In a perfect world the next owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers would have deep pockets, deep L.A. roots and a deep commitment to better security for fans and the neighborhoods surrounding Dodger Stadium.
In the real world, the next owner may have only deep pockets. Getting somebody with deep Los Angeles roots and commitment to better security depends on who Dodgers owner Frank McCourt handpicks between now and April 6 as the white-hot auction to buy the team heats up. The sale, set to be completed April 30, is part of an agreement in McCourt’s bankruptcy settlement.
“For many years, the Dodgers ownership used to have a family feeling around here,” says Steve Appleton, president of the Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council and a fan who lives five minutes from Dodger Stadium. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t felt that way the last few years. We’re all hoping the new owner can restore that family feeling.”
More than a dozen ultrarich guys, sports legends and civic titans — all men — are vying to be the new owner, with no clear consensus among Angelenos about a front-runner. But name recognition matters, or at least it did in the early stages of media coverage. That coverage helped make Lakers legend Magic Johnson, bombastic Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and highly respected former Dodgers manager Joe Torre the current people’s choices. Dodger legends Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser, front men for an investment group, also are in that mix.
“The hometown guy that strikes me as the best choice is Magic,” Appleton says. “As long as he is willing to reach down into the neighborhoods and respond to issues like traffic control and alcohol overconsumption.”
Initial bids were due Monday, Jan. 23.
Now, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig will choose up to 10 finalists. McCourt then will conduct a closed-door auction and secretly tell the bankruptcy judge his choice by April 6.
He’s more likely to choose the highest bidder rather than the most admired bidder. After all, McCourt has already proved that he doesn’t care what people think of him. His bottom line is the bottom line.
That means L.A.’s oldest, most beloved pro sports franchise could be sold to a very unlikely and unloved owner. The unofficial list of Dodgers bidders includes controversial Wall Street trader and hedge fund executive Steven Cohen, who’s worth more than $8 billion; jet-setting real estate tycoon and Saudi expert Tom Barrack, who owns Neverland and runs $36 billion Colony Capital; Tony Ressler, formerly of Drexel Burnham Lambert, who runs $35 billion Ares Management and is deeply involved in leveraged buyouts and distressed debt; apartment king Alan Casden, builder of 90,000 rental units; and Tom Golisano, a payroll processing magnate and player in New York GOP politics.
Baseball insiders jumping in may include, in addition to Torre, Garvey and Hershiser, former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley; sports agent Dennis Gilbert, whose firm Gilbert-Krupin advises the wealthy on tax avoidance; and a team that includes long-ago Dodger general manager Fred Claire.
“Frank McCourt is the most unpopular person in L.A.,” says Redondo Beach attorney Tony Capozzola, a Dodgers season ticket holder since 1977. “He doesn’t seem to care if anyone approves of what he does. He’s all about the money.”
Capozzola prefers former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, who sold the team to News Corp. (Fox) in 1997.
“He realizes the mistake he made selling it to Fox, and I think he wants to make up for it by returning it to the kind of classy ownership his family provided for 47 great years,” Capozzola says. “He deserves a second chance to restore his father Walter’s legacy. That’s assuming that he has the financial resources.”
With the bidding possibly passing $1 billion, the only consensus is that the next owner of the Dodgers must be extremely rich, so that every decision is about improving the team — not about hiking ticket prices, or siphoning off money to buy one more mansion or get one more $400 haircut.
Other potential bidders with high name recognition may include Oracle founder Larry Ellison; supermarket magnate and aging party boy Ron Burkle; and Roy Disney and his longtime ally Stanley Gold, CEO of hostile takeover firm Shamrock Holdings.
“If someone is going to buy the Dodgers franchise, they need to be in the billionaire’s club,” former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan tells L.A. Weekly. “We can’t end up with someone like Frank McCourt, who didn’t have the money to cover his losses.”
And if he is not a billionaire, he — and it almost certainly will be a he — had better have at least one billionaire partner rather than a posse of mere multimillionaires.
“The ‘many partners’ model doesn’t work,” says Riordan, who dropped his four Dodgers season tickets when McCourt eliminated his box seats. “You need someone comfortable enough to make improvements on a daily basis without worrying about expenses.”
While Riordan is too diplomatic to name his top choice, an unscientific survey of passionate Dodgers fans reveals a wide spectrum of favorites. Entertainment attorney Sam Perlmutter, who developed the George Foreman Grill, says former sports agent Dennis Gilbert would be the best choice for fans like him. He dropped his season tickets but would be willing to come back if he liked the new owner.
“The problem is whoever buys it is going to have to think of the inventory — the players — after paying over $1 billion for the team,” Perlmutter says. “It would be great to get an owner who knows about baseball from the inside and has credibility with the other owners, like Dennis Gilbert does.”
Mike Gray, owner of the Varsity Sports Bar on Wilshire Boulevard, is such a passionate Dodgers fan that he frequently wears a full Dodgers uniform to work. He prefers Mark Cuban, whose Mavericks won their first NBA championship last spring. A self-promoter frequently fined by the league for outspokenness, Cuban competed on Dancing With the Stars last year.
“He did amazing things with Dallas, and he would do the same for the Dodgers,” Gray says. “A guy like him doesn’t need a rich partner and will spend money for the Dodgers to go in the right direction. He’s a billionaire who’s a real fan.”
City Hall watchdog and political blogger Zuma Dogg dismisses Magic Johnson as a front man who doesn’t have the necessary baseball knowledge, instead endorsing the partnership of Joe Torre and Rick Caruso, the nattily dressed developer of the Grove and the Americana at Brand. Caruso is a possible mayoral candidate, setting off a side debate over whether he can both run for mayor and take over the Dodgers.
“People love Joe Torre, and he’s got a lot of inside baseball knowledge,” Dogg says. “Rick is a solid, levelheaded businessman.”
Nearby residents also are determined to have input now that the unpopular McCourt is on his way out.
“When we know who the finalists are, we want to invite some of them out here for a meeting to discuss traffic, parking and security issues,” says Jose Sigala, president of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, who lives half a mile from Dodger Stadium. “We want someone who will have more community engagement.”
Sigala points out that last year, typical of McCourt’s tin ear toward his adopted city, he opened the Scott Avenue vehicle gate at the back entrance to the stadium — which had been closed for years.
“That decision created a lot more traffic through the residential areas,” Sigala says. “We need someone who is more sensitive to the community, more willing to partner with the community.”
Comedian Robb Fulcher, who has appeared at the Improv, the Comedy Store and other venues, says he has a simple solution for picking the right owner: “Mitt Romney should buy the team and lay everybody off, and then resell the new, leaner, meaner team to Donald Trump, who could cast the contenders in Celebrity Rich-Guy Potential Owner-Apprentice — You’re Fired!”
Reach the writer at PaulTeetor@verizon.net.