CHINESE CHECKERS: Who’da thunk that one of the next World Series games might be in Beijing? Or that the Dodgers, riding a player-renting spree financed by the Chinese yuan, would be in it?
Now that a Chinese government-backed outfit has made a $1.2-billion offer for a bankrupt team, that’s not exactly a total fantasy. So tell me, what do the Chinese know that we don’t?
They’re bankrolling a deal for a team that’s been in and out of last place all season, with its avaricious arriviste owners locked in an ugly divorce and more folks roller-skating in Santa Monica than sitting in the stands.
I’ve seen more people at a Dons-Royals football game than sprinkle the seats at Dodger Stadium these days. Since Frank and Jamie McCourt, having bought the team on a credit card, embarked on a wild mansion-buying spree, the team has sunk in an estimated debt of more than $550 million.
So far there’s no indication that Frank, the former Boston parking-lot attendant, will okay the deal. Even if he did, would Major League Baseball really allow the Chinese to move the team to the Forbidden City? (Well, maybe, if the money was good.)
Easterners have always come West to seek their fortunes, some by digging gold, some by gold-digging, and some by striking it rich through the folly of others.
In 1925, Hollywood screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz wired New York author Ben Hecht: “Will you accept three hundred per week to work for Paramount Pictures? All expenses paid. The three hundred is peanuts. Millions are to be grabbed out here and your competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”
In 2004, the word got around to Frank and Jamie, and they couldn’t believe their ears. Dopes at Fox were so anxious to unload the Dodgers that they only required peanuts as a down payment. So the McCourts bought in on the cheap — one of the biggest subprime mortgage fiascos in recent California history.
Fox even loaned them big dough just to take one of baseball’s storied franchises off its hands. The suits divested the Dodgers like they were dumping some loser TV-franchise in Oklahoma.
The McCourts put up a parking lot back home in Boston as collateral and lost little time in sucking $108 million (tax-free so far) out of the team. But instead of investing in players, they embarked on a home-buying binge, grabbing three multimillion-dollar L.A. mansions, a Montana resort, two Malibu beach pads (one primarily for extra guests and doing the laundry), and land at Cabo San Lucas, according to Vanity Fair.
They also moved up to larger Gulfstream jets, hired a driver and security staff for $800,000 a year, and paid a staffer $400,000 a year to oversee a charity that only had a $1.6 million annual budget, Vanity Fair reported. (After an uproar, the money was repaid to the charity.) There’s much, much more, such as Frank and Jamie’s $10,000 monthly haircuts.
Frank desperately wants to hang on to the team, and baseball commissioner Bud Selig just as desperately wants him out. The McCourts remind me of novelist William Faulkner’s greedy, conniving post-Civil War Snopes family.
These people could write a lawyers’ full-employment act. Attorney fees for the divorce are now projected at $35 million. Bankruptcy lawyers billed the Dodgers $1.7 million for just the first five weeks of work. For that kind of dough, the team could have hired another quality player like outfielder Andre Ethier, the highest-paid Dodger, who makes a mere $1.58 million a month, based on a six-month season.
Do you realize what a star lineup the McCourts could have picked up for that $108 million they grabbed by using the team as their personal ATM?
If I sound mad, I am. The greedhead McCourts took my heart, threw it away, and stomped on it. True, I was a frustrated fan of my beloved Cubs back in my youthful Chicago days. But after moving West, I eventually came to love the Dodgers (as much as anyone loves anything in California, I guess).
Frank and Jamie may just decide to take the Chinese money and run. If so, pack up, Tommy Lasorda. Beijing, here we come, bleeding Dodger Blue all the way.
GO, HARDING: Congratulations to Harding School principal Sally Kingston, teachers, staff, parents, and kids who worked so hard to boost the Westside school’s Academic Performance Index (API) score higher than a kite on the Fourth of July.