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Big money ball


Not a pitch in anger had yet been thrown; not a game that counts played. Yet firmly, irrevocably, and indisputably the entire season's dominant theme and spirit was established the last week of March.

You think you've heard all you want or need to hear about "Moneyball"? Let me tell you, Bunky, that was all about chump change played by losers in a fantasy world. May I introduce you to the real deal from the real world. It's called "Billion Dollar Ball."

And if it's a certified production of the new American pastime, not everyone can play. Nor is it the game your dear daddy introduced you to when you were freckled, nine, and a deep believer in all the pious ballyhoo that has sugar-coated baseball's ills and injustices for a century and a half. Hey, we all have to grow up some day.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers were purchased by the House of Guggenheim from the de-frocked Boston parking-lot mogul, Frank McCourt, for the cool, limpid, and stratospheric sum of $2.15 billion, it was the jock-world equivalent of the "Storming of the Bastille," only this time the winners are not going to be the peasants. This transaction was more than historic. It was revolutionary. Every game played under the sun was substantially affected and every owner became instantly richer. And when that happens the inevitable loser, Old Sport, is "You"!

Certain sentimentalists may want to say this is one of those wonderful capitalist moments that could only happen in America. But it's actually the ludicrous result of a ridiculous chain of events appropriately rooted in La La Land, next door to Hollywood.

After failing in an intense effort to purchase his dearly beloved home-town team, the Red Sox, Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers for $430 million in 2004. He had the blessings of Commissioner Bud Selig who seemed to go out of his way to arrange the caper even though McCourt's financial game-plan was said to be not as solid as is usually demanded. It was an example of the big-footing commissioner's famed double-standard in the orchestrating of his long-standing musical chairs game of franchise shuffles. Was Selig repaying McCourt for quietly deferring in his pursuit of the Red Sox, whom Selig was determined to award to his dear friend John Henry and his merry band? There are those in the game who'll always believe that.

If so it's a wonderful irony that in a mere eight years of daffy ownership the dancing McCourt's succeeded only in driving Selig nuts. They were dreadful owners who ravaged their team, disgraced its royal colors, played its fans for suckers, sullied the game with scandal, and finally drove the entire mess into bankruptcy and yet managed to walk away laughing having sold his team for roughly $1.8 billion more than he paid for it and thereby multiplying his investment five-fold in only eight years.

Or, as a certain Jonah Keri writing for Grantland has tartly noted; "He ransacked one of baseball's crown jewels, alienated a fan base, triggered the mother of all divorce cases, ran up more than a billion dollars in debt, and walked away one of the richest men in America."

There are two ways of looking at this. It is truly a great country! Or, there is no justice! And to think; this epic rags to riches tale actually began in some grubby little parking lots in and around our own town.

Parking lots may be necessary even if they constitute some of the more formidable blight on the pocked and tattered urban landscape of the 21st century. But for McCourt to fashion a fabulous personal fortune from the slabs of macadamized pavement and glorified gravel pits we're obliged to dump our cars upon for upwards to $50 a day is hard enough to swallow while for him to further parlay such soiled riches into the largest and nuttiest score in the history of sport is beyond repugnant.

But then there is no shame in McCourt's dubious act. He won't lose a minute's sleep over any of this outrage. Moreover, it's a wheeling and dealing investment house that he's taking to the cleaners. Rather hard to decide who to root against, is it not.

The implications are numberless.

Students of Selig were quick to note that it was no coincidence that yet another of his pets has come out a big winner. The leader of the Guggenheim group is financier Mark Walter. Its resident celebrity figurehead is the portly and jolly old basketball wonder, Magic Johnson. But he's just a PR piece. The big guy in the group and the chap who'll run this team is veteran baseball mogul Stan Kasten, an old, able and very loyal Selig crony who has done a lot of the Czar's bidding over the years, especially when it comes to beating up on the player's union.

If you don't think Selig was influential in steering the Dodgers to the Kasten group I've got some nice swamp-land to sell you and it's not located in Chavez Ravine. Bud sure does take care of his buddies. Once again!

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