Joshua Macciello appeared on ESPN Radio on Jan. 5 to announce his intention to buy the Dodgers. He was an unknown but, as he explained to hosts Steve Mason and John Ireland, he had completed some real estate deals and mineral transactions that put him in position to buy the team in the upcoming bankruptcy auction.
On air, Macciello came off as a regular guy with big money and big plans for the team. With a thick Brooklyn accent and a no-nonsense demeanor, he said he would surround himself with the best minds in the sports business. He'd already had dinner with Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda. Because he was a fan, he would be a hands-on owner.
"My plan is to win the bid first, and then win the World Series immediately following," Macciello said.
Mason and Ireland have been broadcasting together for 16 years, and their show is the highest-rated sports program in their market. In the world of L.A. sports, their opinions mean a lot. And they were high on Josh Macciello. When he said he would sign first baseman Prince Fielder, Mason nearly jumped out of his chair.
"That's the right answer!" he said. "That's what fans want to hear!"
The hosts noted, however, that Macciello was an underdog because he lacked connections within the clubby world of professional baseball.
"Am I a long shot?" Macciello asked. "Yes, and there's no other place that I'd like to be. I'm the Rocky Balboa."
Some listeners who called in were skeptical. How come no one had heard of this guy before? But Mason and Ireland stood firm. Ireland said he had seen an appraisal for one of Macciello's gold mines. It was worth $20 billion.
"It's not a hoax," Mason said. "Believe me, this guy doesn't get on the air without passing a vetting process. We're not gonna risk our reputations."
After his debut, Macciello talked to a dozen more TV stations and radio and print reporters. He answered skeptical comments online. He showed up at a softball game organized by Dodger bloggers, where he went 5-for-7, with two doubles and a triple, and hustled to make a diving catch in the outfield.
"Everybody's worried about me being Frank McCourt," he said later. "Frank McCourt's not laying his body out."
After their initial report, Mason and Ireland did a follow-up interview with Ramona Shelburne, an ESPN reporter who spent five weeks checking into Macciello's background. The verdict: He's the real deal.
"At the end of the day, it's just a great story," Shelburne told them. "This guy, I honestly think, is just a guy who came into a lot of money and thinks it might be cool [to own the team]. There's something endearing about that."
They took some calls. Lance in San Diego, a Dodger fan since the age of 8, was sold.
"He's aggressive like Steinbrenner, young like Cuban. ... He's got my vote, dawg. ... I love him."
"I think a lot of fans are buying what he's selling," Ireland concluded.
Frank McCourt has owned the Dodgers since 2004. His tenure has been a disaster. After spending two years disgracing himself in divorce court, McCourt filed for bankruptcy in June. Last year, the fans boycotted. The team played mediocre baseball against a backdrop of empty seats. Under duress, McCourt agreed to sell the team last fall.
At this point, Dodger fans are desperate to be told two things: That the McCourt era is over, and that the team will win again. Unfortunately, nobody can say those things.
McCourt seems to have every intention of hanging on to the Dodger Stadium parking lots. That would force the new owner into an awkward partnership with the most hated man in Los Angeles.
As for winning, no one can make any promises about that, either — at least not while the bankruptcy sale is pending. The auction is a secret process, and the bidders making a play for the team have signed nondisclosure agreements. Though there have been plenty of leaks, no one is permitted to speak directly to the fans.
No one, except Josh Macciello.
Because, as it turns out, Macciello was never a real contender for the team. He is, instead, a fraud. Despite what he's told reporter after reporter, and despite what those journalists have dutifully repeated, he does not have billions of dollars. He does not have rights to any gold mines. He is, instead, a convicted drug dealer and a huckster who has used his talents to persuade many people — not just journalists — to place their confidence in him. In his wake he has left a string of abandoned projects and broken promises.
The Dodger play is his boldest stunt so far. And, judged strictly as a bid for attention, it was a fantastic success. Reporters and fans ate up the tale of the regular guy who wanted to buy the team. Never mind the gaping holes in that narrative: At the end of the day, it was a great story.