- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Lakers fans sitting courtside might be able to relate, but not Dodgers fans populating the upper deck. "Jack Nicholson isn't here," says 32-year-old Steven Sotelo of East L.A., who has a Dodgers logo tattooed on his right forearm and was seated high above first base on Sept. 1. "The O'Malleys felt like one of us, like our family. These people don't feel like family at all." The McCourts are an emblem of their era, eager to spend, slow to pay. According to court documents and statements by Frank's lawyers, he did not put down any of his own money to buy the Dodgers and watched his checking account dip as low as $167,000 last year. According to court filings by Jamie, he has legally circumvented all state and federal income taxes since 2004. "His livelihood is doing projects on borrowed money," says Frank's attorney Steve Susman, the assault weapon himself. The Los Angeles Times, in concert with an accounting firm, reported last week that Frank is $433 million in debt and has been turned down three times in the last year for additional financing to run the Dodgers. Major League Baseball, which approved McCourt's ownership bid with some of his parking lots as collateral, declined to comment on the case.
The McCourts are starring in a quintessentially L.A. story, but the city is the victim this time. As Frank stammered through a cross-examination on Sept. 1 by David Boies—Gore's guy during the recount—the Dodgers mustered just three hits in a loss to the Phillies two miles away to remain nine games out of first place. Callers to the postgame show debated the cost of the suits Frank wears in court, and in the Phillies' clubhouse, first base coach and former Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes shook his head. "What's happening now is not what I grew up with," Lopes says. "If there was ever a story about the O'Malleys in the newspaper, it was always positive." Back then family ownership meant a Christmas party every March at spring training, with Santa Claus handing out gifts to the players' children; ice-cream socials for the staff every day the Dodgers were in first place; a week in Hawaii for employees and their spouses to celebrate the team's 25th year in L.A. and another week in Rome to celebrate the 1988 title.
When problems arose, longtime general manager Fred Claire made sure the O'Malleys were insulated from them because he believed owners should remain the ultimate ambassadors. "It's embarrassing to see everything exposed," says Charlie Blaney, a former Dodgers farm director and the current president of the Class A California League. "Every family has disagreements, but you do it in the privacy of the family."
The current owners' public sparring is not the only thing that sets them apart from what once was the Dodger Way. O'Malley worked 12 hours a day at Dodger Stadium; the McCourts work at separate offices in Beverly Hills. O'Malley went more than a decade without raising ticket prices; the McCourts revealed a plan—never executed—to nearly double ticket prices during their ownership. O'Malley employed two general managers and two managers in 28 years as president; the McCourts have had two G.M.'s and three managers and have plowed through no fewer than seven public-relations gurus alone, one of whom plotted a course for Jamie to become president of the U.S. "They have complete turnover all the time," says a former executive. "It never stops."
If owners are judged solely on wins and losses, the McCourts have been a success. The Dodgers reached the NLCS in each of the past two seasons, despite spending the least of any major league team on the draft and international signings. The McCourts could get away with it because they inherited so many promising young players—outfielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, first baseman James Loney, starter Chad Billingsley and closer Jonathan Broxton—who were making near the major league minimum. General manager Ned Colletti cleverly traded for Ramirez and Casey Blake in 2008, but only after persuading their former teams to pay most of their salaries.
This year, though, karma caught up to the McCourts. Young players stalled, in particular Kemp (whose sinking production and shoddy defense led Colletti to question his effort earlier this season) and Broxton (who was stripped of the closer's job last month). Ramirez was injured and indifferent before the Dodgers waived him last month, and adequate replacements were never in place. Torre has worked under caricature owners before—George Steinbrenner, most notably—but he is 70 now and talks longingly of attending his daughter's high school softball games.
The pennant race will bypass Los Angeles, but there is more at stake in the McCourts' divorce trial. If Frank wins, he retains ownership of the Dodgers, and his lawyer says he will keep them. If Jamie wins, she and Frank will share ownership, and her lawyer says they will have no choice but to sell. Dodgers supporters are rooting for Jamie as if she were the second coming of Kirk Gibson, but lawyers expect the losing side to mount an appeal, so fans turn their hopes to Judge Scott Gordon, an L.A. native and former Santa Monica beat cop, to invalidate the postnuptial agreement and order a sale.
The last time the Dodgers were on the market, a bid was submitted by Eli Broad, a billionaire philanthropist with a passion for preserving L.A. institutions. Broad planned to bring in O'Malley as chairman, and even though he lost out to the McCourts, he'd be among the favorites to succeed them. O'Malley would not comment on such speculation, but he is reminded of it every day over his latte.
He is needed in 2011.
Now on SI.com