June 24, 2011
Los Angeles' Ashes
The two of them should have stayed in Boston where they lived their crazy lifestyle and made their money. Instead, they moved out to Southern California in 2004, when Peter O'Malley was seven years gone and Rupert Murdoch was anxious.
When I look back at my time under their ownership, I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable tenure: the happy tenure is mostly the realm of fantasy. Worse than the ordinary miserable tenure is the miserable McCourt tenure, and worse yet is the miserable McCourts-in-divorce tenure.
People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their team's owners, but nothing can compare to the McCourt version: the faux-wealth; the shiftless loquacious buffoon chairman; the pious defeated CEO moaning from her Malibu mansion; pompous ex-managers; bullying press; the Office of the Commissioner and the terrible things he let them get away with for seven long years.
Above all—we were underwater and sinking fast.
Out in Chavez Ravine smog wafted up the hills from downtown Los Angeles. The dirty air dampened the city from Oscar nomination night to the Christmas Day game at Staples Center. It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks. It turned respected journalists into single-sentence paragraph hacks. It provoked pithy observations galore; Kemp is lazy; Pierre's a gamer—give him a contract!; Manny belongs on the bench—bring in Scott Podsednik!; Dodger Stadium is full of nothing but gangbangers.
From April to October the wallets of the McCourts were as dark as the smog. Checks were most assuredly cashed—by much more than 25 men in uniform. In prestigious clubs, McCourt children spent wildly while "working." Soothsayers, florists, and healers went to the bank more often than fans went to the Dodger Dogs counter.
The play on the field drove fans into my hallowed halls—their refuge, their strength, their only dry place. On gamedays, players like Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, and Jeff Kent led them to cheer despite who was sitting in the owner's box.
Dodger fans gained a reputation for appreciating their new owners, but we knew it was only the wins.
My chairman, Frank McCourt, was a born New Englander. Like his father before, he made his money in construction and real estate. He found his way through Boston politics to emerge the owner of a few prime parking lots.
When I was newly purchased, I would see my chairman, the slick hair, the small eyes, the lying lips and wonder how anyone in power would let him buy a baseball team with a head like that. They didn't at first.
Because his bid for the Red Sox wasn't enough, he had to be spirited out of Boston. In Los Angeles, as my new owners, the McCourts thought they were in heaven: movie stars, expensive houses, and millions of people ready to take their money at length. The two rejoiced.
A blur of money was spent over the next seven years. Almost none of it used to better the team. Free agents littered the landscape, but serious moves were never made towards the top talent. Manny Ramirez was retained, but not by choice.
The thunder of Mannywood and National League Championship games was a welcome sound to these old ears. The Dodgers mattered in L.A. again. I mattered. Cameras clicked and newspapers flew off the presses. That smog could have been newsprint ink. I got excited.
The divorce crumbled walls faster than the jokes could be written. The chairman fired the CEO, locks were changed, accusations made, finances leaked. Smiles turned to sneers and I became a laughingstock.
Worse still, the wins disappeared as soon as the divorce papers debuted. Crowds that could stomach the sheen of our chairman's tan during happy moments were turned away by its glare the moment the losing started. As the divorce reveals more and more about my inner-workings—the sliced-and-diced corporate structure, the personal use of team money, the questionable team charities, grotesque nepotism—the air around Dodger Stadium grows even more rancid.
The palm trees sway at the edge of Chavez Ravine. Dodger baseball continues in the Stadium, but the fans rarely show. I stand alive, weathering the misery of this divorce as best as can be asked. The stench is ready to be removed.
Bud Selig sits on the horizon, waiting to push out the McCourt smog. A car dealer's smog is cleaner than a gussied-up jalopy's, I'm told, rather unbelievably. The McCourts make many things believable.
The season moves on and my seats are laid bare. The fans who do show up say one thing every night, "This must be the worst ownership in baseball history."
Please note that this is a fictional account inspired by Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes".