This is a column about last straws.
Today, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig indicated he had been handed his last straw with regards to Frank McCourt’s stewardship of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Selig responded by giving his office control of the Dodgers’ operations.
Speculation is that the last straw for Selig was a reported $30 million personal loan that McCourt received from Fox that was believed to be necessary to meet the Dodgers’ payroll obligations — the latest indication of how fragile McCourt’s financial underpinnings are. But if it wasn’t this loan, it could or would have been something else.
As I walked through all the different stories about today’s news, as if I were a shopper in a McCourt Mall of Horrors, I found myself thinking about the person whose name has been in the news, top of mind, every day this month until today: Bryan Stow.
The Giants fan whose horrifying beating in the gloaming of Opening Day in the Dodger Stadium parking lot March 31 will not be found on any McCourt spreadsheet. The severity of the event, sadly enough, wasn’t even unprecedented in Dodger Stadium history.
But in the days after it occurred, as you felt the groundswell of horror and shame sweep through the world of the Dodgers — an emotional wave that only gained momentum with McCourt’s initial public declaration that nothing could have been done to prevent it — I began to feel that Stow’s beating, more than any rising parking fees, inconsistent spending on players or appalling revelations of greed in court documents related to McCourt’s divorce from wife Jamie, was the baseball world’s “network” moment.
It was just too ugly, and people weren’t going to take it anymore.
I think McCourt realized this, too, which is why, at a certain point this month, you started to see almost daily releases, media conferences or other kinds of announcements determined to show his commitment to rehabilitating the Dodgers’ (and in turn, his) relationship with the fans and baseball.
But more and more fans weren’t buying it. I haven’t been at Dodger Stadium in the past week, and I’m also familiar with no-shows dotting Dodger Stadium in the best of times, but there have been too many reports to ignore from longtime Dodger watchers that things had really changed. I’ve been a passionate skeptic of fan boycotts, but even I have to concede that there was a statement being made here. More and more people just didn’t want any part of this.
The thing is, it hasn’t been an organized boycott, not on any widespread level. It’s been people on their own coming to the conclusion that life was too short to waste on a franchise in this condition.
This includes people like my father, who chose during the offseason not to renew my family’s season tickets for a 30th season. It also includes the people who typically would improvise their ticket purchases after the season was underway.
That’s not to say Dodger Stadium was or would be empty. Some still show up because they love the team through thick and decidedly thin. The game’s pull remains strong. I myself have been trying to figure out when to get my kids to their first game of 2011.
But things haven’t been this low at Dodger Stadium before, have they? I think back to 1992, the worst team in Los Angeles Dodger history playing against the backdrop of a city torn by riots, and there was not such bitterness over the state of ownership.
Dodgers fans have been wandering through a desert of uncertainty and dismay for well more than a year since the McCourts’ marital strife put control of the team in limbo. What the Bryan Stow incident did, besides put the life of a man in jeopardy, was amplify the fear that with McCourt in charge, there might be no bottom.
It wasn’t that there would be nothing to excite us — the joy of Clayton Kershaw, the signing of Zach Lee, the sizzling start of Matt Kemp or even the lovely melodies of Nancy Bea. But Stow seemed to destroy an illusion that the team would ever get ahead, that behind each high there wouldn’t be a more severe low.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the shock of the Stow beating, combined with a team that had been outscored in 2011 more than any other in the National League, engineered nothing more than a temporary blindness to the light at the end of the tunnel.
But I’m not sure I’m wrong. Moreover, though I can’t draw a cause-effect line between the Stow incident and Selig’s decision today — a decision that was building over time — I can’t get myself to think anything but that the brutality and its aftermath were a spiritual last straw. Whatever rope McCourt had to work with, whatever fear Selig has that McCourt might turn his legal ugliness against the game of baseball itself, was gone.
In any case, if Selig’s decision was nothing more than a decision based purely on finances, it’s done. And even though there have been three playoff appearances during the McCourt ownership, even though there is uncertainty over how this will play out, I’m here to say … I’m excited.
There will be problems, short-term and long-term, but I don’t see much reason to think the Dodgers will be any less capable of making moves to better the organization on or off the field than they were before today. There is a question of whether the next stewards will be good ones, but tonight, I do see the light.
It was more than seven years ago, during the months leading up to the official transition of Dodgers ownership, that I began expressing my fears that McCourt was borrowing too much money and keeping too many secrets to trust as an owner. Those fears were realized in a way that I couldn’t even comprehend at the time. You can check back in with me later on, but tonight, my fears for the future of the Dodgers are non-existent by comparison.
No more last straws.