Thursday, November 3, 2011

O'Malley's Decision to Bid for the Dodgers a Welcome Step


     By Ross Newhan

     Ever since he and his sister, Terry Seidler, sold the Dodgers in 1998, Peter O'Malley has insisted he did not wish to return to baseball in an ownership role.

     However, watching the family jewel decay, first under Rupert Murdoch's ownership, and than at an accelerated pace under Frank and Jamie McCourt, O'Malley has changed his mind, as he revealed in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

    On the phone to this writer Thursday morning, O'Malley confirmed that he will put an investment group together and believes no one is better equipped to restore the stability of the franchise and the trust of the community.

     "I will nitpick with what was written only to the extent of clarifying that I will be responsible for the success or failure of the team. I will not be an advisor, I will be the chief executive."

    Asked about the estimated auction cost of $1 billion, which is more than three times what he and Seidler recieved when they sold the Dodgers, O'Malley said in our phone conversation,"no one knows what the cost will be but the numbers have to work. No one should overpay and be forced into another distress sale in five or six years."

    It can be said with a degree of certainty that one of his investment partners will be the renowed Eli Broad, who helps provide instant financial and community credibility.

   On Wednesday I had written in this blog space that the ownership search, with Commissioner Bud Selig providing final approval, should start and finish with Dennis Gilbert, who satisfies all the criteria.

   It was written with the knowledge that the search will not start and stop with one man or group. It was written only to say that Gilbert should be a partner or an officer in the club no matter how the search plays out. There are dozens of worthy names that will emerge during this process, and dozens more emerging from under their hedge funds that are not so worthy.

  It is conceivable that to meet the price, or get close to it, Selig will put together two groups or even chose selected names from several groups, as he did with the Boston Red Sox, melding John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner. Interestingly, Frank McCourt was a bidder in that auction and finished far behind. Not long later, however, Selig approved his highly leveraged puchase of the Dodgers. The commissioner's determination now to force McCourt out of baseball merely confirms his understanding that he had made a mistake when approving McCourt.

  Thus, given Selig's authority and his willingness to move the chess pieces, O'Malley and Gilbert could end up on the same team, or two or three other names could end up on the winning team having started from a different place. Certainly, O'Malley and Gilbert have the respect of the community, and Selig knows better than to select another owner from outside the Los Angeles community.

  The commissioner and O'Malley had differences during the period that Selig was Acting Commissioner and O'Malley still owned the team. There was an absence of mutuel respect that can be documented by stories I wrote for the L.A. Times and are now found in the newspaper's archives. On Thursday, however, O'Malley said emphatically, "We had professional differences but absolutely mended those fences long ago. I talked to Bud yesterday and have talked to him today. We are fine."  

   X     X    X

   Throughout my career in journalism I have always believed in giving credit where credit is due, and in the complex coverage of the McCourt beat no one deserves more credit than Bill Shaikin, my former colleague at the L.A. Times.

   He has obviously opened avenues to lawyers on all sides, stayed on top of the myriad court documents and innovatively created news stories from bits of information, advancing the sordid saga another notch. A few months ago I told Mike James, the sports editor of The Times, that I considered Shaikin's work worthy of Pulitzer Prize nomination. I hope James and the editors take that step.           


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