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Frank McCourt's Dodgers Missteps

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-- The mess begins in the parking lot, where the guy who made his money in parking lots collects $15 from every car that drives into Dodger Stadium.

At least Frank McCourt understands that business, though he doesn't seem to have a clue why not nearly as many cars are driving in these days. Then again, McCourt seems clueless about a lot of things, like the boxes full of fake dreadlocks he thought he could pawn off on the good folks of Los Angeles.

Mannywood is long gone, though McCourt still owes Manny Ramirez $21 million as part of that ill-fated signing. No big deal, owners make mistakes signing players all the time, as evidenced by the three wins the Dodgers got in return for the $47 million contract given Jason Schmidt even though they knew he had a rotator cuff tear.

Schmidt apparently got his money, but others didn't. There are 13 former or current players – topped by Ramirez – still owed more than $1 million each by the club, which this week filed for bankruptcy.

And then there's the $152,778 due to one Vincent E. Scully. Yes, Vin Scully, the hallowed voice of the Dodgers and the one constant in the fabric of the team from before people even heard of Chavez Ravine.

Come on, Frank. Sure, you've had some difficulties with your marriage, and the people of Los Angeles are down on you for using their treasured team as your own personal piggybank.

They didn't like you buying luxury homes by the handful on the Dodgers dime and got irritated when you spent tens of thousands on a Russian psychic to send good vibes the team's way.

But you couldn't pay Vinny? Couldn't clear the books before filing for bankruptcy with the only person who makes the Dodgers palatable?

I'll say this about Frank and Jamie McCourt, who bought the Dodgers in 2004 with much talk about honoring Dodger tradition and restoring the team to greatness. They may have missed the mark on their original targets, but they seemed to have stumbled on a formula to ruin an historic franchise in record time.

It didn't take a bankruptcy filing to figure out what a disaster the McCourts have been in Los Angeles. One look at the empty seats in Dodger Stadium is enough.

Attendance is down nearly 20 percent from last year, and it's not just because the Dodgers are a collection of wannabes and has-beens who haven't won more than three games in a row all season.

Fans in LA will excuse a bad team. They draw the line at bad owners.

Give Bud Selig some credit on this one. By refusing to allow Frank McCourt to mortgage the future of the team on a television deal that would divert untold millions to him and his ex-wife, Selig effectively declared the McCourt era over in Los Angeles. And over it is, regardless of the bankruptcy filings or any other manipulations by a desperate McCourt to keep the team.

McCourt may have bought himself some time with the bankruptcy filing, but the underlying issues that threaten to take down his once budding empire remain. Those include a divorce settlement with Jamie McCourt that seems certain to unravel in the wake of Selig not allowing the sale of future television rights to Fox Sports, and the $108 million in loans McCourt took on land around Dodger Stadium to pay down mortgages on his homes and finance the couple's lavish lifestyle that are coming due.

Although McCourt won approval from a bankruptcy judge to use $60 million of a hedge fund loan to pay immediate bills, the two sides will return to court July 20 to decide whether he can access the rest of the $150 million or whether the Dodgers should be funded by Major League Baseball. A person familiar with the league's plans, though, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that MLB probably will file a motion to seize the team from McCourt.

Just how that will play out remains to be seen. McCourt has dug in his heels at every turn, resisted any effort – even by his ex-wife – that could threaten his control of the team. The mess could drag on in various courts long after the current season is over, dragging down the price any potential suitor might be willing to pay for the franchise.

Ultimately, though, is that there's no way McCourt keeps the Dodgers. Selig won't allow it, not after already seizing operating control of the team and certainly not after McCourt went to bankruptcy court to try and thwart MLB's plan to find new owners. Baseball will throw every lawyer it has against McCourt.

Maybe Selig should just come up with an offer McCourt can't refuse. Entice him to leave by, say, giving him the parking lots as part of the deal.

At least he knows how to run those.

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