It has been painful to watch the diminution of the storied franchise under the buffoonish ownership of Frank McCourt.
As a youngster in Whittier, Calif., I lived and died with the fortunes of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was such a fanatic, I used to watch “Beverly Hillbillies” because I thought the banker, Mr. Drysdale, was somehow related to Don. (I was loyal, but not too smart).
I exulted when the Dodgers won the World Series in 1965, and sulked for weeks in 1966 when the Orioles swept them. To me, Vin Scully was the voice of God. And Sandy Koufax was God.
My emotional investment in the day-to-day fortunes of the Dodgers disappeared long, long ago. That’s what happens when you grow up, move away and take a job in a profession that tends to knock the fan right out of you.
But the Dodgers as an ideal, a concept, will always mean something to me. And they mean something profound to baseball, as one of the flagship franchises in all of sports.
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The Dodgers brought Jackie Robinson into baseball and led the sport’s western expansion, which might still infuriate elderly Brooklynites but opened new horizons. Dodger Stadium has long been one of baseball’s glittering jewels, and Scully is a national treasure.
That’s why it has been so painful to watch the diminution of the Dodgers for the past seven years under the buffoonish ownership of Frank McCourt.
Paradoxically, they actually did a fair bit of winning under his watch, making the playoffs four times. But the Dodgers have increasingly become a laughingstock, particularly as the “War of the Roses” divorce between Frank and Jamie McCourt played out to wretched excess.
So many stories have emerged of their inept management, profligate lifestyle and all-around weirdness (they once put a Russian physicist named Vladimir Shpunt on the payroll so they could channel his positive energy) that it’s hard to know where to begin.
But it’s easy to know where to end: Right now. Commissioner Bud Selig made the right move Thursday when he seized control of the Dodgers from McCourt and put it under the auspices of Major League Baseball.
Going back to 2004, Selig never should have let the overleveraged and underfunded McCourt purchase the Dodgers. Many, many people warned that he didn’t have the financial means to make it work, though I don’t think anyone foresaw the comedy of errors (no, that’s not a Rafael Furcal reference) that was to ensue.
Dodger Stadium has been allowed to deteriorate, which is bad enough, and season-ticket sales are off dramatically this year. The Angels might actually out-draw the Dodgers for the first time.
But the capper might have been the gruesome beating of a Giants fan in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on opening day — he remains in a coma — while the Dodgers were without a full-time head of security.
The Dodgers are deep in debt and have been struggling to make payroll. McCourt had to do an end-around Selig to orchestrate a personal $30 million loan from his television partner, Fox, in order to do so — another final straw for the commissioner.
It’s a royal mess, and most insiders believe Selig’s ultimate goal is to force McCourt to sell the team. But he might not go quietly; McCourt has indicated he will fight the hostile takeover of his franchise, perhaps to the extent of suing MLB.
If that happens, much ugliness will ensue. But legal analysts believe Selig’s “best interest of baseball” powers will ultimately prevail.
There’s also the whole issue of Jamie McCourt’s claim of 50 percent ownership of the Dodgers, to be untangled in court. In the meantime, the reality of MLB operating a team is fraught with complications, as was proved during those dreary Montreal Expos years before their move to Washington D.C.
But if and when the Dodgers are officially put up for sale, I’d expect a line of eager buyers. Southern California is filled with massively wealthy folks who would love owning a still-prestigious team.
Following the McCourts, you couldn’t help but look like a conquering hero, unless you’re completely tone-deaf. If the Dodgers’ next television deal is as lucrative as fellow owners think it should be, they have a chance to be highly profitable once again, even with the inherited debt.
As for McCourt, he’ll likely make a huge profit in the deal and return to one of his eight homes, where he’ll continue pursuit of his No. 1 life goal: Prevailing over his wife in court.
Not to be too maudlin, but the Dodgers of my youth, and for years beyond, stood for something. They weren’t perfect — far from it — but there was always a certain air of class associated with the franchise.
That aura has been lost, and it’s something baseball needs to get back.