Sep 26

What watch? Ten watch? Such watch

Hope you know what the headline above refers to.

  • Every National League batting race scenario you can imagine is provided by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. My personal nightmare: Matt Kemp gets 10 hits over the next three games, but Albert Pujols homers in his last at-bat.
  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports has two good pieces today, on McCourt v. Selig and on Kemp very much not v. Newcombe.
  • Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus has a good piece on Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Among other things, he notes that when “you factor in opponent quality and ballpark, (Kershaw) has done better against a slightly tougher slate of hitters than Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee” — a reminder that just because Kershaw has gotten to pitch against the San Francisco and San Diego offenses this year doesn’t mean he’s had it easy.
  • Orel Hershiser and Eddie Murray make Chris Jaffe’s “Ten worst career-ending performances of all time” list at the Hardball Times.
Sep 23

MLB calls for court to order Dodger sale

Vowing to reject any TV deal that involves the Dodgers with Frank McCourt as owner, Major League Baseball filed a motion requesting the bankruptcy court to order a sale of the franchise.

… Attorneys for the league argued in a court filing that McCourt is using the team’s Chapter 11 case to try to resolve his own personal financial problems. They said he has methodically stripped the team of its revenue sources and is now seeking to auction off the team’s television rights without league approval, which could lead to its expulsion from the league and leave it in economic ruin. …

Bill Shaikin of the Times first reported the story, which included this haymaker of a passage:

… The current Fox Sports contract with the Dodgers expires in 2013, and Fox holds exclusive negotiating rights for another 14 months. A sale of TV rights now not only would subject the Dodgers to significant damages in a lawsuit from Fox, baseball argued, but could result in MLB discipline up to and including the team’s suspension from the league. …

Fancy. Still, before it comes to that, we’ll presumably just see this continued to be played out in court.

More from Shaikin, who spoke with Thomas Salerno, lead attorney for the Phoenix Coyotes during their bankruptcy:

… By announcing its rejection of any deal before a sale could take place, and by signaling its veto of a plan that McCourt could use to pay all the Dodgers’ creditors in full, Salerno said, the league could be seen as not acting in good faith.

“I think MLB runs a risk that the judge says that’s not reasonable,” Salerno said.

Since a settlement in the case is highly unlikely, Judge Kevin Gross could issue a ruling that stands as precedent for other disputes between owners and leagues.

“This case is clearly going to make law,” Salerno said. “The league is going all in.”

* * *

Since Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown in 1967, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Matt Kemp “is the only player to date to be within five points of the league leader in batting average (or leading), within one HR of the league leader (or leading), and within one RBI of the league leader (or leading), in the last 15 days of the season, let alone the last week of the season,” reports ESPN Stats and Information.

* * *

With Eugenio Velez starting tonight, a reminder of where he stands:

  • 0 for 33 this season
  • 0 for 42 since his last major-league hit, May 18, 2010
  • Since a third-inning single on April 20, 2010: 1 for his last 62 in the majors.
Sep 16

October looms large for Dodgers after all

The Dodgers beat the Pirates tonight, 7-2, to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least another night. But no matter what happens on the field between now and the end of the regular season September 28, there’s a big postseason showdown on tap for the Dodgers in October.

On October 12, Frank McCourt’s attorneys will formally ask the federal bankruptcy court that is overseeing the Dodgers to permit negotiations and possibly an auction for the franchise’s local television rights for 2014 and beyond. Should the court grant the request, it will pave the way for McCourt to retain ownership of the Dodgers – at least until Frank-Jamie II takes place in the courts sometime in the spring or summer of 2012.

Interested parties – Major League Baseball in particular – can and probably will file objections to the Dodgers’ request until September 30. The bankruptcy court’s first duty is to the creditors whom the Dodgers owe; what’s up in the air is whether MLB can make the case that there’s a better way to do this than by giving McCourt the chance to save his ownership – while further mortgaging the franchise’s future – through the future rights sale.

From The Associated Press:

… In a 37-page motion filed Friday with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross, the Dodgers say “market conditions are optimal for licensing the telecast rights because the market for sports media rights in Los Angeles is vibrant at this time.”

The Dodgers say “there can be no assurance that these ideal market conditions will last” and they should be allowed to sell rights now “to avoid any risk of deterioration in value.” …

One argument against McCourt is that MLB commissioner Bud Selig is supposed to be able to approve any TV rights deal, and that McCourt shouldn’t be rewarded for steering the Dodgers into bankruptcy by being allowed to circumvent the sport’s chieftain. Whether that argument will hold any sway with Judge Gross, I don’t know.

Bill Shaikin has more in the Times, where he also passes along the news that the Dodgers are seeking to retain an expensive New York-based public relations firm.

… The two primary spokespersons (from the firm) charge $750 and $400 per hour, according to the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

“Much of the media reporting on off-field issues has been inaccurate or misleading, and LAD requires a seasoned communications firm such as Kekst to better ensure that media coverage of LAD is more evenhanded and accurate going forward,” according to the filing, using the “LAD” abbreviation for the Dodgers.

The filing does not include any examples of inaccurate or misleading coverage. …

As far as I’m concerned, you can take this as another example of how deluded or desperate McCourt is – and no, the new PR firm won’t change my negative thinking on this. As Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine tweeted:

What makes McCourt’s media blaming so laughable is the best stuff we got was straight from his mouth in public court filings. Amnesia maybe?

You can’t file mountains of court documents crying poverty to get out of paying spousal support and not expect fans to think you are broke.

* * *

In other inspiring news, Jonathan Broxton will have surgery Monday, 4 1/2 months after he last pitched for the Dodgers, to remove a bone spur and some chips, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… Although Broxton’s bone bruise had improved dramatically, Dodgers medical director Stan Conte said the spur and loose bodies were the cause of repeated setbacks Broxton suffered in his effort to return, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly saying earlier this week that club officials no longer expected Broxton to pitch this season.

Broxton underwent what Conte said were “three or four” MRIs on the elbow during the season, but Conte said the chips were revealed only after Broxton underwent a CT scan, which was ordered when he experienced mild discomfort earlier this week during his first bullpen session in several weeks.

“CT scans normally aren’t done on elbows,” Conte said. “But we just wanted to make sure the bone bruise wasn’t turning into microfractures.”

The surgery will be performed by team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, after which Broxton is expected to need four to eight weeks to recover before he can begin throwing again. However, with free agency pending, it is possible Broxton has pitched his final game for the Dodgers, who already have replaced him in the closer’s role with rookie Javy Guerra and might balk at re-signing Broxton this winter to a major league contract. …

The surgery will take place nearly 15 months after Broxton began to lose effectiveness.

Jackson adds that Tony Gwynn Jr. will miss at least the remainder of this weekend’s series with the Pirates because of a jammed shoulder, which first happened last week in Washington and was aggravated Wednesday against Arizona.

* * *

Back on the field, the Dodgers came back strong tonight after Hiroki Kuroda allowed an unearned second-inning run, scoring once in the bottom of the second, twice in the third and four times in the sixth, capped by James Loney’s first career pinch-hit home run, a three-run blast that enabled him to reach 10 on the season.

Dee Gordon made his ninth error in his 45th game of the season, but had two hits and stole his 20th and 21st bases. Kuroda gave up a sixth-inning home run to Alex Presley (whom Vin Scully’s wife thinks looks like Tom Cruise, Scully told us), but was otherwise unscored upon. He allowed five hits, walked two and struck out seven.

Scully also passed along a story that warmed my heart: Rod Barajas chose uniform No. 28 with the Dodgers because of how much his mother loved Pedro Guerrero in the 1980s.

Sep 15

The 2012 McCourt trial: Where’s the sense of urgency?

The more I think about the slow pace of the McCourt proceedings, the more bothered I get.  I’m sure there are reasons, but man, we really need to wait another 6-to-12 months before this thing is going to go to trial?  How hard are they even trying?

Anyway, since we have the time and then some, take a listen to this interview that outgoing Dodger exec Josh Rawitch gave Wednesday to Mason & Ireland on ESPN AM 710. Should give you some insight into the thoughtful approach Rawitch brought to his job, difficult as it was.

Sep 14

McCourts meander toward ownership showdown

Better late than never …

  • The McCourt hearing today was mostly a tablesetter, according to The Associated Press. Bill Shaikin of the Times adds that a trial in 2012 will settle the question of McCourt ownership between Frank and Jamie. The date for that trial is to be decided in November. While the team is in bankruptcy, it will not be sold, Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon said.
  • Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic supplies some background to the Hong-Chih Kuo-Gerardo Parra spat.
  • Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw’s top rival for the Cy Young Award, shut out the Astros today.
  • Dodger postgame radio host Joe Block speculates that Kershaw might win 300 games.
  • An Arizona victory tonight would eliminate the Dodgers from the National League West race. And the NL wild card could be out of reach as soon as Thursday.
Sep 14

Dodgers open 2012 play April 5

Ready to put 2011 behind you? The Dodgers have released their preliminary 2012 schedule. After beginning this season on March 31, Opening Day 2012 comes on April 5 (a Thursday) at San Diego. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

The Los Angeles Dodgers will begin the 2012 regular season with a four-game series against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park April 5-8. Following an off-day, the team then will begin the home half of its schedule on April 10 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, kicking off a six-game homestand that also will include three more games against the Padres.

Major League Baseball released the 2012 regular-season schedule on Wednesday.

The interleague portion of the Dodgers’ schedule includes the usual six-game, home-and-home series with the Los Angeles Angels, who will visit Dodger Stadium June 11-13. The Dodgers then will play at Angel Stadium in Anaheim June 22-24.

Additionally, the Dodgers will host the Chicago White Sox June 15-17 and visit the Seattle Mariners June 8-10 and the Oakland A’s June 19-21.

The Dodgers will finish the first half with a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field July 5-8, then return home immediately after the All-Star break to begin the second half against the Padres on July 13.

The Dodgers finish the season at home with a six-game stand against the Colorado Rockies Sept. 28-30 and San Francisco Giants Oct. 1-3.

The schedule remains subject to change, and certain specifics such as starting times and day games/night games have yet to be finalized.

* * *

  • Former Dodgers executive and current Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall is profiled by Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News in a story that is well worth your time.
  • The McCourt ownership saga, which has been in a quiet period of late, resurfaces today in a hearing in which attorneys for Frank and Jamie fight over bill payments and spousal support, reports Bill Shaikin of the Times. Shaikin notes that the all-important issue of whether McCourt will be allowed to auction the Dodgers’ future TV rights has been delayed indefinitely.
  • ESPN.com baseball analyst and former Blue Jays exec Keith Law reviewed “Moneyball” at his personal blog – and hated the film, both as cinema and as a depiction of the book.

    There’s no doubt the film takes liberties on the baseball front and has some legitimate flaws, but I disagree with Law on a number of points – such as the idea that the secondary characters, from Art Howe to the scouts, are one-dimensional buffoons. I think it’s very clear that these guys are real people, men to be respected, and that there’s a real conflict going on, not a steamrolling of ne’er-do-wells.

    At one point, Law criticizes the movie for staging a scene in which Beane crosses the country to discuss a trade in person with Cleveland’s general manager, because that wouldn’t happen, then later criticizes the movie for a scene in which Beane talks on the phone with the same GM, because it’s boring to watch him talk on the phone. Hard to win.

    I definitely expect some will be so put off by the film’s inaccuracies that they won’t be able to enjoy it, but I still think it stands up overall.

  • Here’s an excerpt of what Jackson wrote late Tuesday for ESPNLosAngeles.com on Chad Billingsley.

    … Billingsley’s pitch count was high again in this one, but that was mostly due to those first three innings. From the fourth on, we saw the dominating pitcher we know Billingsley can be, which makes it all the more maddening that we don’t see that guy more often.

    Those previous three starts lent themselves to all sorts of speculation, such as whether Billingsley was feeling OK physically. I went so far as to ask pitching coach Rick Honeycutt that question during last weekend’s series in San Francisco, whereupon Honeycutt said if Billingsley was hurting, he wasn’t admitting it. That appears to be a moot point now.

    What Honeycutt did say was that Billingsley had lost command of his fastball — the pitch that sets up the effectiveness of all his others — and it probably was a mechanical issue having to do with his release point. Whatever it was, it wasn’t much of a problem against the Diamondbacks. …

  • Update: Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com has a glowing portrait of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
Sep 01

Burke-led bunch bids billion-plus for Bums

The one thing that was predictable about potential bidders for the Dodgers is that they weren’t going to be predictable. And so out of the blue and into the ownership marathon steps former Los Angeles Marathon topper Bill Burke with $1.2 billion, backed by a consortium of folk from here and abroad:

… A letter to McCourt outlining the offer was disclosed to The Los Angeles Times by sources close to the situation. The letter states that the offer would be funded in part by Chinese investors.

“I have no comment at this time,” Burke told the newspaper.

The sales price would be a record for a major league franchise.

The bid would expire in 21 days and would be subject to approval by the court overseeing the Dodgers bankruptcy case and Major League Baseball, the letter states. The letter does not specify if McCourt’s ex-wife, Jamie McCourt, would have to approve the deal. But she has already asked courts for an immediate sale of the team.

Specifics weren’t given on the foreign investors except to characterize them as “certain state-owned investment institutions of the People’s Republic of China,” the newspaper reports.

In 2004, Burke and his partner sold the L.A. Marathon, which was subsequently bought from Devine Racing in 2008 by none other than Frank McCourt.

The Times also reported Thursday that court filings show that the McCourts recently sold one of the two homes they own near the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles for $6.525 million. The McCourts are disputing how the proceeds should be used, according to the report.

A dollar figure that high is nothing to dismiss out of hand, but without knowing any more details, a healthy skepticism about this would seem appropriate. I do find it funny, though, that this news came mere hours after I wrote the following paragraph for ESPN’s Sweet Spot about the Dodgers’ September hopes:

Though a .500 record and a second-place finish in the NL West have suddenly become realistic goals, their fans will be most interested in how Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp do in the home stretches of their Cy Young and MVP campaigns (and for Kemp, pursuit of a 40/40 season and the Triple Crown). If we’re wishing on a star, however, it would be for a long-awaited breakthrough toward resolving the McCourt ownership crisis.

Jul 29

Broxton and Navarro and what a difference six years does (and doesn’t) make


Jeff Lewis/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro in 2005.

Six years ago tonight, on a Friday, the Dodgers began a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 46-56 record, then as they are now 10 games under .500. That day, the team made two transactions.

Purchased the contract of RHP Jonathan Broxton from Double-A Jacksonville and designated RHP Scott Erickson for assignment; Recalled C Dioner Navarro from Triple-A Las Vegas and optioned C Mike Rose to Triple-A Las Vegas.

Jonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro. Today, those two names bring up mixed emotions, to say the least.

But six years ago, making their Dodger debuts, they heralded a new era of promise for a downtrodden team: Broxton, the first of a heralded group of Dodger minor leaguers to reach the bigs; Navarro, a 21-year-old catching prodigy acquired in trade.

From Dodger Thoughts, July 29, 2005:

… The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Navarro, still only 21, has battled some physical issues this season – according to Nick Christensen of the Las Vegas Sun, Navarro was 2 for 18 since being activated from the disabled list July 18 – but has played 75 games overall for AAA Las Vegas, with an on-base percentage of .366 and a slugging percentage of .390. Offensively, he is lacking power for now – but down the road, some may catch up with him. Though his professional high in home runs is only eight, he did hit 31 doubles in 2003 at age 19, split between A and AA ball. Navarro’s biggest strength is his strike zone command – 38 walks against 24 strikeouts. Defensively, he is obviously more promising than Jason Phillips, but we’ll see if the Dodger pitchers still need to hold runners on better.

Broxton, four months younger than Navarro but six inches taller and around 50-100 pounds heavier, has been a stud ever since he became a second-round pick for the Dodgers in 2002. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning with a career ERA of 3.14 entering this season – primarly as a starter – Broxton has recently been used out of the bullpen for AA Jacksonville in anticipation of the Dodgers needing his help. In 28 games (15 in relief), Broxton has a 3.36 ERA and in 91 innings, has allowed 77 hits (just four home runs) and 29 walks while striking out 99. As a reliever, he has struck out 28 in 19 innings and has been clocked at 100 miles per hour, according to Baseball America, which also published a quote from an American League scout praising both Broxton’s fastball and “power curve.”

Broxton becomes the third home-grown player on the Dodgers 25-man roster, joining Jason Repko and Steve Schmoll (assuming neither is sent down). …

Yes, you could say the youth movement was just getting underway.

In the game, Navarro started for the Dodgers, batting for the first time an inning after left fielder Ricky Ledee hit a three-run home run, and reached first on an infield single. He later struck out, grounded out and walked.

Broxton, also 21, replaced Brad Penny in the top of the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading, 5-4, and had mixed results. He gave up singles to David Eckstein and Abraham Nunez, then reared back and struck out Albert Pujols, who had homered the inning before. Broxton wild-pitched the runners to second and third base, prompting an intentional walk to Jim Edmonds. With the bases loaded and one out, John Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game, before Broxton struck out Mark Grudzielanek to end the inning.

Because the tying run scored, Broxton was charged with a blown save in a game that gave him no chance of actually recording a save. It was these kinds of no-upside blown saves that would skew his save percentage for years and help others make the case that he was unfit to close. Despite this, Broxton did become one of the top relief pitchers in the National League – just as one of many pieces of evidence, only six relievers in the majors had a lower OPS allowed than Broxton from 2006-09, and two of those are going to the Hall of Fame – but we’re well past that debate now, with him unlikely to pitch much more than a few more innings as a Dodger, and others like Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen stepping forward.

Navarro would be supplanted much sooner, replaced in May 2006 by Russell Martin after a combination of sluggish defense and injury. Navarro came back to Los Angeles this season after a long absence, fraught with professional and personal struggles, but it’s now a celebration when his batting average breaks .200.

Somehow, both players are surprisingly close over the hill at age 27, even perilously close to the end of their careers if they don’t reverse fortune. It fits right in with a Dodger team that has tumbled off a cliff in 2011. We’ve come full circle and gotten dizzy in the process.

The next generation of Dodgers beckons – the generation that will try to revive this team. But it’s impossible to fathom how it will play out. Broxton, Navarro, Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, on and on and on – so many ups and downs.  I can’t tell if I feel that six years is long or short.

And then there’s this: That same morning, in the July 29, 2005 issue of Variety, Dave McNary published the following story about the Dodgers, in their second year of ownership under Frank and Jamie McCourt:

… Frank McCourt, the Boston-born Dodgers owner … strolls around the stadium as though he was the mayor of a small New England town. He’s not the landlord, he’s a host, eager to welcome people to his party.

Under the O’Malleys, many Angelenos felt the Dodgers represented “downtown.” McCourt has broader ambitions. … He wants Westsiders as much as Echo Park locals, and he believes the best way to get both of them is to make sure Hollywood feels welcome.

A year after buying the team in early 2004, McCourt added 300 seats to the Dugout Club and expanded the restaurant. McCourt and his wife, Jaime, attend most home games, where they escort club guests to a martini bar, as well as stands that offer prime rib, fajitas, salads and, of course hot dogs, all free of charge to box holders and other guests.

A seat in the club runs an all-inclusive $400 (booze is extra), but one of McCourt’s biggest reasons for undertaking $20 million in upgrades was to attract people who may never pay at all.

McCourt wants to see the same sort of wall-to-wall celeb lineup who attends Lakers games. He’s well on the way. On a recent evening, when the Dodgers suffered a blowout loss to the San Francisco Giants, club attendees included celebs Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Lovitz, Robert Wuhl and Alyssa Milano; sports agents Scott Boras and Dennis Gilbert; former players Dave Winfield and Bill Buckner; and Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda.

Other regulars include Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Tom Hanks, Pat Sajak, Penny Marshall, Mary Hart, Wayne Gretzky and Peter Chernin.

The McCourts’ four sons also are conspicuous, with most of the credit for bringing Hollywood into the Dodgers’ fold going to Drew McCourt, the low-key marketing director who decided to work for his dad after getting an astrophysics degree from Columbia U. The 23-year-old has been charged with glad-handing Hollywood studios, agencies, top-tier producers and music industry execs, luring them into premium seats by promising that most elusive commodity, exclusivity.

Still, in wooing Hollywood, the McCourts have a tough job. As one of the few sports facilities built in the 1960s that has aged with some grace, even minor changes to Dodger Stadium provoke anxiety among devoted fans — many of whom would never consider paying $400 for a seat.

“We’ve got an asset that’s very unique within the baseball world,” says Drew McCourt, who grew up going to Red Sox games at Fenway Park. “But we don’t take it for granted that Hollywood’s going to show up. We have to make this area attractive enough so the team’s performance doesn’t really matter whether people show up.”

Six years. Six positively head-spinning years.

Jul 22

Big picture: Whither McCourt now?

Nothing that happened in bankruptcy court today specifically precludes Frank McCourt from getting the television deal that would keep his Dodger ownership alive. So what’s the endgame that could push McCourt out?

There’s still the possibility that MLB strips McCourt of ownership, for violating the sport’s rules that he agreed to abide by when he became owner, but the ability for MLB to do that while the Dodgers are in bankruptcy court is unclear.

Instead, everything might rest on whether MLB is able to delay a new television deal long enough to starve McCourt from meeting his personal obligations in a way that would allow him to emerge with the franchise.

Remember, it’s the Dodgers who are in bankruptcy court, not McCourt. So none of the $150 million loan that the bankruptcy court is facilitating is supposed to go into McCourt’s pocket — it’s supposed to satisfy the Dodgers’ creditors. If McCourt can’t pay his own personal debts (complicated by his dealings with ex-wife Jamie), he would presumably have to start eating into his assets. Or, I suppose, file for bankruptcy himself.

So we’re back to discussing TV revenue.

Fox has exclusivity though November 2012 on any negotiations for future Dodger TV rights. As was confirmed earlier today, Bud Selig believes there has to be competitive bidding for TV rights to ensure that the Dodgers are getting fair market value. McCourt ostensibly either needs a judge to bless that bidding (which would be contested by Fox), or get a judge to overrule MLB and approve a Fox-McCourt extension.

Would the court approve a Fox-McCourt deal over MLB’s objections? It’s not clear, but given the conflict-of-interest concerns at the heart of today’s ruling by Judge Kevin Gross and the knowledge that the deal would largely serve McCourt at the Dodgers’ expense, I think there’s reason for the anti-McCourt camp to feel some hope.

This should come to a head as soon as a hearing scheduled for August 16. Josh Fisher has more at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… A Dodgers attorney said in a statement that the team “will propose … a competitive sale process of exclusive cable television rights” before the end of this calendar year. However, the Dodgers will find themselves in an awkward negotiating position with current partner Fox.

Under the terms of the existing television deal, the Dodgers cannot begin negotiating with anyone other than Fox until late 2012. That has led baseball to express concerns about the desirability of extensions of the Fox deal thus far proposed by McCourt. However, because of the club’s bankruptcy, it may have the option to walk away from the Fox contract and sell the Dodgers’ television rights competitively.

MLB will likely oppose such treatment of an important strategic partner. While today’s ruling signals Gross’ willingness to curtail baseball’s policies to the extent necessary to achieve bankruptcy’s purposes, he may not be as willing to entertain a move with potential negative impact across the game. Make no mistake, the fight over the Dodgers’ ability to sell their TV rights will be as bitter and acrimonious as any thus far. The outcome will determine how much longer the Dodgers remain under McCourt ownership. …

Hold your breath …

Jul 22

Bankruptcy judge pushes McCourt to negotiate with MLB

From ESPNLosAngeles.com and The Associated Press:

A Delaware judge has rejected the Los Angeles Dodgers’ proposed $150 million bankruptcy financing plan, a decision that likely will force the team to accept a financing offer from Major League Baseball.

The judge issued his eight-page decision Friday, two days after presiding over a hearing on the competing financing plans.

The team had sought approval of its proposed arrangement with hedge fund Highbridge Capital.

But the league, which has been locked in a bitter dispute with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, countered with a competing plan that carried better financial terms.

The Dodgers rejected MLB’s offer, saying it likely would result in legal battles and was an attempt by baseball commissioner Bud Selig to take control of the team and force a sale. …

This is not a fastpass for MLB to take control of the Dodgers, though MLB being able to have a direct say in the terms of the loan is significant. But the bigger decision still awaits: Who will drive the Dodgers TV future, upon which McCourt’s fate as Dodger owner rests.

More on Judge Kevin Gross’ ruling from Bill Shaikin of the Times:

“It is unclear to the Court how Debtors think they can successfully operate a team within the framework of Baseball if they are unwilling to sit with Baseball to consider and negotiate even more favorable terms while under the Court’s protection,” Gross wrote.

By the way, the first footnote in the ruling reads:

This entity owns the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball Team (“the Dodgers”) whose rich and successful history is of mythical proportions. Its great former players, managers and executives could justify their own hall of fame …

Jul 22

Selig eviscerated McCourt-Fox proposal in June 20 letter

Over at Variety, I posted about the overflow of reasons that MLB commissioner Bud Selig laid out for rejecting a proposed 17-year television rights extension between Fox and Frank McCourt. The 11-page June 20 letter Selig sent to McCourt was posted by the Times today.

“While any one of the factors identified below would alone give me serious pause,” Selig wrote, “collectively … they demonstrate overwhelmingly that the proposed transaction is neither in the long-term interests of the franchise nor consistent with the best interests of the game of baseball.”

Here’s more:

… Selig noted that McCourt was rushing into the Fox deal because of his “desperate need for immediate cash” to address his and the Dodgers’ financial problems, without waiting for the period starting on November 30, 2012 when he could solicit other, potentially more lucrative offers through competitive bidding. Selig notes the mega-deal that the Los Angeles Lakers struck for their TV rights through such a process.

“In fact, as your chief financial offcer told representatives of my office on April 5, 2011,” Selig said, “you would not even be considering a media rights transaction at ths time were it not for the club’s ‘financial duress.’ “

Selig also stated that the $385 million up-front payment that McCourt would receive upon signing the deal “far exceeds any up-front payment previously received by any other club,” adding that “no other owner has sacrificed so much of his team’s future for an immediate payoff.”

“I am concerned that at some point,” Selig wrote, “(the Dodgers) will be unable to adapt to unexpected circumstances because you have accelerated such a substantial amount of its media revenues.”

Selig’s letter also quotes 2009 testimony from McCourt’s divorce proceeding against Jamie McCourt, when current Dodgers vice chairman Jeff Ingram said that McCourt “noted that Fox has very tough negotiators, they’re very smart and he’s not convinced we would get a very good deal from Fox at this time to do a capital raise, and that we’d hamstring the business in the future by getting them to do something now.”

Selig then delved into McCourt’s plan to put the 35% equity interest in Fox Sports Net West 2 that the Dodgers would receive into a holding company separate from the franchise, as well as his plan to take at least 45% from the $385 million up-front payment to settle personal debts.

And, Selig took pains to note that the McCourt’s proposed divorce settlement with Jamie McCourt had the potential of a court-supervised sale of the team beginning in August — yet the next owner would be stuck with the Fox deal without a dime of the $385 million. …

It’s a fairly eviscerating letter yet soundly argued. Whatever claim McCourt has to unfair treatment by Selig is undermined by how catastrophic the Dodgers’ situation is, combined with McCourt’s half-baked, short-sighted solutions.

“Your (June 18 letter) asserts, without explanation or support, that I should not take into account the Dodgers’ current financial condition and operational state,” Selig wrote. “Apparently you believe that I should make these decisions in a vacuum, without the context of the relevant facts and circumstances related to the Dodgers. To me, that makes no sense. It is not the manner in which I have approached decisions concerning matters involving other clubs, each of which has turned on the unique circumstances of the particular club.”

McCourt took the Dodgers into bankruptcy one week after Selig’s letter was sent, hoping to take his fate out of Selig’s hands.

Jul 19

Bankruptcy hearing on tap

At ESPNLosAngeles.com, Josh Fisher previews Wednesday’s bankruptcy hearing for the Dodgers:

… On Wednesday, Judge Kevin Gross will decide whether McCourt can shepherd the Dodgers through their bankruptcy using McCourt-arranged financing. In McCourt’s favor is the strong deference bankruptcy courts usually show debtors who secure their own financing. Working against him is Major League Baseball’s proposal to fund the team’s operations at a much lower cost. Coupled with allegations of McCourt mismanagement, baseball could increase its influence on the Dodgers by convincing the court to deny McCourt his own financing.

Gross’ ruling on the issue has two layers of importance. First, from a technical standpoint, forcing McCourt to accept MLB financing paves the way for Selig to exert control over the Dodgers should McCourt fail to follow baseball’s terms. Second, because of the great deference typically shown debtors to exercise their own business judgment in these scenarios, a ruling against McCourt would be a strong message that Gross lacks faith in McCourt’s ownership. A pro-MLB decision Wednesday would not end the McCourt era, but it would be a damaging blow. …

Bill Shaikin of the Times has more.

The early-in-the-day bankruptcy hearing will be followed by a probable bankruptcy of runs at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday when Clayton Kershaw faces Tim Lincecum.

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Shawn Green will be signing copies of his book, “The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph” at 6:30 p.m. August 3 at downtown’s ESPN Zone.

Jul 09

Crowd control: Before near no-hitter, fans stay away


Jon Weisman/ESPNLosAngeles.comDodger Stadium at the first pitch.

Jon Weisman/ESPNLosAngeles.comScene minutes earlier at the corner of Sunset and Elysian Park

The crowd Saturday at the first fan-organized protest against Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt might have been small, though nothing felt as sparse as the inside of Dodger Stadium.

About 75 people gathered at the southeast corner of Sunset Blvd. and Elysian Park Ave., down the hill from the ballpark, in the hour before Saturday’s Dodgers-San Diego Padres game for the “We Take Our Team Back” demonstration, designed to draw more attention to the frustration a number of Dodger fans have with the team ownership situation.

That turnout was less than organizer Roger Arrieta of West Covina, Calif., anticipated, but perhaps reflected a crowd that largely chose to avoid all things Dodgers on a vintage Southern California summer day.

“It’s a step,” said participant Joe Gonzalez of Boyle Heights.

As galvanized as the boycotters were by their protest, they might have been even more heartened by what was happening inside the stadium. The season-long attendance decline, amped by a national TV broadcast of a game originally scheduled for the evening, led to swaths of empty seats for the first pitch, at a level that even the cliche of late-arriving Dodger fans couldn’t explain.

Dodger attendance this season, amid increasing dissatisfaction with ownership and a team that has fallen into last place, is more reliant than ever on discounts just to mitigate the decline, something that wasn’t lost on protester Jesse Delgado of Monrovia, who manned the megaphone with equal parts anger and levity.

“Do not support the McCourts!” chanted Delgado. “Do not fall for his $1 hot dogs!”

Delgado earlier commented that while fan grievances toward McCourt might be well-known, there was an urgency for a solution.

“Our biggest concern as fans is, is it going to be in a timely manner, before (Matt) Kemp and (Andre) Ethier leave as free agents?” Delgado said. “How long can McCourt damage our team?”

Noting the declining attendance, Gonzalez believes that non-Dodger fans should take up the cause.

“The teams back East are used to getting revenue sharing,” he said. “They’re used to getting 40-45,000 a game (at Dodger Stadium). … They should be out here.”

With fans chanting, holding signs and buying and selling anti-McCourt T-shirts, Arrieta monitored reaction to the protest on his cellphone. The rather soft-spoken organizer calmly discussed his amazement at the state of the franchise and its fans.

“I just want to keep drawing more attention at this,” Arietta said. “Frank comes out and says, ‘I just keep doing this for the best interests for the community.’ Does he not see what’s going on?”

Jul 07

Buck supports Scully trip to the World Series

Fox baseball announcer Joe Buck is all for having Vin Scully participate in a World Series broadcast. Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News passes along the quotes.

… “Personally, I’d love it,” Buck said the other day. “We’ve always toyed with the idea of having the hometown guy involved in a World Series broadcast. I’m from that camp. In my dad’s era, we paid a nod of tribute to the greats. And there’s no one like Vin, or close to Vin.

“I’d happily step aside to hear his voice (on the World Series). I would not fight that at all. That’s just how I grew up.

“As far as I’m concerned, he could be part of it every year. I’m not selfish. I realize who the game’s greats are, and I always defer to them – my dad (Jack Buck), Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, Harry Caray. There are only a handful of guys who are as identifiable with their organizations as any player is.” …

I think Fox might be less of a hurdle for Scully at this point than the possibility that the World Series will take place entirely on the East Coast this year.

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  • The final batch of your Dodger fan stories submitted to ESPNLosAngeles.com is up on the site.
  • Bud Selig scored a victory over Frank McCourt in a bankruptcy hearing today, when Judge Kevin Gross denied a request to order Major League Baseball to turn over numerous documents. “This is clearly in my mind not an appropriate occasion to turn the hearing into a trial of the commissioner,” Gross said.
  • The Dodgers have gone 283 plate appearances since their last home run, Aaron Miles’ midgame shot on June 28.
  • Trayvon Robinson will compete in the Triple-A Home Run Derby on Monday.
  • Dodger farmhands Dee Gordon, Zach Lee and Allen Webster are in Baseball America’s midseason top-50 prospects list.
  • Andre Ethier was unable to top Shane Victorino of Philadelphia for the final fan-elected spot on the National League All-Star roster.
  • Former DodgerTalk host Ken Levine, now broadcasting Seattle Mariners games, wrote a piece on a “day in the life” of a baseball broadcaster.
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” might finally be on its way out of Dodger Stadium, reports Sons of Steve Garvey, while “God Bless America” could be reduced to Sundays and special occasions.
  • At Bronx Banter, Jon De Rosa writes about parking at Dodger Stadium and then walking all the way to Phillippe’s for a pregame bite.

    … It seemed very straightforward, the only tricky part was crossing the 110. The walking map/GPS on my phone had it pegged as a 25 minute walk. The phone is lucky it was not smashed on the sidewalk.

    Maybe if you were one of the Elves from Lord of The Rings, it would have been a 25 minute walk. But my family moves at Dwarf or Hobbit-speed, especially in the heat.

    Did I forget to mention my wife was pushing a double stroller? Disaster. You can imagine that an area not expecting pedestrians would skimp on sidewalks. There’s maybe 50 feet of sidewalk around Dodger Stadium that can accommodate the girth of the doublewide stroller. The road ahead was so treacherous that we had to send a scout 100 yards in advance in order to map where we could walk.

    The sandwich at Phillippes is good, and probably deserves a Tasters Cherce, but the lines go on and on and noboby eles has planned to walk back – ever. So as we ate, the spectre of the return journey hung above us.

    But as with any disaster, it’s all about the people you’re with and how they react. We couldn’t stop laughing at ourselves, for thinking like New Yorkers and getting ourselves in this mess. My wife put a gob of their mustard on her sandwich before realizing how hot it was. We cracked up again. We missed the first pitch, and the first inning, but we caught the other eight and didn’t leave early.

    Good thing, because the Dodgers won in a walkoff. We even hung around so the kids could run the bases. As we were leaving, my older son said, “When I grow up, I’m going to play baseball like those guys.” I think we were the last non-employees to leave Dodger Stadium. Great day and a walk I’ll probably never forget.

  • I’m off to Fangraphs Live, but I’ll be taking my car.
Jul 03

A public catharsis

The first batch of Dodger stories solicited from the fans by ESPNLosAngeles.com have been published. Check ‘em out.

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Saturday at 12 noon, some Dodger fans have scheduled a demonstration to voice displeasure “with Frank McCourt, MLB, and Bud Selig for allowing the collapse of this once proud franchise.” It’s taken me a while to understand the point of this type of protest – fan disgust with the state of Dodger ownership is already an international story, one that has been conveyed through the daily decline in Dodger attendance more effectively than any single-day action could ever hope to do. It’s the silence, not the screaming, that speaks volumes.

However, I do realize that for some fans, staying away from the games (whether by conscious protest or simple apathy) is not exactly a catharsis. On that level, a demonstration makes sense to me, with like-minded people coming together to make their statement clear, even if it’s a statement that otherwise goes without saying.

There might be media coverage of the demonstration, but it will be media coverage that reiterates a story already being told – there’s a baseball crisis in Los Angeles, and fans are anxious to have it resolved. It’s not my place to tell the participants that the media coverage won’t matter, but only speaking for myself, I imagine the most important part of the gathering will be the camaraderie, the shared spirit of Dodger fans who have always cherished their team.