League to assume day-to-day control of Dodgers

LOS ANGELES Wed Apr 20, 2011 7:07pm EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt listens at a news conference about increased security at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, April 14, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt listens at a news conference about increased security at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, April 14, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Major League Baseball (MLB), in an extraordinary move, plans to take control of the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers because of mounting concern over the franchise's financial plight.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is locked in a bitter divorce battle that many expect will result in that storied team's sale, reportedly took a personal loan from Fox Broadcasting Company last week to cover the Dodgers' payroll.

"I informed Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt today that I will appoint a representative to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the club," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement on Wednesday.

"I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club, its great fans and all of Major League Baseball.

"My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt's ownership. I will announce the name of my representative in the next several days."

The Dodgers, winners of six World Series titles, have been one of baseball's glamour franchises but they have been gripped by bitter in-fighting since McCourt's wife, Jamie, filed for divorce in October 2009 after over 30 years of marriage.

A judge ruled in December that the Dodgers were in effect jointly owned by the newly-divorced couple, setting the stage for further wrangling over the team.

Lawyers for McCourt immediately disputed the ruling, asserting he remained sole owner of the National League franchise, that his former spouse had no right to the club and that their legal battle would continue.

PRESTIGIOUS FRANCHISES

"The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future," Selig said.

The Dodgers, who were bought by the McCourts from Fox's parent company News Corp. in 2004, were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

While MLB boasts record revenue, the off-the-field struggles and heavy debt loads of several major-market teams' owners have some industry observers questioning the league's stewardship.

The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers were pushed into bankruptcy in the last two years and the financial uncertainty over the Dodgers mirrors that of the New York Mets, who are locked in a $1 billion legal battle with the trustee for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Baseball, like many sports, saw fans and corporate backers trim spending during the recession, but owners suffered as well.

Many are businessmen who used debt to invest and got in over their heads, putting the fates of their profitable teams in question.

While owners struggle, baseball has never been stronger, with revenue rising 4.5 percent last year to a record $7 billion. Last fall, Selig called it the sport's "golden era" and said his tenure should be judged by team values.

However, critics said Selig and MLB officials allowed owners' financial troubles to spiral out of control, not moving as fast as the National Basketball Association did when it bought the money-losing New Orleans Hornets.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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