Apr 27

McCourt apologetic to fans but defiant to MLB

I’ll have more later on today’s dueling Dodgers press conferences — one with owner Frank McCourt in New York, the other with MLB monitor Tom Schieffer in Los Angeles. In the meantime, here are links to first-look news stories on McCourt from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and myself at Variety.

An excerpt from the latter:

Embattled Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt today gave his strongest indication yet that he will sue Major League Baseball for standing in the way of his attempt to extend the Dodgers’ cable TV deal with Fox.

McCourt spoke to reporters in New York City shortly after saying he got word in a meeting with MLB executives that commissioner Bud Selig had vetoed the deal, which McCourt said would extend Fox’s cable coverage of the Dodgers through 2027 and also provide an equity stake in Fox’s Prime Ticket. The Dodgers’ current deal with Fox runs through 2013.

“I’m very committed to my position,” McCourt said. “We have not decided exactly what we’re going to do. We’ll keep you posted, but as I said, I’m not going anywhere. This is a team that I love, a community that I love. … I’m going to protect my rights.”

However, MLB later issued a statement saying that it had not vetoed the Fox deal, but was waiting to rule on it pending its investigation into McCourt’s and the Dodgers’ finances.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. McCourt felt it necessary to publicize the content of a private meeting,” said MLB exec veep of labor relations Rob Manfred. “It is even more unfortunate that Mr. McCourt’s public recitation was not accurate. Most fundamental, Commissioner Selig did not ‘veto’ a proposed transaction. Rather, Mr. McCourt was clearly told that the Commissioner would make no decision on any transaction until after his investigation into the Club and its finances is complete so that he can properly evaluate all of the facts and circumstances.”

McCourt suggested, however, that that investigation had a “pre-determined” outcome. …

… In a nod to the concerns over how much Dodger revenue he and his now-estranged wife had allocated for personal spending, McCourt said today that the proposed Fox deal would include an immediate payment of $300 million going directly into the Dodgers.

“None of those dollars (would be) used in any personal way,” McCourt said.

“I think I made some mistakes. I’m sorry about that, and I’m definitely commited to doing things differently moving forward. … I think everyone deserves a second chance.”

While apologetic with regard to some of his conduct, McCourt remained aghast that the TV deal was being held up. …

Apr 26

Broxton’s status in turnaround

Making more front-page drive-in news is Jonathan Broxton. An excerpt follows, but be sure to read the full story on Broxton’s status from Tony Jackson at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Jonathan Broxton was told by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on Tuesday that he is still the team’s closer despite widespread media reports that the team had decided to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the wake of Broxton’s blown save on Monday night against the Florida Marlins.

Mattingly saw one of those media reports, on the MLB Network, while working out on Tuesday morning and immediately decided to meet with Broxton to reassure him that the job was still his. That closed-door meeting, which also included pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, took place in the visiting clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Dodgers played the Marlins. The Marlins scored three runs off Broxton after two were out and nobody was on base in the ninth inning on Monday night to beat the Dodgers 5-4.

“I’m the closer right now, so I just have to go out there and continue to throw,” Broxton said after the meeting. “I just have to turn the page. That is the big thing about closing or doing anything, setting up, relieving. You have to turn the page. … [Mattingly] said he liked what he has been seeing and that I’m throwing the ball good. I just have to get back to that attack mode, especially with two outs.”

Those media reports stemmed from comments Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made during his weekly radio interview on Tuesday morning with KABC’s Peter Tilden. Although Colletti never used the term “closer-by-committee,” he did mention the names of at least two other pitchers — Hong-Chih Kuo, who is on the disabled list but expected to return as early as Friday, and Vicente Padilla, who came off the disabled list on Friday and has since had one strong outing and one shaky one — as possible closer candidates.

“I can’t help but be concerned,” Colletti said when Tilden asked about Broxton. “I’m one of those people who are pretty much concerned about everything anyway. I am concerned about him. Hopefully, we will get Kuo back Friday, and Padilla has been back for a couple of games. Hopefully, we can give Donnie three choices or so at the end of a game and let him make up his mind by matchup or whatever until Broxton can get his confidence back and get settled.”

Contacted by ESPNLosAngeles.com, Colletti downplayed the implications of what he had told Tilden earlier in the day.

“I just said when we get Kuo back and Padilla back to 100 percent, it’s going to give Donnie some options, depending upon matchups and the previous day’s usage, things like that,” Colletti said. “But that doesn’t mean Broxton isn’t the closer.”

Both Mattingly and Honeycutt said Broxton wasn’t available to close on Tuesday night against the Marlins, but only because he had pitched each of the previous two games. …

Also, Jackson reports that Frank McCourt is meeting in New York on Thursday with MLB execs — but not commissioner Bud Selig.

Finally, Xavier Paul was claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh, where he’ll be a teammate of Brandon Wood, recently claimed from the Angels, and former Dodger James McDonald.

Apr 25

MLB’s Dodger trustee is from Texas

For some reason I had it in my head that Bud Selig would choose someone with a past connection to the Dodgers or Los Angeles, but it turns out that former Texas Rangers president J. Thomas Schieffer is Major League Baseball’s new hired son-of-a-gun to run the Dodgers’ operations. From The Associated Press:

… Schieffer was an investor in the ownership group headed by George W. Bush and Rusty Rose that purchased the Rangers in 1989. He was the club president from 1991-99 and the franchise’s general partner from November 1994 until June 1998.

In seizing control of the franchise, MLB told the Dodgers that any expenditure of $5,000 or more would have to be approved.

“Tom is a distinguished public servant who has represented the nation with excellence and has demonstrated extraordinary leadership throughout his career,” Selig said in a statement. “The many years that he spent managing the operations of a successful franchise will benefit the Dodgers and Major League Baseball as a whole.”

The Fort Worth native was the club’s partner in charge of ballpark development before the 1994 opening of the Rangers’ new stadium. The Rangers won their first three AL West titles in 1996 and 1998-99 during Schieffer’s tenure.

As the president of the Rangers, Schieffer was a member of several significant MLB committees and boards, including the 1999 Blue Ribbon Task Force on Baseball Economics. An attorney who specialized in oil and gas matters and investment management, the 63-year-old Schieffer served three terms as a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives after being elected at the age of 25.

Schieffer served as the U.S. ambassador to Australia from 2001-05 and then as the ambassador to Japan from 2005-09 under President George W. Bush. …

Apr 20

The irredeemable Frank McCourt

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.

Apr 11

Dodgers 6, Giants 1: Matt Kemp is the center of the universe

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp and his helmet exult after stealing second base despite a pickoff.

Matt Kemp steals second base despite picking picked off first.

Matt Kemp scores from second on a James Loney line drive off the glove of the second baseman.

Matt Kemp walks for a second time after being down in the count 0-2.

Matt Kemp lines an RBI single that turns left fielder Pat Burrell into a jumping bean, with the ball skipping past him.

Matt Kemp is thrown out at third.

That last one was just to remind us that as long as you’re pushing for Kemp to be aggressive, you’re going to pay the price now and then. Nonetheless, 2011 has returned that Matt Kemp that everyone loves, and his role in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory Monday over San Francisco was the latest example.

You’ve heard of the eye in the middle of the hurricane? Matt Kemp is the hurricane that surrounds the eye.

Kemp, who went 1 for 2 with two walks, is boasting a .537 on-base percentage and .647 slugging percentage, not to mention a 1.000 stealing percentage on seven tries.

The stolen base was remarkable because the Giants did so much right and so little wrong. San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw to first base as Kemp broke for second. First baseman Brandon Belt immediately turned and threw down to short. Miguel Tejada got the ball and put down the tag. And Kemp was just plain ol’ safe.

So Kemp is back to outrunning his occasional mistake rather than eliminating them entirely, but I think we’ll take that trade, especially with the way he looks at the plate. His seventh-inning strikeout was only his fourth in 41 plate appearances this season.

Kemp and Clayton Kershaw fought for the spotlight on Opening Day: Kershaw shone brightest then, and he just as easily could have tonight. He wasn’t untouchable, allowing six hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, but he always had the right pitch when he needed it. Only one San Francisco baserunner made it past second base – Aubrey Huff with two out in the bottom of the fourth inning – at which point Kershaw annihilated Belt with three fastballs for strikes, the last two swinging.

Kershaw, whose seven strikeouts gave him 24 in 19 2/3 innings this season, faced 11 batters with runners on base tonight. Three of them hit the ball out of the infield: two singles, one flyout. He lowered his 2011 ERA to 1.37 and has now pitched 23 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings against the Giants. (His 117 pitches tonight were one shy of his career high.)

A third hero tonight was second baseman Jamey Carroll, who figures to play more shortstop soon with Rafael Furcal injuring his thumb while stealing third base in the Dodgers’ four-run fifth inning and leaving the game an inning later. Carroll went 3 for 5, raising his on-base percentage for the season to .452. Andre Ethier’s two hits put him at .442, while Rod Barajas hit what at the start of the fifth inning seemed a huge home run, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.

And the slumping Uribe even contributed, going 1 for 4 but also making two nice defensive plays to support Dodger reliever Matt Guerrier in the eighth inning. Mike MacDougal gave up a homer to Burrell in the ninth – Burrell’s third blast in five games against the Dodgers this year.

Colorado rallied for a 7-6 victory against the Mets, so the Dodgers remain in second place, 1 1/2 games back.

* * *

One might say it’s a bit nervy, but then again, what hasn’t been nervy in the McCourt divorce saga? The law firm that drafted the disputed agreement at the center of the court battle between Frank and Jamie McCourt is suing Frank, “asking a Massachusetts court to declare that the firm met its obligations and caused him no loss when it drafted a marital property agreement with his ex-wife.”

As Josh Fisher of Dodger Divorce and Bill Shaikin of the Times note, there’s more to it than that. Shaikin:

… Bingham McCutchen, the Boston-based firm responsible for the since-invalidated agreement that would have granted McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers, essentially asked a Massachusetts court to deprive McCourt of the chance to sue the firm for malpractice should he lose control of the team.

“Any injury, loss or expense he has sustained or will sustain were caused not by Bingham’s conduct, but by his own widely publicized financial problems, huge withdrawals of cash from the Dodgers, and strained relations with Major League Baseball,” the suit alleges. “None of this is attributable to Bingham’s work.”

The suit also claims McCourt owes Bingham “hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid legal fees.” …

… In a statement, McCourt spokesman Steve Sugerman blamed Bingham for preparing an agreement that did not stand up in court.

“Mr. McCourt is disappointed that the Bingham firm is unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions and is instead now trying to defend conduct that is indefensible,” the statement read. …

Mar 02

The tiger blood of Frank McCourt (#winning)

Getty ImagesFrank McCourt, Charlie Sheen

I haven’t written about the McCourts in a while, not that I sense many of you are complaining. Anyway, here’s a link to some news Tuesday, from Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine:

Lawyers for Jamie McCourt filed a motion Tuesday in superior court seeking greater financial transparency from her estranged ex-husband, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, calling his recent attempt to secure loans to ease his cash-flow problems without their client’s knowledge “outrageous.” …

The filing comes on the heels of last week’s report by the Los Angeles Times (by Bill Shaikin) that Frank tried, and failed, to secure a $200 million loan from Fox Television against the team’s cable TV rights. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig rejected that deal, “a clear sign that Frank’s actions were deemed to be not in the best interests of the franchise,” Jamie McCourt’s court filing stated. …

Frank McCourt’s attorney, Ryan Kirkpatrick, said his client “has fully complied, and will continue to comply, with his obligations to Jamie.” He added that the two sides have already scheduled a meeting to talk about the “parties’ requests for information from one another, and the mechanics of exchanging that information.” …

It has been nearly 1 1/2 years since the McCourts’ marital problems went public, throwing the franchise into its current turmoil. It has come to feel like a fog to me. We drive forward, determined to reach our destination but without clear vision. And the brighter we shine the lights, the more opaque it becomes.

As some of you know, I’ve spent a good deal of time in my day job over the past few days on the Charlie Sheen beat. It’s given me a small taste of what it’s been like for the Shaikins, Knights and Josh Fishers of the world, although I have to think some of them would trade a McCourt for a Sheen in an erratic heartbeat. The sensation that was Vladimir Shpunt has been coming out of Sheen’s mouth every five minutes or so since Thursday – what they might have given to hear Frank say, “It’s been a media tsunami, and I’ve been riding a mercury surfboard.”

People like Sheen and the McCourts become stories, long past anyone’s desire or patience to hear more about them, because like them or not, they have high-stakes fates. The fate of one of baseball’s most valuable and historic franchises rests on the McCourts … and yet the value of that franchise pales in comparison to what “Two and a Half Men,” the CBS sitcom Sheen stars in, has been worth to the network and producing studio Warner Bros. Before production was suspended on the series, Sheen was making approximately $1.8 million per episode. In calendar 2010, Sheen appeared in 23 episodes, meaning a base salary of more than $41 million before you even begin discussing his ancillary income from syndication and other sources.  Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt – these guys are paupers compared to Sheen.

I would dare say I’ve written almost as little as my jobs have allowed about Sheen and the McCourts, but ignoring them completely has been impossible. It’s hard to deny that there are real stories there. They could use some editing, but they are stories. And that’s without even getting into the life-and-death stakes for some in the Hollywood tale.

I’m not going to try to stretch out too many parallels between Charlie Sheen and Frank McCourt, but I can’t help thinking there’s at least one. Sheen has made it clear that he is living by his own rules. He believes those rules are fair and righteous, and the fact that society, fans of his show, the people he (at least previously) answered to or even blood relatives might not share that view does not matter. Setbacks are hurdles to be bulldozed. “Defeat is not an option,” Sheen says over and over again.

One of Sheen’s most memorable lines came when he was railing against Alcoholics Anonymous, saying that it is for “people that are not special, people who do not have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.” Charlie Sheen believes he has tiger blood. And though he would never say it like this, I suspect that in his own way, Frank McCourt believes he has tiger blood too.

Over the past 15 months, McCourt has seemed unshakable in his belief that what he’s doing is right. That what he’s doing is best for his children. That anything one might call a mistake or selfishness is, at worst, a means to an end. That the people who question him simply don’t understand. That he will be vindicated. That because he’s been a winner in the past, he’ll be a winner in the future. Even when he’s ridden on the edge of the cliff.

I imagine that tiger blood is a trait shared by a number of people who become successful, but there comes a point when it goes beyond empowering and becomes a pollutant. I have no expectations that this tiger is going to change his stripes. I don’t believe he’s going to give up the Dodgers without clawing or scratching through the last fight. But tiger blood makes people selfish to the extreme, and even allowing for the eccentricities and entitlements of ownership, circumstances have long since stopped any reasonable defense of his fight.

Yes, McCourt has rights. But he also has duties.

For all his romping and stomping, Sheen realizes that there is life after “Two and a Half Men.” It’s time that the McCourts embark upon life after the Dodgers. It’s time they find a new passion. Quit this pretense that you’re the best thing for this franchise, quit this pretense that your children deserve to inherit leadership of the team, and let go.

Dec 23

The 33 theses revisited

A year ago, I posted these 33 theses on the doors of Dodger Thoughts.  Let’s see how they have held up …

Thesis Result Comment
1) Frank McCourt will prevail in the courts against Jamie McCourt and retain ownership of the Dodgers. No Failed to anticipate the Great Adverb Dispute.
2) Rather then sell the team, McCourt will take on a minority partner to improve his cash flow. TBD It might not be quite that simple.
3) The incentive for the minority partner will be the Dodgers’ ability to make a profit, with potential for greater revenue from development of the Dodger Stadium property. TBD This plus the TV contract.
4) The project to turn the area behind center field into a gathering place of restaurants, shops and a Dodger museum will begin by 2015. TBD I sure was looking ahead, wasn’t I?
5) The Dodgers will earn enough money over the coming decade to remain competitive, though they will never spend like the Yankees or Red Sox. TBD Fans are probably pessimistic about this one, but we’ll see.
6) The Dodgers will sign a veteran with an unexciting name to take the No. 4 spot in the 2010 starting rotation, completing their offseason in much the same manner they would have even if the McCourts weren’t divorcing. Yes Hello, Vicente Padilla.
7) Observers will decry the state of Dodger starting pitching entering the season, even though it will probably match up well with every team in the National League West except San Francisco. (Arizona’s No. 4 starter: Ian Kennedy?) No San Diego ruined this prediction for me.
8) The focus will be on what the Dodgers didn’t do, ignoring how thin the pitching market was and how little their division rivals have improved themselves. Yes This was a safe one.
9) Spring training will come as a relief, as the conversation returns to baseball and, despite all that has happened, the sight of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw roaming the field becomes too intoxicating to resist. Yes Spring Training was relatively enjoyable this year.
10) Exhibition performances will excessively color people’s views of the coming season, even though Val Pascucci’s .429 batting average in March 2009 failed to carry over into the regular season. Yes This at least applied to the Dodgers themselves, vis a vis Les Ortizables.
11) Sportswriters will blast the Dodgers for not acquiring a big name, then criticize every move Manny Ramirez makes while knocking the Dodgers for all the money spilling out to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. Kind of Not all sportswriters, but certainly some I can think of.
12) People will be intrigued with how Russell Martin explains that this will be the season everything will be OK for him. No “Intrigued” seems strong in retrospect, plus Martin got hurt in March.
13) Chad Billingsley will gamely turn the other cheek as reporters and fans insultingly question his manhood. Then he’ll go out and throw bullets. Yes He wasn’t red-hot to start the season, but ultimately this came true.
14) The Dodgers will not get off to as hot a start in 2010 as they did in 2009, when they were 10-3 and 21-8. Yes To say the least …
15) The Dodger community will be on edge, as it becomes clear to all that 2010, like most years, will be a season-long challenge. Yes To say the least …
16) Jokes about portable concession stands will grow old fast, yet continue to be told. No This died down more quickly than I expected.
17) Lines at Dodger Stadium food stands will remain long anyway. Yes No change here.
18) Nevertheless, the Dodgers will remain in the thick of the National League West race into May, when the McCourt case launches in the courts. Yes/no Dodgers had the best record in the NL at one point, but the trial was delayed.
19) The free-for-all between the McCourts’ lawyers will be annoying beyond belief. Yes All those fun revelations and accusations …
20) Kershaw, Kemp or Andre Ethier will suffer a setback, while Martin, James Loney or Rafael Furcal will experience a rebirth. Yes Setback for Kemp, rebirth for Furcal (until he got hurt, but I’m counting it).
21) Ramirez will have his ups and downs but will regain some of the fans he lost in the final months of 2009. No I could probably prove this true on a technicality, but I won’t try to push this one through.
22) There won’t be as much Dodger walk-off magic in 2010 as there was in 2009. Yes There was some moments early on, but they didn’t carry on.
23) Forced to rely on the farm system for pitching depth, the Dodgers will benefit from some precocious performances. Yes John Ely, Carlos Monasterios and Kenley Jansen, among others, did some good for the team.
24) “Don’t Stop Believin'” will be gone, but “God Bless America” will return. No/yes Oh well.
25) With the dust from the courtroom settled, the Dodgers will make a trading deadline deal. No/yes Deals came while dust was still swirling.
26) The biggest moment of the year will be when Vin Scully announces his plans for 2011. Yes You can argue with me, but I’m counting this one.
27) With almost nowhere to go but down after two National League Championship Series appearances, 2010 will almost surely end as a disappointment for the Dodgers. Yes This had a chance to be wrong in summertime, but in the end it was right.
28) The Phillies will not win the NL title, because it looks too much like they should. Yes That’s the way it goes …
29) The Dodgers will have more reason to be nervous after the 2010 season, when the team has to replace Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda while giving even bigger pay raises to the homegrown talent — even those who had subpar years. Yes Even though Kuroda and others are back, if we’re talking about how most people felt at the end of the 2010 season, there was more nervousness and pessimism than 2009.
30) Minor league pitchers Aaron Miller, Chris Withrow and John Ely will come to the rescue, sooner or later, either by becoming major-league ready or major-league trading chips. No Given the way Ely ended the season, it’s hard to tally this one in the Yes column.
31) The Dodgers will have enough talent to stay competitive, but not enough to make them prohibitive favorites. Yes I’ll probably get some heckles on this one, but if the 2010 Giants could win, I’m not ruling out the 2011 Dodgers.
32) The Dodgers will continue to be good enough to keep all but the most reactionary fans hooked, yet weak enough to keep all but the most tolerant fans unsatisfied. Yes Accurate, no?
33) Fans will start to pay attention to the ticking clock that is the end of the 2012 season, when Martin, Loney, Kemp, Ethier and Billingsley are scheduled to become eligible for free agency. No I’m not sure enough people are worried about this.
Total 19-7-7 What does this mean? I have no idea.
Dec 09

Love for sale?

Love of the Dodgers, that is.

  • Steve Garvey is trying to gather investors to help him buy the Dodgers, Bill Shaikin of the Times reported. Something tells me that lots of folks are going to have this notion, but whether they can follow through is another matter. The Dodgers, of course, are not for sale at this point.
  • After succeeding with Carlos Monasterios last year, the Dodgers didn’t draft or trade for anyone in this year’s Rule 5 draft party. (Ain’t no party like a Rule 5 party). Baseball America has the full draft list. The Dodgers did lose minor leaguers Jaime Ortiz, Jessie Mier (aka Fausto Mier or Fausto Meyer, depending on what website you visit) and Matthew Sartor.
  • Former Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson was honored posthumously with the Directors Award at this year’s Scout of the Year honors, reports Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com.
  • The Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. Enough said.
Dec 07

Frank and Jamie: Who’ll stop the rain?

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation

It’s hard not to want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.

The ownership dispute between Frank and Jamie McCourt, the ultimate guest-that-wouldn’t-leave in Dodger history, has extended its stay in Los Angeles for months, maybe years, with today’s ruling in favor of Jamie, reinstating her as co-owner of the franchise, pending appeal.

Pending appeal …

Forget about Tinker to Evers to Chance — these are the saddest of possible words.  Pending appeal.  Oh, Frank and Jamie.  Talk about cloudy with a chance of meatballs. This is the cloud, and they are the meatballs.

How will this affect the Dodgers on the field? That’s unpredictable. Chaos doesn’t prohibit spending; spending doesn’t guarantee victory. And so Dodger fans have a choice. Press on in their fandom, like a wagon train crossing the country, heedless of whether the next ridge might be the one with the storm hiding behind it. Or set up camp, cowering in fear. Or abandon the trip altogether. Who’s up for college baseball?

I’m a wagon train guy, mainly because of my belief that if it’s not one thing, it’s another. There’s always something. But I have to tell you, this is not my kind of trip. I don’t think it’s wrong or immature to sit back and call to the heavens, “Great Dodger in the Sky, we want our team’s stability back.”

But that plea will fall on deaf ears. The courtroom battles and jockeying for ownership will continue, becoming part of the Dodger way of life — not an everyday part, but something that comes around during holidays and other inopportune moments, like a bad visit from the divorced in-laws.

Dodger fans, the ones that stick around, will soldier on, despite … yeah, there’s another saddest of possible words. Despite …

Dec 07

Breaking news: Jamie McCourt wins ownership trial

Judge Scott Gordon of the Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled in favor of Jamie McCourt in her dispute with Frank McCourt over ownership of the Dodgers, throwing out the couple’s marital property agreement. This grants shared custody of the team to both parties, though Frank McCourt will no doubt appeal.

From Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine:

The judge presiding over the bitter battle for the Los Angeles Dodgers has granted Jamie McCourt’s request to throw out the marital property agreement that gives her ex-husband sole ownership of the team. In a 100-page decision given to attorneys for both parties, Judge Scott Gordon found that the contract at the heart of the fight over the team was not valid or enforceable and that it must be set aside. …

Dec 01

Deadline to offer Russell Martin contract under 48 hours away

Been pretty busy lately, no? And it only might get busier …

  • Reminder: 9 p.m. Thursday is the deadline for the Dodgers to offer a 2011 contract to pre-free agents like Russell Martin. Doug Miller of MLB.com has more. In case you don’t understand why Martin might be non-tendered, Miller explains:  “According to the Basic Agreement, when teams tender contracts, they can’t cut any more than 20 percent of what a player earned in salary and performance bonuses the previous season, or 30 percent of those figures during the past two seasons. Non-tendered players, however, can be re-signed by their teams at larger cuts.”
  • Just how scrappy a ballplayer have the Dodgers given up in Ryan Theriot? Matt Sebek of JoeSportsFan’s Tailgate runs the analysis.  (via Hardball Talk).
  • Former Dodger pitcher Eric Stults signed a minor-league contract with Colorado. “The Dodgers sold Stults’ rights to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan at the end of Spring Training 2010, and Stults went 6-10 with a 5.07 ERA in 21 games,” writes Thomas Harding of MLB.com. “Stults, who turns 32 on Dec. 9, would be paid at a $435,000 rate if he makes the Majors, but the contract also allows him to re-sign with Hiroshima if he doesn’t make the big league roster.”
  • Making the case to scrap draft-pick compensation for free-agent signings is Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com writes movingly about Padres pitcher Kevin Correia coping with his brother’s death this summer.
  • Fifty years ago, Frank Finch of the Times looked at the Dodgers’ youth movement, to be led by Willie Davis, Tommy Davis, Frank Howard … and Charley (Charlie) Smith.  (via Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror).
  • Josh Fisher’s latest Dodger Divorce take on the McCourts:

    … Frank McCourt’s primary position has been that the Dodgers must stay in the family. Naturally, he is confident that McCourt ownership is also good for the Dodgers and, by extension, the community. While he might have come to Los Angeles an outsider, I strongly believe that Frank has come to regard the Dodgers as much more important than 24 acres of Boston seafront property ever were. And I wonder if yesterday’s release is a sign that he is concerned about his chances of keeping the Dodgers in the family.

    I still think Jamie got what she wanted in the MPA. I can’t look at her initial public statements in the divorce and conclude that she had any idea that the documents had been switched–that she had any idea there existed an Exhibit A making the Dodgers anything but Frank’s separate property. And I can’t help but think that, despite her apparent unfamiliarity with marital property laws in Massachusetts and California, and despite the ugly chain of events leading up to the MPA’s execution and subsequent modification, Jamie didn’t have enough in the way of background and intelligence to at least question the document when she reviewed its terms.

    For all that, though, Jamie’s case is strong. Strong enough, perhaps, that Frank’s inability to prove his facts is more important than Frank’s facts as they actually occurred. Strong enough that most observers considered Jamie to be in the lead after the trial. Strong enough that Jamie turned down what was surely a well-reasoned, thorough settlement proposal crafted by a well-respected mediator. Strong enough, basically, that the McCourt with the most to lose is ready to roll the dice.

Nov 30

No settlement in McCourt case

The strongest indication that there will not be a settlement in the McCourt divorce case emerged today.  From The Associated Press:

A judge declared an impasse Tuesday over efforts to settle who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers after a bitter divorce between the couple who bought the team six years ago.

Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman had given both sides more than a week to accept a settlement proposal, which was kept confidential.

Lichtman declared an impasse and reported it to Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon, who presided over an 11-day trial that centered on whether a postnuptial marital agreement is valid, said court spokeswoman Patricia Kelly.

Attorney Marc Seltzer, who represents Frank McCourt, said in a statement that his client accepted the proposal by Lichtman.

“He felt it was the responsible thing to do for his family, the Dodgers organization and the entire community,” Seltzer said.

An impasse occurs when two sides are unable to reach an agreement, which likely means Jamie McCourt rejected the proposal, Seltzer said. Lichtman wasn’t going to inform either side if the other hadn’t accepted the deal.

Michael Kump, a lawyer for Jamie McCourt, couldn’t say if his client agreed or declined the proposal.

“We believe the court ordered complete confidentiality regarding the settlement proposal and everything related to it,” Kump said. “It would be a violation if we said anything at all.” …

I was under the impression that Gordon would issue a ruling before the month was out, but AP says he could take until Jan. 19.

More on the subject from Josh Fisher at DodgerDivorce.com.

Nov 29

Farewell, Gil McDougald

Farewell, Gil McDougald, one of the earliest historical names I can recall learning as a baseball fan, something that came about when reading about his line drive off Herb Score in an issue of Baseball Digest. McDougald was also the player doubled off first base following Sandy Amoros’ amazing grab-and-throw in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series.

McDougald, who himself had been struck by a line drive in the ear, spent his entire 10-year career with the Yankees, retiring at age 32. He coached at Vin Scully’s alma mater, Fordham, from 1970-77.

* * *

A potential settlement in the McCourt divorce case could get some funding from law firm Bingham McCutchen as a way to fend off a legal malpractice suit, Bill Shaikin and Carla Hall of the Times reported last week.

… That (mediator and Superior Court Judge Peter) Lichtman approached Bingham does not necessarily mean that (Judge Scott) Gordon is likely to throw out the agreement, said Lynn Soodik, a Santa Monica family law attorney.

However, she said Lichtman could have identified Bingham funds as a source to narrow the nine-figure gap between what Frank has offered to settle the case and what Jamie has requested, with the probability that Bingham could stand to lose far more money in a malpractice suit.

J. Michael Kelly, a Santa Monica family law attorney, said Bingham could face liability from whichever of the McCourts loses.

“There is no way out,” Kelly said.

* * *

Foley’s NY Pub & Restaurant has come up with a week-long “Steve Garvey Menu” in support of the Dodger first baseman’s Hall of Fame candidacy (via the Expansion Era committee).

Mon, Nov. 29: Steve Garvey’s Dodger Dog – to recognize his place in baseball’s most enduring infield with the LA Dodgers

Tues, Nov. 30: Steve Garvey’s MVP-izza – in honor of his 1974 National League MVP Award

Weds, Dec. 1: Steve Garvey’s All Star Platter – in honor of his ten All Star Games, including being the first write-in selection

Thurs, Dec. 2: Steve Garvey’s (San Diego) Chicken Parmigiana – in honor of his 1984 NLCS MVP with the SD Padres

Fri, Dec. 3: Steve’s Shepherd’s Pie – in honor of his 1981 World Series championship with the Dodgers

Sat, Dec. 4: Steve Garvey Burger with Golden French Fries – in honor of his four Gold Gloves at 1B

Sun, Dec. 5: Steve Garvey’s $6 Mimosas – Champagne and California orange juice to celebrate #6 (and his possible induction into Cooperstown)

Results of this Hall vote will be announced Dec. 6.

Meanwhile, Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk highlights some names that didn’t make the conventional Hall of Fame ballot in their first year of eligibility. Wilson Alvarez, Cal Eldred, Jeffrey Hammonds, Greg Myers, Jose Offerman, Paul Quantrill, Rey Sanchez, Ugueth Urbina — you are remembered.

* * *

And before I go …

Nov 19

Regarding young players peaking early …

This article by Tim Marchman for SI.com about the development (or lack thereof) of young prodigies is an interesting read, and not just because it manages to mention Tom Brunansky twice in the third paragraph:

Since the most valuable thing in baseball is a young star signed to a cheap contract, I was fairly shocked when I learned the Arizona Diamondbacks are, if not actively shopping outfielder Justin Upton, at least willing to listen to offers for him. Perhaps they know secret things about him; perhaps new general manager Kevin Towers simply doesn’t like the cut of his jib. Most likely he’s available in the sense that all players are available. (Scoop: The Atlanta Braves would happily trade Jason Heyward to the Giants in exchange for Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner.) Possibly, though, the Diamondbacks have been doing some math.

Here is a filthy secret about young stars: They don’t generally improve. Baseball fans have it in their minds that a player will, at 27, be a better version of the player he was at 21. On average, that’s true. This chart, for example, is a bit technical, but shows that the typical hitter will, at 27, be about 10 percent more valuable per plate appearance than he was when he was six years younger.

What defines a great player, though, is that he isn’t anything like an average one. And Justin Upton is a great player, or close. Two years ago, when he was 21, he hit .300/.366/.532, good for an adjusted OPS of 129. In the last 30 years, just eight other hitters have done as well by that age: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, Jason Heyward, Miguel Cabrera and… Tom Brunansky. That’s five players who are or one day will be in the Hall of Fame, one who’s on course to join them, a player who turned 21 in August, and… Tom Brunansky. Upton’s prospects are obviously high. …

Take our other young stars as guides to what may be in store for the lucky owner of Upton’s contract over the next five years. From ages 23 to 27, Rodriguez’s adjusted OPS of 153 was actually lower than the 160 mark he posted at 20. Griffey, Raines and Henderson all hit basically the same at those ages as they did at 21, while Brunansky hit much worse. Only Pujols and Cabrera hit new levels.

None of this is of course any knock on these players. Once you’re hitting like a Hall of Famer, there is no real improvement you can make, unless you’re Albert Pujols and thus capable of hitting like Mickey Mantle rather than Hank Aaron. (Scoop: St. Louis has a good first baseman.) The point is just that you can’t expect the kind of linear improvement from a historically talented player that you can from a merely excellent one. Baseball is hard, and going from great to greater is in many ways harder than going from good to great. …

If you’re wondering how this might apply to Matt Kemp, so am I. In some ways, it might not apply at all, and there’s certainly enough mystery about Kemp to suggest he might be an exception to any rule. But if it influenced me at all, the article made me think that Kemp could easily rebound to his earlier established level of success (2009), but perhaps just not ever exceed it by all that much.

* * *

Here’s the latest McCourt update, from The Associated Press:

Mediation between Jamie and Frank McCourt involving ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers will resume as they await a judge’s ruling on whether a postnuptial marital agreement is valid in their divorce case.

Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman is expected Friday to meet with each side separately and present a settlement. Both McCourts are expected to be in a downtown courtroom and the terms of the proposal will likely be kept confidential.

Judge Scott Gordon has about five weeks to decide on the disputed 10-page marital agreement that exists in two versions – one that gives Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and one that doesn’t. …

* * *

  • Get ready: It’s clear that next season will be the last before MLB adds a second wild-card team to each league. Starting in 2012, the wild-card teams will play each other for the right to reach the division series; the only question is how many games they will play.
  • The Dodgers had a lot of bad players in 2010, notes Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs. Only Pittsburgh, Seattle and Cleveland had more individuals who had negative Wins Above Replacement, and only four other teams (including the Angels) had more total negative WAR.
  • Been meaning to post about this for a few days: The setup for Saturday’s Northwestern-Illinois football game at Wrigley Field is crazy. (Update: Only one end zone will be used, writes Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk.)
  • Read this short elegy for slain publicist Ronni Chasen, by Margy Rochlin for L.A. Weekly.