After Ownership Drama, Dodgers Want To Play Ball

Mar 18, 2012
Originally published on March 18, 2012 4:50 pm

Things are looking pretty good at the Dodgers spring training complex in Glendale, Ariz. They have Cy Young Award winning Clayton Kershaw anchoring their pitching staff and at the plate, the National league MVP runner-up, Matt Kemp.

"Hopefully, we can start out the way we finished last year and be consistent throughout the whole year," Kemp said.

Everyone has had enough of what's been happening off the field.

"The focus on the Dodgers and in the city of Los Angeles needs to be on the field," says Bill Shaiken, who covers the Dodgers for the Los Angeles Times. "On folks like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, two of the best players in baseball. Not on ownership drama and who's going to bid how much and what revealing court document made the team look bad this week."

It's been 21/2 years since Dodger owners Frank and Jamie McCourt announced their divorce, and started an epic legal battle over control of the team.

Frank McCourt won, only to have Major League Baseball take over operations. Then, last June, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy, owing tens of millions of dollars to former players and others.

It was the low point. It was also the turning point.

McCourt was forced to put the team up for sale. It's fair to say he's not the most popular guy in L.A. But he is shrewd. Normally when you sell a team, you find a buyer and Major League Baseball approves or doesn't approve the sale. But Shaiken said McCourt got himself a better arrangement.

"He was able to negotiate a setup where Major League Baseball would still get to approve buyers but he would get a final list of approved buyers and could negotiate in a an auction fashion with those buyers," he said.

Four groups appear to be left in contention: one involving former L.A. Laker basketball star Magic Johnson, another led by a hedge-fund billionaire, the third by the owner of the St. Louis Rams football team and the last group headed by the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team.

The Dodgers are expected to fetch about $1.5 billion, a potential record for a North American Sports franchise. McCourt has until the end of April to close a deal; the same day he owes his former wife, Jamie, a $131 million divorce settlement.

"I think everybody, and honestly I think some of McCourt's folks too are looking forward just to getting it over with," Shaiken says.

Folks who stayed for fireworks after the spring training game already seem to have put it behind them. Dodger manager Don Mattingly said that this spring he's been surprised by how little he's been asked about the sale.

"It really hasn't been much of a distraction this year," he said. "It's been way less than I thought it would be. I thought there'd be a lot more questions. There hasn't been a whole lot."

Could be because everyone knows new owners will be on board in the next couple of months; could be because, even in L.A., people can get tired of the drama.

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

For many sports fans in L.A., spring means one thing:

(SOUNDBITE OF BASEBALL GAME)

VIN SCULLY: It's time for Dodger baseball.

RAZ: This spring, though, Dodger fans are enduring a long-running soap opera in the front office, featuring divorce, debt and a team held in the balance. NPR's Ted Robbins has our story.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Things are looking pretty good at the Dodgers spring training complex in Glendale, Arizona.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROBBINS: They have Cy Young Award-winning Clayton Kershaw anchoring their pitching staff and, at the plate, the National league MVP runner-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) number 27, Matt Kemp.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATT KEMP: You know, hopefully, we can start out the way we finished last year and just continue to be consistent throughout the whole year.

ROBBINS: Everyone has had enough of what's been happening off the field. Bill Shaikin covers the Dodgers for the L.A. Times.

BILL SHAIKIN: The focus on the Dodgers and in the city of Los Angeles needs to be on the field, on folks like Matt Kemp, on Clayton Kershaw, two of the best players in baseball, not on ownership drama and who's going to bid how much and what revealing court document made the team look bad this week.

ROBBINS: It's been two and a half years since Dodger owners Frank and Jamie McCourt announced their divorce. That started an epic legal battle between the two over control of the team. Frank McCourt won, only to have Major League Baseball take over operations. Then last June, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy, owing tens of millions of dollars to former players and others. It was the low point.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROBBINS: It was also the turning point. Frank McCourt was forced to put the team up for sale. It's fair to say he's not the most popular guy in L.A., but he is shrewd. Normally, when you sell a team, you find a buyer and Major League Baseball approves or doesn't approve the sale. But Bill Shaikin says McCourt got himself a better arrangement.

SHAIKIN: He was able to negotiate a setup where Major League Baseball would still get to approve buyers, but then he would get a final list of approved buyers and could negotiate in an auction fashion with those buyers.

ROBBINS: Four groups appear to be left in contention: one involving former L.A. Laker basketball star Magic Johnson, another led by a hedge fund billionaire, the third by the owner of the St. Louis Rams football team, and the last group headed by the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team.

The Dodgers are expected to fetch about $1.5 billion. That would be a record for a North American Sports franchise. Frank McCourt has until the end of April to close the deal, the same day he owes his ex-wife, Jamie, a $131 million divorce settlement.

SHAIKIN: I think everybody, and honestly probably some of McCourt's folks, too, are looking forward just to getting it over with.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

ROBBINS: Folks who stayed for fireworks after the spring training game already seem to have put it behind them. Dodger manager Don Mattingly says this spring, he's been surprised by how little he's been asked about the sale.

DON MATTINGLY: It really hasn't been much of a distraction this year. It's been way less than I thought it would be. I thought there'd be a lot more questions. There hasn't been a whole lot.

ROBBINS: Could be because everyone knows new owners will be on board in the next couple of months, could be because even in L.A., people can get tired of the drama. Ted Robbins, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.