Day after day, Frank McCourt manages to expose the Los Angeles Dodgers, the once-revered franchise he now owns, to new indignities. His feud with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig prompted Selig to install a representative to examine the team’s finances. McCourt has struggled for the last few months to scrounge up the cash to make the team’s payroll. And now, in an effort to hold off Selig and maintain control of the team, he’s put the Dodgers into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
We’re hardly in a position to deride bankruptcy protection — for better or worse, it’s an accepted tool in the modern business kit — but McCourt’s use of it suggests his desperation in his increasingly shrill campaign to keep the team he bought in 2004. He was approaching a day of reckoning — the end-of-the month team payroll — and Selig’s refusal to approve a long-term television deal with Fox meant that money he’d counted on wasn’t there. So McCourt threw a wrench in the machine, figuring that bankruptcy protection would slow Selig’s determination to wrest control of the franchise and buy him some time.
That may work, but it’s a sad moment in the team’s history. One of baseball’s most storied franchises — the team that integrated baseball and that has stood for decades as a symbol of Los Angeles pride — now has laid its debts bare. What they show, among other things, is that the Dodgers are paying significant sums of money to players and former players who no longer wear a Dodgers uniform. The team’s biggest creditor, in fact, is Manny Ramirez, who played a couple of exciting seasons in blue before being suspended for using banned substances. He sputtered along after that. The Dodgers still owe him almost $21 million. Perhaps more worrisome to the franchise’s future is that two players who have yet to take the field for the Dodgers, Zach Lee and Alexander Santana, also must line up with other creditors to get whatever comes of the proceedings.
In filing for bankruptcy Monday, McCourt blamed the Dodgers’ difficulties on Selig, who he said had “turned his back on the Dodgers, treated us differently and forced us to the point we find ourselves in today.” By contrast, McCourt was full of praise for himself. He boasted of having turned the team around and producing results on the field. Meanwhile, the Dodgers continue to play lackluster ball — they’re vying for the worst record in the National League West — before half-filled stadiums. Bankruptcy may let McCourt hold on a while longer; the question is whether that’s good for anyone other than McCourt.