I love and will always love the Montreal Expos, but I wouldn’t want my favorite team mentioned in the same breath as them too often.
In 2002, baseball took over a team that had been gutted of everything from its players (including a personal favorite, Pedro Martinez) to its computers and printers. It was a last-ditch move for a team that losing money, had alienated all their fans and was, by that point, dragging down the reputation of the league.
Alas, that’s where the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves today. As collateral damage in the divorce of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, the Dodgers have been dragged along in the proceedings, falling short on money while crumbling in the front office, the team has dropped from the top of the National League to near the bottom. And when Frank McCourt took a $30 million loan to cover payroll for the team, the league had enough:
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig told Frank McCourt on Wednesday he will appoint a trustee to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the club. At the same time, Frank McCourt was preparing to sue MLB, a baseball executive familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because McCourt had not made any statements.
“I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club,” Selig said in a statement.
It seems pretty clear that the McCourts have abused their privilege. Both reportedly put family and friends on the payroll, have fought publicly for control of the team, released embarrassing details about the other, and have apparently fought to see who can win this petty war. Along the way, the Dodgers have become a joke.
The Dodgers are not a joke franchise, akin to the New York Mets or their basketball neighbors, the Los Angeles Clippers. In an ideal world, the Dodgers are one of the jewels of baseball, a team rich in history who played host to the major’s first black player, who helped the league gain a foothold in the West Coast, who have given us some of the larger than life players and personalities in the game — Jackie Robinson, Vin Scully, Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Tommy Lasorda, Fernando Valenzuela, Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser, and on down the line.
Even with some recent success — they did advance to the National League Championship Series in 2008 and ’09 — the state of the team is dire. Payroll is down, enthusiasm is down, and the club is being tugged by two wealthy horror shows like a BMW.
Worst of all, the team has cut back on essential costs, like security, which may have in part led to the beating of a man in a Giants jersey (a paramedic with two kids) that has left him in critical condition.
This ordeal is a bitter reminder of the realities of owning a Major League Baseball team. Mainly, when owners buy a team, they’re not buying an expensive toy. They’re buying into an exclusive club and accepting the responsibilities entailed. The best owners invest in players and talent, hire the right people to field a competitive club, make a footprint in the community, keep up the stadium, generate good will with the fans, and so on.
The bad owners, (i.e., the McCourts), drag the team along like a neglected summer home, stop caring about whether the club is going in the right direction, focus their energies on making fans think that the club’s heading the right way, and on and on. They might not treat it right, it might lose curb appeal and respect, but damn it, it’s theirs, and anyone who thinks otherwise can screw off.
The last time baseball took over a team, the Expos were in dire straights thanks to negligent ownership, a dying stadium and no money to invest. The league stepped in, and they twisted in the wind for a few more years before winding up in Washington as the Nationals. At the time, Montreal didn’t even have an owner.
And though the McCourts are doing their best to hang around, the clock is ticking on their time with the team. The sooner they’re expelled from the league, the better, and that goes for the commissioner, the other owners, the Dodgers themselves and, most importantly, the fans.