BY SAM WIDDOES
It’s been a week since Frank McCourt made his exit from the Dodger Stadium ownership suite official. While the incoming occupants have received the bulk of the attention, I can’t help but reflect on the departed Dodger-in-Chief.
To say that Mr. McCourt left a sour taste in this, and most, Dodger fans’ mouths would be a gross understatement. He was a carpetbagger is the truest sense, the Boston mogul come West to poach a fledgling former champion with the sole intent of personal gain and notoriety. It’s difficult to express the full extent of my disgust with Mr. McCourt, so allow me to explain my connection with the Dodgers and what his expulsion means.
I grew up in Los Angeles a diehard Pirates fan. The son of a Pittsburgher, I learned the game of baseball watching Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke roam the Three Rivers outfield. Needless to say, by my 10th birthday, in 1995, the Pirates (and baseball in general) had done their best to turn me away. Aside from the 1998 home run race and my undying admiration of Ken Griffey, Jr.’s sweet swing, I paid little attention to the game until 2003, when I read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. I was immediately transfixed by the methods Billy Beane and his assistant Paul DePodesta used to assess talent. In February 2004, just after purchasing the team, McCourt made DePodesta the fifth-youngest general manager in baseball history. Just like that, I was back on the wagon.
Back then, Dodger Stadium was a cheap, convenient haven of summer glory: $6 to park at Chavez Ravine, $6 bleacher seats, heavenly Southern California weather and an exciting young roster ready for my undying support. I made countless trips to the Ravine during my summers home from college, carrying my outspoken support for Dodger Blue back to Virginia when the school year began each fall.
DePo was fired after the 2005 season and McCourt brought in former Giants’ assistant GM Ned Colletti to take over. In the ensuing years, a young crop of budding superstars, including outfielder Matt Kemp and eventual Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, would help return the team to prominence (the Dodgers reached the National League Championship Series in 2008 and 2009). Despite my disappointment that DePo – my inspiration for getting back into the game – was turned loose after only two seasons, that management transition helped me realize that my connection to the Dodgers was more closely tied to the name, the place and the history of the organization than any of the dolts running the place. And it wasn’t long until McCourt’s insidious motives cut right to the heart of that relationship.
Without detailing the entirety of his failings, I will simply assert that McCourt did far less damage to the on-field product during his tenure than he did to the Dodger name and its proud history. This is a charge that I do not make lightly, because he missed plenty of opportunities to make the team better. He diverted team funds to personal use, financing mansions in Malibu and legal fees for his divorce. He used the team name as a promotional vehicle for charitable purposes that, it turned out, were little more than shams. But worst of all, he sullied the experience of going to a Dodger game. What should be one of the most pleasant, enjoyable summer events Los Angeles has to offer became a hostile, hate-fueled affair.
So now Stan Kasten, Mark Walter, Magic Johnson and several other Laker luminaries own the club and vow to manage it the right way. Am I happy? Sure. But frankly, I would have been happy to see almost anyone take over, as long as Frank McCourt is long, long gone.