The Dodgers Takeover: Good News for Los Angeles and Brooklyn Alike

The team's past host city and its current one can both see the upside in the MLB's seizing of its daily operations and finances


Reuters/Alex Gallardo

More than half a century after the great betrayal, Los Angeles and Brooklyn can finally agree on something about the Dodgers: that Major League Baseball's takeover of the team's finances and operations from beleaguered and cash-strapped owner Frank McCourt is welcome news. Although not, of course, for the same reasons.

For the team's rapidly dwindling (attendance is down by 6,000 per game this year from last) Angeleno fan base, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's action is being hailed as promising a change in ownership and the end of the McCourt regime. The owners have worn out whatever welcome they once enjoyed—which they did when Frank and now-estranged wife Jamie flew in from Boston in 2004 (of all places for the savior of a Los Angeles institution to come from) to deliver the team from Fox, whose synergy-driven business plan had failed to deliver the numbers to make it work financially and which was then being blamed for the team's woes.

For Brooklynites, or at least the senior citizens among them who still remember and care about what is now ancient history in baseball terms, they can finally say, "I told you so," that the LA venture would run into the ditch someday. And rejoice—at least for the moment. But they would surely be galled by the lesson that it is being drawn in Los Angeles from the McCourt debacle: If only we had an ownership that was committed to the community—like the O'Malleys—the owners that moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles back in 1958! Such is the prevailing wisdom in Los Angeles! I don't even want to speculate, and certainly cannot transcribe into print, how such a canonization of the O'Malleys as exemplary local citizens plays in Brooklyn!

It is not for me to defend the McCourts from the opprobrium in which they are held, but whatever blame they have earned for the Dodgers' present plight is hardly a full accounting for the team's fall from grace. That 22 teams have made it to the World Series since the Dodgers' last appearance in 1988 is hardly their fault alone. This long-term failure places the Dodgers, located in the nation's second largest media market and with attendance figures that are always among baseball's best, in an "elite" group of franchises that includes Baltimore, Milwaukee, Washington (late of Montreal and Puerto Rico), Pittsburgh, Seattle, Kansas City - along with the curse-ridden Cubs. And it's been the work of three sets of owners, starting with the O'Malleys themselves.

The fact is that the Dodgers have long since yielded pride of place in the Los Angeles sports universe to basketball's Lakers. It takes truly shattering news—like yesterday's takeover announcement - to place the Dodgers above the fold and the Lakers below it on the Los Angeles Time's sports page. The days when Hollywood's elite (notably Cary Grant and Danny Kaye—that sure takes you back!) flocked to Dodger Stadium's dugout level seats are long gone. The star power is now courtside at Staples Center, and before that the Forum, for Kobe and the Lakers. The team banners that cars fly are for the Lakers, not the Dodgers, and that would be true even if the Dodgers were flying the actual National League pennant from the Dodger Stadium flagpole after almost a quarter century's absence. It is that loss of fandom that is the true bottom line for the Dodgers of Los Angeles. And that is something that Bud Selig or whoever is next in line to own the team can change.

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Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball and has written widely about the business and politics of sports. More

Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball (WW Norton). He has written about the business and politics of sports, the American left, Jewish and Israeli history, and legal affairs for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, the Journal of Sport History, Israel Affairs, The Public Interest, American Communist History, The National Pastime, and the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, and his work has appeared in several baseball history anthologies.

His article "Revising the Revisionists: Walter O' Malley, Robert Moses and the End of the Brooklyn Dodgers" was awarded the Kerr History Prize for the best article published in 2008 in the journal New York History; an earlier version of that article was presented at the Columbia University symposium "Robert Moses: New Perspectives on the Master Builder" (March 2007) and received a McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award. He is the recipient of research grants from the Society for American Baseball Research and the Harry S. Truman Library Institute.

Fetter is a graduate of Harvard Law School and also holds degrees in history from Harvard College and the University of California, Berkeley. A native New Yorker, he attended his first major league baseball game at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field on Memorial Day 1955 and some years later followed the Dodgers to Los Angeles where he has practiced business and entertainment litigation for the past 30 years.

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