Monday, August 04, 2008

Frank McCourt Again Hogs the Spotlight with Manny Ramirez Acquisition

This commentary has deep roots, stemming from the opportunity we Sons had to meet and have a dialogue with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt at Blogger Night earlier this year. McCourt, who sat with a group of bloggers (including the Sons of Steve Garvey) in a suite to answer questions, was actually more impressive than I had expected him to be; despite everything I had heard about him being a mercurial, micro-managing owner who has driven organizational morale to new lows, he interviewed like a very personable, interesting, and mission-driven owner who spoke with conviction as well as approachability.

And there was one thing that he said to us that really stood out. One of my questions involved how McCourt seemed to be all over the public spotlight in times of positive announcements, but completely impossible to find when criticism emerged. He challenged me on the question to cite some examples. Joe Torre's hiring, I posited, in which the signing of the much-hyped manager this off-season was eclipsed by McCourt walking in front of Torre at the press conference, speaking before Torre at the podium, positioning himself front and center all over the photo gallery (while man-of-the-hour Torre appeared to be on the periphery).

"Why shouldn't I be front and center?", parried McCourt. "That was my hire." Okaaaaaay, it's not about the Dodgers, it's about Frank. Hmmm.

Well, what about the parking fiasco, I asked, citing how McCourt ushered in this much-ballyhooed new parking system last season, only to see even more snarled traffic, restrictive entrance/exit policies maddening season-ticket holders, and a lack of accessible parking for the disabled? When the criticisms came, McCourt was nowhere to be found. Why was that, we asked him.

"I let my people do their jobs," he said. "I need to have a team on which I can depend to do their jobs, without my intervention."

Fast forward four months later, in the wake of perhaps the most significant transaction in the Ned Colletti GM era, if not the Frank McCourt ownership era. We acquire Manny Ramirez and deal away highly-debated prospect/everyday player Andy LaRoche and minor-league pitcher Bryan Morris. LaRoche's merits notwithstanding, it's Manny Frickin' Ramirez, for pete's sake. What a coup. For years, we've lamented the lack of a big bat in the lineup, and suddenly, we have one of the most feared hitters in the game. Kudos to Colletti, for finally making a deal worth mentioning.

Except, it probably wasn't Colletti working the phones at all. It was McCourt who pulled the strings on this one.

As Jon Heyman, first to break the news after the trade deadline, recapped in a piece today, it was McCourt who made the calls to sign the Boston player he long coveted:

Only three teams [Dodgers, Phillies, and Marlins] wanted [Ramirez], and as it turns out only one of those three was willing to return enough to Boston to make it work. It didn't hurt that the one team happy to do the deal was run by a Bostonian, Frank McCourt, who makes it a hobby to collect ex-Red Sox players for his Dodgers. Sources say McCourt was extremely involved in this trade, and that he in fact was the driving force behind it, no surprise since he previously added ex-Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Bill Mueller and Grady Little.

But word was going around baseball that McCourt's Dodgers were difficult to deal with, that McCourt pulled back a trade for CC Sabathia, that the Dodgers had too many chiefs running the team and that they were too protective of every last youngster. One of many anti-Dodger columns was written here. But the Dodgers ultimately would prove me, as well as several others, wrong.

And by the way, it's a misconception that any team other than the Dodgers, Phillies and Marlins ever showed any interest. Neither the Mets nor anyone else wanted to deal. [...]

As we know now, the Dodgers ultimately didn't have to give up a big-league outfielder (or any sort of outfielder), and they still managed to get the deal done. It took until 3:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, one minute before the deadline, but the deal got done, and it enhanced the Dodgers' pennant hopes, relieved the Red Sox of their problem child and continued the rebuilding process for the depleted Pirates.

The article goes on to say how the Red Sox, and/or Pirates, wanted Matt Kemp and/or Andre Ethier, and how we refused to deal either one (thank god). Very compelling reading, if Heyman's play-by-play is accurate.

But it also makes one wonder, what the hell kind of organization is Frank McCourt running, and what kind of leader is McCourt? Clearly, his gobbledygook about "letting his team members do their jobs" is a load of crock, if Heyman is correct. And sure enough, in the aftermath of the deal, McCourt was front and center:

  • horning in on Vin Scully's broadcast Thursday evening so Scully could "ask McCourt questions" (as if any of us viewers, listening to McCourt and his nasally voice drone on and on and on about "this deal is consistent with my vision for the club, blah blah blah", really thought that these questions were unscripted, or that we wanted to hear from McCourt in the first place);
  • overshadowing Colletti's words in the press coverage;
  • even forcing himself into the morning talk radio show of KABC 790AM the following morning, despite the fact that the "McIntyre in the Morning" usually deals with political and local government issues rather than sports stories.

McCourt was everywhere. Colletti was barely visible.

This is how you let your team "do its job"? (By the way, KLAC confirmed Heyman's assertion that Colletti was not involved; thanks Rob via 6-4-2.)

Look, I'm in favor of the Manny Ramirez deal, which has brought excitement back to the Dodgers organization (including rare news coverage from The Worldwide Leader in East-Coast Sports), a much-needed big bat to the lineup (which could be even bigger if we get Jeff Kent out of the five-hole, not to mention sit Pierre rather than "untradable but not unsittable" Ethier), thousands of tickets sold (so McCourt can stop his whining about declining attendance, which the Ramirez signing quickly remedied), and arguably two critical wins against the Diamondbacks this weekend. Ramirez is a tonic that the offense and organization clearly needed, and I'm glad someone, whether it be McCourt or Colletti or my favorite stadium usher Irene, was able to pull off the deal. I don't even mind McCourt's master plan to turn the Dodgers into Red Sox West, so long as we acquire players like Manny Ramirez on the cheap, rather than dogs like Julio Lugo (at any price).

But McCourt could be a liar, and might be a bad micro-managing leader, and perhaps even could be a skilled and effective deal-maker who pulled off the heist of the season at the trade deadline amongst a sea of voracious shark GMs. (Again, I like the deal.) But he is also, clearly, an egomaniac who will put himself front and center at both running the team as well as taking the glory for the organization, whether fans like it or not, and whether Colletti (or any other GM, for that matter) believes he has authority or not. Expect Frank McCourt to be all over the press, every time Ramirez does something else positive for the Dodgers in the months to come.

That is, unless or until something goes wrong.

And poof. Just like that, he's gone.


Orel said...

But seriously, tell us what you think about Frank.

I was impressed by McCourt's presentation as well, and can tell you this: The man desperately wants the Dodgers to win—if only because if means more $$$ for him.

QuadSevens said...

When McCourt is no longer the owner, will the future Dodgers owner tell spook stories of him to keep the players in line? "Complain about my ownership strategies and I'll bring in Frank McCourt."

cigarcow said...

I like how McCourt is meddlesome. You can tell he cares about making money and winning (probably in that order), just like any of us would if we owned the Dodgers. And he's merely acting like a real boss, a leader. The best CEOs, presidents, VPs, all lead by example. They take the reigns and don't sit idly by as their underlings flail around uselessly. I like the guy and I'm confident he'll bring us a championship soon. He's frustrated that this team is underperforming...just like the rest of us fans. And he has the power to do something about it. All the flaws you point out seem to be strengths to me. Maybe I've been in corporate america too long. Either way, so long, Ned!

Rhonda said...

Leave it to you Steve, to be the downer with your constant criticism.

Steve Sax said...

redhead, did I mention I like the deal? Only 100 times.

But just think how awesome the Dodgers would be with an efficient organization (you too, cigarcow)...we'd be unstoppable. With our resources (fan base, large market, star power, legends, place in history, attendance, etc.)--we could be INCREDIBLE.

To accept anything less is to settle.