- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
When Jackie Kennedy moved into the White House, history books reveal, she was stunned by the physical decay of the place -- the disparity between what that building was supposed to represent to a proud nation and the physical condition of the grounds. She won approval for some renovations of the White House, beginning a chain of systematic improvement. She believed that the condition of the place said something about its owners.
Which brings us to the Dodgers.
The franchise is a monument of baseball, a team that should represent all that is great about the sport. These are the Dodgers of Jackie Robinson, and of Pee Wee Reese, the Southerner who put an arm on Jackie's shoulder in 1947. These are the Dodgers, the boys of summer.
These are the Dodgers of Branch Rickey, the front office genius who was the forefather of Pat Gillick, Sandy Alderson, Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman. These are the Dodgers of Walter O'Malley, who was hated in Brooklyn for taking the Dodgers west, but wound up representing the sturdiest of owners, building a brand and a ballpark that was the first to lure 3 million fans in a season. These are the Dodgers of Sandy Koufax and Vin Scully, two men of understated greatness.
These are the Dodgers, who should be treasured. And we should all be stunned by the disparity between what the franchise is supposed to represent and its decay under Frank McCourt.
Walter O'Malley's ballpark has somehow become a place where fans haven't felt safe, where they felt ignored. Branch Rickey's Dodgers have become a team that players talk privately about wanting to escape, rather than a place they aspire to join. A franchise which has consistently contended for championships for the last 70 years has seen its payroll shrivel by more than 20 percent. The Dodgers -- a team which was most responsible for honing the concept of a farm system, and which thrived because of it -- has seen regression in its scouting and player development.
To be clear, MLB commissioner Bud Selig ordered a takeover of the Dodgers -- like the repossession of a car -- because of the team's massive debts and financial instability.
But there is something more to this, as well. Major League Baseball wants the Dodgers to be great; it needs for the Dodgers to be great.
A trustee will oversee day-to-day operations of the franchise, writes Bill Shaikin.
Overnight, the Dodgers issued a statement from McCourt: "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."
Time will tell if McCourt has more, if he will take legal steps. But a rival executive who has shared a table with him at owners' meetings has doubts about that. "Why would he want to do that?" said the executive. "He's not going to win -- these guys [MLB] are going to go after him -- and all it would do is cost him a lot of money and aggravation.
"When he took over the Dodgers, he actually didn't come in with a lot of money. Bud will make sure he'll get a good sale price for the team and he'll walk away with millions. The value of that team will probably be something like $750 million, so he's going to leave with a lot more money than he put into the team."
Assuming that McCourt's ejection is permanent, executives at the team level fully expect that Selig will pick the next Dodgers owner carefully. It'll be someone who has much more money than McCourt. It'll be someone very well known within baseball circles -- someone whose actions are predictable, someone safe.
Already there is speculation among executives that former agent Dennis Gilbert -- who has worked with White Sox owner and Selig ally Jerry Reinsdorf and who finished second to the Chuck Greenberg/Nolan Ryan group in pursuing the Rangers -- will be involved in the next Dodgers ownership. Tom Werner, currently part of the Red Sox ownership, is thought to be a possible ownership candidate. Another owner wonders if Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who is perceived to have done an excellent job with Milwaukee, might be given the opportunity to assume the Dodgers, like a home owner who wants to trade up his nice home in a fine neighborhood to the Taj Mahal. Athletics owner Lew Wolff, who lives in the Los Angeles area, would finally find a solution to his Oakland ballpark quandary if he moved to take over the Dodgers.
No matter who the next owner is, he could not ask for better circumstances, because anything he (or she) does will be weighed and measured against McCourt's disastrous stewardship. The next owner will step into his office like Franklin Roosevelt replacing Herbert Hoover in the midst of the Great Depression.
However the Dodgers got to this moment in their history, they should be better. They should be great. They are the Dodgers.
The team could be in limbo awhile, writes Shaikin. Selig has ridden to the rescue of the Dodgers, writes Bill Plaschke. This is shockingly good news, writes T.J. Simers. The Dodgers have hit a new low, writes Kevin Modesti.
• What will this mean for the Dodgers during the course of the season? Well, Major League Baseball seems to have learned from its past takeovers of two teams, the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers. The Expos were run on a shoestring budget and weren't given much financial flexibility to make moves, a draconian approach which reflected the desire of a lot of rival executives but did little to add to the value of the franchise. On the other hand, the Rangers were given the go-ahead to make in-season moves last year, and in the face of anger from other front offices, their trade spending rivaled that of the Yankees. At season's end, the Rangers played in the World Series, fueling a new stability for the franchise.
So Ned Colletti, the Dodgers' general manager, could be allowed to make more moves than expected.
- "They must have short memories," said Franklin. "I think I've been decent for the four years I've been here and then ... to do that. ... But that's all right.
"I wouldn't do it. I'm a fan of the Oklahoma Sooners and whenever they have a bad game, I don't stand out there on the sidelines and tell them, 'You [stink]."'
Earlier, Franklin had said some other things he later would regret, including a jab at the St. Louis fans.
"You don't boo your own team," said Franklin. "I don't care who you are or what you say or just because you spent your money to come here to watch us play that somebody happens to make one bad pitch and give up a homer and you are going to start booing?
"They are supposed to be the best fans in baseball," Franklin had said. "Yeah, right."
But about an hour after Wednesday's second game had ended, Franklin, probably told how his earlier remarks had been received, called the press box and offered an apology through a pool reporter.
"Obviously these last 2.5 weeks have been frustrating for me, and I'm frustrated with myself," said Franklin. "I can understand why the fans are frustrated. I've loved my time here in St. Louis. It's my favorite place to play. It's just a frustrating time for me right now, because I feel like I'm letting everyone down."