Bud Selig and “The Best Interests of Baseball” Part I

Last year, after a rather long, drawn-out feud, Bud Selig managed to wrest control of the Los Angeles Dodgers away from owner Frank McCourt using the “Best Interests of Baseball” clause of the powers granted to the Commissioner’s office. The reason McCourt was stripped of his ownership was, he and his wife had been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, using the team’s assets as their own personal slush fund/piggy bank. That’s a big no-no. Things got so bad that, for a while, there were questions about whether or not the team would be able to meet its payroll commitments.

Obviously, when fielding a sports team, about the worst thing that could happen is not being able to afford to put players on the field.  This led Bud Selig to invoke the little-used “Best Interests of Baseball” clause to strip Frank McCourt of ownership, putting the Office of the Commissioner in charge of the team. This action was taken to protect the integrity and reputation of one of the most storied franchises in the league. Los Angeles fans rejoiced. The egomaniac McCourt was going to be gone and magically, the Dodgers were going to be a perennial contender again. But therein was the rub. From 2004 through 2012 (the period during which McCourt owned the team), the Los Angeles Dodgers made the playoffs four times, winning the NL West three times and settling for the NL Wild Card once. Additionally, McCourt managed to find a way to clean up his financial mess by convincing Fox Communications to provide a lucrative $1 Billion television deal to put the Los Angeles Dodgers back on track.

However, Selig was unhappy with McCourt’s solution. By “settling” for $1 Billion, McCourt was devaluing the value of future lucrative television deals for other teams in other markets.(In fairness to the league, this was a deal light in cash – but it was a deal negotiated between one team and one broadcaster in a free market, and both sides were happy.)  So, despite fielding a team that was still winning (even if there were areas for significant improvement) and getting his financials in order, McCourt was stripped of the team. This set a precedent.

Shortly after the league kicked McCourt to the curb, the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold to a group that included NBA legend Magic Johnson. The new ownership, looking to redefine the team, and to make a bold media statement that a new era had begun then proceeded to make a historic trade of mind-boggling proportions with the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers received Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in the biggest waiver trade in league history. In return, the Red Sox received salary relief, James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan De Jesus, Allen Webster and Jerry Sands. In one fell swoop, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired a stable of star names, and a quarter of a billion dollars in salary commitments. On the other side, Boston shed their commitments, obtained some marginally decent talent, and the financial freedom to rebuild the storied franchise.

The trade took place after the non-waiver trading deadline. No one else was able to offer counter-proposals. And all it took was a phone call on a Saturday afternoon in August. Despite the enormity of the deal, and the dearth of comparable talent going to Boston, the Commissioner’s office signed off on the trade, and it was done. It seems that, in this case, the best interests of baseball were served by allowing the Dodgers to suddenly take the sort of debt and contracts that would render a smaller market team insolvent. This should have been a warning sign. This is where sane minds should have spoken up. But, they didn’t  Apparently, the deal was so mind-boggling that no one ever imagined anything like that might ever happen again.

Question: If an owner fielding a competitive team that finds a way to clean up his own financial messes can be stripped of a team, then how is it an owner repeatedly found to be in violation of the CBA, that fails to regularly field competitive teams, and may have defrauded an entire city still has his team?

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