By Ross Newhan
The question I have been thinking about--in addition to wondering how Ann Romney decides which of her two Cadillacs to drive to the market?--is this:
With final bids in the bankruptcy auction of the Dodgers due Friday, and the 30 owners expected to vote (probably by conference call next week) on the four or five groups (if that many) surviving the vetting process, will Frank McCourt feel compelled--out of real and/or perceived--community pressure to select the group fronted by the popular Magic Johnson?
"That is THE question," said a member of another group who who can not be identified because he signed a confidentiality agreement with Blackstone Advisory Partners, brokering the sale for McCourt.
"We are aware that McCourt has spoken to a lot of people in the community to try and get a gauge on what the reaction will be if he doesn't pick Magic--you know, 'will (people) hate me that much more?'"
It is difficult to believe that the generally despised McCourt would receive anything but a standing ovation no matter who he chooses to replace him in the owner's office.
However, Magic's name is undoubtedly the most famous and familiar among the bidders.
There are six groups or individuals remaining as meetings with baseball's ownership committee and executive council continue in Arizona.
Alan Casden, a Beverly Hills real estate developer, was not invited to Monday's meeting between some of the bidding representatives and the two Major League Baseball committees.
In a process that has not always been clear and definitive, Casden's rejection--if that is what it was and is what it appears to be--can be appealed by McCourt to a court-appointed mediator.
However, a major league official not authorized to speak on the subject said he expected that other bidders would be eliminated by the time the full ownership votes and sends the survivors on to McCourt for his final decision by April 1.
After that he must work out a sales agreement by April 30, when he is court authorized to pay a divorce settlement of $131 million to Jamie McCourt.
The six bidders still alive are:
--Connecticut based hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen and partners Arn Tellem, the longtime agent, and Steve Greenberg, the former deputy commissioner;
-- St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kronke;
--Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and Los Angeles investor Tony Ressler;
--Los Angeles civic leader and investor Stanley Gold;
--New York media executive Leo Hindery;
--And the Magic group, which includes former baseball executive Stan Kasten and their main financial backer, Mark Walter, who is chief executive of Guggenheim Partners.
In addition to Magic's popularity, which apparently is weighing on McCourt, Kasten gives the group added impetus.
"We know he was initially going to be the commissioner's emissary when Bud Selig initially took over the Dodgers but he then put together his own group," said the member of the competing group quoted above.
Whether that formulation was all Kasten's doing or Selig had a hand in it, as he once put together the group that won the Boston Red Sox auction, is not clear.
Ultimately, continued the member of the competing group, "the money has to be right for McCourt to pay off his creditors, pay off Jamie and continue living the lifestyle he is now accustomed to. He has been holding tight (to the concept of maintaining control of the parking lot) and that drives down the sales price. He has to decide, given his debts, if taking less for the team to continue owning the lot makes sense."
Does money talk, or is it all Magic? That also seems to be a big part of it.