McCourt must let go of Dodgers

The Dodgers have been my passion since they moved here in 1958.

I went to "Roy Campanella Night" at the Coliseum in 1958 when 93,000 fans lit candles while the Dodgers and Yankees played in honor of the handicapped catcher.

My grandfather, along with comedian George Burns, took me to Opening Day in 1958 when the Dodgers lost to the Giants. My grandfather wrote an excuse to the elementary school that I had "urgent family business" to attend to.

In 1959, my father took me to the World Series, which the Dodgers won. I fell in love with Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills, my two all-time childhood heroes. I loved Frank Howard, Ron Fairly, Willie Davis, Tommy Davis andDon Drysdale.

The Dodgers marketed Southern California at the grass roots, like a small Midwestern town. They had "Straight A Night," "Rotary Night" and an endless series of promotions.

Vin Scully's dulcet tones came from millions of transistor radios and unified Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire. They sold the concept of going to a Dodger game, and Dodger Stadium was state of the art and fan friendly. It didn't matter who the Dodgers were playing or who was pitching, the concept was a unique fan experience.

Dodger Dogs, bobblehead dolls and Union 76 giveaways were an attractive part of the mix. An amazing love affair between Southern California was created that weathered all future storms.

Anyone who thought that Southern California was a passive, non-involved sports community — that fans left early to avoid the traffic — wasn't looking at the relationship with their baseball teams.

The Dodgers had a set lineup, the players were together for years. Garvey, Lopes, Cey, Russell and Baker continued the tradition. There was stability at the ownership level with Walter O'Malley handing the team down to his son, Peter.

Walter Alston managed the team for years followed by Tommy Lasorda. Rookie of the Year after Rookie of the Year. Dominance at the pitching position — Bob Welch followed by Fernandomania.

The first crack in the traditions and continuity was the purchase of the team by Fox and the trading of fan favorite, Mike Piazza. When Fox decided to sell the team, Major League Baseball chose to allow Frank McCourt to buy the team, rather than other excellent suitors, like a Peter Ueberroth group (and no one understands Southern California and marketing better than the legendary Peter.)

McCourt was a parking lot owner in Boston. Most new owners of professional sports franchises are billionaires. They have made their fortunes in private enterprise and then after purchasing the team still had hundreds of millions to invest in building the franchise.

McCourt didn't have the financial wherewithal to purchase the team in the first place. He had to borrow heavily to buy the team.

So instead of being in a position to inject capital to continue the Dodger legacy, McCourt saw the Dodgers as a piggy bank to support his lavish lifestyle. He (allegedly) took $120 million dollars out of operating revenue to buy multiple homes and support his wife's extravagant spending.

There are allegations that he actually took money out of a charitable foundation dedicated to cancer research to pay team expenses.

Instead of building the Dodger farm system and bidding on quality free agents, he became a greedy Nero fiddling while the Dodgers burned. And, he allowed Dodger Stadium to turn into an unsafe place to take a family with negative fan behavior and violence only kept in check by legions of LAPD officers.

For the first time in recent memory the team attendance has dropped because of an inferior quality of play on the field, safety issues and fan antipathy toward the owner.

The heritage of "set lineups" has been replaced by a set of marginal unknown players while Matt Kemp heads toward an MVP award and Andre Ethier continues as part of league leaders in batting.

Are you inspired by Gordon, Oeltjen, Thames, Gwynn Jr., Navarro and Miles?

Scorecard sales must be soaring.

When an owner buys a professional sports franchise, it is with the knowledge that the league has ultimate power to approve ownership and insist on standards.

If a McDonald's franchisee operates its business in a defective way, McDonald's reserves the right to revoke the franchise.

McCourt's attempt to portray himself as a victim is evocative of a child who kills his parents and asks the court for mercy on the grounds he is an orphan.

[In a previous version, it incorrectly said that Frank McCourt missed payroll.]

So McCourt has drained the team, cut payroll and now has run to bankruptcy court for protection.

Unfortunately, the judge in bankruptcy has an extraordinary capacity to put the debtor's and creditor's interest first.

McCourt now has 120 days to come up with a "reorganization plan."

Major League Baseball needs to act decisively and convince the bankruptcy court that he cannot continue to hold Southern California hostage. The judge must allow the team to return to its roots, and away from McCourt.*

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or at

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