Take them out of the ballgame

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig isn't rescuing the Dodgers from the disgrace of the McCourts' sideshow. He's protecting the interests of Fox TV in their mutual interest of protecting the league's TV revenue. He's also trying to rewrite history.

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When Fox was desperately looking for someone - anyone - to buy the Dodgers franchise in 2004, Selig was the eager cheerleader for the awful McCourts, whose unhealthy behavior in Boston was already well known. Selig enthused then that selling the team to the McCourts "heralds the beginning of a new era of family ownership" and that the McCourts' deal "meets all of baseball's debt service rules and financial requirements in every way."

In every way but solvency, since the sale required Fox to loan the McCourts $145 million up front and for the McCourts to put up their Boston parking lots as collateral. The McCourts, to hardly anyone's surprise, defaulted on the loan. And now the team is $524 million in debt, far more than the $410 million in other people's money the McCourts paid Fox.

But Selig wasn't alone in setting up the Dodgers to fail so miserably. In the mid-1990s, Peter O'Malley - son of the locally sainted Walter - failed to get a football stadium built next to his family's Dodger Stadium or secure an NFL franchise. Soured by the defeat and worrying about estate taxes after inheriting the team, O'Malley began actively marketing the franchise in early 1997. But it took more than a year to sell the Dodgers to Rupert Murdoch and his Australia-based News Corp.

Selig shepherded that deal too, largely to aid Murdoch in creating a cable sports network, which ultimately made Fox the holder of major league baseball's television rights. When he had those, Murdoch sold the Dodgers.

And if we're looking for the root of these evils, we may as well include Water O'Malley himself. His decision to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles is rightly celebrated here (however many lonely hearts he broke in Brooklyn). But O'Malley's move permanently changed the way sports franchises look at the cities they nominally call home.

We think of the Dodgers as our team. But the team owners think of the Dodgers as a marketable commodity. And it all began with Walter.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was adaped from one taken by flickr user marcus.mccurdy. It is used under a >Creative Commons License.

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