My fellow Americans, our long regional nightmare is over. And while at the same time as paraphrasing Gerald R. Ford, we can also paraphrase the man he was talking about. Dodger fans don't have Frank McCourt to kick around anymore. Finally, after a process that seemed to take forever, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been sold.
If there wasn't a parade through the streets of Los Angeles, there should have been. If laughter and song didn't break out, much like in The Wizard of Oz after the death of the Wicked Witch of the East, fans were at least happy and joyous on the inside. That's how elated fans of one of the greatest franchises in all of sports are about a regime change.
If you happen to be on the outside here, Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie purchased the Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch in 2004. The team had a few good years, and got close to the World Series twice, but the McCourts were really more interested in taking money from the team to fund a lavish lifestyle. This finally caught up with them, when Jamie filed for divorce, and Frank's management led the team into bankruptcy.
But while I would be the first one to sign up to help escort McCourt back to his native Boston, there actually are a few nice things to say about him before he officially hands in his keys and ID card at the end of the month. So to Mr. McCourt, thank you for...
#5 ...ThinkCure!: Okay, every rich guy has a charitable foundation and it was hard to come up with five things, but McCourt's foundation is about funding cancer research. I can't find a total dollar amount raised, but the charity has been doling out many grants greater than a hundred-thousand dollars. McCourt's other charity, however, the Dodgers Dream Foundation, went through a scandal where it was learned that one of the team's vice presidents was paid $400,000 from charity funds, nearly one-quarter of the foundation's budget. ThinkCure!, though, seems to be doing some pretty good work.
#4 ...starting to fix up Dodger Stadium: This is also a qualified thank you, because if McCourt didn't get divorced, or used less Dodger money for personal use, Dodger Stadium would have ended up looking like a combination of Universal Studios' City Walk and the Glendale Galleria. He wanted to enclose Dodger Stadium with shopping areas and restaurants, thinking that people would visit whether the Dodgers were playing or not. I'm glad that didn't work out, but he did replace all the seats in the stadium and renovated the lower level. The place still needs work, but it was a start.
#3 ...saving the Los Angeles Marathon: I'm not a runner, and only covered one marathon in my broadcast career, but being a native southern Californian, I can appreciate what the marathon means to the area. McCourt bought the operating rights in 2008, changed the route (starting at Dodger Stadium, but proceeding through the city and finally to the beach), and made many other modifications. Many say that the race was in deep financial trouble before he stepped in, and are calling it a success now.
#2 ...hiring Joe Torre: I know it's the General Manager's job to hire a field manager, but I'm giving McCourt full credit for this one. In 2008, Torre, who won four World Series with the Yankees, became available, and the Dodgers snapped him up. The Dodgers unceremoniously dumped Grady Little to get Torre, but the Dodgers got to the National League Championship Series in 2008, and again in 2009. In 2010, the Dodgers were now in the middle of the McCourt divorce saga, and finished in fourth place with an 80-82 record. Torre, perhaps seeing what a mess the team was now in, resigned following the '10 season.
#1 ...the Coliseum game: On March 29, 2008, to celebrate 50 years since the arrival of the team to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, the Dodgers played a preseason game against the Boston Red Sox at the Memorial Coliseum. I was there. So were 115,000 others. When the Dodgers first moved to L.A., the Coliseum was home until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. The thing was, the Coliseum wasn't built for baseball. McCourt, for that one day, recreated that setting so that older fans could reminisce, and fans like me who weren't born yet could see what it was like. I bought a single ticket for a seat way up beyond the short left field fence, but I got to move around, going way up in the end zone to take a picture of the whole field (complete with the Olympic torch lit and the Dodgers employing a 5-man infield), down behind home plate just in time to see Russell Martin line one off that makeshift left field screen, and then I ended up in the peristyle end on the grass just beyond the center field fence, only about 50 feet from Matt Kemp. It really was a remarkable evening, and if I did get to be the one to drive Mr. McCourt back to Boston, this would be the main topic of conversation.
We should also give an additional thank you to McCourt for selecting Magic Johnson's group as the winning bid. I know $2 billion was the highest, and McCourt is still going to walk away a very rich man, so not really a magnanimous gesture, but at least this group has some Los Angeles ties (the other two finalists didn't). I hope that Magic and his billionaire friends don't have plans to demolish Dodger Stadium or turn it into a shopping mall, but I suppose that is a worry for another day.
So to Mr. McCourt, thank you for all those nice things, but please do one more. Please go away and not let us have to say Frank McCourt and Dodgers in the same sentence again. Thank you.
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Other observations: I realized while standing in a short line to buy my Mega Millions tickets Friday, that even if I won the big 640 million-dollar jackpot three different times, I still wouldn't have enough money to buy the Dodgers.
I'm not sure why, but ESPN is passing on televising the Yankees opener in Tampa Bay Friday. They are carrying San Francisco-Arizona at 4pm, and Kansas City-LA Angels at 7pm (actually both on ESPN2), but no TV for the Yanks and Rays at noon. This has to be the first time in the history of ESPN televising baseball that the Yankees' opener is not on the network.
Former Gold Sox pitcher Marquis Fleming was told by the Rays Wednesday that he would not make the big league club to start the season. The next day, in a game nationally televised by ESPN, the Tampa Bay right-hander retired all six Philadelphia Phillies he faced, striking out two. Fleming will start the season at Triple-A Durham, but it looks like he could make his major league debut in 2012.
Congratulations to Jamie Moyer, who has been informed that he has made the Colorado Rockies' starting rotation. Moyer is 49 years old, which means there is still a major leaguer older than me.