Dodgers’ turbulent McCourt era ends as sale is completed

Frank McCourt officially surrendered ownership of the Dodgers on Tuesday, closing a turbulent chapter in the history of one of baseball’s most historic franchises.

The new owners wired the final payment on the record $2.15-billion purchase price Tuesday, closing the transaction that ended the McCourt era and ushering in Guggenheim Baseball as the Dodgers’ third owner since the O’Malley family sold the team in 1998.

A teary-eyed McCourt thanked the Dodgers’ employees at a morning meeting, according to several people in attendance. He introduced the staff to Mark Walter, the new controlling owner, and Stan Kasten, the incoming club president.

Magic Johnson, the face of the new ownership group, is scheduled to join Walter and Kasten in a televised news conference Wednesday morning at Dodger Stadium.

The new ownership will be charged with returning the Dodgers to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Every other team in the National League West has played in the World Series since then.

“The Dodgers move forward as a well-capitalized organization, strong both on and off the field,” McCourt wrote in a farewell note to employees. “This is how it should be for the Dodgers — one of the truly storied and best-known franchises in not just baseball, but all of sports.”

McCourt bought the team in 2004 with “not a penny” of his own cash, according to one of his divorce attorneys. He restored the Dodgers to profitability and delivered four playoff trips in his first six seasons of ownership.

However, his final two seasons were overshadowed by divorce proceedings that revealed he and his ex-wife, Jamie, had spent lavishly on themselves while saddling the Dodgers with more than $500 million in debt.

He took the Dodgers into bankruptcy last year, and into a legal showdown with Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who subsequently accused McCourt with “looting” $189 million from team coffers.

“It is my great hope and firm expectation that … this historic franchise will once again make the city of Los Angeles proud.” Selig said Tuesday in a statement. He added: “I am grateful that the unbecoming events of recent years are behind us.”

Selig’s statement did not address MLB’s role in approving McCourt as an owner, or in approving the transaction in which he established a new entity to control the Dodger Stadium parking lots, enabling McCourt to keep half-ownership of the lots even as he sold the team.

The Dodgers’ new owners will collect parking fees, but they have not said how that revenue might be split with McCourt, or what development they might have envisioned for the parking lots. A spokesman for the new owners declined to discuss those issues again Tuesday. What is known is that no development can take place on the site unless McCourt and the new owners agree, according to people familiar with the sale agreement.

No major changes to the team are expected immediately. The Dodgers’ executive departures Tuesday included McCourt and two of his closest lieutenants, vice chairman Jeff Ingram and senior vice president Howard Sunkin.

Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, is expected to evaluate the Dodgers’ front office personnel before considering additional changes. General Manager Ned Colletti remains in place.

Colletti has said he would like to sign outfielder Andre Ethier to an extension. Colletti met with Ethier’s agent at Dodger Stadium last Friday, but it is unclear if a deal might be in the works.

McCourt had said he intended to use the bankruptcy filing as a means to retain ownership of the Dodgers.

Yet McCourt won by selling the team, at least financially. No baseball team had sold for even $1 billion, yet McCourt is expected to clear close to that amount in net profit. That would leave him with about seven times as much money as his ex-wife Jamie received under the divorce settlement to which the couple agreed last fall, before he announced he would sell the Dodgers.

Jamie McCourt was wired her $131-million divorce settlement Monday, from the Dodgers’ sale proceeds.

Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report from Denver.