Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Recap Of The McCourt Divorce, In Paragraph Format

Many SoSG regulars have criticized me for being one of the few stalwart subscribers to print media (both newspapers and magazines). It stems from my early “career” in journalism—-I can (sort of) call it that as I was at one time paid for my article- and column-writing, as a sports writer, entertainment editor, and news editor at my college paper; and even had some of my pieces picked up and nationally published—-as well as the fact that I find myself on planes a lot and having the print document in front of me saves me when I’m out of internet range.

(The iPad and iPhone changes all this, I know (thank you, Instapaper!), and I realize at some point soon I’ll probably have to figure out the tradeoff between the degradation of my shoulder and back lugging around all these print pages, versus the convenience of a kindle or iPad. But for now, I’m sticking with print subscriptions.)

But when you come across columns like Lee Jenkins’ piece in the September 13 2010 issue* of Sports Illustrated, it validates one’s luddite ways. I can’t find a link to it in Jenkins’ online archive at, so let me re-type an excerpt of his great writing in his piece, “The Embarrassment of Riches,” which provided the best summary I’ve read of the McCourt divorce case (as of a couple of weeks ago):

[subhead] When they bought the Dodgers, Jamie and Frank McCourt were the perfect dysfunctional couple. But a toxic divorce has brought their nauseating excesses ($150,000 for haircuts?) to light and crippled one of baseball’s proudest franchises

Peter O’Malley rides the elevator every morning to 1988, and when he gets there, Orel Hershiser greets him at the door. O’Malley, whose family owned all or part of the Dogers for more than five decades, sold the team 12 years ago, but up here in 1988 it feels like he never parted with it. He takes care of his business interests out of an office in downtown Los Angeles—suite 1988—decorated with a drawing of Dodger Stadium, a model of Dodger Stadium, photographs of Dodger Stadium during the day and at night and even under construction. O’Malley’s assistant, Dianne Mesa, is also his curator, guiding guests from the picture of Hershiser celebrating the ’88 World Series championship (the Dodgers’ last) to the one of Sandy Koufax boarding the team plane and the one of Hideo Nomo high in his windup. “You can’t trust Dianne,” O’Malley cautions. “She just started with us.” She has been with him for 49 years.

These are the Dodgers—stable, sentimental, old-fashioned an old Hollywood, with an image as pristine as their home whites. But 19 stories down and one mile up the road, a pair of impersonators are dragging the franchise through an ugly divorce case, dumping it into a toxic fishbowl usually reserved for the town’s pop stars and B-list actors. [Sax’s note: all of which are now prominently featured on “This Is My Town” billboards, btw.] The diva litigants are Frank and Jamie McCourt, who left Boston six years ago to buy the Dodgers, assuming fame would come with the purchase. On the day in 2004 that they took over the team from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Frank invoked the O’Malley tradition, gushing at a press conference that “family ownership has returned to the Dodgers,” as if one family was the same as the other. Shortly afterward, in a more honest moment, the McCourts told their staff, “The Dodgers are the business. We are the brand.”

Last week the McCourts took to the second floor of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown L.A. and demonstrated their newfangled definition of family ownership. […]

”You can’t hearken back to the family-owned Dodgers when there is no greater metaphor for family dysfunction than this,” says Mark Vincent Kaplan, a prominent family lawyer in Los Angeles. Kaplan represented Kevin Federline in his divorce from Britney spears three years ago, a case that ran up approximately $1M in legal fees. The McCourt case will generate about $20M in legal fees, making it one of the most expensive divorce trials in the history of California. McCourt v. McCourt is a custody dispute, like so many cases on the courthouse’s second floor, only the Dodgers are the child in the middle, and no one with the child’s best interests in mind wants either side to prevail. “I’m a Dodgers fan,” says a lawyer on the case, “and it’s terrible.” […]

”Twenty-nine other teams will have an advantage over [the Dodgers] this winter,” says [superagent Scott] Boras, which implies that L.A> might even be interested in chasing top free agents after running away from them in recent years. The Dodgers led the major leagues in attendance last season and rank third right now, but they are conducting business like a minimarket. […]

If owners are judged solely on wins and losses, the McCourts have been a success. The Dodgers reached the NLCS in each of the past two seasons, despite spending the least of any major league team on the draft and international signings. The McCourts could get away with it because they inherited so many promising young players-—outfielders Andre Ethier and matt Kemp, first baseman James Loney, starter Chad Billingsley and closer Jonathan Broxton—-who were making near the major league minimum. General manager Ned Colletti cleverly traded for [Manny] Ramirez and Casey Blake in 2008, but only after persuading their former teams to pay most of their salaries.

This year, however, karma caught up to the McCourts. Young players stalled, in particular Kemp (whose sinking production and shoddy defense led Colletti to question his effort earlier this season) and Broxton (who was stripped of the closer’s job last month). Ramirez was injured and indifferent before the Dodgers waived him last month, and adequate replacements were never in place. [Joe] Torre has worked under caricature owners before—-George Steinbrenner, most notably—-but he is 70 now and talks longingly of attending his daughter’s high school softball games.

Jenkins’ piece may already be outdated (Torre has since announced his retirement...from the Dodgers, that is; the McCourt trial resumed this week and trudges onward), but it’s still a wonderful article and a welcome alternative to the one-sentence-paragraph style of the LA Times’ columnist crew. For those of you who don’t get SI in the mail, this type of fine journalism is unfortunately what you’re missing. (Until of course one of you more resourceful readers finds Jenkins’ article on the net somewhere.)

* Note: one of the negative by-products of dependency on print media is that I’m inevitably behind a couple of issues. In this case, however, I’m up to speed on SI--I’m actually at the Tom Brady-covered issue--but was late in sitting down and typing this post up.


MeanieBreanie said...

Saxy, thanks for another excellent piece. The end of the Dodger’s season along with the McCourt divorce and the public airing of their dirty laundry leave this girl feeling severely hung-over. The sad fact is that last night I was stone cold sober. I couldn’t bear to follow the game. I feel for the diehard Dodger fans as it is always the children who suffer the most.

Perhaps the Dodger’s season and the McCourt drama can be summed up with this Robert Brault quote: “The thing about family disasters is that you never have to wait long before the next one puts the previous one into perspective”.

Nancy Bea said...

Makes me want to cry. Orel, at least we have Glee....which was super weird last night.

Nostradamus said...

Nice article, abhorrent subject, Sax.

Rest assured that if you ever abandon your ink-stained-wretchedness, we'll just find some other reason to make fun of you.

The iPad is a air travel life-saver, BTW.

Pedro Guerrero said...

Much like myself on this website, the SI vault is now dead to anyone with the exception of iPad users which is why you couldn't find the online link and had to type it yourself.

Nostradamus said...

Sweet Jesus! It's the dessicated corpse of Pedro Guerrero!