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Who to blame for the Dodgers mess? How about O’Malley and Selig?
Now that he’s been relieved of his day-to-day duties, it’s high time we stop blaming Frank McCourt, and his erstwhile wife, for bringing disgrace to the Dodgers. Sure, they raided the Dodgers’ coffers to uphold a lifestyle that would have put Louis XIV to shame, and saddled the organization with so much debt that last year the team payroll was 12th in the league, below the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. But they were only doing what comes naturally to a feckless, free-spending couple in their circumstances—one that should never have been allowed to buy a major league team in the first place.
If we really want to assign blame, we should place it at the polished wingtips of baseball commissioner Bud Selig and former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley. Both men have been doing their level best to impersonate Claude Raines playing Capt. Renault in Casablanca as of late—“shocked, shocked,” to find out that gambling been’s going on in Bogie’s café. Selig, who yesterday righteously and indignantly seized control of Dodgers management, put aside every bit of acumen he had as a businessman and a baseball executive to approve the McCourt’s ridiculously leveraged purchase of the Dodgers in 2004. This, despite the fact that Frank and Jamie had already tried buying the Angels and Red Sox, and the owners of those teams, after a quick look at their considerable—but by MLB standards, laughable—finances, threw the parking lot mini-mogul and his better half out on their ear.
Last September, Peter O’Malley—son of Walter, who broke Brooklyn’s heart but gave L.A. legends like Koufax, Gibson and Valenzuela and three world championships—scolded the McCourts after another dismal season and tawdry revelations emanating from their divorce proceedings. O’Malley declared that “the current Dodger ownership has lost all credibility throughout the city” and called for new owners, although he for one, wouldn’t be buying. Missing from his speech was any suggestion of a mea culpa. Foiled in his attempt to build a new football stadium next to Dodger Stadium and secure an NFL franchise, and worrying about estate tax implications of keeping the team, O’Malley put his birthright up for sale in early January of 1997. By late March, he still had no takers. It wasn’t until more than a year later that he unloaded the Dodgers on Rupert Murdoch for $311 million, allowing the storied franchise to become a malnourished tentacle of a media conglomerate more concerned with securing an L.A. sports franchise for its cable network than upholding Dodger pride. The McCourts have certainly plunged the Dodgers way deeper into the abyss, but they weren’t the ones who pushed the team in.
Now, if only Los Angeles can somehow entice Angels owner Arte Moreno to unload that Disneyland-adjacent team and buy the Dodgers. Special bond measure, anyone?