This week Major League Baseball took control of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And I just can’t seem to figure out why. Jayson Stark of ESPN yesterday called this move by the MLB unprecedented in any professional sport – akin to a corporation falling victim to a hostile takeover. What’s the deal with the LA Dodgers? More importantly, what’s the big fuss about? I think this move is odd, and potentially dangerous, for the competitive nature of professional sports.
On Wednesday, Bud Selig decided to appoint a representative to oversee the Dodgers’ financials – allegedly because the Commissioner had concerns that the Dodgers would be unable to meet its financial obligations (payroll, etc.). This representative would oversee day-to-day operations and manage the financials of the club, thereby ushering the McCourt’s out of any sort of ownership status.
In my opinion, this decision was not based on financials alone. I think that the club’s dire straits in addition to the tragic assault on SF Giants fan Bryan Stow – which likely demonstrated to Bud Selig McCourt’s total lack of control over his ballpark – pushed him over the edge in deciding to take over the franchise. That being said, I think it sets a terrible precedent for a number of reasons.
Reason #1: It’s selective in nature
Look at the New York Mets. Nathan Vardi of Forbes wrote a great article arguing that the Mets need none other than a financial miracle to escape from financial ruin. It’s not secret, either: they needed a $25 million dollar loan in November of 2010, they clock in at a $6 million operating loss, and even their own team PA announcer ridicules them at games.
Why hasn’t Selig taken control of the Mets? Why step in and do so with the Dodgers but not other struggling franchises? It’s unclear to me as to why; I do know that Selig has a great relationship with Lew Wolff – the owner of the A’s whose name was kicked around as a replacement – and maybe Selig is trying to squeeze him in. To be frank, I’m not exactly sure who the front-runners in line to take over the franchise are, as such, I couldn’t
say why Selig decided to do this. It’s just a bit infuriating seeing a double-standard played. It also is bad policy: if the idea is to take control of a team when it is readily apparent that it cannot survive financially or is risking default, then why do it with the Dodgers and not with the Mets? It’s confounding.
Reason #2: It creates perverse incentives for the MLB
Because everything in this world revolves around the Los Angeles Lakers, I can point to an example from the Zen Master to prove my point. When the Hornets came under the NBA’s ownership, Phil Jackson wondered, how is it that the organization is taking a $2 million dollar loss, when the rest of the owners jointly own the team? How can they be dumping salaries and taking losses when the team is cooperatively owned? Mark Cuban agreed – no surprise there – because he wanted to know how and why he was paying for the Hornets to take on greater payroll liability. I agree; I don’t know how that makes sense either.
I understand that the ownership structure and the salary cap issues that affect the NBA don’t affect the MLB, but I think you get my point. When the Dodgers make moves, who pays for them? And when they get paid for, who benefits? Here’s another thought
experiment – say later in the season Juan Uribe misses AT&T park and decides that he was wrong all along. He wants to come back to San Francisco, only now, the MLB is in control of his trade negotiation.
How does that even work? The number of conflicts of interest is astounding. It’s all very, very strange to me.
Reason #3: What about the fans?
Put yourself in the shoes of a Dodger fan. I actually really can’t because I don’t understand why anyone would be a Dodger fan in the first place – but that’s just me. The stadium already seems to be, to quote the late Nate Dogg and his pal Kurupt, “Life Behind the Wall.” LAPD Police chief called the first day after Bryan Stow’s savage beating “a sea of blue . . . [a]nd it’s not going to be Dodger blue. It’s going to be LAPD blue.”
Now consider that every dollar spent on a ticket, a Dodger Dog or a beer is going to the MLB. It seems odd that fans would show up to what has essentially become a lockdown facility, only to have their money go to the league to pay down a loan. I also
think it’s strange because the future of the franchise is fundamentally unknown. What’s the exit strategy? What’s the program for exiting this quasi-conservatorship? Part of the issue here is that the Dodgers never declared bankruptcy like other franchises have. As such, it’s tough from a legal standpoint to understand when the MLB will exit its role as owners, and when the fans will have their team back.
Bud Selig is a man far smarter than I. That being said, it was under his watch that the players perpetrated one of the greatest scandals in American sports, viewership wavered up and down, and my team won the World Series. I think it’s fair to take issue with some of his decision-making; I also think this is a reasonable place to do so. I just can understand the rationale, the incentives, or the exit strategy to this plan. Let the saga continue for the Dodgers; let the saga continue for Commissioner Bud Selig.
 If you didn’t get the sarcasm, you probably shouldn’t be reading my articles.
 It was a tribute to the HBO show “Oz” but also was a favorite of mine circa 6th grade.
 That last one is irrelevant, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Again.