So the former U.S. ambassador to Japan and Australia has now become baseball’s ambassador to the Dodgers.
Talk about foreign service.
Tom Schieffer will truly understand the meaning of culture shock this week when he walks into an outdated ballpark with an unruly fan base that boos a stagnant team with a sketchy owner.
The bad news for Dodgers fans is that Schieffer’s only baseball experience comes as the former president of the Texas Rangers during an eight-year period in which they won just one postseason game. He was part of a Rangers ownership group that once traded away a young Sammy Sosa to the Chicago White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique. He also oversaw a trade for a bloated Jose Canseco who, soon thereafter, watched a fly ball from Cleveland’s Carlos Martinez bounce off his head and over the fence for a home run.
The good news for Dodgers fans: Tom Schieffer is not really here for the baseball.
He is a business guy, having been George W. Bush’s wingman when the two guys helped stabilize the Rangers franchise in the community. He is a stadium guy, having led the effort to build the Ballpark in Arlington. He is a hands-off-the-roster guy, famous for leaving the Rangers baseball folks alone during his tenure there, one of the main reasons he was chosen for this job.
He is here not to fix the Dodgers’ lineup, but to stabilize the Dodgers’ finances. He is not here to restrain Ned Colletti, he is here to handcuff Frank McCourt.
In fact, he will have so little involvement in the baseball decisions, the announcement of his appointment was made Monday before he had even spoken to Colletti. By late Monday afternoon, they still had not talked, which Colletti did not see as necessarily a bad sign, and I agree.
“I’ve been at some owners’ meetings with him, I know he’s a good guy, I’m looking forward to working with him,” Colletti said.
It appears Colletti will be able to unilaterally make any roster changes within the confines of the current budget, with Schieffer acting as a gatekeeper only for those requests that exceed the budget. In that case, Colletti would attempt to sell the request to Schieffer, who would then lobby baseball officials for the use of the extra money.
“I asked to go over budget several times, and it was always approved,” recalled Jim Bowden, who was general manager of the Washington Nationals when they were owned by Major League Baseball several years ago. “I even asked to go above our budget to make a good offer to a top free agent, and the commissioner’s office said it was OK.”
A stunning loosening of the baseball-controlled wallet is what happened in Texas last year when the bankrupt Rangers were somehow able to trade with Seattle for expensive pitcher Cliff Lee for their playoff stretch. But Dodgers fans should not count on something that outlandish happening here. Those Rangers were entertaining two prospective ownership groups with deep pockets. These Dodgers are still stuck with an owner with no pockets.
Don’t count on the Schieffer era producing a miracle. But don’t worry about a fire sale, either. If anything, the hiring of the 63-year-old lawyer will simply further calm an operation whose team won four of the first six games since the baseball takeover.
Schieffer knows politics, as he served three terms as a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives. Schieffer understands media, as his older brother is “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer.
True, Rafael Palmeiro once called Schieffer a “back-stabbing liar,” but, c’mon, we all know the career batting average of Palmeiro’s integrity. Also, Bobby Valentine once ripped Schieffer for firing him as Rangers manager, which, come to think of it, only raises our opinion of the new boss.
The bottom line here is one given to reporters Monday by Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, who is becoming more managerial with every day that he demands his club maintain perspective.
“This has nothing to do with us,” Mattingly said. “It doesn’t change anything about what we do.”
He’s right. The new guy will have everything to do with McCourt and little to do with the actual Dodgers team, except perhaps to help them split up forever, in which case I would immediately nominate him to be the permanent U.S. ambassador to Yippee! and Hooray!