On October 27, 2009, Jamie McCourt filed her petition for divorce. The marriage had become inexorably unglued at some point in the relatively-recent past; the McCourts separated over the prior summer. Still, the divorce itself wasn't to become public as quickly as it did, the story goes, but that all changed when Frank severed all ties between the Los Angeles Dodgers and his eventual ex-wife in October.
The first wave of publicity coming out of the divorce wasn't exactly good. Jamie's petition lovingly documents the degree to which the Dodgers financed the couple's extravagant lifestyle. You know the line items at this point; everything from travel by private jet to flowers for the office. Really, you could probably cut and paste the list of benefits, perquisites, and emoluments from Jamie's petition and compare it pretty evenly to the way many, many wealthy Americans use their businesses. Whether you're okay with that is a matter of personal taste.
But there was undeniably something different about this. Maybe it was the nebulous concept of the Dodgers as a civic asset, a notion that has, truth be told, been discussed much more since Jamie's filing than I can remember beforehand. Or maybe it was the perceived over-the-topness of the McCourts' lifestyle; does anyone really need two pairs of neighboring multi-million dollar homes? Or maybe it was the sheer dollar amounts involved; Jamie put her monthly living expenses at over $488,000--before valuing the Dodgers-paid perks.
Or perhaps it was the economy. October 2009 was still a pretty dark time for many Americans. For that matter, so is October 2010. Seeing the McCourts' marriage laid cold and bare on the autopsy table struck a very particular nerve; we (collectively) are losing our savings and, in too many cases, our jobs, and these two are getting set to fight over who gets how much of a billion dollars? Jamie's filing might be termed a Petition, but it should be noted that she wasn't overtly asking for sympathy. A good thing, because it wasn't coming.
Still, it's sports, which means it's about winning and losing. The Dodgers won 95 games in 2009. That's very good. Six days before Jamie filed for divorce, though, the Dodgers lost the fifth and final game of the NLCS, looking--again--quite helpless and overmatched against the Phillies. Close observers had grown wary of the win-now mentality the Dodgers operated under for years. There was a sense that the window for winning was, if not yet closing, certainly not as wide as it was only a year previous. Less than a week after a disappointing end to a fabulous season, the near-term future of the club was hidden somewhere amid the first couple hundred pages of the divorce.
Catastrophes are unique events, both utterly predictable and entirely surprising. The McCourts had a tumultuous marriage. We knew that. The McCourts didn't exactly live a cash-rich lifestyle. We knew that. The McCourts had no history with the Dodgers--heck, no history with Los Angeles--prior to their purchase of the club. We knew that. Draw whichever analogy you like--the sinking of the Titanic, Hurricane Katrina, the collapse of the global financial system...almost always, the signs are there. That's how catastrophe is utterly predictable.
But for things to really get bad, you need some bizarre, fluky confluence of factors. The warning signs need to converge in meaningful, material ways. An iceberg and a flawed design and human ignorance and a terrible crisis response. A major city built below sea level and bureaucratic incompetence and an aberrant storm and grossly ineffective disaster planning, management, and response. Unheeded greed on Wall Street and incentives for regular folks to make irresponsible decisions and instruments few really understood and an amazing, confounding ignorance to the risks involved with our financial system. You get the point.
Now, the McCourt divorce is not fairly comparable to the Titanic, Katrina, and the recession as a matter of gravity. Of course it's not; we're talking about rich people fighting over just how rich they'll each be when this is over. But, as sports goes, it was a major catastrophe, and it bears all the hallmarks. Every single warning sign manifested itself in some way and the economy was miserable and the Dodgers stopped winning and no one with the power to stop this calamity really paused to consider what would happen if everything fell apart as it did. If you would have told anyone about just how the stars would align with the McCourts and the Dodgers, that person would have known precisely what was coming.
But no one ever really expects everything to go wrong.
Jamie McCourt filed for divorce a year ago today, and we cannot say it's been a banner year for the organization in any way. Not on the field. Not in the newspapers. Not on the farm. The Dodgers will be back, of course. You just can't keep a club with its built-in advantages down forever. But we will spend the next months (but hopefully not years) determining whether the club moves forward under McCourt direction or otherwise. Still, if nothing else, the McCourt divorce stands out as another unfortunate example of what happens when everything that can go wrong...well...does.