The story of the day – - and perhaps of the month – - has to be the seizure of control by the Commissioner of Baseball of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ franchise. MLB has taken the day-to-day control of the franchise away from Frank McCourt and Bud Selig said that he would appoint someone very soon to take over all of the day-to-day operations of the team.
Frank McCourt and his wife, Jamie, have been enmeshed in a nasty divorce action that projects to run up about $20M in legal fees alone. The court has ruled that the Dodgers are jointly owned and neither has the resources to buy the other out. The Dodgers have had to take out short term loans to meet payroll; both Frank and Jamie McCourt brought this on themselves. They bought the team with less money than they actually should have had and they have taken out large sums over the last several years to finance a lavish lifestyle.
The Dodgers are a flagship franchise for MLB. The Dodgers integrated baseball; the Dodgers gave baseball a national footprint. This is an embarrassment of the highest order.
The only similar situation that I can recall was in the 1940s when the National League basically foreclosed on outstanding loans to the Phillies and bought the team from an owner that simply could not afford to keep the team. What he did was to sell off his half-decent players – - and there were not all that many of them – - to keep the team going from week to week. They paid him a paltry sum to take the team and assumed the team’s debt of several hundred thousand dollars – - a lot of money in the 1940s – - and found a new owner.
Interestingly, that new owner they found did not work out very well. Soon after taking control of the team, it became clear that the owner and possibly others in the front office were betting on the Phillies and on baseball games. The new owner had to be banned by then-Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis and MLB had to find another owner.
Bud Selig has taken a big step here. Frank McCourt has already announced that he will sue to keep his team; no surprise there. Three things would seem to be difficult for him to overcome here:
1. When he bought the team, he had to sign an agreement that he would not sue baseball or the Commissioner. All owners sign that agreement.
2. Selig can invoke the “best interests of baseball” clause of the MLB bylaws which all owners agree to live by.
3. Lawsuits cost lots of money and that is the basic reason McCourt finds himself in this predicament in the first place; he doesn’t have lots of money.
Perhaps, this move presages another similar move that may become necessary as the NY Mets’ season moves on. The Wilpons are facing a lawsuit in the Bernie Madoff Caper that could cost them more than $1B if they lose. The Mets’ team is a mess and MLB has already had to lend the Mets money to meet short-term obligations. The Mets – - like the Dodgers – - are looking at declining attendance numbers so far in early 2011.
In the world of MLB, they may need to cue Bob Dylan by the time the World Series rolls around:
“The times, they are a changin’…”
Recalling the old TV show, This Week In Baseball, we have one other bizarre bit of news to consider. Cincy Reds’ pitcher Mike Leake was arrested for shoplifting about $60 worth of T-shirts. Two years ago, Leake signed on as a high draft pick of the Reds and received a $2.27M signing bonus. His salary this year is $425K. I do not know what he made in 2010 but even if he made minimum wage, Mike Leake is 23 years old and has lifetime earnings of more than $2.5M. One might suspect that he can afford to purchase T-shirts…
However, just because I am a constructive person who always wants to help people out, let me offer this suggestion to Mike Leake.
Have your lawyer argue that when you left the clubhouse the night before the incident, the third-base coach gave you the steal sign. So, you did…
On the other hand, maybe your lawyer has a better idea for your defense…
The US Department of Justice – - fresh off its hugely cost effective investigation and prosecution of Barry Bonds and other BALCO ne’er-do-wells – - has turned its attention and its resources on another scourge on our society. The Feds have seized control of Internet Poker sites charging the folks who run those sites with bank fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. I believe that all of this came to pass due to the Law of Unintended Consequences.
The Congress of the United States in one of its typical spasms of trying to legislate morality passed a law limiting Internet gambling. Sounds good; plays good in Peoria; problem is that human beings gamble and laws have never been able to prevent them from gambling. Therefore, to get around the sticky problem of just having poker web sites that thumbed their nose at this feckless law, the poker sites moved overseas, played fast, and loose with the accountings they recorded for deposits by players and payouts to players. Congress passed an Internet gambling bill; the Law of Unintended Consequences drove an industry “underground” and made all of the profits there outside the reach of the tax folks. Now we have the DoJ riding in to make all this right.
Excuse me, but how will it be made right to all the players on those sites whose money is now seized? How will it be made right when poker players in the US sign on with legit and existing companies in the UK – for example – and play poker there? Will the DoJ be arresting and prosecuting those folks for violating this law? If so, the expenditures on the Barry Bonds/BALCO prosecutions will seem frugal indeed.
Memo to the Congress of the United States: You cannot repeal the Law of Gravity. You cannot repeal the Law of Supply and Demand. Moreover, you cannot legislate gambling out of existence. Deal with it…
Finally, here is a commentary from Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:
“Manny Ramirez flunks another drug test and retires. More female fertility drugs? Hey, it’s just Manny being Minnie. Ramirez says he is now “at ease.” So add “conscience” to the list of things that shrink when you use steroids.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…