MLB 'Buds' in because Dodgers too big to fail
Even in the moviemaking mecca of Los Angeles, no one ever dreamed up a script that began: "Bud Selig rides into town on a white horse and ..."
But here he comes, anyway, determined to rescue the Dodgers from the grasp of that crazy-fun couple, Frank and Jamie McCourt — not mention an army of divorce lawyers and who-knows-how-many-more debtors — and then nurse a once-storied franchise back to glory.
Right man for the job?
Who knows? Tough is the last word you'd use to describe him. Selig is a consensus builder by nature and an optimist by training, having made plenty of money leasing cars. He's conscientious, or if you prefer, cautious to a fault and, above all, likes to business with friends. None of it makes him quite leading-man material.
Plus, just like the steroid-fueled decade-and-a-half that Selig just finished presiding over, this hostile takeover operation caught him by surprise. And considering all the other problems that fell from the sky during his watch, you can bet he wanted nothing more than two quiet seasons to close it out. Not going to happen now.
So here's hoping that Selig can summon both the smarts and energy to gets this one right — or at least belatedly right, as he did playing catch-up with the supersized era. Given the mess the Mets are mired in, and the woes facing a few other shaky franchises at the moment, it might not be his last rescue operation.
If a cornerstone franchise like the Dodgers was allowed to disintegrate much further, it would have sent the message that nobody else in the game is too big to fail. That said, the McCourts certainly were pushing it.
We won't know until the divorce proceedings are final exactly how much looting went on in LA. But what we've learned so far, thanks to the Los Angeles Times, has been impressive: thousands of dollars to a faith-healer to send out good vibes from hundreds of miles away, millions to a son for a do-nothing front-office job he wasn't remotely qualified for; millions more in future ticket sales pledged as collateral for what sounded like payday loans.
When the commissioner balked at that last scheme, somebody at McCourt Inc. simply dreamed up another. Reluctantly, baseball finally put its foot down. You might think uncoupling itself from a lousy business partner would be reason enough for major league baseball to step in, but as always, the commissioner couldn't resist saying McCourt's fellow owners were thinking about the fans.
"The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future," Selig said in a statement Wednesday, then passed up several opportunities to elaborate a day later.
He's right about the first part. The Dodgers have dripped prestige. It was the ballclub that gave Jackie Robinson his debut and baseball a West Coast anchor, home to perhaps the greatest sustained pitching run ever (Sandy Koufax) and the most dramatic home run (Kirk Gibson).
But it also became a running joke not long after Selig & Co. let the McCourts buy their way into the club. Despite several playoff appearances by the Dodgers, there were enough intimations of trouble that the latest in a line of managers hired to cover up a string of personnel gaffes wasn't completely surprised.
"It's hard to imagine it would happen somewhere like the Dodgers," first-year manager Don Mattingly said, "but there's crazy stuff going on everywhere. You're seeing monster major banks going down, so obviously it can happen."
There is some consolation. While different in scope and degree, Selig has some experience with clubs melting down. MLB took over the Montreal Expos and nearly ran the franchise into the ground. On the other hand, Selig deftly inserted himself into a nasty ownership fight in Texas, then pulled some strings helping former pitching great Nolan Ryan get hold of the Rangers, and — viola! — saw the club flourish and become a World Series contender.
Can he restore the Dodgers?
No idea. There will be plenty more questions than answers in the short term. But if the management team Selig puts in place doesn't start pursuing left-handed relief with the same fervor the old management team displayed locking up a faith healer, you won't need financial disclosure statements to guess how the experiment is going to end.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org