Inside Baseball: Front-office split has Dodgers blue

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt says the team is worth $725 million to $900 million.
Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt says the team is worth $725 million to $900 million.

Divorce fight hamstrings club moves.

Posted: August 15, 2010

Most Dodgers fans, even those rare but hearty Angelenos who manage to sit through an entire nine innings, probably never imagined they'd have to endure another split as painful as the team's 1950s breakup with Brooklyn.

But that's exactly what's happening now in L.A., where the legendary team's owners are in the midst of a divorce as ugly as Jonathan Broxton's ERA against the Phillies.

The bitter split between Frank and Jamie McCourt is a big reason why the 2010 Dodgers have disappointed. And unless it's settled amicably and reasonably, one of baseball's glamour franchises could be even bluer than usual for a long, long time.

A trial in the ongoing dispute has been scheduled for Aug. 30, a possibility which has the TMZs of the world - though not Bud Selig - salivating.

There are any number of ways to destroy a baseball franchise.

Philadelphia's Macks managed to do it with penury. The Expos management, never too concerned with the fact that most Montreal residents ranked baseball below sadomasochism on their list of favorite summer pastimes, seemed to accomplish it through spite. And the current Pirates no-braintrust is trying stupidity.

The Dodgers may be the first instance where you can blame the bedroom and not the board room.

Frank McCourt purchased the Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch in 2004. L.A. fans ought to have been immediately wary, since the Boston native's earlier attempt to buy the Red Sox had been accompanied by a vow to tear down Fenway Park.

Frank installed Jamie, his college sweetheart and wife of three decades, as baseball's only female CEO.

Everything was going wonderfully until Frank accused Jamie of having an affair with her driver/bodyguard - a sin, by the way, that among L.A. wives is as commonplace as Botox abuse. Not long before the Phillies were ousting the Dodgers from the 2009 postseason, news of the divorce became public and Frank had the locks changed on the team's offices.

After nearly a year of ugly wrangling involving some of the nation's best-known attorneys, the McCourts have finally realized what everyone else sensed immediately - their bickering is killing the golden goose.

Lawyers for both indicated to the L.A. Times they would be willing to settle to save the team. The problem is neither can agree on how much the franchise - team, stadium, and the vast surrounding parking lots - is worth.

According to him, the value is $725 million to $900 million, in line with estimates by Forbes magazine, which ranks the Dodgers as baseball's fourth-most valuable franchise - after the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox.

But Jamie, looking down the road at lucrative new TV deals, has placed its worth at $1.5 billion. Since Frank already has been ordered to pay her more than $650,000 a month during the divorce proceedings, he's reluctant to cough up the additional $300 million or so that conceding the point would cost him.

Both sides have something to fear from a trial.

If he wins, he will likely get the team and she will be stuck with a lot of real estate whose value has plummeted in the last few years. But if Jamie were to prevail, there would likely be an even-steven split of the team, a worst-case scenario for anyone who cares about the Dodgers.

All this is good news for teams like the Phillies, who, at No. 7 on Forbes' list, figure to benefit from the marital paralysis afflicting the wealthier Dodgers. In fact, they already have. The Dodgers, who in normal times might have been realistic rivals for Roy Halladay or Roy Oswalt, couldn't - or wouldn't - compete with the Phils.

While the Phils and other teams made big off-season pickups, the only notable addition the Dodgers made was Jamey Carroll, a 36-year-old utility infielder who signed a two-year deal for a bargain-basement $4 million. Meanwhile, Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson, valuable contributors in '09, were allowed to walk.

Don't look for things to change any time soon. According to documents filed in the divorce, the Dodgers plan to keep their payroll close to $100 million, despite consistent hikes in ticket prices and parking fees and the steady increase in the franchise's value.

And since the divorce and its aftermath figure to drag on for years, the futures of soon-to-be Dodgers free agents such as James Loney, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp remain up in the smoggy air.

Meanwhile, as things disintegrate in L.A., Phillies fans can only hope the Montgomerys are getting along.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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