Move aside Barry Bonds. Fred McCourt is one of the most vile, reprehensible men in the history of baseball. At least that seems to be the popular sentiment expressed in the wake of Bud Selig’s decision to wrestle away control of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s impossible to deny, not to mention excuse, the abuses that have pervaded McCourt’s tenure as owner of the one baseball’s flagship franchises. It seems likely that the organization and the city of Los Angeles will be much better off under someone else’s guidance, but that reality shouldn’t be exaggerated by fiction. Although McCourt may not be the best option to lead the Dodgers in the future, his past actions weren’t all bad for the franchise.
Before Frank McCourt purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers early in 2004, the team had passed from the longtime stewardship of the O’Malley family to the cold claws of News Corp. Even though there were some early reservations about having an out-of-towner take over the team in a highly levered acquisition, McCourt’s purchase was also seen as rescuing the Dodgers from corporate ownership.
The sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Frank and Jamie McCourt heralds the beginning of a new era of family ownership for one of the game’s most storied franchises. This transaction meets all of Baseball’s debt service rules and financial requirements in every way. We at Major League Baseball are confident that Mr. McCourt, as a rabid and knowledgeable fan and successful businessman, will devote the time and energy necessary to make the franchise a great success.” – Commissioner Bud Selig, quoted by MLB.com, January 29, 2004
The optimistic sentiment expressed by Selig, and many others, was not without merit. After all, during News Corp.’s ownership, which commenced in 1998, the Dodgers didn’t exactly thrive. On the field, the team continued its post season drought, which extended back to the 1988 World Series, while in the board room, the bottom line dried up as well. In the three years preceding the sale to McCourt, the Dodgers experienced significant operating losses and stagnating revenue, which is probably why News Corp. was so eager to sell, especially considering the less than sanguine economic environment that existed at the time.
Dodgers’ Financial Snapshot, 2001-2010
In McCourt’s first year as owner, the Dodgers won the division and came close to turning a profit. Over the next six seasons, the team made the post season three more times and consistently posted impressive operating profits. McCourt’s ability to significantly increase revenue might have led to some of his indiscretions, but it also bolstered the team’s financial strength. That’s why the franchise’s estimated value has increased exponentially, even as the embattled owner’s personal issues played out in court.
There’s every reason to believe that the Dodgers will emerge from their current predicament without too many scars. Just consider the 2010 Texas Rangers, who also became wards of the state after owner Tom Hicks’ personal financial difficulties overwhelmed the franchise. In only months time, the Rangers went from being a distressed asset to American League champions. Now, after signing a new lucrative cable deal, the team is almost looked upon as a model franchise. Ironically, McCourt already seems to have a lucrative cable deal in place, so now baseball just needs to find a stable owner (it wouldn’t hurt if Sandy Koufax also agreed to play the role of Nolan Ryan).
I am proud to announce that the Boston National League franchise is almost entirely New England-owned for the second time since it became a charter member of the National League back in 1876.” – President and part owner Bob Quinn, quoted by AP, April 21, 1941
Finally, there’s one more interesting historical twist to this story. In a recent post, The Platoon Advantage recounted the trials and tribulations of 1936 Boston Braves (Bees), which fell under control of the league due to financial mismanagement by ownership. In telling the tale, however, TPA confused one fact. Although long-time baseball executive Bob Quinn emerged as president of the team, Charles F. Adams (the man to whom former owner Emil Fuchs was indebted) retained majority control of the team. It wasn’t until 1941 that Quinn was able to put together a pool of investors with enough money to buy out Adams’ 73% share of the team.
And, who just happened to be a member of Quinn’s syndicate? None other than Frank McCourt, the grandfather of baseball’s newest public enemy.