Q & A with Frank McCourt: ‘I have just begun to fight’
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt sat for an interview Friday with Times staff writer Bill Shaikin. The transcript follows:
Q: You said the other day you would be receptive to Mr. Schieffer (the trustee appointed by Commissioner Bud Selig) coming in to help the Dodgers but not to “somebody coming in and controlling my business.” You had the chance to meet him for the first time today. What do you take his role to be, and what do you take your role to be?
A: It’s unclear to me. I had a very cordial meeting with Tom. We were both very respectful of one another. We both understand this isn’t personal.
I asked him that very question, in terms of his role and his responsibility. It will be something I will react to accordingly. That said, I told him that he would receive cooperation from everybody here.
We want this investigation completed as soon as possible, notwithstanding the fact that we don’t think there is a reason for the investigation. We certainly want to move quickly through this. He confirmed for me that people here have been cooperating, and we agreed to talk further about his role and responsibility.
Q: You mentioned that you did not see the need for an investigation, and you have said many times that the commissioner has not afforded you the opportunity to meet with him. That said, when the commissioner announced he would oversee the club and investigate its finances, he sent you a letter detailing his concerns. What is his case?
A: The investigation is going to show that the Dodgers have a cash requirement in 2011. This is not something new. This is something we shared with baseball a long time ago. It’s been part of our financial plan, our financial model.
We met with baseball back in May of last year and outlined our plans going forward, and we received their blessing for our plans. At the time, we were told we were a model franchise as far as our financial performance was concerned.
Q: Who told you that?
A: Officials at Major League Baseball.
Q: Can we get a name?
A: I’d prefer not to say at this moment.
And then we had meetings the following month with financial institutions. Baseball participated in those meetings. They were very supportive of the Dodgers and the financial management, I and the senior management team’s financial management. We made decisions and we went forward with the plan assuming we had the support of baseball.
The fact that we had obligations coming due in 2011 was no surprise to us and no surprise to Major League Baseball. We developed a plan which eventually became the Fox transaction. We’ve been working on that plan, in different versions, for the last six months. That is a transaction that is now completely negotiated, ready to be signed, and ready to be closed.
Q: You said MLB is welcome to investigate the Dodgers and, to quote you, “The more you look, the more you’re going to like.” You also said you want to be transparent. Are you willing to authorize MLB to publicly release the results of its investigation?
A: I don’t think that would be appropriate at all.
That said, I have said to baseball that I am comfortable with them coming in, and providing them complete transparency.
Q: To the fans who buy tickets and hot dogs and cable subscriptions to support the Dodgers, how do you explain that a team that turns tens of millions of dollars in gross profits every year gets to the point where you needed a personal loan to make payroll?
A: We shouldn’t have gotten to that point. This transaction should have been closed four months ago. And we told MLB that.
It’s not how you run a business. On the other hand, if somebody prevents you from accessing your capital and executing your financial plans, then things like this happen. We were way out in front of all this. There is nothing abnormal that is occurring here. These are the natural obligations that a business takes care of, and they plan in advance to take care of them.
We all have obligations in our personal life and our business life. The idea is to plan in advance to take care of them. We had a plan. We executed the plan. The problem here is that baseball has been unwilling to allow us to close the transaction. Had we closed the transaction when we were planning to at the end of the year — when we were ready to — then this would all have been a nonissue.
It’s the series of delays in allowing us to close this transaction that has created the problem here. Otherwise, there would be no problem here. My recent investment into the club (the personal loan) was necessitated by the delay.
Q: That may be, but MLB did not run up $500 million in debt. You did.
A: The debt that you refer to is not the issue before us right now. I’m current on the debt. We haven’t missed a single note payment. We are compliant with all of MLB’s financial rules and regulations, including their financial rules. We haven’t asked for or received a single penny of emergency funding from baseball. We have a multibillion-dollar media transaction that is ready to be closed immediately, which provides far more capital than the business needs in the short term but also assures financial stability for the franchise in the next two decades.
Q: What happens, given that you cannot access this money, when the payroll comes due in May?
A: We’re going to continue to make sure that we have answered all of MLB’s questions and move forward and close this transaction. This is a transaction that is completely consistent with transactions that baseball has approved for other owners and other clubs. When I was in New York earlier this week, I told baseball that if there were any other modifications they wanted made, so long as they were consistent with other transactions they have approved, then I would make the modifications. I went further to say that none of the proceeds from this transaction would be used in any way, shape or form for my personal life.
Q: Given that MLB has taken what you believe is a very long time evaluating this transaction, it would not be unreasonable to believe you might not get an answer in another month. What happens if you still haven’t gotten an answer and you need to make payroll?
A: Any questions that MLB has can be answered in far under a month. I have instructed everybody here to cooperate fully with Mr. Schieffer and anybody else he brings in, and to give MLB any answers to any questions. We are going to cooperate fully, and we’re going to do it quickly.
Q: Could you explain to Dodgers fans why you believe you are the best person to own this team?
A: First of all, I want to apologize to the fans. I want to tell them how deeply sorry I am for what has occurred over the last 18 months. I’m sorry that my personal mess has entered their lives and affected their experience being a fan of the Dodgers.
I’m sorry that some of them think that lifestyle decisions I made affected my commitment to putting a winner on the field and winning a championship for L.A.
Q: Are you saying that is simply the fans’ perception, or did those decisions affect the team?
A: I’m saying it’s clearly the perception of some.
Q: So you would not agree with that perception?
A: What matters is that is the perception. I’m sorry that is their perception. I’m sorry that they don’t think I’m committed to them. I’m sorry that my situation has been a source of embarrassment for the community, an embarrassment for the team and an embarrassment for the fans.
I’m sorry that my kids are going through this, that my family is going through this, that the employees here are going through this. That is what I am deeply sorry about.
As far as the other part of your question, divorce is emotionally wrenching, even when it’s private. When it’s public, as mine has been, it’s even more difficult. As much as the last 18 months have been a living nightmare for me, they have given me an opportunity to reflect on a number of things — to reflect on decisions I made and choices I made, to realize there were mistakes that I made, and to learn from those mistakes. It has allowed me to reflect on who I am as a person, what my priorities are, and what my values are.
I know who I am as a person. It is the same person that I was before I came to L.A. Perhaps I let some things here change me a bit. I’m sorry about that.
I know what the fans want in a steward of the franchise, what they demand in a steward of the franchise. People make mistakes in their lives. I have made some mistakes. I just want the opportunity to make things up to the fans in this community. That is what I plan to do.
Q: The fans might say, “This is America, and everyone deserves a second chance.” But they might also say, “Here’s what we remember: On Day One, Frank said the payroll would stay in the top one-fourth of baseball. It hasn’t. Frank said there would be renovations above the field level. Hasn’t happened. The center-field renovations haven’t happened. The budgets have been cut in departments on and off the field.”
Why is this different? Why should they believe you when you say things are going to change for the better?
A: First of all, I have been through something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. If the experience I have been through doesn’t affect who you are as a human being and what your priorities are in life, nothing ever will.
I am so resolute in my thinking and my focus, and in my commitment to this community and to this team and to this fan base. That is one of the few silver linings I can point to that has come out of this hellish experience over these 18 months.
Q: You have said you believe the commissioner’s investigation has what you called a “predetermined” outcome, that he wants to push this franchise in the direction of new ownership. Certainly, as you have alluded to, there are fans in the community that are ready for new ownership as well.
There are a lot of people who would say, “This isn’t going to work out.” You’re fighting very hard. Why?
A: I have just begun to fight. I just started.
I haven’t said a word for the last 18 months. There was a reason for that. In October of 2009, when it became public that Jamie and I were separating, our four boys asked each of us to do one thing — to not talk about the divorce, to keep it a private matter. They knew how difficult it was going to be as a private matter, let alone as a public matter.
I promised them at that time that I would not speak out publicly about the divorce, or anything related to it. I made one press statement in October of 2009 that said I was not speaking out about it, and I have been good to my word.
Recently, my boys came to me and said it was OK for me to speak out and to defend myself. I’m going to do that. I’m going to continue to do that. I love this team. I love this game. I love this community.
My hard-earned money — virtually my life savings — has been invested into this community and into this team and into this fan base. I realize I have a lot of work to do with these fans. I am going to do it.
Q: You mentioned you put “your hard-earned money” into buying the team, but during the divorce trial, your own attorney said you put “not a penny” of your own cash into buying the team. How do you reconcile that?
A: Very easily. I think what Mr. Susman (attorney Steve Susman) was referring to during the trial was that there was significant risk associated with buying the team. In the context of the trial, there was a reason that he was highlighting the risk I undertook at the time I purchased the team.
Anybody who understands the transaction will realize that this was about the land that I put into this transaction, which I committed at the time I bought the Dodgers. I committed to sell that land, and the cash from the sale would go into the Dodgers exclusively. That was a commitment of about $150 million that did in fact go into the Dodgers as equity. I believe that, at the time, it was the greatest single amount of equity that an individual had ever invested in a baseball team.
Q: The commissioner, as you know, is nothing if not a consensus-builder. It is hard to imagine he would take any action without the support of the owners. Have you reached out to other owners to the point where you are confident they would support you and vote against the commissioner, if it came to that?
A: I’m not looking for a vote against the commissioner. I’m looking for a solution to this issue. The solution is the Fox transaction.
I also realize I have work to do with the commissioner. In early April, I wrote him a letter expressing the same sentiments I am expressing to you and the fans. I realize he was disappointed to me. I apologized for any embarrassment I caused him or the game, and I assured him I learned much from the experience in the last year and a half. I assured him that, to anybody that I had disappointed, I was going to address that disappointment and make up for it.
Q: You say the fans want a winner above all, and the Dodgers have gotten to the playoffs more often than not under your ownership, but the investment in the major league team has gone down, and the investments in the scouting and player development have gone down to the point where there are very few prospects at the top of the farm system. The future on the field does not appear to be as bright as the past. Why do you disagree?
A: When I bought the club, the comments and the prognosticators were saying exactly the same thing. The great thing about sports is that we get to see the results — the wins, the losses, the postseason appearances, and so forth.
When I bought the franchise in 2004, the team had not won a postseason game since 1988. We were able to achieve that in 2004. We had back-to-back NLCS appearances for the first time in over 30 years. The four playoff appearances in a six-year span? The only time the Los Angeles Dodgers have ever achieved that.
The performance of a team is a measurement that is factual. It’s not open to interpretation. We’ve had great results on the field. That said, we haven’t won a world championship. That is my goal. That is what all of our fans want.
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