Frank McCourt went on the offensive against Major League Baseball on Wednesday, defiantly rejecting what he said was the league’s effort to oust him from ownership of the Dodgers.
“Nobody handed the Dodgers to me,” McCourt said. “Nobody is going to take them away.”
In an extraordinary 45-minute news conference that almost certainly foreshadowed a legal battle over control of the team, McCourt accused Commissioner Bud Selig of having a “predetermined” agenda to force him from ownership, including Selig’s appointment of a trustee to oversee the Dodgers’ business operations and finances.
“Somebody coming in to run my business? I’m not going to accept that,” McCourt said.
McCourt’s news conference upstaged one held by the trustee, former Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer, and enraged Selig and his closest executives, some of whom had met with McCourt on Wednesday.
Rob Manfred, the executive vice president who led the MLB delegation that met with McCourt, issued a statement that said McCourt’s public recounting of the meeting was “not accurate.”
Selig did not attend the meeting and has not met with McCourt, in part out of concern that any of his remarks could be used against him in a lawsuit.
“I suspect the commissioner calls the other 29 owners back when they call,” McCourt said.
McCourt made an “implicit litigation threat” during the meeting, according to one person familiar with the meeting but not authorized to discuss it publicly. In McCourt’s news conference, he did not say specifically that he would sue.
“I’m going to protect my rights,” he said.
McCourt said he was told during Wednesday’s meeting that Selig had rejected the television contract with Fox that had been presented as the solution to the Dodgers’ long-term financial challenges. In his statement, Manfred said McCourt had been told Selig would make no decision on the agreement until an investigation into the Dodgers’ finances was complete.
McCourt said the Fox deal would provide the Dodgers with $300 million in funding now and could be worth “in excess of” $3 billion over 17 years, providing the team with “the financial wherewithal to compete at the highest level in baseball for years to come.” McCourt said he would invest that $300 million into the team and said he had signed an agreement that none of that money would be used to settle his divorce or for any other personal purpose.
Those statements angered Selig and his lieutenants, already upset that divorce proceedings revealed that the Dodgers had taken on more than $400 million in debt while McCourt and his ex-wife, Jamie, had taken more than $100 million from team revenue for personal use.
“Now he wants you to say, ‘Yay, you’re going to put money into the team instead of using it for something else?’ ” said one person familiar with Selig’s thinking.
With the Fox contract on hold, McCourt required a $30-million personal loan to meet the season’s first payroll. On Wednesday, according to the person familiar with the meeting, McCourt told baseball officials he had put $20 million of that loan into the Dodgers and might repay himself out of what was presented as $285 million of up-front money in the Fox deal.
In his news conference, McCourt said that the Fox contract met with MLB guidelines — and in fact had been revised to satisfy MLB concerns — and that Selig rejected the deal to force him out.
McCourt called the Dodgers’ television rights “our asset” and said it was “un-American” that he could not control that asset.
“It is not appropriate for one party’s property to be seized by another party,” McCourt said, “just because they got divorced or for some arbitrary reason.”
McCourt and other owners sign an agreement that acknowledges Selig’s authority to act in the best interests of baseball and waives the right to sue. To prevail in court, McCourt would have to show that Selig abused his power by acting arbitrarily and capriciously.
McCourt does not plan to refuse Schieffer office space or administrative support at Dodger Stadium, according to a person close to McCourt. However, McCourt said he had been told in Wednesday’s meeting that Schieffer would act as “nothing short of a receiver” and described that role — and Selig’s investigation into the Dodgers’ finances — as “totally unacceptable.”
In his statement, Manfred said McCourt had been sent an eight-page letter setting forth Selig’s concerns and the basis for the investigation. In Wednesday’s meeting, Manfred said McCourt had not asked “a single, specific question” about Schieffer’s role.
“There has been no seizure of the Los Angeles Dodgers,” Manfred said.
That quote outraged McCourt and his executives, since Schieffer said in his news conference that he would control the Dodgers.
“The commissioner has the right in the best interests of baseball to take control of a franchise,” Schieffer said. “That’s what the commissioner has done, and I’m his representative.”
McCourt held his news conference at the New York office of a public relations firm. The event started 15 minutes before Schieffer was set to hold an introductory news conference at a Los Angeles airport hotel. Schieffer delayed the start of his conference by 30 minutes, until McCourt had finished.