Tune in, folks. You’re witnessing the beginnings of a complete implosion of one of baseball’s most storied franchises. The center of the collapse unfolding is not centered on bad contracts, or controversial comments, ala Marge Schott or Al Campanis. No, the collapse of the Los Angeles Dodgers will boil down to a case of two powerful individuals whose marriage is headed for a nasty divorce.
Frank and Jamie McCourt made their separation public on the eve of the Dodgers beginning the NLCS, but the reality was that there had been open heated arguments in the halls of the Dodgers front office long before then. The tension was described by one front office employee as “walking on eggshells.”
As I opined at the outset, the separation of the McCourts could lead to the sale of the Dodgers, and pointed to the forced sale of the San Diego Padres when then owner John Moores divorced his wife of 45 years, Becky. The two owned 90 percent of the Padres, but based upon community property laws in the state of California, Becky shared 50 percent of the assets with John.
What transpired with the Moores was more of a sad goodbye to the Padres with no fireworks involved. The case of the McCourts appears headed in the opposite direction.
Case in point, late Thursday night, a lawyer for Jamie McCourt announced that she had been fired from Dodgers by estranged husband, Frank. To show how sideways the relationship has gone, it was just this past March that Frank, the owner of the Dodgers, promoted Jamie to CEO of the organization, making her the highest-ranking woman executive in Major League Baseball.
“Jamie has done an outstanding job of assembling a talented management team, fostering a positive culture, and building a first-class business operation,” said Frank McCourt at the time. Adding that he looked forward to her “taking the organization to new heights.” This after she was named President of the club on August 12, 2005.
After the firing, Jamie’s lawyer, Dennis Wasser, set the tone for what is to come.
"Jamie is disappointed and saddened by her termination," Wasser said. "As co-owner of the Dodgers, she will address this and all other issues in the courtroom."
Note the carefully worded comment: Frank is listed as the “owner”, but Jamie is making a case that she is as much owner of the Dodgers as Frank, pointing to what killed the Moores ownership of the Padres.
"We are confident that if the ownership issue must be adjudicated, the Dodgers will be determined to be community property owned 50 percent by each of the McCourts," Wasser said at the time of the separation announcement.
Which also means the Dodgers will, for the most part, be held in a state of atrophy.
Yes, GM Ned Colletti was just given a long-term contract extension on Tuesday. In Frank McCourt’s statement he said in part, “The stability and continuity that extending his contract provides will further help us achieve the goal of being a consistent winner...” Which, to some, might read, “We got Ned under contract so we would have at least some ‘stability and continuity’.”
Before the announcement of the McCourts separation, those looking to avoid the implosion started heading out the door. Dr. Charles Steinberg, chief of marketing for the Dodgers, is headed back to the Red Sox after being fired by the Dodgers (read: Frank McCourt), and it seems but a matter of time before others fly the coop.
And why wouldn’t you? Think about it. Whether you work for the Dodgers, or some small Mom and Pop business, when those at the top bring their personal matters into the picture, concentrating on your job become exceptionally difficult. Colletti will be asked ad nauseam if the internal strife of the McCourts is impacting his ability to do his job, and like clockwork, Ned will say, “It’s business as usual.” But the fact of the matter is, if he’s having to answer the question in the first place, it’s a distraction. If others in the front office are reading that a divorce might cause the Dodgers to be sold, it’s a distraction.
So, life with the Dodgers will be a life of uncertainty. The unknown ever ominpresent. In the ultra-competitive world of Major League Baseball, you look to avoid the smallest of distractions, let alone an earth-shattering event the club is now witnessing.
And, how will Bud Selig and the rest of the Commissioner’s Office react? If the media is talking about the possible crash and burn, you know there are contingency plans being hatched. Somewhere, someone is fielding calls about potential ownership of the Dodgers. Dodger Blue’s value may never have been higher.
So, Dodger fans, place your seats in their upright position, and assume the crash position. The good ship Dodger is descending from high altitude, but is none the less, headed for a crash landing. The McCourts squabbling might put the Sun’s gravity to shame. Eventually, it all heads for a crash landing.
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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