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August 29, 2011
Chavez Ravine, and its shining stadium on the hill, have always presented one of the most pristine images in baseball. Then the McCourts came along and turned the franchise into a national punch line. On Opening Day 2011, it became something much worse: a crime scene
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August 29, 2011

The Day That Damned The Dodgers

Chavez Ravine, and its shining stadium on the hill, have always presented one of the most pristine images in baseball. Then the McCourts came along and turned the franchise into a national punch line. On Opening Day 2011, it became something much worse: a crime scene

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Dodger officials dispute Antonovich's account, claiming they were waiting for instructions from the police, who sometimes worry that rewards encourage perpetrators to skip town. The LAPD was just beginning to identify suspects, and the Dodgers were already on trial. Larry Baer, the Giants' president, tried to contact his equivalent with the Dodgers, but because of heavy turnover in the L.A. front office he did not know whom to call. He wound up face-to-face with McCourt at Dodger Stadium the day after the opener, and told him that he did not feel comfortable encouraging Giants fans to wear their colors to games in L.A. McCourt told Baer everything was fine. "That was unnerving," Baer says.

Stow was in a coma. Half his skull had been removed to allow his brain to swell. He required seven forms of medication to limit his seizures. "He came as close to not making it as you can come," says Dr. Gabriel Zada, Stow's neurosurgeon at USC. His parents, Dave and Ann, and his sisters, Bonnie and Erin, spent seven hours a day at the hospital. At night they retreated to the downtown Marriott and toasted "the Great Hodge," a nickname Stow gave himself as a boy. On April 6, a candlelight vigil was held outside the hospital. Hundreds attended, including Dodgers officials and a local talk-show host on KFI 640 AM named Bill Carroll. Ann invited Carroll to Stow's room. Standing next to the bed, where Stow was covered in tubes and bandages, Carroll decided to make this story his own. He led his show with it most afternoons. He had Zada on as a regular guest. He sometimes took calls for three hours about the case, and when he went off the air, phone lines were still jammed. Everyone seemed to have survived a traumatic ordeal at Dodger Stadium, and they knew just who was responsible. "It was a convergence of two stories," Carroll says. "People said, 'I knew this would happen because McCourt let the team go downhill and security do the same.'"

Even after the Dodgers announced, on April 4, a $25,000 reward for information on Stow's attackers, talk-radio host Tom Leykis pledged $50,000 of his own money in an attempt to embarrass McCourt. Leykis was also harassed at Dodger Stadium, by two fans during a game in 2009, and has not been back since. "I grew up in New York so I'm used to going to Yankee Stadium and seeing drunken louts threaten each other," Leykis says. "Then I moved to L.A., and it was much different. Dodger Stadium was more like Disneyland. You have fun and feel safe and drift off into this dreamlike world. But now we've got this carpetbagger from Boston who never took the time to understand the deep connection of Dodger Stadium to Southern California. I'm not a dramatic person, but it hurts my heart. It kills me."

Dodgers fans were not the only ones desperate to rid themselves of the carpetbagger. Commissioner Bud Selig told confidants that the Stow beating was "the final straw" for McCourt. By the time the Dodgers returned home from their first road trip, on April 14, Selig had dispatched a six-man task force to Los Angeles, led by MLB executive vice president John McHale Jr., to evaluate stadium security. McCourt's hold on the franchise he had diminished was slipping.

Piles of anecdotal evidence stacked up against McCourt, ostensibly revealing an epidemic of violence at Dodger Stadium—but the stories did not match the hard data. According to LAPD records, three violent crimes were committed at the ballpark last season and four in 2009. McCourt was the first Dodgers owner to hire uniformed LAPD officers for games. In 2008 he hired Maytorena, who had spent 24 years with the Secret Service, as vice president for security. Maytorena wanted to cut back on the LAPD presence and build a private force, and the Dodgers spent an extra $500,000 on security starting in '08, according to Jackson. Private security guards don't project the same authority as police officers, but they are preferred by many crowd-control experts. "Police presence won't do it," says John Cheffers, a former Boston University education professor who studied fan violence and consulted with numerous teams. "That heightens tension. We found that if you have cops with guns, fans will bring guns too."

In many respects McCourt will go down among the worst owners baseball has ever seen. His commitment to security, however, is not necessarily one of them. "It wasn't one of those places where we thought we had to put more cops," says LAPD commander Andrew Smith. "What happened to Bryan Stow was terribly tragic and upsetting. But it was an isolated incident. The problem was with perception." Los Angeles is sensitive to perception, and for good reason. Last year, there were 297 homicides in the city, the fewest since 1966. Yet movies and television shows, mostly filmed in L.A., still portray the city as the urban war zone it was in 1992, when there were 1,092 homicides. "We've worked too hard to get to this point," says City Council member Ed Reyes, whose district includes Dodger Stadium. "If you remember the environment and the stereotypes cultivated when the Raiders were here, we could not allow that to happen with the Dodgers. It's like violating our Camelot. We couldn't let that stain occur."

Selig's task force found Chavez Ravine transformed into a police state. For their second home stand the Dodgers had approximately 50% more uniformed police officers on hand. They hired the Kroll security consulting firm, chaired by former LAPD chief William Bratton. They brought in behavior detection officers trained to seek out belligerent fans, added improved lighting in the parking lots and announced plans to implement computer mapping and crime-tracking technology commonly used in gang-infested neighborhoods. "You're going to see a sea of blue," LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced on April 7. "And it's not going to be Dodger blue. It's going to be LAPD blue... . We will not suffer this as a city again."

The Dodgers' reaction to the beating, while not as swift as many would have liked, turned out to be forceful. They paid for all the security enhancements. They raised $61,000 for the Stow family, which did not include McCourt's undisclosed contribution, and continued soliciting donations throughout their second home stand. Selig, however, was not impressed; rather, he was alarmed when McCourt required a $30 million loan from Fox just to make payroll in April. By the end of the month, Major League Baseball had seized control of the Dodgers.

It has been a strange, sad summer in Los Angeles. The Lakers were swept out of the playoffs, and head coach Phil Jackson retired. USC prepared for another football season on probation. There are no plans for an NFL team to move to the city, but two developers competed for the right to build a stadium, with the city council finally approving the framework for a $1.5 billion football palace downtown. Longtime Boston crime boss James (Whitey) Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica thanks in part to tips the FBI solicited from local beauty salons, where his girlfriend reportedly spent a great deal of time; parallels to the Dodgers' owner and his well-coiffed ex-wife were irresistible. McCourt and Selig sparred like no other owner and commissioner in recent memory, with McCourt insisting Selig had no right to take over the team, Selig rejecting a proposed $3 billion local broadcasting contract with Fox, and the two sides battling in bankruptcy court—McCourt filed for Chapter 11 in June—over how the team will climb out of its debt hole.

Blaming McCourt for the beating in the parking lot proved much simpler than finding the actual culprits. There was no video or DNA evidence, and descriptions of the suspects were vague: Latino males, in their late 20s to early 30s, possibly with tattoos on their neck. In the police report a witness said one of the assailants placed his hand on the hood of a car, but no fingerprints could be lifted. The LAPD assigned 20 Northeast Division detectives to the case. Citizens pitched in as well. After one of Ray Baker's employees declined an invitation to a company party at Dodger Stadium because his wife didn't feel comfortable there, the advertising executive donated 300 billboards for wanted signs in the city that included pencil sketches of the assailants, numbers for tip lines and the promise of a reward.

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