Thursday, April 28, 2011

The heart of the matter.

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The biggest news always seems to break on my busiest days. As you've doubtless seen, Frank McCourt made his most public move yesterday since the divorce trial, decrying Bud Selig's actions as "un-American." There's excellent coverage all over the place: Shaikin's doing his thing, and Craig is too. Gene Maddaus is on the case. You can't avoid Frank McCourt right now if you try.

To sum up, all in the course of the last couple weeks, Frank sought a $30 million personal loan from Fox to cover Dodgers payroll, among other expenses. Selig, apparently ticked off at McCourt's backdoor financing, announced that a trustee would be appointed to oversee Dodgers operations. That turned out to be Tom Schieffer, a former president of the Texas Rangers. Frank McCourt then went on the offensive, traveling to New York City to meet with MLB officials about a shovel-ready TV deal with Fox that would reportedly provide $300 million in cash up front. When baseball didn't accede to McCourt's requests, the embattled (half?) owner of the Dodgers took to the microphone, lashing out at baseball for coming between he and his business.


Last night, in an interview for a piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune to be run Sunday, I told the paper's Joe Christensen something along these lines: the fans I hear from don't see the Dodgers the way Frank McCourt does, as a business, but as something more personally meaningful. Well, what do I discover this morning other than ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne nailing it. Talking about Frank's public comments, Shelburne writes:

For 45 minutes, he spoke with the honesty and passion Dodgers fans have waited seven years to hear. From the heart, without talking points or crisis management consultants, and revealing, after all these years, how he truly sees the Dodgers.
As his business.
His asset.
His property.
He is both entirely right -- from a legal and business perspective -- and entirely wrong, in every way that matters to Dodgers fans and the game of baseball.

And that's the entire dilemma in a nutshell. But is that fair?


***


First of all, I will tell you that I know Frank McCourt just a very little bit, in the strange way you get to know someone who is fully aware that you have personally benefited from chronicling the most trying saga of his life. I think Frank McCourt loves baseball. Catch him in the right mood and he'll talk announcers and ballparks, relievers and utility players. He has a sense of history and also a sense of the moment; I think the charge to the playoffs in 2008 might have been the most viscerally enjoyable time of his professional life.


I think Frank McCourt is also a touch more savvy than he is often portrayed to be. He might not be a PR whiz--he, in fact, is not a PR whiz--but he does some little things right. I've seen him recall the names of and ask about the relatives of people he's met only briefly. That's a veteran move.


And I think Frank McCourt is more hurt by this whole drama than he's ever let on. He's got the look of someone who achieved his dreams for only the briefest moment, and then watched the story of his life's collapse on TMZ. It's E!'s True Hollywood Story in real-time. He probably shouldn't own the Dodgers very much longer--both for the team's sake and his own--and he has obviously made some very poor decisions along the way. But if you want Frank McCourt to suffer as he has...I respect your opinion. I just don't share it.


***


Ramona Shelburne is exactly right. There is a very real disconnect between Frank McCourt and Dodgers fans, and it's a gap that just can't be closed. Not now, after everything everyone's been through over the last 18 months. The fight of Frank McCourt's life is to keep his asset, his property, and nothing can be done to alter the perception that the Dodgers, to him, are a business first and an emotional investment second. It might be argued that Frank is emotionally invested in the Dodgers because they are his business, but that will fall on deaf ears. 


So is it fair to expect a businessman to see the Dodgers the way we do? Of course it's not. But it's also not fair for one person to own a baseball team and millions of others to struggle to put food on their families' tables. Nothing about this is fair. And nothing about this is simple. 


What do we want from the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers? I think we want money first, and then enough sense to leave baseball to the baseball people. Then we want someone just bursting with giddiness about the remarkable fortune of owning the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Both ideally and realistically, that's probably someone from the community. And then I think we want someone who can pull off the impossible trick of coming off as one of us while living a truly different existence.


Frank, of course, couldn't pull off that trick. He couldn't conceal that his vision of the Dodgers is simply not our own. That his existence is nothing like ours. That he has interests and concerns we can't imagine, and also that we know joys and pains of fanhood--and life--that he's never encountered. Frank McCourt became a Dodger fan because he bought the team. We became Dodger fans because we bought tickets. You can't fix facts, and facts trump fairness. 


Frank McCourt is doing what the book says he should do: fight to preserve his legal rights in a dogged effort to keep his business. I won't crucify him for it. But I'll again ask: Is the effort worth it? 
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18 comments:

  1. Shaikin's latest blog post reinforces my theory that MLB is going to watch as the Dodgers careen into default and taking McCourt with it.

    While MLB has not revoked Frank McCourt's ownership, Selig has empowered Schieffer with financial authority over the franchise and has not approved a television contract with Fox that would have provided McCourt with a financial lifeline.

    That effectively constitutes a seizure, according to those close to McCourt, since his inability to access Dodgers funds could force him to miss financial obligations. At that point, Selig could say he has the evidence to show that McCourt is financially unfit to own the Dodgers and say he must install new owners.

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  2. Of course he's going to fight, and of course it's worth it. This is the worst time to sell. First, the asset is totally loaded with debt. Second, his ex may own half of the equity. Third, he hasn't realized any of the FOX network value. Fourth, he's going to have to pay back whatever money MLB puts in. And fifth, nobody pays top dollar at a fire sale. Today, taking into account more than $500M in debt, he'd be lucky to get $100M, of which he's likely going to have to pay half to his wife, after they both pay lawyers. If he gets to keep the team and FOX partners with him on the TV side, this could be a %1.5B asset. Even taking into account an additional $200M in debt, that still $700M in equity. And maybe he finds a way to pay off his ex for $100M early on. So, would you pass up the chance to have $600M in LAD equity for $25M in cash?

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  3. The strange irony of all of this, Josh, is that if Jamie McCourt had not subverted her authority to a direct subordinate by her adulterous actions, or however the initial declaration of war was worded, then perhaps the divorce does not happen and the remainder of Frank's and the Dodger's malfeasances become BOTH OF THEIR heinous crimes. In reality, it was recently pointed out to me by a colleague, while all of this behavior would be grounds for a seizure by the league in any event, Jamie avoids the damning projectiles and slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that now Frank must bare alone. It is tragic in some very real ways, and I think that you and Molly somehow sensed this very early on.

    That being said, his scurrulous self serving and grandiose delusions must be stopped by any means necessary, and I welcome anyone from Tom Schieffer all the way up to George Bush if need be.

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  4. I have personal knowledge of the way that both Jamie and Frank do business. They stomp all over the little guys and do not pay their bills. So if they they lose substantial equity at a forced sale, ... oh well!

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  5. I don't get the "tragedy" thing. The writer Isaac Singer once lost a manuscript of a story he'd written - the only copy that he had. A friend told him it was a tragedy. He responded no - the death of a child is a tragedy. His loss didn't rise to that level. And neither does Frank and Jamie's. They were given (ok, they had to pony up a few million and a valuable piece of property - but that was it) an absolute goldmine - both in terms of status and in terms of real value. People keep saying Selig wanted McCourt because he wouldn't turn the D's into another Yankee-like money-bags. But they forget it was FOX that wanted Frank - because he agreed to let FOX retain TV rights. Others (Dave Checketts among them) wanted the D's - but only if they could start up their own network, like the YES Network in NYC. So McCourt was a choice of FOX's convenience - and Selig facilitated the choice, for FOX's sake - not Frank's. And if Frank & Jamie had treated that gift-asset with respect, they'd be the successes they dreamed of being, in the arena they dreamed of being in. Instead, they drained it of funds, leveraging even further something that was already leveraged. Granted - the housing bubble played a part in their burst dreams - but even so, the ways in which they abused their gift-asset have been well documented. If anyone has truly created their own hells, it's Frank and Jamie. And it's not the divorce that's brought that hell upon them - it's their own actions. And in the end, it's our actions that define us.

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  6. Ugh. I have no idea why you are such a Frank apologist.

    Frank's has to do what he has to do. However, as fans, it's all about schadenfreude and revenge. Frank squandered a dynasty. He let the Giants win a World Series. No amount of misery that he endures can equal the amount of misery we had in knowing that SF got a parade.

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  7. Tony, you assume that the alleged adultery wasn't something that happened after the marriage had irreparably soured.

    My supposition has always been that Jamie's spending habits got too big even for Frank -- who has pretty Herculean appetites himself. Jamie's refusal to rein in her credit card was the real key, although we can't really know any of this without that the principals open up first.

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  8. As much as your blog is a good reference for all things Frank McCourt, Josh. You come across as an apologist for him..

    As much as the Dodgers is a business of Frank McCourt, it is also a franchise of Major League Baseball. Anti Trust? Schmatzy Trust! it is a legally protected monopoly, with the commissioner of MLB has broad powers. If Frank doesn’t like how he is treated, then he should never signed the papers that stated Major League Baseball can suspend him from ownership or forced him to sell the team.

    This is not really about the separation between Dodger Fans and Frank McCourt. It is about Frank McCourt acting a very risky business plan to start with in 2004, firing a huge amount of people, some of them for a short time, and using the Dodgers who were already over leverage to fund avaricious lifestyle. He also tried to stiff his wife, and tried to use a flimsy post nuptial contract to supersede California Community Property laws..

    It is not about bad PR, or ownership rights, it is about incompetency and pushing a business deeper into debt without much of a back up plan.

    So how much is Josh Rawitch paying you?

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  9. Josh, I think you have a very informative site and I respect your knowledge of the entire McCourt situation.

    Having said that, I was sure even before reading your post on McCourt's comments that you would be sympathetic. Note that I'm not saying your on his side; I am saying you're sympathetic. You would be. As I recall, you've stated more than once that you would be fine with McCourt owning the team, because you were concerned about 3 different owners in certain year span. So while I don't agree that you're necessarily a McCourt "apologist", I can see why people take your views on McCourt with a few grains of salt. You should be able to see that as well.

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  10. I appreciate the comments. I know I am viewed, mostly playfully, as being on Team Frank. That said, I've always strived to be as accurate and thorough as possible given the information available, and to write genuinely. To say that I don't feel bad for someone who--even by his own doing--loses everything in his life would not be genuine on my part. That's just me.

    I won't go back and edit it, because it's relevant to this conversation, but what was on my mind when I wrote...

    "if you want Frank McCourt to _suffer_ as he has...I respect your opinion. I just don't share it."

    ...is that I have no personal interest in Frank suffering. His own agony won't make me feel any better about the situation the Dodgers are in, or about anything. He's likely going to lose the team. His fortune might literally be decimated. To me, that's blood enough.

    I absolutely understand I'm in the minority there, at least among those passionate enough to be vocal about this situation. I encourage people to make up their own minds and express themselves, and (of course) I will in no way suppress opposing views in this space unless things get out of hand as far as vulgarity, etc. But that hasn't happened, and I don't regret enabling anonymous commenting for a second.

    I welcome further discussion and, again, I really do appreciate the reasoned way people who express opinions opposing my own do so at this site.

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  11. I was one of the commentators above (about how it wasn't a tragedy) - and I want to say that I've read and very much appreciated your writing on all this - and I've been tremendously impressed by your work. I don't always agree with your final assessment - at least not in every regard - but my own understanding has been greatly expanded by your efforts.

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  12. This isn't about Frank suffering. I don't get schadenfreude from Frank's turmoil.

    Frank was instigating a very risky business plan on whatever baseball team he was trying to buy from 2001-2003/2004. He was also including his main asset (24 acres of a South Boston property) as part of the deal to buy a team. Basically he was sealing off all the exits if he got into financial trouble, and couldn't rely on outside income if he ran into cash problems.

    Frank could had gotten by, but his and Jamie's lifestyle would be more like an owner of a mid size business in Southern California, a steady income, a nice practical house in an area like Los Feliz, etc. etc if they kept to their $6 million combined income, (which is still alot of annual income) Instead, they were spending way beyond their financial income, or way beyond the equity of the Dodgers.

    They could had made the Dodgers a success if they kept a lower profile, hired and trusted competent professionals, try to have the Dodgers live by their annual revenue, and slowly increased revenue year to year, by following much of how the Yankees use multiple cash flows to get an annual $450 million in revenue.

    If any loans they had to take out against the team, it should be setting up a regional sports network, and working with the Lakers and Kings to get them on board.

    Instead, there was this arrogance by both McCourts, that is their downfall. They fired some very competent front office people, they had huge turnover of Dodger Management. Frank even fired loyal lackeys like Dennis Mannion, who was probably his last line of defense of a competent professional to handle running a major sport organization.

    This arrogance of the McCourts blinded them that they were making their already risky business plan, very risky to doomed to failure by taking out huge loans against the Dodgers' assets. We are not talking only about the $60 million loan against the parking lots, (ie the $15 fee to park at Dodger Stadium) but the $140 million loan against Ticket Sales. There is nothing wrong with loans as much as leveraging their main sours revenue to others is more a sign of desperation than sound money management.

    The handwriting was on the wall for both McCourts that they needed to sell the team, BEFORE THE DIVORCE!!!!, given they were driving the team deeper into debt, they couldn't handle running a major complex business, and they needed to sell when they still could get a good price for the team, with the broadcasting rights come due in 2013.

    Instead Frank's arrogance and Jamie's greed came into play again. Rather than sell, they rather play a risky game. I would even say self destructive..

    It is sad that the Dodgers are in the limbo state they are in today, and I am sorry that Frank is in such a mess, but much of his suffering is self inflicted.

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  13. There's one word that describes Frank: he is a GONIFF!

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