Graziano Returns to the Scene

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's almost as if Bob Graziano never left, except the Dodger president was fired last season in a move seemingly derived from a Fox situation comedy.

The longtime Dodger official was dumped by someone who then bolted the organization, and rehired by the new chief executive. Of course, the guy who fired Graziano learned that the Dodgers had a new chief executive only shortly before that move was announced.

And Fox officials claim Graziano wasn't fired, completing a dizzying series of events leading one to wonder--who's on first?

Such has been life for the Dodgers under Fox, and Graziano has had a front-row seat at the unpopular show.

Graziano is second in command to new Dodger Chairman Bob Daly, filling a similar role he held under former owner Peter O'Malley. Daly has entrusted Graziano with the business-side operations so he can focus on fixing the baseball-side mess, and Daly sleeps easier knowing Graziano is on the job.

The last two years haven't been fun for Graziano, who returned for more aggravation because of his strong relationship with Daly.

He believes in Daly and wants to help him rebuild the club's tarnished image, though they acknowledge it won't be easy.

The Dodgers open the season tonight against the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium, marking the beginning of Graziano's 15th year with the organization. No. 14 was a doozy.

"The reason I decided to come back was totally because of Bob," said Graziano, who remained in Los Angeles to oversee the final phase of Dodger Stadium's $50-million makeover. "I believe in him, and I truly believe he understands not only baseball but also the Dodgers. He understands the character of the organization, the personality and what has made this mean so much to so many people.

"Bob wants the Dodgers to return to the standards to which the organization has been held for years, and I believe that we can accomplish that working together. If I didn't, I wouldn't have returned."

Rick Welts put Graziano in position to return.

While briefly serving as president of Fox Sports Enterprises, Welts fired Graziano on Sept. 28, making him the scapegoat for the club's 77-85 season despite an $83-million payroll. Welts began searching for Graziano's replacement and Graziano agreed to stay with the franchise during the transition to new management.

During this time, Peter Chernin and Chase Carey, Rupert Murdoch's top lieutenants, were negotiating with Daly, the former Warner Bros. studio boss, to become a minority owner and run the club. No one told Welts, which doesn't seem so surprising considering Fox's other Dodger moves.

Daly had known Graziano for many years through his friendship with O'Malley, and Daly didn't want Graziano fired. Then again, Graziano wasn't fired, according to Chernin, who made the bizarre claim at an October news conference to introduce Daly.

Daly rehired Graziano, who several Dodger officials said was fired. Welts decided being president of Fox Sports Enterprises wasn't such a great gig without any authority over Fox's biggest sports enterprise and resigned Dec. 29--only months after he was hired.

Welts, in his first interview since leaving Fox, said he received a buyout that provided "a lot of time and freedom to decide what I want to do next." Welts said the situation wasn't as chaotic as it appeared.

"I certainly understand what an outsider's perspective might be on what happened, I also understand it from my mother's perspective and she wasn't happy about it, but it really didn't occur as people might think," the former high-ranking NBA executive said.

"The Daly move was great for the Dodgers, and if I were in Peter's and Chase's shoes I would have done the same thing. It [his diminished role] was something that we tried to work out, but it was just too difficult. They let me leave the way I wanted to, and I'm in a much better position than if I had not had that opportunity."

Daly is pleased because he persuaded Graziano to return.

"There are a lot of areas in which Bob Graziano will continue to do a terrific job here," Daly said. "I think we make a good team."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°