Emergency Powers—Selective And Despotic

Anytime you have a decision made based on the good of the community and delivered by unquestioned decree, you should question its motive and whether said decision has been made based on facts alone or ancillary influences.

Such is the case with MLB’s decision to take over the operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank McCourt.

You can read the details here—NY Times.com.

Under no circumstances am I defending the behavior of Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie, but there’s an aspect of piling on and  flinging everything into the bonfire as if lawlessness has taken hold and the powers that be had no other option.

The reviled autocratic leader—McCourt—has been forcibly removed after metaphorically robbing from the state’s coffers in treating the franchise as a personal cash machine to supplement delusions of a growing empire.

But what about baseball’s despot; also autocratic—yet likable in a rumpled, befuddled sort of way—Commissioner Bud Selig?

McCourt, scrambling for cash to pay his bills and maintain the Dodgers, was desperately seeking a buyer or a loan to maintain the team. Baseball was right to step in before it truly got out of hand and one of the signature franchises in the sport was bankrupt and unable to function.

But the selective enforcement allowed by the “best interests of baseball” clause bear an eerie similarity to a dictatorship that simply decides to eliminate an enemy without trial.

Anything can be explained by legalese, smooth talk, evidence as to the damage being done or sheer loathing raining down on the persecuted; but is it fair? Should baseball be able to do this at a moment’s notice just “because”?

McCourt has financed his lavish lifestyle using the Dodgers as a lever to gain more and more credit and buy more and more “stuff”; the divorce from his wife Jamie and legal battle for the franchise has been an exercise in humiliation like something from the shlock-mill of Aaron Spelling; but in looking at the team itself, has he been a terrible owner when assessing results on the field? Has he interfered with the club operations to its detriment?

How is what McCourt has done to the Dodgers in any worse than the way the Pirates have degenerated into a laughingstock? It’s notable that the Pirates are now—conveniently—being terribly mismanaged by a longtime Selig ally, Frank Coonelly.

Why is it that George Steinbrenner repeatedly ran afoul of baseball protocol (such as it is) with his antics and frequent suspensions, but was never permanently forced out as owner?

Baseball stepped in with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria when it was discovered that he was fiddling with the revenue sharing dollars he received from richer clubs, pocketing it rather than spending it on players as was intended; but the Marlins are a profitable, successful franchise that provides better bang for their buck than just about any other team.

The allegation that Fred Wilpon’s close relationship with Selig has assisted him in getting a loan and time to straighten out the team’s legal issues is reasonable and calls into greater question the way MLB has snatched control of the Dodgers from McCourt.

You can compare the differing circumstances in a myriad of ways and justify the takeover of the Dodgers; but so too could you wonder why it’s the Dodgers with whom they’ve stepped in so forcefully but not the Pirates or Mets.

For all the ridicule that the McCourts’ ownership has engendered, have they faltered on the field?

They’ve made the playoffs in four of the seven years he’s owned the team.

Have they scrimped on signing players?

They doled lucrative contracts on Derek Lowe, J.D. Drew, Jason Schmidt, Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones and a host of others.

Have they shunned paying for their draft picks?

The Dodgers gave a $5.25 million bonus to 2010 1st round pick Zach Lee which was $4 million more than the preceding selection, Jesse Biddle, got from the Phillies—perceived as an organization that runs their club correctly.

Has McCourt overtly and negatively interfered with the on-field product and told his manager or GM what to do?

It’s possible, but from what I can see based on the GM maneuverings since McCourt bought the team—and that includes former GM Paul DePodesta and present GM Ned Colletti—he let them to do whatever they wanted.

He hired the biggest name manager in Joe Torre when he came available and the team has been consistently good.

Adding the violent assault on a San Francisco Giants fan in the Dodger Stadium parking lot to the list of McCourt transgressions is equivalent of tossing another charge into the indictment since it’s there and easy to use as an extra tool to pry the club from McCourt’s clutches.

The admission that there wasn’t enough security to prevent the beating is legitimate, but have you ever seen ballpark security? It’s not as if there are moonlighting cops or former CIA operatives running around to watch over the customers as they head to their cars; many times the security personnel are worse than the troublemaking fans themselves!

The personality-based viewpoint with which McCourt has been pigeonholed and the way baseball pushed him aside is justified by rule of baseball. It’s better to intervene too early rather than too late, but why the Dodgers and not the other teams and owners mentioned above?

Of course baseball had to take over the Dodgers; barring a miracle or owner-friendly negotiation with the creditors, McCourt’s ownership was no longer tenable. But the timing and seemingly capricious handling should be scrutinized more than it has been.

A lack of fairness and whimsical action without due process should be a concern to all. Practically and by delineation of powers, Selig had a right to do what he did and he had to do it; but the proffered justifications are troubling considering the way other clubs and owners have skated by without meaningful repercussions for their actions.

This was clearly personal. And that makes it all the more worrisome as to the broadbased powers allowable in the “best interests of baseball”.

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