Couple at Dodgers helm split

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie, the team’s chief executive, have separated, raising questions about the potential effect of their rift on the ownership of the franchise as the Dodgers prepare to start the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies today at Dodger Stadium.

“This is a personal matter and they request that their privacy be respected. They will be making no public statements,” they said in a release issued by the club late Wednesday.

The timing of the announcement could become a distraction as the Dodgers -- after winning their first back-to-back division championships in 31 years -- take on the defending World Series champion Phillies.

The announcement explained the long-visible tension between the McCourts, who formally closed the purchase of the Dodgers from News Corp. in January 2004 for about $430 million. They were not seen together often this season and sat in separate rows of the owner’s box last week during the team’s division series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The statement did not say whether there would be a divorce between Boston-born Frank McCourt and Baltimore-raised Jamie McCourt, who met at Georgetown University, married in 1979 and have four adult sons. A divorce between San Diego Padres owner John Moores and his wife, Becky, led Moores to sell that franchise earlier this year as part of dividing their assets.


Marshall Grossman, the attorney for Frank McCourt, said the couple has not filed for divorce. Grossman also said Frank McCourt is the sole owner of the franchise and is registered as such with Major League Baseball.

“Frank McCourt is the owner of the team. He has always been the owner of the team,” Grossman said. “There should be no change at all with respect to anything the public is used to.”

Grossman said Jamie McCourt remained the Dodgers’ chief executive officer for now but could not say whether that would continue.

“That is up to the Dodgers organization,” Grossman said.

The attorney representing Jamie McCourt, Dennis Wasser, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night.

She is the highest-ranking female executive in Major League Baseball.

Grossman said there was “not a chance” that the team would be put up for sale. “Speculation about a potential sale of the team is rubbish. Frank McCourt is the sole owner. He has absolutely no intention of selling this team now or ever.”

He did not expect a legal battle over the team.

“This is not going to be another San Diego-like debacle,” Grossman said, referring to Moores’ sale of the Padres.

Ron Rale, a partner at Trope & Trope, a family law firm that handles many high-profile divorces for wealthy Angelenos, said the effect of the McCourts’ split on the ownership of the team will likely turn on whether the couple signed a prenup or a similar document.

Such an arrangement could spell out a precise distribution of the marital property, Rale said, but without one, the determination could fall to a judge.

“There’s a lot of public interest in the Dodgers, obviously. It’s our baseball team, but the rules don’t really change. Under California law, courts have a duty to effectuate a 50-50 division of the net community estate,” Rale said.

He said that the couple could decide to continue as partners in the team, but that would be a rare choice for former spouses.

“Typically, they don’t want to be partners in life anymore and they certainly don’t want to be partners in business,” he said.

Alternatively, one of the McCourts could try to buy the other out.

“And if they don’t have the ability to do that, that’s when a sale could happen,” he said.

Major League Baseball President Bob DuPuy declined to discuss the situation last week, deferring comment to the Dodgers. DuPuy was not immediately available for comment late Wednesday.

Charles Steinberg, the executive vice president hired amid great fanfare two years ago and recently granted permission to seek other employment, was said to be allied with Jamie McCourt and lost influence as she did, according to two sources granted anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.

In its annual report on baseball’s finances, Forbes earlier this year estimated the Dodgers’ value at $722 million, behind the New York Yankees ($1.5 billion), the New York Mets ($912 million) and the Boston Red Sox ($833 million).

The Chicago Cubs rank fifth at $700 million, followed by the Angels at $509 million.

The McCourts also purchased four homes in the Los Angeles area, two in Holmby Hills and two in Malibu, although Los Angeles County property records list Jamie McCourt as the sole owner of all four properties.

The Holmby Hills residence, a 20,000-square-foot villa that had been listed at $29 million, was purchased in April 2004.

Six months later an adjacent French country fixer of 8,385 square feet for $6.5 million was purchased, according to Multiple Listing Service records.

In August 2007, the John Launter-designed Segel Residence in Malibu was bought for $27,250,272 from actors Courteney Cox and David Arquette, and a beachfront bungalow next door in early 2008 for $18,975,000.

The fallout of their separation and uncertainty over the future could immediately affect General Manager Ned Colletti, who has yet to finalize a long-term contract extension.

Without one, he could return for the option year provided in his current contract, with no assurances beyond then and an unsettled ownership situation.

Months after the McCourts assumed ownership of the team, they danced together on the field after the Dodgers clinched the 2004 National League West championship. When the Dodgers hired Joe Torre as manager two years ago, the couple walked arm-in-arm from the dugout to the news conference.

When the Dodgers clinched the NL West this year, Frank McCourt joined the clubhouse celebration but Jamie was nowhere to be seen near him.

Frank McCourt is designated as the franchise “control person” with MLB. It is uncertain whether Jamie McCourt would agree to a settlement that would result in her leaving the club.

It also is uncertain whether either one is seeking financial partners in an effort to buy out the other.

Neither party had started seeking outside backers as of late last week, said a prominent sports investment banker, speaking on condition of anonymity because he has worked for the McCourts.

One highly placed baseball source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation, said major league officials do not believe either spouse could afford to buy out the other and still maintain a financial reserve sufficient to run the club without taking on financial partners.

If the McCourts cannot resolve the issue, they could sell the club and split the proceeds.

After Becky Moores filed for divorce last year, the Padres slashed their payroll for this season.

The team was sold to former Arizona Diamondbacks chief executive Jeff Moorad, who imported his own club president from the team and fired 13 front-office employees in July.

The Dodgers’ uncertainties could extend beyond Colletti to the rest of the baseball operations staff. His assistants are believed to be working under contracts that expire Dec. 31.

Executives on other clubs generally work under contracts that expire in October, so any vacancies elsewhere might be filled by the time the Dodgers resolve their ownership situation.

Manager Joe Torre is under contract for next season. It is uncertain whether all of his coaches would be guaranteed to return.

From a player personnel standpoint, the Dodgers could weather an uncertain winter with minimal disruption.


Times staff writers Robert J. Lopez, Lauren Beale and Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.