Frank McCourt to sell Dodgers

Updated: November 2, 2011, 2:05 PM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Owner Frank McCourt reached an agreement with Major League Baseball on Tuesday night to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with Dodger Stadium and the surrounding real estate, a decision that brings to end not only a six-month legal battle with baseball commissioner Bud Selig but also a 7½-year ownership that was simply never embraced by the team's fan base.

A joint statement said there will be a "court-supervised process" to sell the team and its media rights to maximize value for the Dodgers and McCourt. The Blackstone Group LP will manage the sale.

The announcement comes as the Dodgers and MLB were headed toward a showdown in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware at the end of the month as mediation between both sides was ongoing.

McCourt and Selig have traded barbs since MLB took control of day-to-day operation of the team in April over concerns about the team's finances and the way it was being run. McCourt filed for bankruptcy protection in June after the league rejected a 17-year TV contract with Fox, reported to be worth up to $3 billion, that he needed to keep the team afloat. Selig noted that almost half of an immediate $385 million payment would have been diverted from the Dodgers to McCourt.

McCourt apparently realized a sale of the team he vowed never to give up was in his best interest and that of the fans.

"There comes a point in time when you say, 'It's time,'" a person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because details of the negotiations had not been made public told The Associated Press. "He came to that realization at the end of today."

McCourt purchased the Dodgers from NewsCorp in February 2004 for the price of $420 million, largely on borrowed funds. Based on various media reports, the team is expected to fetch somewhere between $800 million and $1.2 billion this time.

There was no immediate timetable for the sale of the team, but such things typically take several months to complete. It also wasn't immediately clear how this will affect the Dodgers' offseason player moves. General manager Ned Colletti said more than a month ago that McCourt already had given him a player-payroll budget for 2012 and seemed to hint that figure was higher than it had been for 2011, but the team being put up for sale could change that.

McCourt's decision comes at the end of a long legal battle to hold onto the team, this even as home attendance plummeted by 21 percent this season -- there was strong evidence to suggest many fans stayed away as a protest against McCourt's continued ownership of the club. But it became fairly clear last week, when Kevin Gross, the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the team's case, agreed to delay the next hearing until Nov. 29, that the sides were nearing a settlement, one that could only end with McCourt finally agreeing to put the team up for sale.

McCourt's purchase of the team almost eight years ago was met with widespread skepticism on the part of the local media and the Dodgers fan base. McCourt, his wife Jamie and their four sons moved to Los Angeles from their home in the Boston area to run the team. What followed was a level of on-field success the storied Dodgers had never experienced during their six-year run under NewsCorp -- the Dodgers reached the playoffs four times in McCourt's first six years and in 2008 won a postseason series for the first time in 20 years -- but also a series of public-relations gaffes and missteps on the part of the McCourts and a staggering number of personnel changes both in the baseball and business departments.

The beginning of the end may have come on the eve of the team's ill-fated 2009 National League Championship Series appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies, when news broke that Frank and Jamie McCourt had separated and were likely headed for divorce. That divorce, which eventually became the most expensive in California history, quickly devolved into a fight over whether Jamie McCourt had a legitimate claim to half the team, a claim that ultimately resulted in a recent divorce settlement in which Frank McCourt agreed to pay his estranged wife a reported $130 million by next spring in exchange for her dropping her claim to partial ownership.

The fact the process dragged on for so long contributed to the widely held belief, rightly or wrongly, that the divorce had become so expensive and such a drag on McCourt's finances that he no longer could afford to put enough money into the player payroll to put a competitive team on the field, a notion that only gained steam when the Dodgers got off to a slow start in 2011.

As the former couple fought over ownership of the team, the Dodgers' home opener against the rival San Francisco Giants kicked off a year of even worse publicity. A Giants fan, Bryan Stow, was nearly beaten to death in the parking lot. Stow's family has sued the Dodgers and his attorney said medical bills could reach $50 million.

In the outpouring of public sympathy, attention focused on cutbacks in security at Dodger stadium and fans turned their animosity toward Frank McCourt. Scores of police were dispatched to patrol the stadium after the attack.

Meanwhile, Selig announced in April that MLB was taking over operations of the club and appointing a trustee -- he eventually tabbed former Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer for that role -- to oversee all of the Dodgers' finances. However, McCourt responded to that opening salvo by Selig by filing for bankruptcy a few weeks later, meaning Gross was now in charge of the team's finances and MLB no longer was in control.

Dodgers attorneys claimed Selig deliberately starved the club of cash and destroyed its reputation in a bid to seize control of the team and force its sale.

"As the commissioner knows and as our legal documents have clearly shown, he approved and praised the structure of the team about which he belatedly complains," the team said in a statement.

The team was asking Gross to approve an auction of the team's television rights as the best path to exit bankruptcy. But the league wanted to file a reorganization that called for the team to be sold.

The bitter legal battle finally came to an end Tuesday night, when McCourt finally made a decision that had seemed inevitable for months, if not years, to almost everyone but himself. It wasn't immediately clear what led McCourt to finally concede defeat in that battle -- although Gross' hesitation to grant McCourt's request that he be allowed to auction off the team's television rights in order to generate immediate revenue can't be discounted as a major contributing factor.

All that is clear is that the battle finally is over now, and McCourt officially is on his way out, paving the way for the Dodgers' third ownership change in the past 15 years since the O'Malley family, which had moved the team to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958, sold the club to NewsCorp in 1998.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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