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Is a Little Tranquility Too Much to Ask?
2003-03-05 07:42
by Jon Weisman

When News Corp. purchased the Dodgers near the end of 1997, the new owners fixated so much on how much money they could wring out of the operation immediately, that they failed to consider what was best for the long term. As a result, they and the people they hired made detrimental decisions that have prevented the team from being successful, financially or otherwise, for years.

Amazingly, as News Corp. prepares to sell the team in 2003, it's becoming clear that things could very well get worse.

James Flanigan's article in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times today is sobering. It points out that the interests of leading ownership candidates for the Dodgers are every bit as crass, if not more so, than those of News Corp.

We already know that the group led by Dave Checketts doesn't really want the Dodgers as much as it wants Fox Sports Net 2. Although Checketts presumably might still be interested in what's best for the team on the field, we also know that his heavy-handed leadership of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden resembles Kevin Malone's tenure as "Dodger sheriff" more than anyone might be able to stomach. (See January 22.)

Now, Flanigan writes, the motive of other franchise buyers, such as Alan Casden, is to use the purchase as the anchor for a grand ol' real estate deal. Local real estate industry leaders told Flanigan that at about $1 million per acre, the 300-acre Dodger Stadium property is worth about as much as the franchise itself. They have bandied scenarios in which with city support, Dodger Stadium would be torn down for residential development, and a new stadium would be built downtown near Staples Center.

One can argue that this has the makings of justice, returning Chavez Ravine to the pristine state that existed before Walter O'Malley had it handed to him on a silver platter in 1957. (Although, of course, with a rich real-estate developer at the controls, I tend to doubt low-income housing would be the result.)

One can also argue, as local maverick Eli Broad told Flanigan, "I don't see how the economics would work" to pay for the new stadium downtown.

I'm not here to debate these positions. My concern, as parochial as it may be, is about the team on the field. And if the Dodgers are merely grist for the mill (yes, it's a cliche, but it's the first time I've used it in 35 years, so indulge me), you can forget about the slow but steady rehabilitation of the franchise that has taken place under Bob Daly, Dan Evans and Jim Tracy. New owners who only care about bigger dollars don't figure to have the patience to indulge silly concerns like building through a farm system, or allocating money for scouting, or maintaining the charm of a beautiful stadium from - gasp - the 20th century.

Flanigan concludes his article thus:

...any new owner of the Dodgers would have to invest more than $100 million just to refurbish Dodger Stadium, which is more than 40 years old.

All of this suggests that seeing the Dodgers as a real estate opportunity might, at the end of the day, be the real home-run strategy here.

The assumption, which I gather Flanigan is reporting more than endorsing, is that even after investing $100 million in the stadium, assuming that figure is really what's necessary even after the installation of advertising and luxury suites in recent years, an owner will not be satisfied with the quality of the merchandise he owns. Because there's more money to be harvested from the ground. The Dodgers would be fuel for the engine of The Big Deal - fuel that would be burned and discarded as quickly and conveniently as possible.

If the people who will approve the eventual sale of the Dodgers - namely, Bud Selig and his fellow owners - have/had a shred of conscience about their sport, they would not permit the Dodgers to be sold to people with such motivations. Leave these people to the NFL.

The Dodgers need an owner who can explode the mythology that running a baseball team - just running a baseball team - is a guaranteed money loser. And you know how to explode that mythology? Make decisions that make allegiance to the team irresistable. Make decisions that are calm and reasoned. Use that big-picture mentality for baseball, instead of corporate conquest. It simply hasn't been proven that this isn't possible.

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