The Collected Sins of the Frank & Jamie McCourt Era

The McCourts, as I hardly need to remind you, continue to take their battle against each other and Major League Baseball to new and ridiculous heights. Or lows. Every day, it seems, they or one of their cohorts are either saying something humiliating or backpedaling against new allegations of past improprieties. You don’t want to say it’s to the point that nothing else can shock you… but it’s hard to think that it’s far off. Really, does anyone have any respect whatsoever for these two any longer?

In fact, the list of moments in which they’ve embarrassed the Dodgers and/or the fans has grown so quickly that it has become very difficult to keep track of it all. Today, we rectify that, by collecting all of the events which have caused us to cover our faces in shame. It hasn’t been all bad, of course, and you can point to some positives during their tenure, but not nearly enough to compete with the horrors they’ve visited upon us.

Two caveats here. First, this is just about the activities of the McCourt family and their immediate cronies, not of the entire organization, so unless you can find concrete evidence that McCourt ordered Ned Colletti to give Juan Pierre $44m over Colletti’s objections, it doesn’t belong here. Second, I’m not including two items that many will see as glaring omissions. Vladimir Guerrero signed with the Angels before McCourt officially took over in 2004, and the Carlos Santana trade may not have been as much about money as we like to think it was. Frank McCourt has done enough awful things to this franchise, so no need to fabricate any others.

This is intended to be a living list, which I’ll link to on the sidebar and update as needed, so if you think I’ve missed anything, do let me know – but be able to back it up with proof.  If I’ve misstated anything here, I’m happy to hear that feedback as well. Unless noted otherwise, all items here are Frank’s. The list is presented in rough, though not absolute, chronological order.

  1. Purchased Dodgers almost entirely on debt. (Yes, MLB deserves a huge amount of the blame for allowing this to happen in the first place.)
  2. Split team and related properties into a tangled web of entities which pay into themselves, the ramifications of which are only being realized now.
  3. Charged the Dodgers rent to play in their own stadium, money which went to one of his many holding companies.
  4. Allowed incumbent GM Dan Evans to twist in the wind, claiming he was a candidate for his own job, before firing him just prior to spring training in 2004.
  5. Fired CMO Lon Rosen and VP of communications Gary Miereanu less than a year after McCourt had hired them, the first in what would be a long string of front-office departures.
  6. Conducted managerial search behind GM Paul DePodesta’s back, as DePodesta was interviewing his own candidates.
  7. Fired DePodesta a month after an injury-plagued 2005 season, after having allowed him just one offseason to make moves, most of which – Derek Lowe, Jeff Kent, J. D. Drew – worked out well.
  8. Placed two sons on the payroll despite neither having an identifiable position with the club.
  9. Unveiled plans for massive upgrades to Dodger Stadium, to be completed for Opening Day 2012… most of which, you may have noticed, never took place.
  10. Paid Vladimir Shpunt, an elderly Russian self-proclaimed “faith healer” who knew little about baseball,  approximately $600k to send the team ”V Energy” from his home in Boston. Yes, that’s a thing which really happened.
  11. Allowed merchandise/advertisements to be produced which celebrated both the 1962 and 1966 World Series championship seasons and the career of former catcher Lou Campanella, who wore #42 with the Dodgers. (added 7/18/11 – thanks, Luke)
  12. Forced out VP of communications Camille Johnston, who announced she was leaving just two weeks after Charles Steinberg was hired. At the time, in December 2007, she was the fourth communications chief to leave since the McCourts purchased the team.
  13. Make that five, since Steinberg left when the divorce was announced, along with the firing of six employees who Steinberg had brought on. (One of whom, admittedly, was a roommate of mine in college. He made out with a friend of mine who later joined a convent. Still don’t know how to feel about that.)
  14. Announced separation hours before the start of the 2009 NLCS, creating a public distraction at the worst possible time.
  15. Fired CEO Jamie and changed the locks on her office hours after the 2009 NLCS ended.
  16. Planned to reduce payroll while doubling ticket prices over the next several years.
  17. Asked Dodger fans to choose between talented ballplayers and fields for poor children. (This one, and the next four, are just on Jamie.)
  18. Reportedly engaged in an affair with a team employee, bodyguard/driver Jeff Fuller.
  19. Sent said employee to Taiwan, where he claimed to represent the Dodgers on a bizarre marketing trip…
  20. but not before taking a European vacation with Fuller on the Dodgers’ dime.
  21. Asked for nearly $500k per month in spousal support, including flowers, hair and makeup, free tickets to all NL games, and access to a private jet.
  22. Reduced draft pick spending in 2008-09 to the lowest level of any team in baseball.
  23. Allegedly fired 40 employees days before Christmas 2009, which at least one employee says was made public knowledge at the team Christmas party.
  24. Fired team president Dennis Mannion, who had experience in all four pro sports, in addition to three of Mannion’s employees – and replaced him with Geoff Wharton, who had only a real estate background.
  25. Paid Howard Sunkin, a Frank associate and head of the Dodgers Dream Foundation, a salary commensurate with a charity nearly 90 times as large. (The money was later repaid.)
  26. Repaid over $100,000 to the charity that had improperly went to Jamie McCourt.
  27. Reduced international spending on prospects to the lowest level of any team in baseball.
  28. Took at least $100m out of the team for personal use.
  29. Considered plans to eventually run for president. (Jamie)
  30. Saw at least 22 front-office employees either quit or be fired between September 2009 – December 2010.
  31. Attempted to procure a $200m loan from Fox in February 2011 to meet expenses, which was rejected by Bud Selig.
  32. Borrowed about $55m from Fox on a personal loan to meet early 2011 expenses, circumventing Selig.
  33. Fired security chief Ray Maytorena and left post unfilled for four months, a period in which Giants fan Bryan Stow was nearly beaten to death in the parking lot.
  34. Waited days to respond publicly to Stow incident.
  35. Sued by his former law firm, Bingham McCutchen.
  36. Reportedly investigated by the IRS for not paying taxes.
  37. Hired Steve Soboroff, who quit barely two months later after a disastrous stint that included an outright lie about security, which McCourt was forced to apologize for.
  38. Watched as MLB appointed Tom Schieffer to monitor the team.
  39. Went on New York media tour pathetically trying to drum up public support.
  40. Attempted a second deal to sell future television rights to Fox for below-market value, which was also rejected by Selig.
  41. Sued by the family of Bryan Stow.
  42. Claimed, falsely, that not a penny of Fox deal would go to settle divorce case. (See next item).
  43. Announced sham divorce settlement that was not only untenable because it depended entirely on Selig’s unlikely approval of Fox deal, but confirmed that $173.5m would actually go for personal use.
  44. Stated that he lived in a one bedroom apartment, which is really a $30,000/month luxury hotel.
  45. Met the May 30, 2011 payroll by getting sponsors to pay in advance at a heavily discounted rate.
  46. Threatened to sue MLB, despite having signed a document agreeing that he would not when he took ownership.
  47. Claimed that the MLB takeover was the cause of low attendance, as opposed to criminal ownership, horrendously bad PR, stadium security concerns, or an underwhelming on-field product.
  48. Filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  49. Barred MLB-appointed overseers from Dodger Stadium. MLB responded by demanding that their people be allowed back in.
  50. Lined up an incredibly lousy deal ($4.5m fee, 10% interest) on a loan to make June 30, 2011 payroll. (7/1/11 updateit gets worse. The $4.5m fee is upon completion of the loan, and is separate from a $5m upfront fee to make the deal.)
  51. Included in bankruptcy argument that since the Dodgers beat the Twins 15-0 shortly after filing was announced, “I think this convincingly disproves the argument bankruptcy is bad for baseball.”
  52. Bounced checks to Dodger Stadium security guards and ushers. (Added 6/30/11)
  53. Reportedly attempted to take an additional $20m out of the team in April 2011, even after the concerns about making payroll had arisen. (Added 7/6/11)
  54. Failed to convince a judge to accept McCourt-arranged financing in favor of MLB-provided loans, with the judge noting “previously undisclosed financial stake in the Highbridge financing had compromised [McCourt's] judgment.”
  55. Cited by Vero Beach, FL, for improperly maintaining a team-owned plot of land and vacant house, with terms such as “nuisance” and “eyesore” thrown around. (Added 7/27/11)
  56. Sued by the Dodgers own broadcasters, Fox Sports West, for attempting to sell television rights before Fox’s exclusive contract is over. (Added 9/28/11)
  57. Countersued the two men accused of beating Stow, claiming they should be held liable for the attack rather than McCourt, which is fine – but which included comments by McCourt lawyer Jerome Jackson indicating that Stow shares liability for the jumping that ended with his head split open in the parking lot, which is much less fine. (Added 10/29/11)

So we start off with 50 items. How large will this list need to grow to before this nightmare is over?

Let’s Indulge In a Fantasy About Juan Uribe Being Gone

The alternate title for this post was going to be “Things That Are Never F***ing Going to Happen”, but I thought that was a little on the nose. I almost didn’t even want to post it, because it’s just going to get hopes up… but what the hell. Let’s have some fun. We deserve it.

Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly:

This information comes to me secondhand, but there’s talk among industry folks that the Dodgers and Giants have discussed a trade that would bring Juan Uribe back to San Francisco.

Uribe has been a bust with the Dodgers thus far, hitting .206 with four home runs in 214 at-bats after signing a three-year, $21 million contract. It’s worth remembering that the Giants were offering very similar numbers and willing to go to a third year before Uribe accepted the Dodgers’ take-it-or-leave-it contract.

Now, of course, the Dodgers are baseball’s biggest mess and owner/charlatan Frank McCourt might not be able to make payroll.

The Giants need an experienced second baseman with Freddy Sanchez’s health situation still up in the air. Although a determination will be made after a couple more weeks of rest and rehab, the Giants have to plan as if Sanchez won’t play again this season.

Mike Fontenot, a left-handed hitter, is coming back soon. But it doesn’t look as if management has much confidence in Bill Hall to form the right-handed portion of a platoon at second base.

Would Uribe be worth the $8 million he’s owed in 2012, and the $7 million he’ll get in 2013? Would the Dodgers defray some of the cost? All good questions. But I have to imagine the Dodgers aren’t in position to demand much in the way of talent in return.

It’s lovely to think about, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen, friends. It’s just not, for about 20 different reasons. Still… a man can dream. A man can dream.

Update. So, that was quick.. not that this was ever going to happen anyway, but Baggarly has updated his post:

UPDATE: GM Brian Sabean just called up to the press box to shoot down this rumor. He told PR man Jim Moorehead to relay to me that he has not talked to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti in weeks. As I wrote, the information came through an indirect channel. I suspect the Dodgers likely were calling teams to shop Uribe, but that’s obviously much different than Colletti and Sabean talking about a deal. Anyway, all those cards are on the table.

Still, there’s something interesting hidden in there. Whether it’s the Giants or not, the idea that the Dodgers *could* be calling teams trying to dump Uribe would be a massive admission that signing him really was the mistake we all knew it was.

Rubby de la Rosa Gets Initiated Into the Rotation

The first batter Rubby De La Rosa faced in the bottom of the first inning of today’s matinee in Minnesota, Ben Revere, hit a triple to the right-center gap. The next batter, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, grounded out to score Revere and put the Twins up 1-0… and that was it. In what was unquestionably the most effective outing of his young career, de la Rosa pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings following Nishioka’s out (7 innings total), scattering just six hits over the day. Most impressively, de la Rosa issued just two free passes. It was both the first time in his career that he went more than six innings or walked less than three, and he did it against an American League lineup. (Yes, I know, the Twins are one of the worst offensive teams in the AL, but still.) Even better, he improved as the game went on. After escaping from danger in the second after allowing three men to reach, he set down 16 of the 20 remaining Twins he saw – one of which was an intentional walk to Revere.

Here’s the problem, though, and why I saw that de la Rosa has now been officially inducted into the Dodger starting rotation: he was completely let down by his offense, who couldn’t manage to score even a single run against Twins pitching. Scott Baker set the top in the top of the first by dispatching the Dodgers with deadly precision, requiring only fourteen pitches to strike out Tony Gwynn, Casey Blake, and Andre Ethier – who combined to go 0-10. Each of the other six starters (plus pinch-hitter Trent Oeltjen) picked up one hit apiece, and the only times the Dodgers even made it to third base were on stolen bases by Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon.

And who made the final out? Dioner Navarro, because of course he did. I’ve joked a lot lately that there’s some federal statute that requires him to hit in the 9th inning of every games… except it’s happened so often that it’s not really a joke any more. You could have put in A.J. Ellis to try to keep the inning going, or, and I can’t believe I’m really saying this, even Aaron Miles.

Still, I’ll take this as a win. The individual game was basically meaningless, right? The loss dropped the Dodgers to 11 games out and in sole possession of last place, pending the result of San Diego’s afternoon game with Kansas City, so does it really matter if they pulled this out or not? Of course it doesn’t. What matters here is that a big part of the Dodger future made a huge step forward in his progression. I’d much rather see that than for him to have been hit hard but for the game to have been pulled out in the end, even if it’s depressing to see him not get rewarded for a solid performance.

Welcome to the club, Rubby.

Believe It Or Not, Ted Lilly’s Problem Isn’t Homers

Warning: you may want to take small children and the elderly out of the room before viewing the logs of Ted Lilly‘s last three starts.

Date Opp Rslt IP H R BB SO HR GSc SB CS 2B
Jun 17 HOU L,3-7 5.1 8 6 2 4 0 32 2 0 3
Jun 22 DET L,5-7 4.2 6 6 1 8 3 35 0 0 1
Jun 28 MIN L,4-6 4.2 9 6 0 0 1 35 4 0 2

Wow, it’s almost like his completely unsustainable run after joining the Dodgers last year… was completely unsustainable. Here’s the thing, though; though I was against his three-year deal in the offseason and am even more so now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he’s not soley to blame here. (Except for the stolen bases, that is, which are getting embarrassing.) Heading into tonight, his 1.5 HR/9 was exactly the same as it was last year, and is essentially the same as his career 1.4/9 mark. Though he didn’t record a walk or a whiff tonight, the first time in his career he’s gone at least four innings without doing either, his 3.78 K/BB entering the game was identical to 2010 (3.77) and a good deal better than his career average (2.57). His velocity (a tick under 87) is the same as last year, as is his percentage of fastballs thrown (56%).

So what’s going on? Well, it appears to be two issues. First, despite the fact that I mentioned his K/BB hasn’t changed, he’s definitely missing fewer bats. He’s striking out more than a man less per nine innings, and his swinging strike percentage has sunk from 9.5% in 2009 to 8.9% in 2010 to 7.5% this year – and that last number is sure to fall further when tonight’s game is factored in. He’s walking fewer than he ever has as well, so that’s how the K/BB stays lower.

If you’re striking out fewer, you’re relying more on your defense, and that’s where we run into our second problem. According to Baseball Prospectus‘ “Defensive Efficiency”, the Dodgers currently rank 28th in MLB as far as turning balls into outs. So you’re seeing exactly what you’d expect to see when you have a pitcher who isn’t striking people out, and isn’t getting support from his defense. The problem is that I’m not sure how we see either of those items changing any time soon, particularly since Lilly is still signed up for his age-36 and age-37 seasons the next two years.

Otherwise, the offense was generally quiet outside of a brief burst in the 5th inning. It probably didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but I have to question Don Mattingly’s pinch-hitting decisions in the final inning, with Aaron Miles (who had hit his first homer since 2008 earlier), A.J. Ellis, and Jamey Carroll coming up. Ellis had a hit and as we all know, has excellent on-base skills, but Mattingly sent up Trent Oeltjen in his place. Fine, I suppose; Oeltjen is a lefty with more power and had a great game yesterday. The Aussie drew a walk, and with one out Carroll stepped to the plate… except, not.

Instead of the guy with the .372 OBP who had already gotten on base twice tonight, the guy who just this afternoon GM Ned Colletti touted as a deserving All-Star, Mattingly chose to send up Dioner Navarro, presumably because there’s some sort of federal law that requires Navarro to bat in the 9th with the game on the line. (I’m joking, but only partially.) I get that Navarro could hit lefty against Matt Capps, but you’re not going to sell me on him as a power threat (three dingers over last two years) or any kind of offensive force (he is hitting .168, remember). Navarro, predictably, topped a ball that went all of about 50 feet and was thrown out. Carroll was skipped for that. Without Carroll, Tony Gwynn walked, but Casey Blake grounded out to end the game.

I’ve generally been a big fan of Don Mattingly, but I will never understand his fascination with Dioner Navarro.

Frank McCourt Gets a Stay of Execution (Updated)

Bill Shaikin explains:

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt can use the financing he obtained this week to pay the team’s immediate bills, attorneys for the Dodgers and Major League Baseball agreed Tuesday.

The U.S. bankruptcy court scheduled a July 20 hearing at which MLB can ask to replace McCourt’s financing with money furnished by the league.

When the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy on Monday, McCourt said he had obtained a $150-million loan to cover the team’s expenses during the proceedings and remain in control of the team for now. That loan carried an interest rate of at least 10% and a $4.5-million fee.

On Tuesday, MLB proposed its own financing, with an interest rate of 7% and no fee.

The parties agreed to postpone consideration of the MLB financing until July 20. If the MLB financing is approved, the $4.5-million fee tied to McCourt’s financing would be cut to $250,000. In the meantime, McCourt can use his financing to pay the Dodgers’ bills.

The parties also agreed to permanently delete language in McCourt’s financing agreement stipulating the auction of the Dodgers’ cable television rights by a certain date. However, McCourt’s long-term plan for recapitalizing the Dodgers still depends upon the bankruptcy court approving a rights deal over MLB objections.

This may not be the analysis you’re coming here looking for, but I readily admit that I have no idea what this means in the big picture. (For the record, neither does Dan Kaplan of the SportsBusinessJournal, which makes me feel a little better.) Short term, it means that the fun speculation over whether McCourt would make payroll on June 30 is no longer an issue, now that both sides have agreed to let McCourt take the $150m loan – you know, the one that Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra referred to as ”a crappy loan” with “bad terms”. 

This is good news because… well, that’s the part I’m unclear about. It keeps McCourt in power for at least another several weeks or more, which is bad. It allows him to take yet another loan that trades long-term health for short-term gain (pending, of course, MLB’s July 20th application to replace it with their own loan), which is definitely bad. It buys him time to continue trying to secure long-term financing, which is extremely bad.

I suppose if there’s a benefit for MLB here, it’s that the money supposedly can only be used for Dodger finances, not personal expenses, and it avoids, for now, the  further lawsuits which would certainly occur if they had to step in and actively take control due to a missed payroll. Perhaps not standing in the way of this loan allows them some leverage for the next time McCourt accuses them of having a pre-determined agenda to push him out of power, and that may come in handy when McCourt attempts to get the court to overturn MLB’s rejection and approve the Fox deal.

So the takeaway here, at least from my completely non-expert view… is that we’re all on ice for another three weeks, at the very least. McCourt will make payroll, both sides will dig in against each other, and we’ll be in the middle again, cringing daily with each veiled (or not-so-veiled) legal threat from a highly-paid attorney.

 Uh, great?

I think Gary at 7thinningsketch has the right idea…

Update: Tim Brown at Yahoo, in a series of tweets, provides some more detail…

MLB will move within days to have its monitors — Schieffer and Allen — re-installed at Dodger Stadium. Also, will request a trustee…

Sources: MLB very happy with events today in Delaware. Most important thing to delete media rights auction. Figure out rest in 3 weeks.

Short term, McCourt gets $60 million to run franchise thru July 20. MLB not unhappy that’s not its money.

Now I understand this better. McCourt can’t auction off the TV rights, which was a big possibility for him, and is therefore dependent on the court to rule in his favor. Who knew that in order to be a baseball writer I’d need to forget about the OPS and focus on the JD?