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Friday, June 24, 2011
Wise up, baseball: Let Mark Cuban in

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and the owners would never admit it -- at least, not publicly -- but they've turned their tacit blackballing of Mark Cuban into an art form. You almost have to admire how they've managed to drop a water balloon on Cuban's hopes jusssssst before he can open his umbrella.

Cuban reportedly made the highest initial bid to buy the Chicago Cubs, but didn't get the team. He didn't even finish third.

In an auction sale of the Texas Rangers, he was outbid by Nolan Ryan's ownership group.

Cuban never had a chance, and here's why: Even if he had been selected by the Tribune Company as the Cubs buyer of choice, or if he had money-whipped Ryan's group into submission, he still needed 23 of baseball's 30 owners to vote him into MLB's frat house. And given how nervous he makes some of the league's power brokers, that likely wasn't going to happen.

Mark Cuban
He's passionate and he's intense. The Dodgers could use what Mark Cuban brings to the table.

It was a wink-wink conspiracy, a freeze-out. Cuban served his purpose -- he drove up the bidding on the Cubs and Rangers -- but did anybody really think 23 owners were going to give him the thumbs up?

Cuban scares some of the owners. Good -- they need scaring after what Frank and Jamie McCourt have done to one of the league's Tiffany franchises, the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, in a wonderful frat house irony, MLB needs Cuban. It just won't admit it. Yet.

The McCourts, who gained MLB approval to buy the Dodgers despite being leveraged out the wazoo, took possession of an organization in pristine condition, but then trashed the place. It's going to take months, maybe years, to clean up the cigarette burns and beer stains on the team's ledger sheets.

This is where Cuban comes in. Check that. This is where Cuban comes in if MLB and its owners have any sense.

Cuban is interested in buying the Dodgers. He told TMZ.com that "if the deal is right and they're fixable," he might be very interested.

This is a 180-degree philosophy turn from about five months ago. In February, he told the New York Times that he was through "chasing" baseball teams.

"I've just come to the conclusion, if I'm going to write a huge check, I'd rather [be wooed] than have to chase," he said.

Frank McCourt
Somebody needs to clean up Frank McCourt's mess in Los Angeles.

MLB has never wooed Cuban, but now's the time to start. The Dodgers are a baseball disaster area. Frank McCourt is yapping like a Chihuahua over Selig's decision not to approve a Fox TV revenue lifeline. He's making all sorts of veiled threats about this and that.

But at the end of the day, McCourt is still a Chihuahua and Selig is the commissioner. Plus, it's not like any of the other owners have come to the yappy dog's defense.

So McCourt is history. Or will be soon enough.

Meanwhile, local L.A. ownership groups will line up to bid for the team. Selig likes local. But he should also like Cuban, even if Cuban's mailing address is Dallas. Anyway, it's not like the billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner can't afford to buy a place in Manhattan Beach or Malibu.

Cuban would give the Dodgers instant solvency and credibility. His Mavericks just won an NBA championship. He's smart. He's innovative. He isn't afraid to take chances.

And, yes, he is sometimes very loud, very opinionated and can occasionally wander into knucklehead territory. Those opinions and some of those antics have annoyed/angered the likes of heavy hitters such as Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, and a Selig confidant.

But even Reinsdorf would have to admit that the NBA is a better league with Cuban than without him. And by the way, Cuban was on his best behavior during the NBA playoffs. He was, well, boring.

Cuban isn't afraid to spend money on his franchise. Maybe that scares MLB owners more than anything. The last thing they want is another New York Yankees scenario of checkbook baseball and bidding wars.

Mark Cuban
Do you suppose Jerry Reinsdorf posed like this after the White Sox won the 2005 World Series?

Too late. The Boston Red Sox spend gobs of money on payroll. So do the Philadelphia Phillies, the Los Angeles Angels, the Cubs and White Sox, and (pre-Madoff, at least) the New York Mets. The Dodgers also have a history of being in the upper tier of big-spending franchises.

While their tenures didn't overlap in Dallas, Cuban and Selig-appointed Dodgers steward Tom Schieffer certainly are familiar with each other. Schieffer is a former owner and president of the Rangers. His association with the team ended a year before Cuban bought the Mavs in 2000.

MLB and its owners have run out of reasons to be fearful of Cuban. Compared to Mr. and Mrs. Dodger Nightmare, or even Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon, Cuban is a steel I-beam of stability. Actually, compared to any MLB owner, Cuban is a keeper.

He has served his time on the MLB blacklist. He has earned the right to be a partner, not an afterthought.

Memo to Selig: Commence the wooing.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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