Thursday, April 28, 2011

Frank McCourt, Tragic Scorpion

There was another way that Frank McCourt could have played the hand, you know.

McCourt could have easily played the victim card, and probably elicited some public support from his fellow owners, and possibly the sympathies of some of the public and the press. Maybe even from some Dodger fans.

I thought a lot about McCourt's chest-pounding press conference in New York yesterday, and how he used the public forum to bash MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB for being "un-American". McCourt deliberately scheduled his meeting to upstage MLB-appointed receiver Tom Schieffer in his dueling press conference on the other coast (and on this point, he succeeded; Schieffer delayed the start of his press conference by a half-hour).

And he made no bones about his utter defiance. "Nobody handed the Dodgers to me," McCourt said. "Nobody is going to take them away. [...] Somebody coming in to run my business? I'm not going to accept that."

McCourt went so far that he invoked hyperbolic terms like "fairness" and "transparency", terms which are hypocritical at best when reflected against his own management tenure. Terms which caused other MLB executives to rebuke McCourt as being simply "not accurate."

And at base, McCourt may not be entirely wrong. If he is indeed in compliance with MLB debt rules and standards, then his operational management may not be subject to review (even if he found loopholes in order to get there). If Fox is really willing to front him $300M now as an advance against $3B in future television revenues, rebuffing the commissioner's request to "stand down," then that's their business decision, and something that the league can address without such a strong operational intervention.

Sure, the leaks in the dam are multifold. And McCourt looks like a harried vaudeville performer running all over the stage trying to make sure that the myriad spinning plates don't fall to the ground.

Shaky financial liquidity. Divorce from his wife. Loss of his Los Angeles lifestyle. Tragic violence in the parking lot. Declining attendance. Mediocre on-field performance. Evaporating public support. Blood-thirsty media. Out-of-patience league officials.

It's really too much for one person to bear.

In this period of a downtrodden economy and a depressed public sentiment, McCourt could have easily gone out and said, "Look, mistakes were made. Bad things happened. But I want this to work."

He could have acted more quickly and decisively to address the Bryan Stow incident. He could have kept his financially desperate hail mary throws out of the press. Who knows--it's unlikely--but he might have even found a way to prevent the divorce from coming to court and airing all of the financial chicanery and dirty laundry that proved to be the start of his undoing.

McCourt could have come out yesterday and said that the troubles which have plagued him are crippling, but could happen to anyone. Ugly divorces happen all the time. Low cash flow is something to which we can all relate.

Disappointment, over things in and out of our control, can become a bonding sentiment. And all Dodger fans can look at the 13-13 team on the field and find company in the misery (as we do on this blog daily!), even as we're revelling in the joy of Andre Ethier's incredible hitting streak and Matt Kemp's torrid start.

He could have sought those points of connection, points which transcend income strata and backgrounds. He could have appealed to Dodger fans who just want to believe in the team with all of their heart, even when their mind and logic say otherwise.

He could have wept.

This strategy has worked for others, notably celebrities and politicians. It's been proven. Heck, it's almost the American way.

But Frank McCourt doesn't do contrition. He doesn't care about reaching out to sympathetic ears. He does not do weakness--which is why many have noted that he tends to withdraw from the press when the going gets tough.

McCourt also does not seem to be connected with how he is being perceived in the press (and to be fair, when he has hired publicists to help manage this, in the early years of his ownership tenure, they were not effective (which could reflect on them as well as McCourt as a client)).

He cares about money. He is not afraid of litigation. He is not looking to win public approval or sentiment. He is looking to increase his financial coffers, continue living his high-rolling lifestyle, and maintain his interactions among the noble elite.

And it's kind of sad, really. As I've written before in meeting McCourt multiple times, he's a reasonably personable guy, especially in a one-on-one setting. And he does have some passions, things which engage his mind and command his energy, and when we have conversed, it seems like the Dodgers--as an institution, not just a shell business structure--might indeed be truly one of those passions.

McCourt might be even be visionary. The field level concession / concourse makeover was a definite improvement, and though the rest of the levels might never come to pass (let alone the larger vision for the Stadium that he unveiled in 2008), it did demonstrate investment.

He might truly be a victim of circumstances here.

But we'll never know, either because McCourt doesn't care about connecting with the people, or he doesn't know how to do that. Either way, this was one shot he had to present his best argument, and he missed a prime opportunity to make that connection, with any constituency (including Dodger fans). Instead of pangs of sympathy, he's getting eye-rolls and sighs of resignation.

That's the way Frank McCourt has chosen to play the hand, at least today. And now he has not only Bud Selig playing against him; but, in slighting the collective with a public mudslinging, he may now have the other 29 owners against him as well.

He certainly didn't do much to garner public or media support, either. And so the train appears to keep chugging toward an inevitable wreck.

Could all of this have been avoided? I'm not sure. But I do realize that McCourt knows only one way to play the hand, and so he did just that.

One might conclude, it's in his nature.


Kyle Baker said...

Damn, no comment love for Sax on this piece? Come on, folks!