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The War of the McCourts

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Posted on Sep 27, 2010
AP / Reed Saxon

Jamie and Frank McCourt display Dodger jerseys after buying the team in 2004.

By Mark Heisler

(Page 2)

Even if they had to run the Dodgers—who once shattered racial barriers and blazed trails—like a middle-market team, this wasn’t the AL East with the Yankee payroll at $200 million and the Red Sox at $150 million.

The NL West had mom-and-pop stories all in a row, even in boom times like 1993-2002 when the expansion Rockies averaged 3.6 million, or 2000-2003 when the Giants averaged 3.3 million in Pac Bell Stadium.

Scaling payroll back from $105 million to $95 million in the McCourts’ 2004 debut to $83 million by 2005, they remained 1-2 in the NL West, where no rival would venture past the $90 million mark until the 2010 Giants.

So Frank and Jamie didn’t need Branch Rickey to rise from his grave to win the NL West their first season and four of their six together.

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Even if the Dodgers went quietly each time, 4-20 in four post-seasons, the establishment came around, as it always does.

Wrote USA Today’s Jill Lieber in a feature on Jamie in their second season:

Don’t think McCourt was given her position only because she is the owner’s wife. She’s running the show because she has the goods: a bachelor’s in French from Georgetown, a diploma from La Sorbonne in Paris, a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law and an M.S. in management from MIT. …

She also practiced law for 15 years … and raised four boys. Drew, 23, has a degree in astrophysics from Columbia and is the Dodgers’ director of marketing. Travis, 22, recently graduated from Georgetown and just joined the frontoffice. Casey, 18, will be a freshman at Stanford. Gavin, 15, attends Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles and was a nationally ranked tennis player.

Quite simply, McCourt is a 5-2, 100-pound, golden-blond tornado in size-0 designer miniskirts and 3-inch heels.

 

If Frank and Jamie were also cutting-edge New Age thinkers, they wisely kept it to themselves, as when they hired their spiritualist to send positive energy.

That was 71-year-old Vladimir Shpunt, an émigré Russian physicist who helped Jamie get over an eye infection and went on the payroll.

Shpunt didn’t claim to know anything about baseball and didn’t attend games, sending the Dodgers energy while watching them on TV from Boston.

Few team officials or players are thought to have known about Shpunt. The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin broke the story before the trial, which was confirmed by another Jamie biggie, entertainment lawyer Bert Fields (Beatles, Michael Jackson).

Not that it was an issue between the McCourts. The Times quoted Frank after clinching the NL West in 2008, e-mailing Shpunt’s agent:

“Congratulations and thanks to you and vlad. Also, pls pass along a special ‘thank you’ to vlad for all of his hard work.”

Energy wasn’t everything. The Phillies then dispatched the Dodgers, 4-1.

This was also their house-acquisition phase ... a $20 million mansion and a $6.5 million cottage next door for a guesthouse in Holmby Hills across from the Playboy Mansion ... adjacent homes on the beach at Malibu at $19 million and $17 million ... a $4.6 million lot in Cabo San Lucas ... to go with those in Brookline, Vail and the $20 million one on 100 acres in Cape Cod.

Their debt level was staggering but times were booming and they owned the Hope diamond of properties, which they had picked up in a garage sale.

Buying the Dodgers had helped Murdoch pre-empt a Disney challenge to his regional sports networks, but became a PR debacle and, he claimed, a financial one.

Since Murdoch was effectively taking money from the Dodgers and giving it to Fox, no one could tell how much—or if—he was losing.

Murdoch himself couldn’t have cared less but he did let his lieutenants atop his media empire take a crack at running the team. Six weeks into the season, they traded catcher Mike Piazza—who wanted a new $100 million deal after averaging .334, 33 home runs and 105 RBIs in his first five seasons—to Miami after calling the Marlins to discuss a TV matter.

After six years of screwing the pooch, Murdoch secured the TV rights for 10 more years in a sweetheart deal—with himself—and went looking for a buyer, even one he had to loan half the $421 million purchase price, it turned out.

What cash the McCourts needed came in loans on their 24-acre parking lot in Boston. Essentially they traded it for the Dodgers, with a promise to pay off the difference.

What could go wrong now?

Selig, partial to leveraged owners who wouldn’t run up $200 million payrolls, embraced the McCourts, vetting their complex transaction and showing no interest in L.A. white knight Eli Broad’s late overture.

Sure enough, raising revenue was a snap for Frank and Jamie, who wrung every last dollar out of every square inch, whether it was real or an accounting device.

Parking was hiked from $10 to $15, infuriating fans who lived miles away, had to drive and had two choices: fork up or stay home.

They could charge their own team $14 million to play in its own stadium, spun off to a McCourt-owned entity called Blue Land.

Like so many other scoops, the rental was revealed before the trial with David Boies, Jamie’s lead lawyer, telling Shaikin, “It’s a way of taking money out of the Dodgers and putting it into a place they can access it.”


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By cmarcusparr, September 30, 2010 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

Kwakiutl anyone? Bonfires indeed.

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By Al, September 29, 2010 at 7:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The writing in this piece was so forced, so contrived, that this story simply gets lost in
bogus irony. So yeah, greed is bad, blah blah blah; writing as unclear as this is the real
crime. Go back to middle school and learn to write one clear sentence, then try this
one again.
D-

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peterjkraus's avatar

By peterjkraus, September 29, 2010 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

It’s called “greed”, it consists of “leveraging”,
uses the “old boys’ club” (or, in this case, “old
girls’”, I guess), employs legal fraud and rests
secure in the knowledge that despite all the leeches,
the legal mooches and the hangers-on getting rich off
the marital proceedings, most of the ill-gotten gains
will remain in murky offshore accounts of the
principals in this tale.

So what else is new? It’s America, folks, where
everyone can make it.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, September 29, 2010 at 7:03 am Link to this comment

This is EXACTLY the behaviour in a society where ‘capital’ is what is number one, not people…

For why do you think it is called a ‘capital crime’ to kill someone, hmmmm?

Who can answer that!?!

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By tedmurphy41, September 29, 2010 at 5:37 am Link to this comment

But isn’t this what you would expect in a purely capital orientated society?

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Queenie's avatar

By Queenie, September 28, 2010 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment

I do not know these people. Never heard of them. The picture looks like they are comparing laundry detergents. Why should I care?

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By robert puglia, September 28, 2010 at 8:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

but, what? they’re capitalists, proud americans. i
would that they were exceptional.
they could both be senators.

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By Inherit The Wind, September 28, 2010 at 3:49 am Link to this comment

And so, the last link to the Brooklyn Dodgers is severed…that wonderful iconic team, the Brooklyn Trolley-Dodgers, The Bums, that united a city, Brooklyn, against the world.

Cabbie: “How’re the Bums doin’?”
Passenger: “Great! We have 3 men on base.”
Cabbie” “You don’t say? Which base?”

(when 3 runners all collided headfirst one base and knocked themselves out, including the OTHER “Babe” in NYC, “Babe” Herman.)

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, September 27, 2010 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment

Maybe something to do with strategic points of entry being ‘managed.’

So a direct public transportation route across a metropolis to / from a heavily populated area / popular / iconic location need be broken by other transportation means.

Or just plain incompetence across the board…. or both or several other reasons we’ll never know or be told about.

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Dodger Tony's avatar

By Dodger Tony, September 27, 2010 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment

I have been saying these things since day one, Mark. How about another insidious crime: the lack of the Pasadena Gold Line going TO Dodger Stadium, but going BY it, not unlike the Green Line going BY the airport, but not going TO it.

Mike Davis “City of Quartz” madness!

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By gerard, September 27, 2010 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment

The American Dream on steroids.

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Napolean DoneHisPart's avatar

By Napolean DoneHisPart, September 27, 2010 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment

Is it more ‘what will my friends and family think?’

or more ‘oh my God, I can’t lose all this money, what will I do?’

or could it be the ‘I just can’t go back to beans and rice’ that really gets people on the hook to sell anyone out, including themselves?

This people’s ‘world’ is any American’s Wet Dream, is it not? ( AWD’s )

Yet you must wonder what really matters to them most in life? 

Folks are so MESMERIZED and ENTHRALLED by that fiat currency, that toilet paper we pass to one another with a ‘promise’ to pay from Uncle Slam… and are first to deny their attraction to wealth and difficulty letting it slip away.

Have Mercy on all who read this Lord…

What was / is YOUR AWD?

Mine was to make as much money as possible or the first million and give half to the church and share the rest with my close relatives… I was about 9 at the time.

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