Dodgers' would-be saviors need to talk
Their hearts are all in the right places. Their motivation seems pure. They have been hurt as much as anyone watching the Los Angeles Dodgers be tortured and tossed into a tangled, bankrupt mess these past few years.
So it's not all that surprising that in the first 24 hours after Frank McCourt announced he would sell the team in an auction through bankruptcy court, four legends came down off the Dodgers' Mount Rushmore and announced they would try to save the day.
Former general manager Fred Claire said, "I simply want to return this team to the fans."
Former first baseman Steve Garvey said the team "needs someone who has passion for it. Someone who is willing to dedicate the rest of his life to Dodger baseball and their great fans."
Former Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser has said, "It's not only important to the city of Los Angeles and the fabric of this city, it's important for Major League Baseball for the Dodgers to be significant."
Former owner Peter O'Malley told the Los Angeles Times, "I want to reconnect the team and the community."
The quotes are from the heart, with the best of intentions. But they all, more or less, are saying the same thing. "I think we're all driven to help the Dodgers be what they can be and what they should be," Claire said.
If that's truly the case, at some point they'll need to get on the same page. To do what's best for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back of it. They'll need to work together.
Bidding against each other serves only Frank McCourt and his creditors. Worse, it could leave whichever group wins the auction with a sales bill that would hinder their efforts to quickly rejuvenate the franchise with upgrades to Dodger Stadium or investments in payroll.
"If this thing gets out of hand, the costs eventually get passed back to the fans," one source connected with a potential ownership group said. "That's the last thing that should happen."
It is for this reason Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has kept a cautious distance so far. He's interested in the team, but only if the price makes sense.
"It's important to have more than enough money to pay players and invest in the organization," Cuban told me earlier this week.
At the time I thought it was a slick dig at McCourt and his way of letting Major League Baseball know that while he might want to buy a franchise, he's not desperate; that baseball should be begging him to join its club, not the other way around.
The more I read the quote, though, the more his meaning became clear.
Los Angeles is in an emotional moment right now. McCourt has laid down his arms after a bitter, two-year fight. A city has reclaimed its team. Dodgers legends talking about glory days and the way things should be again.
There is a momentum to it all, an exuberance that wants to sweep you up.
It's important to resist its pull, though, to breathe, step back and look at the bottom line -- not just all the wonderful lines about recapturing the Dodgers way.
"These are very early days right now," said Sal Galatioto, a leading sports investment banker and lender who played a key role in the auction of the Texas Rangers last year.
"There are too many of them because it's so easy to say: Yeah, I want to bid on the Dodgers. But when push comes to shove, I think these groups are going to be synthesized down and you'll probably have four or five really well qualified, serious bidders. That's all you need to have a frothy auction.
"What tends to happen, all the time, is these groups do merge because it gives you more power to bid."
It's too early to know which groups will be the most serious bidders in the end. Too much about the Dodgers' financial state, the terms of the sale and the conditions of baseball's approval process is unknown.
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"Nobody has seen the numbers here," Galatioto said. "This is not a simple deal. The debt structure appears to be complicated. There's a ticket securitization you gotta look at. There's all kinds of things that aren't normal for a baseball team to have. It's going to take a while for people to figure out what they want to bid."
During that time, all of the men who say they are in this to help the Dodgers need to talk. They know each other. They are friends. Hershiser and Claire largely serve as the connective tissue among them.
"We've stayed in touch just because of our lifetime connections," Claire said. "At this point -- I don't want to mislead you -- we're not doing business together.
"But our ongoing relationships are always there. We're just driven by trying to accomplish what we need to accomplish and be open to any and all opportunities."
At some point, whether they join forces or simply come to an understanding that what's best for the Dodgers is for the right owner to end up with the team at the right price, they need to get in a room and talk with each other.
They all say they want the same thing. Now it's time to prove it.
"I don't see it as competition, I really and sincerely mean that," Claire said. "If we're there and Peter's there and Garvey or Orel and they're well-funded, they've got good people, what it'll mean to me -- at least from a personal standpoint -- is the Dodgers are in good hands and that's good enough for me."