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Sale Is Done, but He’s Still Trying to Sell It

It wasn’t a news conference, it was an open house, and the real estate agent was working the rooms.

“We’re going to sign a guy that can hit,” said Frank McCourt, polishing the counters in a ratty kitchen.

“Dodger Stadium is staying in Chavez Ravine,” said McCourt, tightening the faucets in the leaky bathroom.

“I’m not afraid to spend whatever it takes to bring a world championship back to Los Angeles,” said McCourt, spraying air freshener across a musty bedroom.

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Big smiles. Bold promises. Champagne dreams and caviar wishes and enough mirrors to dizzy the first-time buyer.

Which Dodger fans are not.

They’ve done this tour before. They’ve heard these claims before.

They’ve been burned by flim-flam Fox, disappointed by overwhelmed Bob Daly, and now they’re supposed to buy a new Dodger vision from a guy who has never been to a game at Dodger Stadium?

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Oh, how Frank McCourt tried Thursday in his debut as Dodger owner.

He peddled words like “tradition” and “leadership” in the rapid patter of a guy selling pretzels outside his beloved Fenway Park.

His wife Jamie clutched the arm of Vin Scully, his two oldest sons sat on either side of Tom Lasorda, he walked to the Dodger Stadium pitcher’s mound and ripped off a pretty good fastball.

Give him credit for effort. But deduct points for hyperbole.

Of the Dodgers he said, “Growing up, nothing was bigger in my mind.”

Yet, c’mon, he grew up a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan.

Of his focus, he said, “This is about baseball, baseball, baseball.”

Yet throughout the afternoon of interviews, he didn’t mention one player.

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He said baseball prohibited him from meddling in the Dodgers’ off-season moves, thus excusing himself of the failure to acquire a power hitter.

“We were forbidden to influence the team,” he said.

Yet in the past several months he repeatedly has met with top Dodger officials. And back when the Walt Disney Co. was in that long holding pattern to buy the Angels, Disney was allowed to approve any moves costing more than $50,000.

“If McCourt wanted [Dan] Evans to do something this winter,” one general manager said, “then something would have happened.”

Oh, how Frank McCourt tried.

But he should know that the only way anybody will buy this as something other than a Boston baked scam is to do as Arte Moreno did last summer.

His first day on the job, the Angel owner promised to lower beer prices.

His second day on the job, he lowered them.

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The bar has been set for new Southland bosses, and McCourt needs to belly up to it, and quick.

Three weeks until the start of spring training. Three minutes until somebody again accuses him of being overmatched or underfunded.

“We will have a $100-million-plus payroll,” he said.

Good. Make a trade for a high-priced slugger such as Magglio Ordonez.

“I want to bring that winning legacy back,” he said.

Terrific. Get on the phone with Sandy Koufax.

“I want to re-energize the relationship between the community and the Dodgers,” he said.

Then we trust you’ll take good care of Eric Gagne’s contract, because right now, he is that relationship.

The McCourts deserve a chance. Heaven knows, even with loans, they spent enough for that chance.

And, indeed, only two years ago, the new ownership group in Boston was greeted with similar skepticism before confounding baseball officials by spending the money to build a contending team.

It could happen here. Or not. For all his promises Thursday, we were still confused.

In one breath, McCourt, who seemingly was approved by other owners in hopes of turning the Dodgers into an average-payroll team, acts as if he’s ready to fool them all.

“These are the Dodgers ... they should be in the top quartile of payrolls,” he said.

But then, in the next breath, he talked like another Bud Selig flunky.

“Money does not buy a championship,” he said. “It’s not how much money you spend, but how smart you spend it.”

This was true recently of the Angels and Florida Marlins, teams with strong infrastructures.

This is not true on the Dodgers, who still cannot create instant help in Vero Beach or recall it from Las Vegas.

Last season, money for a hitter could have bought them into the playoffs, where their pitching could have carried them to the World Series.

This winter, money for a hitter could have made them the leading contenders in a below-average National League West.

But right now, they have what appears to be the worst team in the division.

“I know I can provide the leadership that this team needs to win,” McCourt said.

Then he needs to lead where it counts, on the field, in the dugout, giving the team the players to compete.

An organization that can stink and still draw 3 million does not need new business folks.

The Dodgers need new baseball folks. Nothing McCourt can say will speak louder than a new bat, a new veteran leader, a new sense of urgency.

Frank McCourt’s sales pitch began Thursday when he smartly recognized the landmark by which Dodger fans live.

“It has been 15 years since your team last won a playoff game,” he said. “My first objective here is to end that drought.”

To close this deal, he must pipe down and do it.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read his previous columns, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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