By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Major League Baseball (MLB), in an extraordinary move, plans to take control of the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers because of mounting concern over the franchise's financial plight.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is locked in a bitter divorce battle that many expect will result in the storied team's sale, reportedly took a personal loan from Fox Broadcasting Company last week to cover the Dodgers' payroll.
"I informed Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt today that I will appoint a representative to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the club," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement Wednesday.
"I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club, its great fans and all of Major League Baseball.
"My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt's ownership. I will announce the name of my representative in the next several days."
McCourt responded in a statement: "Major League Baseball sets strict financial guidelines which all 30 teams must follow. The Dodgers are in compliance with these guidelines.
"On this basis, it is hard to understand the Commissioner's action today."
Earlier, McCourt sent an email message to Dodgers employees in which he said: "I ask that you please continue to conduct business as usual with our complete dedication to the game and our loyal fans.
"Each of you has represented this organization with class, and while this is no doubt a challenging time for all of us, I truly appreciate your efforts."
The Dodgers were bought by the McCourts from Fox's parent company News Corp. in 2004.
A judge ruled in December that the Dodgers were in effect jointly owned by the newly-divorced couple, setting the stage for further wrangling over the team.
Lawyers for McCourt immediately disputed the ruling, asserting he remained sole owner of the National League franchise, that his former spouse had no right to the club and that their legal battle would continue.
"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.
While MLB boasts record revenue, the off-the-field struggles and heavy debt loads of several major-market teams' owners have some industry observers questioning the league's stewardship.
The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers were pushed into bankruptcy in the last two years and the financial uncertainty over the Dodgers mirrors that of the New York Mets, who are locked in a $1 billion legal battle with the trustee for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
Baseball, like many sports, saw fans and corporate backers trim spending during the recession, but owners suffered as well.
While owners struggle, baseball has never been stronger, with revenue rising 4.5 percent last year to a record $7 billion. Last year, Selig called it the sport's "golden era" and said his tenure should be judged by team values.
However, critics said Selig and MLB officials allowed owners' financial troubles to spiral out of control, not moving as fast as the National Basketball Association did when it bought the money-losing New Orleans Hornets.
(Editing by Frank Pingue/Greg Stutchbury)