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Two are committed to raising Arizona

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Times Staff Writer

From his office in Newport Beach, Jeff Moorad conjured up ways to pitch the Dodgers on buying his players. He was an agent. He delivered Shawn Green to the Dodgers, for $84 million.

From his office at Dodger Stadium, Derrick Hall dreamed up ways to pitch the Dodgers to the media, and the community at large. He was a publicist. He told you all about Green, and everyone else in blue.

As the years passed, Moorad decided he would rather be Green’s boss than his agent. He tried to buy the Dodgers, and he failed. When Frank McCourt succeeded in buying the team, Hall decided he didn’t want to work there anymore.

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The Dodgers have prospered under McCourt, with playoff appearances in two of three seasons under his ownership. Their most significant challenge over the next few summers could come from the east, from the desert, from a core of rising stars in the newly red uniforms of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks are in town this week, under new management, with Hall in his first season as club president and Moorad as one of the general partners. They come not to praise the Dodgers but to bury them.

In a gentlemanly way, of course.

“I have a lot of great friends with the Dodgers, and I have a lot of great friends who are fans of the Dodgers,” Hall said. “So that’s the difficult part. However, when it comes to competition -- your team versus another -- no one should stand in your way.

“So it’s always refreshing when we beat the Dodgers, or any team that we face.”

Refreshment could come often this year, although Arizona fans parched for victory appear to remain skeptical of the new regime.

With Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb heading a rotation that includes veterans Randy Johnson, Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis, and with young talent aplenty in infielders Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy, outfielders Carlos Quentin and Chris Young and catcher Miguel Montero, the Diamondbacks should contend in the National League West.

But the smallest crowd in club history showed up for one game last week. The Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001 and sold 3.2 million tickets the following year, but they lost 111 games in 2004.

They haven’t finished with a winning record since then, and attendance has fallen 35% in four years, to 2.1 million, even as population has soared in Phoenix and its wildly growing suburbs. The Diamondbacks’ player payroll has been halved, from $103 million in 2002 to $52 million this year, so the city that ranks sixth in population in the United States is represented by a team that ranks 26th in payroll.

Not to worry, or so Moorad and Hall say. The team can win now on this budget -- at least in the NL West -- and win later on a bigger budget, once the Diamondbacks pay off contract deferments that Moorad said had risen to $230 million by the time a new ownership group ousted managing partner Jerry Colangelo three years ago. (Colangelo did not dispute the figure.)

“As our deferral debt is paid down -- and we’ve already paid down $70 million of that debt -- we’ll put the money right back into payroll,” Moorad said.

Attendance is projected to rise this season, Hall said. If the young players develop and win, Arizona plans to keep them.

“This is really the start of what we hope to provide for about five to 10 years, with players that will be identifiable to our fans and identifiable in the community,” Hall said. “It’s important for us to have a lot of the same names out on the field for many years.”

By 2003, as Green completed his fourth year with the Dodgers, his agent was weary of representing players. As part of a four-man partnership, Moorad said, he bid to buy the Dodgers from Fox, but he was too late.

“Frank McCourt was already well on his way,” said Moorad, who was expected to add the title of chief executive for the Diamondbacks later this week.

Bob Graziano, the president of the Dodgers under Fox, confirmed Moorad’s group had “substantial discussions regarding the acquisition of the franchise.” Neither Moorad nor Graziano would identify the other partners.

Moorad found another partner, a venture capitalist he declined to identify, and the two men agreed in February 2004 to buy the Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns, both run at the time by Colangelo.

“We made a deal for the Suns,” Moorad said. “We actually signed a term sheet, and Jerry Colangelo took our deposit. However, we made the deal contingent on being able to buy the Diamondbacks as well. In the end, Jerry didn’t have the authority to deliver the Diamondbacks.”

The Diamondbacks’ executive committee rejected the bid. Colangelo said he had told Moorad the baseball team could not be sold without committee approval.

“That is something you have to discuss with your partners, which is what I did,” Colangelo said. “The deal fell through.”

Within months, however, the new ownership group sold Moorad a $20-million ownership share and agreed he could oversee daily operations.

By that time, McCourt had taken control of the Dodgers, and Hall had resigned. Moorad hired him in 2005, as the Diamondbacks’ senior vice president of communications, and the club promoted him to president in October.

That position entitles him to a seat at owners meetings, alongside Frank and Jamie McCourt. In a Times article last year, Frank McCourt attributed the poor public reception initially accorded him and his wife in part to executives from the outgoing Fox regime who “sabotaged us” in the media.

The comment was not directed at Hall, Dodgers spokeswoman Camille Johnston said. She said McCourt would not otherwise discuss his relationship with Hall, who called his relationship with the McCourts “extremely amicable.”

“I think they’ve done a nice job,” he said. “There’s no doubt they’re committed to winning. They’ve done some great things to that ballpark. They’ve got some good people in place there.”

Hall still bleeds a touch of blue on occasion. He worked for the Dodgers for 12 years, starting as an intern. He cringes, just for a moment, whenever he sees Matt Williams, now an Arizona broadcaster after playing for the Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants.

“I could not stand Matt Williams when I was with the Dodgers,” Hall said. “I can’t tell you how many times it felt like he beat us. He’d put that head down and run around as fast as he could on a home run trot, and I just wanted to strangle him. I’ve told him that. Today, he’s one of my dear friends out here.

“My Dodger history is really important to me. It made me the executive I am today, from all the ownership groups I worked for. Of course, Peter [O'Malley] taught me more about customer service and fan appreciation than anyone, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Moorad finally did get to be Shawn Green’s boss. The Diamondbacks acquired him from the Dodgers two years ago, to the delight of Moorad’s three sons, living in Arizona but longing for their old home team.

“It took a while for the boys to get over the hump in terms of their rooting interest,” Moorad said. “We traded for Shawn Green, and that helped the transition.”

After a season and half, Green was traded to the New York Mets. The Moorad kids must have grown up in a hurry. The Diamondbacks’ kids need to do the same.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com


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