Dec 10, 2013
The War of the McCourts
Posted on Sep 27, 2010
By Mark Heisler
In 1964, 29-year-old Ken Kesey finished “Sometimes a Great Notion,” a saga of a defiant Pacific Northwest logging family that was his last novel for 25 years.
To celebrate, Kesey and some friends painted an old bus the way a kindergarten class would have—starting a fashion trend for the decade—and took off for the publication of the book in New York with Neal Cassady, the model for Jack Kerouac’s hero in “On the Road,” at the wheel.
Subsequent voyages headed to Haight-Ashbury, where Kesey, who had discovered LSD as a Stanford student in a CIA-sponsored study, and his Merry Pranksters threw one of their “Acid Test” parties where you really had to watch out for the punch and where the Grateful Dead, a former jug band setting out in a new direction that would be called “acid rock,” played its first gig.
Their adventures became the basis of Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” If it was hard to tell what it all meant, it clearly meant something.
The War of the McCourts is like that, a lusty (with whomever), brawling (through their $1,000-an-hour lawyers) saga of a strong-willed New England family whose idea of running its new baseball team in Los Angeles includes hiring a Russian spiritualist—no, not Rasputin, he’s dead, we think—while turning the franchise upside down and shaking it like a piggy bank.
Frank and Jamie, who would still be fine if they had done nothing worse, split up and set out to obliterate each other.
This is about more than a lost Dodger season. This is Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” with Frank and Jamie as dueling Sherman McCoys, and Jamie’s driver, Jeff Fuller, as Maria Ruskin, the Other Person.
If the Dodgers wound up on the bonfire, it could have happened to anyone.
Actually, it did.
Reality intruded on their blue leveraged heaven in 2008 as the housing bubble burst, threatening to melt down the financial system in what looked like Great Depression II.
Of course, Frank and Jamie lived in a galaxy far far away from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the GOP blamed for the fall for making loans to poor people with minimal down payments.
Unfortunately for the poor, who always get the least portion and then the blame, it was hard to get into Georgetown U, where Jamie met Frank, let alone the Sorbonne and MIT, where Jamie continued her education.
Otherwise, the poor might not have put any money down ... then borrowed on the property to buy more ... like Jamie and Frank!
If schadenfreude is wrong—no, really—this is an extreme test after seven seasons in which it was always about them as Frank finessed the truth while doing Dodger Blue over in Boston Red Sox (Grady Little, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez), Jamie co-owned visibly and befriended movie stars (Barbra Streisand) and image concerns were addressed by going through five publicists including Derrick Hall, who became president of the Arizona Diamondbacks; Camille Johnston, who became Michelle Obama’s spokesperson; and Dr. Charles Steinberg, now senior adviser to Commissioner Bud Selig.
Now for the big finish, a mushroom cloud rising over Dodger Stadium.
If it’s hard to tell the difference these days, this isn’t a series about fictional characters, but real people named Jamie and Frank McCourt, or people who once appeared real.
How could this have happened, in general, and to them?
Unfortunately, it was simple.
No laws of man or nature had to be overcome. The devil didn’t have to come up from hell to seduce Frank and Jamie into risking all they had and then go even deeper in debt to live like the movie stars around them.
The system, or systems (legal, banking, baseball), weren’t subverted. Actually, they made it possible.
Just one thing separated Frank and Jamie from the other Type A’s running amok: They had a Major League Baseball team.
It wasn’t just any team, but the iconic Dodgers, in their iconic stadium, atop a hill overlooking downtown, where they opened the gates and 3 million people showed up.
In the seven pre-McCourt seasons—the sainted Peter O’Malley’s last and six being ignored by Rupert Murdoch, a more callous, devious scourge by far—the Dodgers had three No. 2 finishes, four No. 3s (in a five-team division) and averaged 3.2 million in attendance.
Entering the House Rupe Raped, Frank and Jamie would have been greeted like the Prince of Wales and Lady Di.
Instead, Dodgers fans got a preening Yuppie husband-and-wife team, poseurs as baseball executives, lacking in clues, sensitivity and resources.
Frank and Jamie weren’t lacking in brains, though. They knew they had this covered.
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