Peter and Walter O'Malley (courtesy www.walteromalley.com)
Peter O’Malley’s bid for the Dodgers appears to have ended, based on this report by Bill Shaikin of the Times. Although I didn’t believe he would end up with the team, if for no other reason than Frank McCourt had the final say in the bidding process, I’m a bit saddened. I really believe an O’Malley-led group would have been good for the franchise.
O’Malley is the one person bidding on the Dodgers whom I think I could call a friend, a relationship that began shortly before he agreed to write the forward for 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. We have had lunch periodically over the past four years, and he is every bit as warm and genuine as you might imagine. He and Vin Scully are birds of a feather.
Because of this relationship, I held off making much public comment one way or another about his bid, because I didn’t want to seem biased toward him – or more accurately, biased against anyone else. I do think he would have been a great owner.
- He absolutely would have prioritized the health of the franchise, on the field and off.
- He understood that his duty included finding a proper long-term steward to run the team.
Those comments will draw derisive laughter from some who still hold O’Malley accountable for part of the Dodgers’ post-1988 drought and for selling the team to Fox in 1998, paving the way for even rougher years. Hindsight tells us that the sale to Fox was unfortunate, but if you take the context of the moment into account, I do think it’s excusable. The bidding process then was nothing like the bidding process today, where suitors are coming from everywhere. Plus, O’Malley had been led astray by the different forces that were trying to at once build Staples Center and bring the NFL to Los Angeles. From 100 Things:
… Though the O’Malleys could have talked themselves into continuing as owners, the changing face of baseball began sapping them of incentive. By 1997, the O’Malleys were the one of a few remaining family owners of a major-league baseball team. With salaries rising, they had to compete with corporations for whom baseball was only a part of the whole – teams could be used as loss leaders. Further, baseball’s contract with the players’ union, following the 1994-95 labor dispute that had shut down the game, called for more extensive revenue sharing, which meant the Dodgers would be further subsidizing other teams. Under commissioner Bud Selig, the then-Milwaukee Brewers owner who became acting baseball commissioner in 1992, small-market teams were gaining more power over large-market teams like the Dodgers.
However, even the shifting economic playing field was not a sole determining factor. It took another dose of cold water to push O’Malley into the sale. Los Angeles found itself without a National Football League franchise after the Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995. That August, mayor Richard Riordan asked O’Malley to lead the effort to bring the NFL back to the city, and O’Malley was happy to oblige. A football stadium built on the land surrounding Dodger Stadium emerged as a viable possibility to draw a team, diversify the family business and attract new business partners for the O’Malleys.
A year later, after vigorous investment in research, the city asked O’Malley to abandon his efforts and support the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s bid to be the home of the team. O’Malley assented reluctantly, but his disappointment by his own admission was palpable. (In a well-researched piece, T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times wrote that power brokers in Los Angeles had contrived a quid pro quo deal in which they exchanged support for the Coliseum and the proposed downtown basketball arena that would become Staples Center, and O’Malley had been “caught in the middle.”)
With the signs discouraging on multiple fronts, O’Malley decided it was time to sell.
There were no illusions about the suitor O’Malley settled on: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. would use the Dodgers as a means to an end, as a flagship team whose games would be televised by a sports network intended to rival ESPN and boost the Murdoch media empire. Sallie Hofmeister of the Times noted that the $311 million outlay “says more about Hollywood than about baseball. … The purchase price, about double the going rate in major league baseball, is so far out of the ballpark that it’s highly unlikely the team will make money.” That did not suggest a brighter immediate future for the talent on the field at Dodger Stadium. …
Of course, when the sale was announced, attention focused not on who was coming in, but who was going out.
“There’s a very empty feeling in my house tonight,” Vin Scully told Mike DiGiovanna of the Times, “and there will be for a long time to come. There’s a feeling of a definite loss, almost like a death in the family.”
The O’Malley family wanted to sell the Dodgers, was entitled to sell the Dodgers and made the best deal it could make for the Dodgers. If there were a lesson to be learned, I trust him more than anyone else to have learned it.
There might be a better candidate for Dodger ownership out there, but I dare say there are worse ones – and certainly whoever does earn the rights to the team would do well to embrace O’Malley as an adviser. People say that sometimes it’s better to go with the devil you know; it’s better still to go with the angel you know.