The biggest news always seems to break on my busiest days. As you've doubtless seen, Frank McCourt made his most public move yesterday since the divorce trial, decrying Bud Selig's actions as "un-American." There's excellent coverage all over the place: Shaikin's doing his thing, and Craig is too. Gene Maddaus is on the case. You can't avoid Frank McCourt right now if you try.
To sum up, all in the course of the last couple weeks, Frank sought a $30 million personal loan from Fox to cover Dodgers payroll, among other expenses. Selig, apparently ticked off at McCourt's backdoor financing, announced that a trustee would be appointed to oversee Dodgers operations. That turned out to be Tom Schieffer, a former president of the Texas Rangers. Frank McCourt then went on the offensive, traveling to New York City to meet with MLB officials about a shovel-ready TV deal with Fox that would reportedly provide $300 million in cash up front. When baseball didn't accede to McCourt's requests, the embattled (half?) owner of the Dodgers took to the microphone, lashing out at baseball for coming between he and his business.
Last night, in an interview for a piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune to be run Sunday, I told the paper's Joe Christensen something along these lines: the fans I hear from don't see the Dodgers the way Frank McCourt does, as a business, but as something more personally meaningful. Well, what do I discover this morning other than ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne nailing it. Talking about Frank's public comments, Shelburne writes:
For 45 minutes, he spoke with the honesty and passion Dodgers fans have waited seven years to hear. From the heart, without talking points or crisis management consultants, and revealing, after all these years, how he truly sees the Dodgers.
As his business.
He is both entirely right -- from a legal and business perspective -- and entirely wrong, in every way that matters to Dodgers fans and the game of baseball.
And that's the entire dilemma in a nutshell. But is that fair?
First of all, I will tell you that I know Frank McCourt just a very little bit, in the strange way you get to know someone who is fully aware that you have personally benefited from chronicling the most trying saga of his life. I think Frank McCourt loves baseball. Catch him in the right mood and he'll talk announcers and ballparks, relievers and utility players. He has a sense of history and also a sense of the moment; I think the charge to the playoffs in 2008 might have been the most viscerally enjoyable time of his professional life.
I think Frank McCourt is also a touch more savvy than he is often portrayed to be. He might not be a PR whiz--he, in fact, is not a PR whiz--but he does some little things right. I've seen him recall the names of and ask about the relatives of people he's met only briefly. That's a veteran move.
And I think Frank McCourt is more hurt by this whole drama than he's ever let on. He's got the look of someone who achieved his dreams for only the briefest moment, and then watched the story of his life's collapse on TMZ. It's E!'s True Hollywood Story in real-time. He probably shouldn't own the Dodgers very much longer--both for the team's sake and his own--and he has obviously made some very poor decisions along the way. But if you want Frank McCourt to suffer as he has...I respect your opinion. I just don't share it.
Ramona Shelburne is exactly right. There is a very real disconnect between Frank McCourt and Dodgers fans, and it's a gap that just can't be closed. Not now, after everything everyone's been through over the last 18 months. The fight of Frank McCourt's life is to keep his asset, his property, and nothing can be done to alter the perception that the Dodgers, to him, are a business first and an emotional investment second. It might be argued that Frank is emotionally invested in the Dodgers because they are his business, but that will fall on deaf ears.
So is it fair to expect a businessman to see the Dodgers the way we do? Of course it's not. But it's also not fair for one person to own a baseball team and millions of others to struggle to put food on their families' tables. Nothing about this is fair. And nothing about this is simple.
What do we want from the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers? I think we want money first, and then enough sense to leave baseball to the baseball people. Then we want someone just bursting with giddiness about the remarkable fortune of owning the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both ideally and realistically, that's probably someone from the community. And then I think we want someone who can pull off the impossible trick of coming off as one of us while living a truly different existence.
Frank, of course, couldn't pull off that trick. He couldn't conceal that his vision of the Dodgers is simply not our own. That his existence is nothing like ours. That he has interests and concerns we can't imagine, and also that we know joys and pains of fanhood--and life--that he's never encountered. Frank McCourt became a Dodger fan because he bought the team. We became Dodger fans because we bought tickets. You can't fix facts, and facts trump fairness.
Frank McCourt is doing what the book says he should do: fight to preserve his legal rights in a dogged effort to keep his business. I won't crucify him for it. But I'll again ask: Is the effort worth it?