Who owns the L.A. Dodgers?
When you become a multi-millionaire or billionaire you have two basic lifestyle choices. You can do as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have done -- put millions into trust for the poor, hungry and diseased of the world and live sensible lives. Or you can do what Frank McCourt (not the Irishman by the same name who wrote "Angela's Ashes," a wonderful book you'd enjoy reading) did -- buy a baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Note to readers: If you like pleasant stories with happy endings, you can stop reading now.
Frank McCourt earned a degree in economics from Georgetown University in 1975. While at Georgetown he met his future wife, Jamie. They were married in 1979. Jamie picked up a few degrees of her own, an MBA degree from MIT (not the same as Mitt Romney, presidential candidate -- you'd enjoy reading about him) and a law degree -- she even practiced divorce law for a time. Frank was a very successful commercial real estate developer in the Boston area where he and Jamie owned a 1,300 square foot $16 million home in Brookline, Maine (not the same as Brooklyn, N.Y. -- you'd enjoy reading about it).
All that money was burning a hole in Frank's pocket, so he and Jamie sold their home in Brookline and moved to Los Angeles in 2004, where Frank bought the Dodgers for $430 million and took immediate steps to mismanage the team. Frank was listed as owner and chairman of the board, while Jamie became the first female CEO in baseball history.
When they bought the team, Frank and Jamie signed a post-nuptial agreement that Frank thought gave him sole ownership of the Dodgers. In the meantime, under McCourt mismanagement, things were not going well for the Dodgers -- not on the baseball field and not financially. In October, 2009, when the Dodgers lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the end-of-season playoffs, Frank fired Jamie as CEO. Jamie filed for divorce five days later asking for her half of the Dodgers (now valued at $1 billion -- not the same as $1 million, pocket change for the McCourts -- you'd enjoy reading about it). I'll tell you in a minute what Frank should have done at that point.
What Frank did do is to challenge Jamie's claim to half ownership based on their written agreement giving him total ownership. In the interim, Frank was ordered to pay $225,000 per month in temporary spousal support plus $412,159 for mortgage payments on real estate properties owned by both of them.
The court threw out Frank's post-nuptial agreement on the grounds that the couple had signed six copies of the agreement, but only three gave Frank exclusive ownership of the Dodgers. Jamie claimed that Frank had pulled a "fraudulent switcheroo" and the court agreed.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers were spiraling down financially toward a crash landing, having to borrow cash just to make the payroll. How can you hit a homerun if you don't know where your next paycheck is coming from? What could be more pitiful than major league baseball players living in poverty and going hungry?
The current Dodgers' story is a long tale of woe and I'm skipping tons of details, but the McCourts are divorced now and the court has decided that Frank and Jamie are joint owners of the Dodgers. Frank has appealed.
But the financial crash of the franchise has forced major league baseball to take over the team until the divorce appeals are completed and things are worked out. The situation is so dire, the McCourts may lose their team.
Is this is a mess or what? Here's what Frank should have done. You can't split the baby or the pet dog in a divorce action, but you can split the Dodgers. Frank should have immediately offered Jamie the infield (four players), he could have taken the outfield (three players) and the catchers and they could have flipped a coin for the pitchers, the bat boy and the equipment. This might have been an uncomfortable arrangement, but that would have settled the case way back in 2009 and millions of dollars in legal expenses, bad publicity and the takeover of a team by major league baseball would have been avoided. As it is, the baseball wars and lawsuits will go on and on.
Think of this, when disagreements arose in Czechoslovakia between the Czechs and the Slovaks in 1993, the country was formally separated by parliament into two separate countries, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. To make the deal work, Slovakia threw Bohemia in on the bargain and Bohemia is now part of the Czech Republic. Today the Czech Republic and Slovakia are living side by side in peace and harmony.
The morals of this story are these: If you have millions of dollars to burn, put your extra money in a trust for the poor, hungry and diseased; if you don't know anything about baseball, don't buy a baseball team; and finally, if you own the Dodgers then get into a divorce action, compromise is the name of the game. If you can split Czechoslovakia, you can split the Dodgers.