Tuesday, April 26, 2011

McCourt on Way Out! How Does Selig Remain Unscathed?

      By Ross Newhan

      All signs point to Frank McCourt being removed as owner of the Dodgers.

      It is what I wrote must happen in my last blog, and now, with Major League Baseball's appointment of the respected Tom Schieffer as "monitor," a gentle way of saying he will serve as club president, supervising all aspects of the club's operation as he attempts to save this flagship franchise from total humiliation under the divorcing McCourts, Frank will pay a costly and embarrasing price for his extravagant lifestyle and highly leveraged business approach.

    McCourt will meet with major league executives in New York on Wednesday in an attemt to convince them that he has a television deal in place with Fox that will relieve his financial problems and that his new vice president, Steve Soboroff, is ready with a program that will re-engage the Dodgers with the community.

    Otherwise, McCourt is expected to mount a legal challenge, although he is already $430 million in debt according to court documents filed in his divorce case, needed a $30 million loan from Fox to meet the first payroll of the new season and is already paying lawyers handling his divorce and a suit against his former Boston law firm.

    Meanwhile, Commissioner Bud Selig continues to emerge comparatively unscathed for his questionable role in this embarrassing chapter.

   Only Jason Reid in the Washington Post and this writer, in recent blogs and a column I recently wrote for ESPN/Los Angeles, have attempted to cover the history, pointing out that Selig's approval of the McCourts' purchase of the Dodgers was completed despite widespread concerns and questions related to McCourt's finances.

   Reid and I, both then with the L.A. Times, wrote about it frequently before the purchase was approved, but none of our former colleagues have chosen to reprise the history. Selig has been treated as a hero by many of those former colleagues for now stepping into the situation with the appointment of Schieffer, but none of this might have happened if Selig had resisted the arm twisting by Rupert Murdoch at the helm of Fox, which was providing a large chunk of baseball's overall revenue and willing to underwrite a large percentage of the McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers, being that anxious to dump an ownership tenure as tumultuous as the McCourts' would become.

   "It was a total surprise," a former Dodger executive said by phone Tuesday, referring to the McCourts' purchase. "I had many CFOs in baseball tell me it wasn't going to happen."

   Murdoch was willing to loan McCourt $145 million to help make it happen, and also got him to accept a TV contract that several sources told me was highly undervalued.

   Selig found it impossible to say no given Fox's vast tentacles into baseball and now must be considered an accomplice in what has followed.

   At least he has appointed a widely admired "monitor" to sort out the mess.

   Schieffer, a lawyer, is a former Congressman, displomat, ambassador and team president. He has said he will stay with the Dodgers until the job is finished, meaning until a new owner is in place. He has similar credentials to those of George Mitchell, the former Senator and diplomat whose negotiating skills contributed to peace in Ireland, and who was appointed by Selig (tardily, critics might say) to conduct a full scale investigation into baseball's steroid era. Untimately, the Mitchell Report produced a few new names and some comparatively new information related to which players were involved in providing a conduit to the acquisition of steroids and HGH.

   Unfortunately, that era still continues to stain baseball.

   With Schieffer in control of the Dodgers, the stain of the McCourt ownership seens on the verge of being rubbed out.  


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Selig Must Remove McCourt

     By Ross Newhan

     Having established its regional networks and so anxious to unload its tumultuous ownership of the Dodgers, Fox virtually underwrote Frank McCourt's purchase of the team in 2004.

     Skeptical and factual reports of McCourts lack of financial resources were produced repeatedly by this reporter, then the national baseball columnist at the L.A. Times, and Jason Reid, who was then covering the Dodgers for The Times.

     It was shocking that Commissioner Bud Selig allowed McCourt and wife Jamie, with limited resources of their own, to take debt-ridden ownership of the Dodgers. 

    The situation has only become worse, and it is disgraceful--and illlustrative of the media giant's overall hold on baseball--that again only Fox stands between one of Selig's flagship franchises and total financial chaos, if the Dodgers aren't already at that point. 

    As my former colleague, Bill Shaikin, reported in The Times Sunday, McCourt took a $30 milllion loan from Fox to meet the club's payroll obligations last week. the second time since the end of last season that Fox has provided money so that McCourt can meet his financial obligations.

    Those oblgiations reportedly total more than $400 million.

   Not even the proposed $300 million TV deal with Fox, which Selig has not approved and may not approve, will totally bail him out.

    Meanwhile, he and Jamie have yet to reach a divorce settlement, their legal bills continue to mount, a team that desperately needs a left fielder and greater overall depth shows no indication that it is capable of long-term success, attendance falls to embarrassing lows and the City of Angels threatens to become just that--a city more interested in the team in Orange County.

    Fans are disgusted by the security issues, the divorce details underscoring the McCourts' extravagant lifestyle and the state of the organization. As one story after another details the depths of ownership's financial problems, the hold that Fox maintains, and what has been an ongoing turnover in front office personnel under the McCourts, fans can only hope that Selig will risk a McCourt law suit and appoint a custodial owner under either Mark Attansio, Dennis Gilbert or an unidentified person or group with enough recources to operate competently on their own to repair the sorry mess that currently exists. 

    Enough of the Fox tentacles. Enough of the McCourts. 

   There has been so much chaos since the sale to Fox in 1998 that it is difficult to even remember the stability of the O'Malley ownership. 

   Peter O'Malley's tenure wasn't always successful, but it was never the embarrassment that engulfs the team and its owners now.                           



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

With Apologies to Branch Rickey

      By Ross Newhan

      The late Al Campanis, the longtime scouting director and general manager of the Dodgers, liked to espouse a theory he learned from the legendary Branch Rickey in Brooklyn.

      Rickey would tell him that you can't really gauge your own club at the start of a season until it has played every other club in the league.

     Of course, in Rickey's time, there were only eight teams in each league and the Dodgers, for instance, might have completed a league cycle by the end of May. Now there are 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American, and a team might not have played every other team until the end of June.

     The Angels, for instance, will have played 14 games before they even encounter a team from their own division, on April 18.

     Getting a gauge on them to this point might conflict with Rickey's theory, but the temptation to do so is too strong as they prepare to leave Anaheim Thursday for a series with the Chicago White Sox.

     In short, they have not looked like a $140 million team, although Dan Haren turned two runs into a one hit, complete game shutout that snapped the Cleveland Indians' eight game win streak Tuesday night after the Angels learned that their division rival and American League champion Texas Rangers had lost league MVP Josh Hamilton for possibly two months with a broken right arm suffered as he slid home head first, his arms extended, in an afternoon game with the Detroit Tigers.

    Obviously frustrated, Hamilton said the decision by third base coach Dave Anderson to send him home was stupid and overly aggressive, a sentiment that Hamilton should have kept to himself or expressed internally and not to the media. Manager Ron Washington defended Anderson, saying the Rangers are not "wimps" and will not play like wimps.

    Asked about the loss of Hamilton before Tuesday night's game at Anaheim Stadium, Angel manager Mike Scioscia said he was unaware of it.

    "My thoughts are on Kendrys Morales," he said, referring to the first baseman who continues to recover from the broken leg of last May.

    Morales is getting closer to returning to the middle of the Angel lineup, and it can't be too soon.

    The Angels were averaging only 3.7 runs per game through their first 11, a problem that should correct itself when Morales returns and Vernon Wells finds his timing (he opened the season 4 for 44 with two runs batted in). The Angels need that middle of the order potency if catcher Jeff Mathis is going to hit below the Mendoza Line in the No. 8 hole in the lineup and the No. 9 hitter, center fielder Peter Bourjos, remains an offensive uncertainty. The fleet Bourjos has made his mark on defense and isn't going anywhere. Mathis has only to look over his shoulder to see the promising rookie, Hank Conger. waiting on the bench.

   The larger issue may be the pitching.

   The rotation, after the Big Three of Jered Weaver, Haren and Ervin Santana, is a huge question mark. Joel Pineiro can't seem to retain his physical stability, Scott Kazmir can't regain the winning form of Tampa Bay and there is no certainty that promising rookie Tyler Chatwood, a 4-0 loser to Cleveland in his major league debut Monday night, is ready.

   The bullpen is also a quandry. Fernando Rodney has already lost his closer role and two pitchers expected to fit in the middle or set up roles, Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn, have already been sent to the minors. Fortunately for the Angels, Jordan Walden has made six scoreless relief appearances and appears to have adapted to Rodney's closer role despite his comparative inexperience.

   I still think the West is a two team race between the Angels and Rangers. I have refused to jump on the Oakland bandwagon despite the formidable pitching that has prompted many others to make the jump.

  It is barely mid-April and Branch Rickey would be sneering at an analysis this early. Rickey may have been the Mahatma but he knew nothing of the internet and the liberty of a blog.  


Friday, April 8, 2011

Covering Bases


     By Ross Newhan

    It should be common knowledge, by now, that the Angels—by any location name-- will be celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. They will actually mark the 50th anniversary of their first game on Monday, the 50th anniversary of a young reporter beginning his first season on a major beat.

   I need no remarks about time flying. The memory of their debut as part of baseball’s first expansion and my debut is still fresh.

   Even from here I can still see home runs by Bob Cerv and Ted Kluszewski providing Eli Grba with an early lead, and the Angels ultimately wrapping up a 7-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Memorial Stadium, an improbable event that Gene Autry would always call the highlight of his 36 years as the club owner and an event that the late Irv Kaze, the club publicist then, would toast that night with a champagne party in his hotel suite.

    Who could have predicted in those vintage hours that Autry would never taste the sweet champagne of an  American League title and a trip to the World Series? The Angels’ attempt to get the Cowboy to the one rodeo he missed led to many mistakes in continuity—from the front office to the field. A lot of it now, given the World Series title of 2002 under the Walt Disney banner and the consistent success and stability under Arte Moreno, has become a faded memory, the highlights diluted by so many frustrations.

    For the late owner, however, he would always have Day One, and the once young reporter who looks back now through a pair of much stronger lenses, finds it difficult to believe he would still be writing about baseball 50 years after his debut coincided with that of the team he was assigned to cover.


   We have heard much about the changed and charged atmosphere at Dodger Stadium since the parking lot attack on a fan wearing Giants paraphernalia by two unidentified thugs.

   Has the atmosphere changed? What are my thoughts, friends ask, and then tend to tell me that it has, that they have experienced it first hand.

  Attempting to simplify a complicated subject, I believe stability breeds civility, and there has been an absence of stability since Peter O’Malley sold the Dodgers. The turnover in management and players under the ownerships of Rupert Murdoch and Frank McCourt has been ongoing, breeding cynical and argumentative reporting and a cynical and argumentative atmosphere in a once charmed ballpark that now draws a different element of fans---in the upper decks and outfield corners particularly.

  There are other factors involved, including the absence of security being a priority under McCourt—or should it be the McCourts? In recent months the position of security chief was basically one of several assignments falling to the director of stadium operations.

   It took the parking lot attack to get McCourt’s attention. Bringing in former Los Angeles police chief William J. Bratton as a security advisor was a smart decision, as was the decision by current chief Charlie Beck to appreciably increase the police presence in and out of the ballpark when the Dodgers are at home.

  Perhaps, it would have come to this under O’Malley as well. After all, the atmosphere in Washington and the entire country has come to lack a certain civility. In a ballpark, however, you should be able to cheer for either team without worrying about ending up in a hospital, but at Dodger Stadium that was no longer the case—a product of the changing environment. Maybe, with the besieged owner finally thinking and calling on blue, a once familiar and popular atmosphere willl be restored..


   So another potential Hall of Fame career has gone up in flames with the announcement by Major League Baseball that Manny Ramirez has retired rather than continue treatment under the sport’s drug program for a second time. Ramirez reportedly tested positive for a performance enhancing during spring training. Just Manny being Manny one last time.