Major League Baseball Takes Control Of LA Dodgers

Commissioner Bud Selig announced the move Wednesday, saying he was also launching an investigation into the club's finances. The team has been financially paralyzed by the divorce of its owners.

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Last night in Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves 6-1. For many Dodgers fans, it was more than an early season win. It was a good sign. Actually, the second one of the day. The victory followed yesterday's announcement that league officials are taking over the business and day-to-day operations of the Dodgers. That follows months of uncertainty surrounding the team's owners, their highly publicized divorce and finances. Dodgers' fans hope the takeover signals an eventual return to greatness for one of baseball's most prestigious franchises. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Extraordinary. Stunning. The big adjectives flowed yesterday after baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced he'll appoint a representative, to be named in the next few days, to take over Dodgers operations. David Carter saw both the bad and the good. Carter runs the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute.

DAVID CARTER: The fact that it came to this is disappointing. The fact now that it may have bottomed out is actually a very positive development, meaning we may be on the right track with respect to turning that business around.

GOLDMAN: Hints that the Dodgers business was heading the wrong way go back to 2004, when Massachusetts native Frank McCourt bought the team. A newspaper profile described how the new owner planned to move into a $25 million Bel Air mansion while Dodgers fans were calling McCourt "McBankrupt" because of his highly leveraged purchase.

ANDREW ZIMBALIST: McCourt bought the team up to his neck in debt. He bought it for $430 million and practically borrowed that much money to buy the team.

GOLDMAN: Over the next seven years, says sports economics expert Andrew Zimbalist, the finances got shakier. The recent contentious divorce proceedings between Frank and Jamie McCourt revealed details of how the Dodgers paid millions to support the McCourts' lavish and sometimes quirky lifestyles.

The L.A. Times reported a secret payment of more than $100,000 to a self- described healer who sent long distance positive energy to help the team win. Within the last week, Frank McCourt reportedly secured a $30 million personal loan from Fox, which used to own the Dodgers, to help pay team employees.

David Carter says whether or not that was the last straw for Bud Selig, it was an indication of, in Carter's words, severe financial disrepair.

CARTER: If you don't have money for payroll and you have to take a loan, perhaps under unfavorable conditions, that's certainly going to be an issue.

Unidentified Man: And now the starting lineup for your Los Angeles Dodgers.

GOLDMAN: Another issue might very well have been the atmosphere at Dodgers home games. Some fans complain that under McCourt ownership, Dodger Stadium became less family friendly. Discount alcohol sales, they say, brought in a younger, rougher crowd.

This month's brutal beating of a San Francisco Giants fan, who remains in critical condition, indicated to some that security had become lax. At last night's game, L.A. fan Gilbert Rocha sounded wistful for the days when the O'Malley family owned the Dodgers and turned the team into one of the game's most prized franchises.

GILBERT ROCHA: You know, this is a family organization and they should have just kept it that way, you know?

GOLDMAN: At this point there are more questions than answers regarding the future ownership. Is the takeover a first step in forcing McCourt to sell his team? Will tighter control over team finances have an impact on trading or signing players? How much more money will the team need to meet future payroll? And will McCourt, known for being a pugnacious businessman, sue Major League Baseball?

In a statement released last night, McCourt hardly sounded like he was ready to cooperate. Major League Baseball sets strict financial guidelines which all 30 teams must follow, McCourt wrote, adding: The Dodgers are in compliance with these guidelines. On this basis, it is hard to understand the commissioner's action today.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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