McCourt divorce case is out front

The Dodgers break camp Wednesday, and opening day is one week away.

Yet the Dodgers’ divorce drama takes center stage on Monday, with lawyers for Frank and Jamie McCourt arguing over millions of dollars in a court hearing that is prelude to the coming battle for ownership of the team.

“It’s not what you want on the sports page the week before opening day,” said former Dodgers president Bob Graziano.

The question for the court Monday is how much money, if any, Frank McCourt should pay to support his estranged wife pending trial. Jamie McCourt has asked for $1 million per month to maintain her marital lifestyle and $9 million so her attorneys can prepare for trial; Frank McCourt says she can support herself without any contribution from him. The court has 90 days to rule.

The larger question, however, is how much damage a public airing of such bitter differences might do to the Dodgers’ image.

“As you head into April, every owner hopes the focus will be on the field, and on the competitiveness of the team,” said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. “All this does for fans is to reinforce that the team they have been looking forward to following remains in turmoil.”

Frank McCourt, whose management team is running the Dodgers after he fired his wife as the team’s chief executive in October, said he believes the Dodgers can thrive this season, even with the very ownership of the team at stake.

“I can’t say it has no impact whatsoever, because we’re talking about it,” McCourt said. “I really think it has a very minimal impact on things and substantially no impact on what we’re doing in the organization. Obviously, I wish the distraction wasn’t here.”

Jamie McCourt’s lawyers argue her estranged husband has used “blatant balance sheet manipulations” so as to “mislead the court” about his net worth. Frank McCourt’s lawyers call those contentions “absurd.”

“The risk for the Dodgers and for Frank McCourt is that if people believe he has been dishonest about his net worth, that may translate into thinking he has not been honest about his ability to spend money and bring players to the Dodgers,” said Thomas Boyd, who teaches sports marketing at Cal State Fullerton.

Frank McCourt has said the divorce has not affected the Dodgers’ off-season spending. Still, with attorney fees one of the topics for Monday’s hearing and with the McCourts engaged in one of the costliest divorce cases in California history, the hearing could provide new fodder for fans skeptical that the divorce has not limited the Dodgers’ ability to acquire a top pitcher.

When the unheralded Vicente Padilla was named the team’s opening day starter, Manager Joe Torre said of his selection: “You don’t have a No. 1.”