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Dodger Dilemma: A (Mild) Defense of Public Ownership

Not much needs to be said about Wednesday's L.A. City Council vote in support of public ownership of the Dodgers, other than that it was a naked grab for headlines which will have all the impact of a press release.

But one can call out the council's shamelessness without excluding public ownership from the sphere of legitimate debate. Sure, it's unlikely, impractical and a little wacky. But people are interested, which means it's also news.


It's news that the paper of record chose to ignore. Beat writer Bill Shaikin got enough questions about it that he responded on Twitter, where he called the idea a "total non-starter." (As opposed to the bid of chronic deadbeat Steve Garvey?) Elaborating, Shaikin pointed to this post from October, which is headlined "Bud Selig on community ownership: 'I don't think it works.'"

Case closed, evidently. The pope has spoken.

As we reported back in April, developer Stanley Stalford is trying to build support for a public bid for the Dodgers. He's aware of Selig's opposition, but is hoping to change his mind through old-fashioned activism. We noted the many obstacles in his path and called the idea a little nuts. But readers were interested anyway.

After seven grueling years of Frank McCourt's ownership, it turns out that some fans don't simply want to swap him for another wealthy jackass. The Dodgers are a business, sure, but they are more than a business. They are a civic treasure. Why -- the thinking goes -- should fans have to sit and watch as robber barons suck it dry when there's at least the potential for an alternative ownership model?

So public ownership is against baseball's rules. The rules are not stone tablets handed down from Kenesaw Mountain Landis. They can be changed, and they are often selectively enforced. (Baseball also has rules against excessive debt, which nine teams including the Dodgers are violating right now.)

As to the practical concerns: If baseball and the L.A. community each have a will to do it, it seems like it can work. It works not only for the Green Bay Packers -- a success story which Selig waved away -- but also for the most popular sports team on the planet, F.C. Barcelona.

Selig is powerful but not infallible. (The proof of that is Frank McCourt.) If Dodger fans want to argue that he's wrong about public ownership, that's a debate worth having. To ignore it is to police the debate on Selig's behalf.

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