Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Amazing Vanishing Acts of Frank McCourt

I’m glad to see that the LA Times has finally picked up on Frank McCourt’s disappearing acts, which never fail to transpire once controversy heats up. First, on Tuesday, generally unhappy columnist TJ Simers picks up on the missing Frank McCourt:

THE OWNER: I know the fight over a piece of paper to determine who really owns the Dodgers begins Aug. 30 in a courtroom, but you would think Frank McCourt would at least be acting like an owner these days to advance his case.

I put a call into him Tuesday to give him the chance to tell everyone there are better days ahead, knowing he's never had a problem before blowing smoke, but received the following message: "Mr. McCourt has respectfully declined to speak to you.''

The McCourts have become a local joke, by their own doing, but if their name is going to remain attached to this franchise that so many value, they have some serious work to do with the faithful to regain their trust.

So much is up in the air when it comes to these Dodgers, and yet the guy who talked about being very transparent when he bought the team, has gone into hiding.

Resident LA Times blogger (and also another grumpy writer) Steve Dilbeck also picks up on the “silent” Frank McCourt today:

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt made a rare appearance on the field during Wednesday’s batting practice, stopping to chat with players, coaches, club officials and a group of fans from El Salvador.

Talking to just about everyone … but the press.

Approached by Times beat writer Dylan Hernandez and myself during batting practice, he shook hands and said hello. And then had a conversation with the team vice president of communications, Josh Rawitch.

That’s when Howard Sunkin, McCourt’s advisor who became infamous last month when it was learned he drew a $400,000 salary of the team’s $1.6 million 2007 charity budget, announced to us:

"He’s not speaking right now."

Funny, his lips were moving and everything.

I don’t know, guess Sunkin meant speaking to us.

Not that we’d have anything to talk to Silent Frank about, like his team’s underachieving, stud pitchers traded elsewhere, the team payroll, Russian soothsayers, income taxes or chances of a settlement before the Aug. 30 court date with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Jamie.

Frank then moved on to the fans from El Salvador. Hernandez asked Sunkin if he was talking, and he simply said: "Nope."

Dilbeck, a former print journalist, really shouldn’t let an advisor, even one whose salary prevented building probably twenty or so inner-city ballparks, get in the way of trying to reach out to McCourt. And to be fair, with the publicity surrounding his divorce and its psychological and/or financial impact toward corroding the team, one can see how Frank McCourt might be a little more recluse of late.

But the facts state that a Frank McCourt disappearing act is part and parcel of his whole ownership routine. Remember when his new parking plan for Dodger Stadium was an immediate catastrophe? Frank McCourt was there to herald the plan in, but (as we called out here) disappeared when the vitriol began. Same thing when Andruw Jones showed up—Frank McCourt was front and center (as he is for every signing); when Jones turned out to be perhaps the worst signing in the McCourt era, McCourt shielded himself from criticism by avoiding public contact.

In fact, we even called out Frank McCourt himself on this ourselves, when we went to 2008’s Dodger Blogger Night and he was kind enough to stop by and spend time with Dodger bloggers. McCourt, a reasonably articulate and warm person on an individual level, yearns to put himself in the public eye—remember when he started with the team he aspired to use the Dodgers to “build the McCourt brand”—but shrinks from view when the heat turns up:

Overall, I certainly appreciated McCourt's candor and the fact that he didn't shy away from any questions throughout his suite visit, from the barbed (why he appears to shrink away from the press upon controversy or bad press--to which he replied that he doesn't want to get in the way of other people on his team doing their jobs; I would argue, in situations like the overblown autograph fiasco in which other Dodgers brass respond to controversies by saying they want to just "collect data," McCourt would be better served on the front lines fielding questions) to the softball pitches (his favorite baseball movie is Bull Durham).

On August 30, when the McCourt divorce trial begins, things will get a lot more contentious, family dirty laundry will be aired, Joe Torre may be packing up his office memorabilia, and it’s highly likely that the Dodgers will be out of contention and imploding on themselves (that is, those few remaining Dodgers that aren’t sequestered away on the DL). I wouldn’t expect to hear a lot from Frank McCourt in the press anytime soon, guys.

But we should have been used to this by now.

photo: Danny Moloshok / Reuters


Roberto Baly said...

I really enjoyed reading this Steve. Great post!