Joe Torre to bid on Dodgers

Joe Torre entered the Dodgers sweepstakes on Wednesday, joining forces with developer Rick Caruso in a bid to buy the city’s beloved baseball team.

The Dodgers ownership derby is fast becoming the most intriguing reality show in Los Angeles, with athletic legends, civic icons and assorted billionaires jockeying for control of a team mired in bankruptcy proceedings.

Magic Johnson is in. Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, is in. Steven Cohen, a billionaire eight times over, is in. Dennis Gilbert, the onetime agent for Barry Bonds and champion of amateur baseball in Southern California, is in.

Ron Burkle and Tom Golisano, billionaires with experience as National Hockey League owners, are in.

Peter O’Malley, the owner when the Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988, is in. So are Fred Claire, the general manager that year, and Orel Hershiser, the star pitcher that year — but the three men are in separate groups.


And now, Torre is in.

Torre, likely headed to the Hall of Fame, managed the New York Yankees to four World Series championships before managing the Dodgers from 2008 to 2010. On Wednesday, Torre resigned from his position as an executive vice president at Major League Baseball in order to pursue the Dodgers bid.

Caruso, who has considered a run for mayor of Los Angeles, is perhaps best known for developing The Grove, a highly successful shopping and entertainment center adjacent to Farmers Market.

“I have great confidence in Rick Caruso’s unique qualifications and his ability to lead a successful bid,” Torre said in a statement.

The so-called “bid books” presenting the Dodgers’ financial overview will be sent to more than 30 prospective buyers viewed as serious by Blackstone Advisory Partners, the investment bankers handling the sale for outgoing owner Frank McCourt.

Initial bids are due Jan. 23. Since that date is weeks away and since many prospective bidders have not been publicly identified, it is impossible to say whether any party might be a front-runner.

In addition, since the new owner will be selected by McCourt and not by Commissioner Bud Selig, the usual handicapping method — find the “Friends of Bud” and put them together — does not apply to the Dodgers’ sale.

Torre is an ally of Selig, as is Gilbert. So is Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, who is partnering with Johnson. So is Steve Greenberg, the deputy-commissioner-turned-investment-banker advising Cohen.

“Every one of those guys is selling the fact they’ve got great connections in baseball,” said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a sports consulting firm. “It really isn’t going to matter much in this one.”

MLB has agreed to approve up to 10 bidders, setting the stage for a spring auction in which the Dodgers are expected to command more than $1 billion. McCourt, who has the final say, has agreed to complete the sale by April 30. In 2009, the Chicago Cubs sold for $845 million, the record sale price for an MLB franchise.

In 2004, McCourt bought the Dodgers with “not a penny” of his own cash, his attorney said during the McCourt divorce trial two years ago. Selig had considered McCourt the only viable bidder for the Dodgers and approved the sale under pressure from News Corp., which ran the team with annual losses in the range of $50 million.

The high level of interest in the Dodgers now reflects in part McCourt’s success at returning the team to operating profitability — notwithstanding the roughly $600 million in debt he ran up — and at nearly doubling the revenue, from $156 million in 2003 to $289 million in 2008.

Yet, the crucial factor luring bidders might well be the coming television jackpot. The Dodgers’ TV contract with Fox Sports expires next year, putting the new owner in position to start a Dodgers cable channel, or to leverage that potential into a bidding war between Fox and Time Warner Cable.

Fox will pay the Dodgers $39 million for the 2013 television rights. The new owner could get four times that much per year, based on recent transactions.

Forbes estimated the Dodgers’ value at $800 million in March. The standard sale price is three times revenue, so the anticipation of a similar television transaction could add $350 million to the Dodgers’ sale price.

“Live sports programming is the most valuable property a broadcaster can have,” said a prominent sports investment banker, speaking on condition of anonymity because of his potential involvement in the Dodgers sale.

“It’s just skyrocketing. Frank is the beneficiary of that. Good for him.”

That could lead Time Warner Cable to conclude that spending some $4 billion for the rights to air Dodgers games would not be as efficient as spending less than half that to buy the team, or perhaps joining a prospective ownership group.

Time Warner Cable is exploring those options, spokeswoman Maureen Huff said Wednesday while declining to comment further.

Caruso is well known among civic leaders, if not among fans. Although he is a developer, he is focusing on the baseball team and has no plan for the land surrounding Dodger Stadium, according to a person familiar with his thinking. McCourt is not obligated to include that land in the sale of the team.

The investment banker working with Caruso and Torre is Byron Trott of BDT Capital in Chicago, described in a London Evening Standard article as the only banker Warren Buffett trusts.

Caruso has no sports ownership experience, but Torre brings baseball credibility to the bid.

Torre would not return as Dodgers manager. His protege, Don Mattingly, would remain in place. Instead, Torre likely would oversee the Dodgers’ baseball operations.

Larry Bowa, who coached under Torre with the Dodgers and Yankees, called Torre “a great baseball mind who can get the organization back to where it should be.”

Said Bowa: “I’m a little biased, but I think he would be perfect.”

Bowa said Torre could devise a plan without suffocating the freedom of the executives responsible for implementing it.

“He trusts the people he hires and lets them work,” Bowa said.

Robert Beyer, chairman of Chaparal Investments and a Dodgers season-ticket holder since 1970, called Caruso “singularly qualified” to buy the team, citing his experience in developing comfortable public spaces that do not require hefty admission fees.

Beyer, a member of the Milwaukee Brewers’ board of directors, is not involved in the Caruso-Torre bid group.

At Dodger Stadium, McCourt added luxury seats and improved facilities on the loge level. He could not secure financing to continue the improvements on other levels.

“The fan experience at Dodger Stadium has not caught up to what it needs to be,” Beyer said. “The stadium has been improved, but it has not been improved equally for all fans. As a result, the family experience is inadequate.

“First class doesn’t have to mean everything is expensive.”

Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.