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Still No Relief for Dodgers

Baseball is getting what’s coming to it once again.

Nothing personal, Abner Doubleday. You created a fine game. It’s just that the folks in charge of running it continue to mess it up.

Everything that’s wrong with the sport can be traced to the top, including the sad situation that used to be the Los Angeles Dodgers. All of the turmoil that has unfolded this season could have been avoided if baseball had speeded up the change of ownership from Peter O’Malley to the Fox Group so the general manager could get to the business of running his team.

Granted, you can’t just stamp “approved” on a $300-million transaction as soon as the paperwork crosses the desk. But it didn’t have to drag out for six months--about twice the amount of time it took to fight the Gulf War.

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Start with Bud Selig, the non-acting acting commissioner. If his house were on fire it would take him 30 minutes to dial 911. He goes around trying to build unity and consensus among owners who can’t stand one another. He’d have an easier time negotiating peace treaties in the Middle East. But he always wants to be sure of the outcome before he puts something to vote, which takes away the suspense in addition to taking up time.

The Dodgers announced they had reached an agreement in principle last Sept. 4. The league’s ownership committee had a copy of that agreement by Sept. 17. As far back as October people were saying the approval could happen soon. At one point Bob Graziano said he thought it could be done by January.

January came and went. So did February and still no vote.

Various owners kept raising “concerns,” which were really nothing other than jealousies, peeves and personal agendas. Of course, there was the usual gulf between the small-market and big-market teams.

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Although it might have been personal for a few owners (like Ted Turner), this was really just standard operating procedure for baseball.

The Angels went through the same thing when Disney bought them from Gene Autry in 1996.

“You don’t even know what’s going on,” Angels’ President Tony Tavares said. “You’re on the outside. We felt it was dragging.”

Here was the bottom line on the Dodger transaction: O’Malley wanted to sell the team, Rupert Murdoch wanted to buy and he had the money, so what took the owners so long to stand up and say, ‘Let’s get this over with’?

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When they finally did take a vote, only Turner and Jerry Reinsdorf voted against it. All that time wasted for something that passed overwhelmingly.

Meanwhile, Dodger General Manager Fred Claire was kept on hold, basically forced to spend the duration of the Hot Stove League on the disabled list. He was hamstrung, you could say.

He couldn’t negotiate a new contract for Mike Piazza. He couldn’t go out and sign the closer the team needed. Without the new Fox ownership around to set definitive limits on the budget, he didn’t know how much he should spend. Claire couldn’t even get in on the swap meet that was the Florida Marlins.

By the time the owners finally gave the sale approval in late March, it was too late. The Piazza negotiations couldn’t get finished before the season and overshadowed everything else from Opening Day on.

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Piazza got off to a slow start. So did the Dodgers.

Then he was gone, in the most stunning transaction ever made by the team. Maybe the Fox folks would have considered Piazza’s asking price too high even if they were running things in September. But at least if they reached that conclusion back then they could have traded him in the off-season and not started off with a disgruntled star.

And with no dominant pitcher to come out of the bullpen in the ninth inning and shortages in the outfield, manager Bill Russell was doomed from the start. Even if Russell lacked the skills, he at least deserved the weapons to put up a good fight before he was fired.

When he was tossed, he wound up dragging Claire down with him.

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If Claire could have done what he had to do, maybe the Dodgers would be where they were supposed to be. And Piazza would be where he’s supposed to be.

Now the Fox folks have turned this season into a bad sitcom, one that’s as unfunny as Bob Saget. Everything the Dodgers stood for has been erased. Baseball, the game with the time-share champions that can’t even stay together long enough to collect their rings, just lost the luster from one of the most storied and respected franchises in sports.

Dodger fans deserve better. But baseball doesn’t.


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