McCourt Divorce Trial Worries Dodgers Fans

Frank and Jamie McCourt's multimillion-dollar divorce case is about to play out in a Los Angeles courtroom. But beyond the damage the McCourts may do to each other, some worry more about what the marital war may do to their most prized possession: the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In Los Angeles, divorces involving the rich and famous are a kind of spectator sport. But real sports fans have a special interest in a divorce case that's coming to trial next week. It involves the McCourts, Frank and Jamie. They're the husband and wife who both claim ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, the McCourts' marital split is a dark cloud hovering over the Dodgers franchise.

(Soundbite of song, "(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story")

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Frank and Jamie McCourt met in the '70s when they were both undergraduates at Georgetown University. And in the beginning, it was like this.

(Soundbite of song, "(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story")

BATES: But after they bought the Dodgers and moved to Los Angeles, their marriage turned into something like this scene from the movie "The War of the Roses."

(Soundbite of movie, "The War of the Roses")

Ms. KATHLEEN TURNER (Actor): (as Barbara Rose) I am the one who found this house. I bought everything in it.

Mr. MICHAEL DOUGLAS (Actor): (as Oliver Rose) With my money. It's a lot easier to spend it than it is to make it, honeybun.

Ms. TURNER: (as Barbara Rose) You might not have made it if not for me, sweet cakes.

BATES: Now, they're on the verge of what promises to be a very long, very ugly divorce trial - a spectacle even in a divorce capital like L.A.

The big question isn't who's getting custody of the McCourts' four children -they're all grown - but who's getting the couple's most public possession...

(Soundbite of crowd)

BATES: ...the Los Angeles Dodgers.

(Soundbite of crowd)

BATES: Frank and his lawyers say he's the team's sole owner, that Jamie got seven houses in exchange for surrendering her claim to the Dodgers. But Jamie and her lawyers say she didn't understand the true nature of the document she was signing. She trusted her husband.

Mark Shanahan profiled the couple for The Boston Globe last year. He says Jamie McCourt's profession of ignorance might raise eyebrows since she has a law degree from the University of Maryland and a business degree from MIT.

Mr. MARK SHANAHAN (Reporter and Columnist, The Boston Globe): She is indeed a very shrewd businesswoman. And I think that people are onto something when they say how could she have not known what she was signing? I think that's going to be a critical question, and I'm skeptical myself.

BATES: Dodger fans have never warmed to either McCourt, even though under the couple's ownership, the team has gone to the playoffs four years out of six.

Bill Shaikin is a sportswriter who's covering the trial for the Los Angeles Times.

Mr. BILL SHAIKIN (Sportswriter, Los Angeles Times): I think what it comes down to for fans is, yes, they're very happy that the team has been more competitive under the McCourts than it was under the previous ownership.

BATES: But Shaikin says the McCourts' very public marital battle has caused some fans to wonder if the couple cares enough about the Dodgers' well-being.

Mr. SHAIKIN: Ever since the divorce proceedings started last October and the McCourts decided to announce their separation while the Dodgers were still trying to get to the World Series, I think there's been a sense among fans that these people put themselves above the team.

BATES: Pretrial discovery shows the McCourts have been living lavishly with multiple mansions, lots of private jets and even $14,000 a year for in-home hairstyling.

Robert Frank is the author of "Richistan," a book that examines the habits of the newly wealthy.

Mr. ROBERT FRANK (Author, "Richistan"): What people might resent about the McCourts is that they extracted a lot of money from that team. There's a perception that if you're going to own a sports team, you need to be investing in it, rather than treating it as a giant ATM machine to buy your next mansion or private jet.

BATES: California has seen plenty of high-stakes splits, but the battle is usually over private things, like cars and houses and money. Fighting over a Major League jewel like the Dodgers, if it happens, takes the McCourts to a whole new level, says attorney David Rudich.

Mr. DAVID RUDICH (Attorney): They're part of a process that in this state, it's a broken process, and it fans the flames of the divorce or dissolution proceeding. It tends to generate its own energy.

BATES: If the McCourts can't come to an agreement, the judge might force them to unload the team. But don't expect a fire sale. By some estimates, the Dodgers are now worth about twice the $430 million the McCourts paid back in 2004.

Robert Frank says people may criticize the McCourts, but they've made the Dodgers an attractive prospect for someone who can afford them.

Mr. FRANK: They've done a great job raising revenues, bringing more money into the team, and as a result, I think there'd be a lot of people that would be lining up to buy the team if it were available.

BATES: The determining factor might be whether the McCourts can agree to play ball with each other.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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