Thursday, June 16, 2011

On Bryan Stow.

I should say from the outset that I do not know that my feelings on this matter are correct. I do not actually know that I can precisely put my feelings here into the right words. I also do not demand that you agree with me. I do not even expect you too. I might, indeed, be surprised if you do. But this has been gnawing at me for a few weeks now, and yesterday evening's Shaikin report brought it to the forefront:

I am not entirely comfortable turning Bryan Stow's savage beating at the hands of Dodger "fans" into a point of argument in the ongoing drama surrounding Frank McCourt's ownership of the Dodgers.

Some quick background: yesterday, Bill Shaikin reported that Tom Schieffer's investigation into Dodgers operations goes beyond the team's books. It stretches, Shaikin notes, to interviews conducted with former employees on, among other topics, stadium security. Such is the extent of Baseball's concern that it sent a six-person tax force to evaluate these issues on-site.

Now, I am all for addressing too-real dangers of being in the wrong place at the wrong time at Dodger Stadium. I am also all for holding the appropriate people accountable for their actions via both civil and criminal legal processes. That may very well include the Los Angeles Dodgers. Stow's family has already sued the club, and I would not be human if I did not hope that the club's liability to Stow, if any, be resolved quickly and justly.

All that said, I can't get all the way on board with using this tragedy to support the boisterous (and still growing) call for Frank McCourt's ouster. It is very difficult to explain why I feel this way. I've edited this piece more than perhaps any other I've written. But I think my gut opinion on this issue comes from two places: one is the logical and methodical side of my brain, and the other is purely emotional.

First, I think it's important to remember that people did this to Bryan Stow. People I do not know, but who I am certain I do not like. People who see a black-and-orange clad fan, and, through some combination of ignorance, substances, anger, and lack of respect for themselves and others, beat that fan to as close as someone who is alive could be to being dead. I do not think that, when you're dealing with people so obviously immoral and perhaps inhuman, you can ever systemically eliminate the risk of something like this happening.

Now, did Frank McCourt do everything reasonably prudent to mitigate the risk of this happening? It is sure damning that, at the time of the incident, the club did not employ a full-time head of security. As well all know too well, it is not like there were no indications of serious problems with security in (and particularly around) the stadium. It is very sad to say that this incident probably did not shock anyone who has spent much time in Dodger Stadium parking lots during Giants series.

And the potential failure to adequately provide for fan safety is, I think, very much fair game for MLB's investigation into how Frank McCourt has run the Dodgers. If cutting security costs was done without sufficient exploration of the cuts' impact on fan safety, that's another reason to believe that Frank McCourt may not be the right person to helm the ship going forward. If such cuts were made because Frank and Jamie wouldn't even travel first class--no, they needed to travel by private jet--then yeah, that's obviously bad.

But I just can't help myself from having a negative reaction every time I perceive someone as making a direct link between the premise (Bryan Stow was savagely beaten after the Dodgers made cuts in security spending) and the conclusion (MLB needs to force Frank out). There's just too much in the middle we don't know. There's too much in the middle that truly determines whether the link is real. The conclusion is so powerful, so damaging--that Frank McCourt played an integral role in a series of events that resulted in a man's near-death--that I am just uncomfortable taking it as truth without much more information.

By nature, I guess, I am just suspicious of conclusions drawn on the recent occurrence of an extreme event. I am especially suspicious of such conclusions when employed for use in furthering an agenda; here, using Bryan Stow's awful fate as a major factor in MLB's seemingly-inevitable determination that Frank is unfit to own the Dodgers.

It might be true. There is certainly voluminous evidence that Frank and Jamie did not run the Dodgers as we, or Major League Baseball, would have the club run. And I've still done a terrible job here putting my thoughts into words: I do not mean to relieve Frank of any responsibility when it comes to what happened to Bryan Stow. I do not mean to say that Frank's potential failure to take all reasonably prudent steps to create a safe fan environment should not be a factor in MLB's investigation.

So maybe the emotional approach will make my feelings clearer: I do not want Bryan Stow's story to somehow be cheapened by becoming a front in the ongoing battles between Frank McCourt and Major League Baseball, and Frank McCourt and fans of the club. I do not want the tragedy of what happened to Bryan Stow to be somehow dulled by turning his story into something agenda-carrying groups--MLB, Frank McCourt, ourselves--use to make a related-but-not-immediately-so point.

I worry that, the more we use Bryan Stow's beating to call Frank a negligent owner, and the more Frank has to defend the club's actions and attempt to show that security was adequate, the less Bryan Stow's tragic fate stands on its own. It gets turned into something else. And maybe that something else is something bigger. Maybe it ends up being emblematic of Frank's failure as the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maybe it is the stark and overwhelmingly obvious impetus forcing the Dodgers to finally make Dodger Stadium as safe as it ought to be.

But maybe it also makes us feel less sad about what happened to Bryan Stow. This is the wrong word, but when you politicize an incident, you risk stripping that incident of its own emotional weight. And I, personally, would feel that something would be lost about the individual tragedy that is Bryan Stow's story if it becomes something else, even if that something else is something bigger.

But you can't have it both ways, I guess, and the future of fan safety at Dodger Stadium is, regrettably, more important than any one fan, regardless of the colors he wore. So as Bryan Stow's story becomes something bigger, which seems inevitable, I hope the last couple paragraphs will remind me to always be sad about Bryan Stow himself.


  1. Very well thought through post.

  2. I don't think that a lot of people are saying "because Stow got beaten, McCourt should be ousted." I get the sense it's more a) the Stow incident is symbolic of the McCourt malfeasance, or b) the Stow incident was the last straw (of many straws).

    If the Stow incident had occurred amid an ownership that was, leading up to that time, relatively normal, I don't think you'd see people using it as an argument to get rid of McCourt.

    I don't think people are placing the blame for the Stow beating directly on McCourt as opposed to the criminals. But I can understand why people aren't accepting the idea that McCourt was surprised it or that he couldn't have anything to reduce the possibility of it happening. And I think if you asked most people, they realize that Stow (not the Dodger fan base) was the ultimate victim March 31.

  3. I should say from the outset that I do not know that my feelings on this matter are correct.

    Feelings, by definition, are neither correct nor incorrect; they are emotions, which takes them outside the realm of the rational. But I think your qualms are really about people using Stow as a billy club himself against the McCourts -- it has become a sort of mob justice, and there's no justice in that at all.

    That said, Dodger Stadium has gotten increasingly hostile to fans wearing opposition colors for some time (my wife refuses to attend games in her Cubs jersey, and they're not even in the division!). The issue really is, as Jon notes, more that the McCourts are not paying attention to basic fan experience at every level, whether it comes to assembling a good team, ensuring reasonable waits for concessions, making a ballgame an affordable family entertainment, providing a safe environment at the park, or any of a dozen other issues. The Stow beating is merely the most visible tip of the iceberg of fail that has been the Dodgers under McCourt ownership. Just because he is a symbol of those failures doesn't in any way cheapen what happened to him.

  4. One thing I think about: We KNOW McCourt reduced security around the stadium. Anybody who has been attending games regularly can see that up until opening day, you rarely saw security guards or ushers wandering the concourses anymore.
    Perhaps increased security couldn't have prevented these thugs from starting a fight with Mr. Stow. But an adequate security presence could've RESPONDED quicker, perhaps mitigating the extent of the beating.

  5. First, what happened to Stow is an outrage and a tragedy. I view it as a stain on the fabric of our city and it disgusts me to know that months later the LAPD has arrested only 1 of 3 suspects and hasn't even arrested him, much less charged him, with the actual beating. It should be a matter of utmost urgency and civic pride to bring these people to justice.

    That said, to me, Selig and the rest of us ought to be evaluating Frank McCourt's suitability to retain the Dodgers on factors other than Bryan Stow. Don't get me wrong - the security level at the stadium can and should be one of the factors to be evaluated. And there are plenty of other factors, that, to me, point to the need to oust McCourt.

    But I believe that what happened to Stow was an exceptional situation, one that could have happened regardless of the level of security. I don't think that it speaks to Frank's fitness as an owner. There are other notable incidents in Dodger's history that were outrageous from a security standpoint in that they could have happened, but happened none-the-less even when no one would have questioned the adequacy of security at Dodger stadium or the other venues - for instance the Eric Davis / Vince Coleman firecracker incident in the stadium parking lot, or the Chad Kreuter incident in Chicago.

  6. Anyone could have seen it coming, you would see a few guys here and there in a golf cart before the game, some riding around busting people for alcohol BEFORE THE GAME. During, we saw less ushers, people say they don't help you at all if someone is bothering you. Now we get to after the game, they say there are security cameras but they aren't easily visible (they should be to deter crime) and hardly any police/parking attendants. If someone was to try something it would be after the game when they just finished their 6th beer and are 150 yards from the stadium where they is not so great lighting, even then how long would it take for someone to know something is going on? And respond to it?
    Thing is this wasn't the first incident and if anything Mr. McCourt went backwards and downsized security.

  7. My brother-in-law and his friend were attacked at Dodger Stadium. The friend suffered a broken wrist.

  8. @Jon -- well said
    @everybody else -- also well said.

    As was clearly stated, the attack on Mr. Stow could have occurred even with current levels of security at any ballpark. Bad guys do bad things. With that said, the Stow incident is indicative of McCourt loss of control on many fronts.

  9. Since the early 80s, my family has been partial season ticket holders (by that I mean that we were partners with a couple of other people and the games were split among us). We had to get rid of the tickets after the 2009 season because the tickets were just too expensive. I've gone to a few games sitting elsewhere in the stadium, and the behavior (usually beer-induced) of many fans is absolutely horrible. Add to that the absolutely powerless ushers and it's a recipe for disaster. Perhaps things are changing due to the Brian Stow incident (I certainly hope so!). I am not going to spend another dollar going to a game when the owner's fiscal irresponsibility has led an organization of what was once the envy of baseball to the laughingstock of MLB. I think MLB needs to look into McCourt's relationship with FOX as well. He had to borrow money from them when he purchased the club. He had to borrow money from them when he couldn't meet payroll at the beginning of the season. And now his seemingly only hope of keeping the team is through a TV deal with FOX.

  10. Josh -

    I agree with much of what you've written here. The primary blame belongs to the people who assaulted Mr. Stow. It is not possible to guarantee anyone's safety in a crowd of 50,000. I will leave to courts the question of whether the attack on Stow was reasonably foreseeable from and proximate to the security decisions (or omissions) at Dodger Stadium for which McCourt was responsible.

    I agree with you, there's something unfair about Stow's injury becoming the lead paragraph in any story about McCourt's ownership of the Dodgers. It's unfair to boil down McCourt's ownership to a single moment, a single savage act committed by others. Similarly, it's unfair to Mr. Stow and his family for his injury to become a symbol of something. Mr. Stow's life means much more than who ought to own the Dodgers.

    All this being said, the assault on Mr. Stow IS the defining moment of McCourt's ownership of the Dodgers. It is unfairly but uncannily symbolic of so much that McCourt has done: his neglect of the fan experience, his firing of so many who knew how to run a ballclub and a stadium, his greed and his sheer incompetence. While all baseball owners are rich men who live lives far removed from the average fan, I know of no owner who regards his baseball team primarily as an ATM to fund his lifestyle.

    McCourt viewed the Dodgers like a piece of commercial real estate. For McCourt, the Dodgers were about the amount of cash it could throw off, about increasing the team's value as collateral to bankers. The Dodgers were an asset for McCourt to plunder, and plunder he did, for six years. McCourt thought the plunder could go on forever, just as the real estate bubble was supposed to expand forever, but McCourt's bubble burst, and once it did something had to give. It is tragic that safety at the Stadium was part of what gave way, worse that someone was injured as Mr. Stow was injured. But plunder has consequences -- if the assault on Mr. Stow was a consequence that could not have fairly been anticipated (again, a question for the courts), the occurrence of SOME consequence was inevitable. The fact is, McCourt ran the Dodgers like a pirate. Something bad had to result.

  11. I don’t know what you are trying to get across here Josh, but half the problem wasn’t that Bryan Stow was brutally attacked, it was Frank’s reaction afterwards, trying to downplay the incident, and not doing anything until the bad PR rose a week and half after the incident.

    What you appeared not to understand is that this attack, which isn’t a tragedy, just a vicious and sad assault, isn’t going to be the main issue in the battle between Frank McCourt and MLB. The main issue is that can Frank put up a credible defense as MLB takes away the Dodgers from Frank? Frank has already signed some pretty strict waivers when he bought the Dodgers that he can’t contest MLB and the Commissioner office actions if they stripped him of the Dodgers.

    The investigation in security at Dodger Stadium, and interviewing former executives, are probably more trying to figure how much damage McCourt has done to the Dodger Franchise. There has been talked since the McCourts bought the club in 2004, that they had no idea how to run it. There is also some huge questions of financial improprieties, like how McCourt was charging the Dodgers for rent, and paying a Dodger executive 1/3 of the Dodger’s charity budget...

    I don’t know what you are trying to get at, except you tend to completely ignore other issues and focused on one minute problem. The Dodgers are carrying a huge debtload, and it appears that they are being turned down for loans, and are grasping at straws. Poor security, employee turnover, mismanagement, are all byproducts of the main problem, The Dodgers are not making the money to cover their loan and interest payments.

  12. It is tragic what happened to Bryan Stow and thats the worst part of this nightmare. However it's time for McCourt to give it up, enough is enough. I've been a life long Dodger fan and it kills me to see what has happened to them under McCourt. It's time to end this nightmare of McCourts reign as owner. I have left a link to a blog I wrote on this at my website listed below as to my feelings on this subject in the url section, I'd love your thoughts on it

  13. I would like to see more posts like this.

  14. This is really incredible. It’s extraordinary

  15. Your articles are always interesting and understandable. Thank you!

  16. great) liked everything very much) keep it up and dont stop)