WTF? I come not to bury Frank McCourt but to praise him. McCourt, as any casual peruser of sports pages knows, is the most reviled man in baseball right now. And for good reason. Since buying the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004, McCourt—who made his bones developing parking lots in Boston—and his now very much estranged wife used the team as their personal ATM, running the storied franchise into the dirt as they lived the life of extravagant consumption. Since the announcement of the McCourts’ bitter, high-profile divorce, the Dodgers—one of the most mythic teams in all of professional sport—have found themselves on the financial equivalent of life support. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a real baseball fan, not even a fair-weather one. But I like the idea of baseball. I like it a lot. What I don’t like is the idea that all of Southern California—and not just L.A.—might soon be without the Dodgers. That, to me, is sinful, and no, the Angels don’t really count. And all you finger waggers out there, don’t bother calling to remind me that professional sports is the OxyContin of the masses. Aside from the enlightened few, most of us need a strong dose of distraction to make it from sunrise to sunset. And unlike the real Oxy, baseball doesn’t leave you constipated.
What’s so great about McCourt is how he calls into question what pointy-headed intellectuals like to call “the dominant narratives” of the day—namely that government should be run more like a business and that American workers are to blame for bankrupting the nation. McCourt bought the Dodgers on a hope, a prayer, and, to an unhealthy degree, on leveraged debt back in 2004 when he left Beantown. In short order, he jacked up ticket prices, operated his parking lots with an extortionist’s zeal, and gouged fans so badly at the concession stands they bled. As hooliganism rose, McCourt saw fit to scrimp on security with near fatal results. To give back to the community, he started the Dodger Dream Foundation, and paid some suit $400,000 a year to run it. McCourt’s management style was flash and burn, as he paid beyond top dollar for fabulous flame-outs like Manny Ramirez. At a time when State Controller John Chiang is successfully pimping headlines by exposing the fact that 1,400 people on the state payroll are paid in excess of $200,000 a year, it’s worth noting that the Dodgers will be paying Ramirez—who left L.A. two years ago and retired from baseball last year after yet another steroid scandal—$21 million to not play for years to come. It’s also worth noting that many of those 1,400 grossly overpaid state employees are doctors, dentists, and psychiatrists, who just don’t come cheap. Were it not for the fact that California has more people locked up behind bars than most nations on the planet—many serving ridiculously long sentences at tax-payer expense for crimes of addiction—the state would not need nearly so many six-digit professionals on payroll.
I can grouse with the worst about overpaid public employees retiring at age 50 collecting 90 percent of their pay. But bitterness and envy are not the stuff of sound public policy. Yes Virginia, there are real problems with pensions—namely that I won’t be getting one—but most were triggered by the stock market crash, the real estate implosion, and the overall suckiness of the global economy. In no way can these be blamed on workers, governmental or otherwise. It’s because the captains of global finance concocted a host of deliciously devious schemes that even at the time sounded not just risky but downright suicidal. Guess what? They were even worse than they seemed. American workers may have built some of the stupidest cars the planet has ever seen, but they can’t be blamed for designing them, financing them, or selling them. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the self-selected cabal of über-elites that allegedly run everything, the productivity of the average American worker has increased 21 percent in the past 20 years and by 44 percent when you’re talking about those sectors where global trade is most involved. Since 1979, the paycheck for the average worker has increased by 10 percent, but that’s only on paper. When inflation is factored in, take-home pay has taken a hit. By contrast, the captains of industry who’ve run the economy full throttle into the biggest iceberg they could find have been so excessively rewarded that even the Pope—who has more than enough to atone for—has been forced to blush on their behalf. Talk about outsourcing. Forgive me for sounding screechy, but the answer to our problems lies not in privatizing Medicare, as the Republican Genius du Jour Paul Ryan has famously proposed. Nor does it make sense for the Republicans to play Russian roulette with the world economy—pointing the gun, as usual, at our heads and not theirs—by threatening to violate the deadline for raising the nation’s debt ceiling. The debt ceiling issue could be resolved—at least 75 percent—by letting George W. Bush’s infamous tax cuts expire next year. But plugging loopholes is considered the same as a tax increase, and Republicans have made it clear America’s famously under-taxed rich will not have to suffer such unfair burdens. The good news is that once the August 2 debt ceiling deadline expires, we won’t have to worry about travel plans. We can stay right where we are and still experience the same economic pain and chaos now engulfing Greece and England. In the meantime, forget about Cracker Jack, the seventh-inning stretch, and that glorious green of the Dodger outfield. In their absence, OxyContin will become the OxyContin of the masses. We can no longer afford the luxury of quaint distractions like baseball. And besides, who really cares about constipation anyway?