SBD/April 22, 2011/Franchises

Frank McCourt Faces Tough Court Battle If He Challenges MLB, Bud Selig

McCourt may seek an injunction to stop MLB's takeover of Dodgers
Legal experts believe that Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt "will face long odds if he challenges" MLB's move to take control of the team -- a fight McCourt "has already indicated that he may wage," according to a front-page piece by Kim, Goffard & Weikel of the L.A. TIMES. Courts historically have upheld the MLB commissioner's "extraordinary powers to act in the 'best interest of baseball,'" an argument Bud Selig is making by assuming day-to-day operations of the Dodgers. One option for McCourt and his attorneys would be to "seek an injunction to stop the takeover, arguing that Selig's move was arbitrary and capricious." Dodgers Vice Chair Steve Soboroff Thursday argued that Selig's decision "seemed designed to push McCourt out." Former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent said that the courts "would probably back Selig's takeover of the Dodgers if there is a lawsuit, but that the courts would be looking over the commissioner's shoulder" (L.A. TIMES, 4/22). New York Univ. professor and labor attorney Robert Boland said, "The ‘best interests’ give him the power to act, and baseball’s immunity from antitrust laws prohibit owners from mounting a successful lawsuit." Boland added by MLB taking over, “I don’t think McCourt has any power; Selig has effectively taken the keys away" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/22). UCLA professor Lee Ohanian said, "Baseball is not governed by the rules that typically govern business in America." Noting Dodgers ownership has been at the center of a legal dispute since '09 as a result of Frank McCourt's divorce from ex-wife Jamie, Ohanian added, "On one level, I'm surprised Selig didn't intervene before this" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/22). In DC, Dave Sheinin writes under the header, "McCourt's Going, Going, But Not Quietly" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/22).

PICKING UP THE PIECES: ESPN L.A.'s Ramona Shelburne reported Selig's decision to "seize control of the club's operations Wednesday had come as too big of a shock for anyone to process it fully by the next morning." Dodgers officials "were given only a 30-minute 'heads up' on the announcement," and McCourt himself "didn't see it coming at all." Soboroff said, "That letter was not expected. (It) was a shock." Selig's decision also left Dodgers GM Ned Colletti unsure of "his job, his role, his boss." But a Dodgers spokesperson said by Thursday, Colletti had been contacted by MLB officials and told enough to be "conducting business as usual with the payroll he was given at the beginning of the year" (ESPNLA.com, 4/21). USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale reports Colletti "sought advice Thursday" from Rangers GM Jon Daniels, who experienced a similar situation last season when MLB ran his club while the team was in bankruptcy. Daniels said, "You don't have to let it be more of a distraction than it already is." Omar Minaya, who was Expos GM when MLB controlled that franchise, said, "At first, there's a lot of uncertainty, but it becomes a lot easier if you can stay in contention" (USA TODAY, 4/22).

BASEBALL V. MCCOURT
: Soboroff Thursday said that he "hoped McCourt could meet with Selig to discuss the situation but was not sure whether McCourt planned an imminent lawsuit." In L.A., Bill Shaikin reports Selig "has refused to meet personally with McCourt; Soboroff said he could not say whether McCourt would promise not to sue if granted a meeting." Soboroff Thursday also asked why Selig "has assisted the financially troubled owners of the New York Mets while snubbing McCourt." Soboroff: "How do you single him out when you don't single the Mets out?" (L.A. TIMES, 4/22). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said McCourt "has a point, regardless of where the source of the money -- they didn't take over the Mets, and the Mets have more issues this year" ("PTI," ESPN, 4/21). But in San Diego, Tim Sullivan notes one reason it generally takes Selig "so long to move is that he invests so much time in working the room, taking owners’ temperatures and counting their votes." If McCourt "finds Selig’s decision 'hard to understand,' one plausible explanation is that he may have been the only owner who was out of the loop during the commissioner’s deliberations" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/22). YAHOO SPORTS' Tim Brown wrote under the header, "Selig Vs. Dodgers' McCourt Is 29 Against One" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/21).

READY TO STEP IN? A's Owner Lew Wolff, who lives in Southern California and has offices there, Thursday "denied having his eye on the Dodgers." Wolff, frequently mentioned as a potential Dodgers owner, said, "I'm only interested in the A's -- and getting above .500" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 4/22). Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino Thursday said, "I love Boston and that’s really all I’ll say about the Dodgers. I love my position and I’m proud of my position with the Red Sox." Red Sox Chair Tom Werner: "Anything you can do to quash that (rumor) would be appreciated. I’m very happy as the co-managing partner of the Boston Red Sox" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/22). Also Thursday, Brewers Owner Mark Attanasio, an L.A. resident, "quickly dismissed" speculation that he would be interested in the Dodgers. Attanasio said that he "had not looked into the Dodgers' situation and did not intend to do so" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 4/22). Conversely, the L.A. TIMES' Shaikin reported former Dodger Steve Garvey "remains interested in assembling an investment group to bid on the club." Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban previously has said that he "would consider exploring a Dodgers purchase but did not respond to an email seeking comment" (LATIMES.com, 4/21). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Daniel Miller suggests 10 "Hollywood Players" who could be interested in buying the Dodgers (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 4/22).

BRAVO, MR. SELIG: An L.A. TIMES editorial states Selig "has made the right decision now by taking over the team." Running an MLB franchise is "not a popularity contest, but it is a challenging business, and there are serious and urgent questions to be answered about the organization's financial stability and Frank McCourt's ability to steward it." While a baseball team is a "private business, it is also a public trust of sorts." The editorial continues, "Rarely does the commissioner take over a team, but now that he has, we would like to see him handle this in a manner that is transparent, timely and fair. ... What's most important is that the trustee be independent and fair, and that he or she be more focused on the Dodgers than on the politics of major league baseball" (L.A. TIMES, 4/22). USA TODAY's Mike Lopresti writes, "An owner can lose games, lose money, lose players, lose popularity among the patrons in the cheap seats. All that is survivable. What an owner can't do is lose the trust of the commissioner. So Selig, quite rightly, has executed a bloodless coup" (USA TODAY, 4/22). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner wrote Selig "has never looked better than he does right now." The decision to seize control of the Dodgers is the "kind of decisive, assertive action that should define the office of the commissioner of baseball." MLB Network's Bob Costas said, "Even if he got religion late, he got it wholeheartedly. ... He’s done a lot of things in the second half, or later two-thirds, of his tenure that really should, in fairness, improve his legacy" (NYTIMES.com, 4/21).

SOMETHING NEEDED TO HAPPEN: The L.A. Times' Shaikin noted the Dodgers' attendance "had dropped to levels we hadn't seen in seven, eight, nine years," as the season-ticket base "has fallen 10,000 in just four years." Shaikin: "Fans want to see this McCourt situation resolved one way or the other, and clearly Bud Selig has decided he wants to resolve it in a way that leads to new ownership" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 4/21). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke: "People are so thrilled to have a chance to get rid of Frank McCourt that they'll take baseball running it for awhile, and then probably within a year or so they'll find new ownership" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/21). ESPN.com's Molly Knight said, "I knew this day was coming, I really did. I'm still stunned that it actually has happened" ("Mason & Ireland," ESPN Radio 710 L.A., 4/21).

SHARE THE BLAME
: ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski wrote under the header, "Blame MLB, Too, For The Dodgers Mess." Wojciechowski: "The McCourts were baseball dilettantes. They were frauds. But Selig and the other owners still gave them keys to the fraternity house. ... Selig and the owners need to learn from this seven-year melodrama, too. The McCourts were the lead characters in this cautionary tale, but MLB was in the supporting cast" (ESPN.com, 4/21). In a special to ESPN L.A., former L.A. Times Dodgers reporter Ross Newhan wrote, "We know as well that the commissioner is not without a measure of blame for this embarrassing situation.  He supported Frank and Jamie McCourt's purchase of the team despite its highly leveraged structure" (ESPNLA.com, 4/21). In S.F., Gwen Knapp writes, "The commissioner applied a tourniquet to the franchise, which McCourt never should have acquired in the first place" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 4/22). ESPN's Bomani Jones said, "The problem that Major League Baseball has is its affection for broke owners. … If you read Frank McCourt's statement, what he basically said was, 'I've been broke a long time. Why is me being broke now an issue?'" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/21).
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