NEW YORK – With the Los Angeles Dodgers in danger of running out of cash in less than three weeks, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't set a timetable for approving a $3 billion television deal that would enable owner Frank McCourt to make payroll at the end of the month.
Selig gave McCourt the face-to-face meeting the Dodgers owner wanted but hasn't loosened baseball's grip on the storied franchise, hampered by the divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt. With the team's finances failing, Selig installed former Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer as the Dodgers' monitor on April 25 and told the Dodgers that Schieffer must approve any expense of $5,000 or more.
Baseball officials believe the Dodgers don't have enough cash to make their end-of-May payroll, which runs about $8.25 million. McCourt has said the television deal with Fox would give the club about $300 million up front.
"Nobody is using the Dean Smith four-corner offense. We're trying to move as fast as possible," Selig said Thursday after the two-day owners' meeting ended.
Since becoming commissioner in 1992, Selig has become known for moving slowly on most matters, trying to build consensus.
Baseball's law firm, Proskauer Rose, and MLB executive vice presidents John McHale Jr. and Rob Manfred are examining the Dodgers' finances since McCourt bought the franchise in 2004. Court documents filed during McCourt's divorce trial last year revealed he and his wife received about $108 million in loans from Dodgers-related entities from 2004-09 to fund a lavish lifestyle.
If McCourt is unable to make payroll, MLB would step in and pay players, avoiding a default that might allow them to become free agents. Baseball might then start the process of trying to force a sale of the team. A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge invalidated a postnuptial agreement giving Frank McCourt sole ownership of the team, allowing Jamie to seek half of the franchise.
Robert Sacks, a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell retained by McCourt, alleged in a letter to MLB that McCourt is "being subjected to discriminatory and unfair treatment through a process designed to reach a predetermined outcome."
"Number one, the outcome is not predetermined," Selig insisted. "People can say whatever they want, but it is not predetermined. I'll anxiously await the reports from both parties, Proskauer and Tom Schieffer. Certainly, the reports will be very important, no question."
McCourt has criticized Selig for not approving the television deal, which the team first presented in various forms last year. McCourt took a $30 million loan from Fox earlier this year.
Selig said he won't make any decisions until receiving the reports. Because the investigation is ongoing, those reports do not appear to be imminent.
"It's hard to set," Selig said. "There's no way I can say you've got to be done in seven days or six days or three days."
Selig also is concerned about the Dodgers objecting to Schieffer's role.
"We're doing this very thoughtfully, very sensitively, with a lot of planning, and I'm very comfortable where we are," Selig said. "I gave up worrying about owners complaining about 18 years ago."
He contrasted that situation with the plight of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz. The Mets' owners were sued by the trustee seeking to recover money for the victims of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, and are seeking to sell a non-controlling stake in the franchise.
"The Mets are doing, when you have a problem, what you have to do, and that is they're selling part of their team and putting equity in the team," Selig said. "I'm satisfied that process is moving forward."
While the Dodgers did not come up during the formal meeting, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan was approved as the controlling owner of the Rangers.
Chuck Greenberg and Ryan led the group that bought the team from Tom Hicks last August in a deal valued at $590 million. Greenberg became chief executive officer, then left on March 11 and sold his ownership stake. Ryan, the team president since February 2008, took over as CEO.
Selig also addressed owners about next month's amateur draft, warning teams not to overspend on signing bonuses. Owners would like a slotting system for draft picks in the collective bargaining agreement that will replace the one expiring in December.
Owners voted unanimously to approve the first rule change proposed by Joe Torre, Selig's new executive vice president of baseball operations. In the past, MLB would pay for anyone to accompany an amateur player to a tryout in the Dominican Republic; in the future, the person must be a parent or guardian.