Re-Think Blue

It’s been a rough few years for the Dodgers. If consecutive humdrum seasons weren’t enough, LA’s team and fans were weighed down by an ongoing divorce drama, financial peril, drug-suspension and post-game violence. Now as the Dodgers go on the auction block, the future of “True Blue” hangs in the balance. Can the team regain momentum after the McCourts? Will new management spark former glory? Will the fans come
home to a safe stadium? One sports journalist offers his personal take on how the Dodgers might make the biggest comeback in their history.

Dodger Stadium. It’s a Tuesday night in late September. The bean counters claim more than 32,000 fans watched LA’s 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants. But the turnstiles know better. They barely squeaked all night. The empty yellow seats far dominate what should have been a wave of Dodger Blue.

This could have been a night for 50,000 strong to celebrate. 23-year-old phenom Clayton Kershaw, who several weeks later claimed the National League Cy Young Award, just became LA’s first 20-game winner in more than two decades. Eventual National League MVP runner-up Matt Kemp had two more baseknocks and in the process severely damaged the playoff hopes of their hated archrival.

So where were the fans? Detached. Uninterested. Apathetic. And probably a little hurt too.

“I didn’t want to renew my season tickets (after the season),” admitted Stanley Silver of Beverly Hills. “I’ve had them the last 38 years, but my bride of 46 years would have divorced me, because she loves baseball. But to be honest, there’s only one reason I would have given up my season tickets.”
Meet that reason. Frank McCourt.

Oh, he always looked the part. Slicked-back gray hair with a stunning blonde wife. A fast-talking parking lot mogul from the East Coast who grabbed the keys to one of baseball’s model franchises in 2004, and in eight years, drove it into a ditch.

Early on, you couldn’t argue with the Dodgers’ on-field success. Four playoff appearances in McCourt’s first six years. He spent some money on players (two years, $45 million to Manny Ramirez). On managers ($13 million over three years to Joe Torre). But mostly on himself. According to Sports Illustrated, the McCourts owned nine properties worth more than $100 million. Had seven country club memberships. Even paid $150 grand per year to a hairstylist. (J-Lo doesn’t even require that kind of grooming for American Idol).

But McCourt’s financial structure had no backbone. It was a house of cards that was collapsing, much like his relationships. During a two-year span, Frank McCourt faced two divorces. One from his wife Jamie. The other from ownership of major league baseball. The Dodgers filed for bankruptcy in June of last year, and several months later McCourt agreed to put the team up for sale.

Goodbye swanky hairdresser. 
Hello Supercuts.

Any day now, a new ownership group will win the auction to take over the Los Angeles Dodgers. And at that point, the healing must begin.

“It won’t be difficult at all for the Dodgers to win back LA,” says FoxSports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal. “Their fans are dying to come back, dying to support the team again. And as far as the next ownership is concerned, that group will have nowhere to go but up.”

And the first thing that group should do is go down the 5 Freeway to Anaheim. That’s where Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has built a winner on the field and won over a fan base.

Each of the last nine years, ESPN the Magazine has come out with “The Ultimate Standings.” Every one of the 122 professional sports franchises in North America, representing the four major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), is graded on its relationship with its fans. Among the criteria: winning, coaching, affordability, but also stadium experience and ownership: how honest and loyal the team is to core players and the local community.

The Angels were ranked the #1 franchise in 2009. It fell to #4 last year, but that was still good enough to lead all of baseball.

“This honor means a great deal to our organization, because it was voted on by the fans,” said Moreno after topping the charts in ‘09. “We focus on ‘the baseball experience.’ We want our fans to enjoy courteous service, affordable pricing and a clean environment. And of course, the baseball people work hard to put a winning team on the field!”

Hey, new Dodgers ownership group,
are you listening?

“The baseball experience” Moreno talks about is indeed important. But tastier sushi, a facelift to 50-year-old Dodger Stadium and more bobble-head giveaways only touch fans for a night. A winning team provides a season full of smiles. 

“The number-one goal should be to improve the product—the team on the field,” says Rosenthal. “Do that, and everything else will follow.”

And that’s why Silver will remain apprehensive even after the “McCourt jester” has left his throne. “Trust is fielding a winning team,” Silver said. “And I’m not sure that can happen.”

The price tag to purchase the Dodgers will exceed more than $1.5 billion. Will an ownership group that just laid out that kind of dough then be willing to make the financial investment to pay top-flight free agents and build a consistent winner?

You better hope so, LA fans, or else mediocrity will prevail. It seems the only way to win back Dodger Blue is to lay out plenty of green. 

 

Chris Rose is the host of Fox Saturday Baseball and the co-host of MLB Network’s Intentional Talk, seen Monday through Friday at 2 PST.

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