franchise, there’s a lot to look forward to. There’s great tradition, there’s a great fan base, and the team should be a great value.

We wondered in “The Fast Lane” what the better team to own would be, the Dodgers or a new NFL franchise in L.A. Rammer chose the glistening new stadium of the football team, and D’Marco chose the NFL club because Will Smith (the actor, not the defensive end) would be in the stands.

I look at what that team means to Los Angeles, and I have to go with the Dodgers. It’s the only franchise in that town with a fan base that will show up all the time, even though the fan base is usually late. Perhaps it won’t be as lucrative as an NFL team, but people love it. And all the new owner has to do is be average, and he’ll be thought of as a savior in town. It’s sad what has happened to a proud franchise, but brighter days lay ahead, and whoever buys it next is going to be buying a gold mine.