I've used the words "tyranny", "despot" and "oppression" to describe the ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. We've endured 7 years of terrible decision making, mismanaged dollars and broken promises. The franchise has seemed directionless and adrift, with every season ending with yet another pennant-less finish. Dodger Stadium seemed less family friendly than ever before. If only another person could come in and save us from these people who seem to have no idea how to own a Major League Baseball franchise.
Now take a look at what I've just written - was that from 2011...or from 2003?
I remember 7 years ago when everyone was calling for the end of the Fox Sports era of the Los Angeles Dodgers. We wanted nothing more than to free our underachieving team from the clutches of a soulless corporate entity that led the team to no more playoff victories in its 6 year reign than the 10 years before it. There was a certain sterility to Dodger Stadium that seemed to emanate with a lack of a human touch from a place that once was the heart of the vibrant Los Angeleno pulse. Fans criticized how the team made poor moves in free agency by paying the wrong guys and refusing to pay the right ones. It was Fox Sports that had traded already-legendary Dodger Mike Piazza to the disbelief of the entire fanbase (still to this day!) and signed Darren Dreifort to a 5-year deal. Kevin Malone and Dan Evans were both named GM to the delight of no one and their moves were met with similar reaction. Bill Plaschke begged for them to sell, talk radio wanted them gone and most Dodger fans longed for the day they'd finally be free.
Sound familiar at all?
We've been here before. We've done this dance and longed for "anything but...". This time, I'm not hoping for anything but Frank McCourt. I'm hoping for someone better than Frank McCourt. I'm hoping for the best. Not just anyone. Does one of those Anyones include Mark Cuban?
Cubes is on a long list of suitors lining up by the day to place their bids on the soon-to-be for sale Los Angeles Dodgers. Rumored to be in on the sale is a group headed by former Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey, ex-Dodgers executive Dennis Mannion and even Peter O'Malley, the man who sold the Dodgers to Fox Sports in 1998 in the first place.
Obviously the sexiest and most exciting name here is Mark Cuban, a dot.com multi-billionaire whose most prominent and best known asset is the Dallas Mavericks, your reigning 2011 NBA champions.
The Mavericks' title win this year wraps up one of the most incredible turn around stories in sports history. For the first 20 years of the Mavericks now 31 year history, the Mavericks made the playoffs a scant 6 times, never advancing past the second round. After being swept by the Trail Blazers in the 1989-1990 season, the Mavericks went on to be one of the worst teams of the 1990s, never winning more than 36 games which equated to zero postseason appearances. To say that they were a joke is an understatement. For that 10-year stretch, I would argue they were the worst team in basketball. I know this partially from memory, and also because on NBA JAM for Sega Genesis, I never EVER selected the Dallas Mavericks, because that meant either a) an automatic loss or b) that you were so good that you could beat all comers despite playing as the worst team in the game. I was obviously not the latter.
But it wasn't just their play that turned me off to the Mavericks - they looked like a lame team. They didn't have the most exciting players, they played in a terrible arena and their team logo was a hat. A hat. Despite being in one of the most populous urban markets with a large local television audience, the Mavericks were a dead brand. They were the Charlotte Bobcats of the 1990s - I had no reason to pay attention to them. They were irrelevant.
Cuban bought the team 4 days into the year 2000. All he did from there was turn a league laughingstock into a perennial title contender. Everything he touched revitalized the team. From the day that Cuban purchased the Mavericks from Senator Ross Perot, they were transformed - not just on the court, but also in the eyes of the NBA audience. Gone was the Hat. It was replaced with a white stallion, whose cobalt, royal blue and white identified them with another successful and winning brand in Northern Texas. The logos and print were stark and modern. They moved into a new arena in 2001, which still ranks as one of the finest and most cutting edge arenas in the country. With young stars Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley, they had arguably the best offensive attack in the league, playing an uptempo game that predicated on flashy scoring with little defense to bog down the pace. But the perhaps the most prominent change in regime was Cuban himself.
Mark became the posterchild for the new attitude of the Mavericks. He was outspoken and brash, criticizing referees for perceived poor calls and picking fights in the media with opposing players and coaches. He still sits courtside for every single games, in a seat right next to the Mavericks bench wearing his team's gear, rather than up in a luxury box in a button-down and slacks. He attends every single one of those games in the same seat, whether it was home or away, just like any coach or trainer would do. He is completely invested in his team's success, for better or for worse, not just financially, but physically and emotionally. Mark Cuban is unlike any NBA owner I've ever seen before. He wears the team on his sleeve, in every literal and figurative way. The man was the same as me. Except he had a billion dollars and owned an NBA team. As much as I'd love to hate Mark Cuban, it's the opposite. I love him. But do I love him enough to buy the Dodgers?
I've thought long and hard about this - actually, I've had 6 years to think long and hard about this - and out of everything we need out of the next owner of the Dodgers, these are the most prevalent in my mind.
The prerequisite for any of this is that he has to have the capital to properly back a major league franchise. This guy just can't be a billionaire - that's not enough in the 21st century. He has to be a multi-billionaire. The last guy who owned the team (can we just refer to him as He Who Must Not Be Named from now on?) bought the team with financial support that was largely provided by loans. This has to be a guy with money to spend and money to spare.
The reasons for this being:
1) Dodger Stadium needs a MAJOR makeover. In comparison with the other stadiums around the country, the old girl is run down. The facade looks badly worn, with every pipe and concrete wall showing it's age. Every single sign around the stadium is rusted to some level or another. Corners of corridors and walkways are poorly lit with almost comically old fixtures - a lot of places resemble a dilapidated public school. The bathrooms would be okay if they were a movie set from the 1960s. The concession stand lines still last 1 1/2 innings. It's okay for your building to feel like it's 60 years old. It's quite another if it looks like it too.
Years ago the Dodgers began the stadium makeover. Several sections above, including the loge, reserved, top deck and the left and right field bleachers (the two sections whose need for repair is most apparent) had planned reconstruction, but were put on indefinite hold because the former owner simply ran out of money to finished promised repairs. To the surprise of no one, the luxury section behind home plate (the Stadium Club), as well as the field level were fully restored first and remain the only finished and refurbished sections of the stadiums.
So here we stand, 5 years after the most expensive seats have been fixed while the cheaper seats still bear the scars of 50 years of sun and wear. This needs to be addressed immediately. Whoever the owner is needs to understand that it's a historic stadium that might not be on the same level as Wrigley or Fenway, but hovers just below those two sacred sites. Again, Dodger Stadium is an old girl - she needs to be tended to with the utmost care at this point.
2) Hopefully, with his billions, the new owner will have a vision for Dodger Stadium and the surrounding land in Chavez Ravine. Years ago, the AEG Entertainment Group built Staples Center right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.
When I was a kid, my mom worked in downtown Los Angeles. She'd go in there at the crack of dawn and be back by sundown. She never lingered there, or had dinner with clients or a few drinks with her colleagues. With good reason; it was a terrible, dodgy place to be. It was one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Beyond your work, there was no reason to stay there - there was simply nothing to do, and even if it were, it wasn't worth staying late into the night.
About 12 years ago, AEG Entertainment Group began work on Staples Center, a new multi-purpose arena where the Lakers, Clippers and Kings would play. While now considered just another modern area, Staples Center was a marvel at the time, a step forward in live sports whereas the industry was still filled with old concrete anachronisms. The arena revived the area, provided hundreds of jobs through new restaurants and bars in the area and made downtown a destination beyond the hours of 9 and 6. Years later, AEG expanded, building an entire entertainment complex called LA Live in the surrounding area, including a 3,000 seat ampitheatre, 5 clubs, a Ritz Carlton Hotel, a dozen restaurants and a west coast headquarters for the World Wide Leader in Sports. LA Live has proved to be a resounding success - so much so that it seems to be the leading candidate for the site of Farmer's Field, the prospective NFL stadium site if a team should relocate to Los Angeles.
Dodger Stadium is essentially just a cement building with parking lots. Glorious as it is, even I am not enough of a homer to admit that Dodger Stadium is nothing more than that. There is no monument park (like Yankee Stadium), no statues surrounding the stadium (like most parks including PNC Park in Pittsburgh, AT&T Park in San Francisco or Citizen's Bank Park in Philly), no museum anywhere on the premises, no HD scoreboard, better food vendors, or nearly enough outdoor patios (it's in Southern California! How do you not have more outdoor patios for chilling and watching the game?). There are no restaurants or shops surrounding the stadium, just scores and scores of unused lands and cracked asphalt. There is only ONE shuttle bus service maintained by the city going in and out of the stadium - which would be the only public transportation service that actually comes onto the grounds. There is no reason to stay and linger on Dodger Stadium longer than the game lasts. The attraction is the game - which for people like me, or probably you reading this blog, is great. But as I have detailed before on this blog and even in this post, there isn't enough at Dodger Stadium to celebrate the 100 year history of the greatest franchise in the National League. At Yankee Stadium, they absolutely clobber you over the head with their 27 titles. At Fenway Park, you can't help but feel like you're back in the 20's. At PNC Park in Pittsburgh, you remember that the Pirates were one of the most winningest franchises in the majors until 20 years ago. Citi Field in Queens has a Jackie Robinson rotunda, bathed in blue and celebrating the life of the most famous Dodger ever. The Mets are more Dodger-ed out than the Dodgers.
At Dodger Stadium, it's easy to forget where you are. The terraced outfield bleachers are scenic, the soft pastel color motif of the seats give a warm California glow and the sunsets over the surrounding hills is gorgeous, but I don't ever think of Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Orel Hersheiser or Jackie Robinson when I'm there. The new owner has got to understand how great the Dodgers should be. Realistically, in the history of Major League baseball it should read as follows:
3) Red Sox
He needs to understand our rightful place as baseball royalty and has to strive for that goal again. He has to know what the Dodgers mean to LA (ESPECIALLY the Mexican community) and the important role they play in city philanthropy. He has to understand that the Dodgers were LA's team for nearly 40 years before the Lakers overtook them with the glitz and glamour of showtime and 10 titles in the last 30 years while the Dodgers haven't won a pennant over the last 20. We need an owner that understands all of this and has a correlating vision for the stadium and the surrounding lands.
3) Of course, there's the issue of payroll. The Dodgers need to be back amongst the highest spending teams in the league. Right now the Dodgers rank 10th, behind the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, the cash-strapped New York Mets and Chicago White Sox. Our payroll stood at $104 million in 2011 - which is an inflated figure because we're STILL paying deferred salaries for Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre (all three of which are no longer Dodgers - Pierre and Jones play for other teams and are still getting paid from the Dodgers). Taking that into account, the Dodgers actually have about $91 million dollar payroll on current players, which would also put them behind the American League champion Texas Rangers.
Not to beat a dead horse, but I am yet again going to kick Eight Belles; every offseason, we should be in the conversation for the best free agents (we're not even rumored amongst the top 5 most likely landing places for Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols even though we are dying for a power-hitting first baseman) to not only address our needs, but to improve on positions where the production hovered at a league-average level. We should be operating similar to the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Rangers; not the Rockies, Brewers and Blue Jays. Money should not be a hindrance for the club needs. It should be the solution to them.
4) The new owner needs to spend more money on minor leaguers. This is one of the most overlooked problems of the Dodgers for the past 7 years. They have been towards the bottom of the pack in terms of signing the best amateur players through the MLB draft. With rare exceptions, the Dodgers have steered away from drafting the best players in the draft because of "signability" concerns. Again, the team needs to follow the model of the Yankees and Red Sox. Those two teams don't just stay competitive because they have extraordinarily deep pockets and sign the best free agents. A team full of A-Rods, Texieras and CCs is great, but where would they truly be without guys they traded prospects for (Granderson, Swisher) or guys that were once prospects themselves (Jeter, Posada, Mariano, Cano, Nova)? The Yankees stay relevant because they don't just do one thing right - they do everything right. Which is what the Dodgers have to do. Everything right.
If you can't tell, I'm extraordinarily committed to the Dodgers. There's very few things in my life that I'm as connected to as I am with my team whose shirts I wore before I could even grip a baseball. The past 14 years have been an utter disaster for me not only as a Dodger fan, but as a Los Angeleno who is constantly confused as to why we're a major market team operating like a small market ball club.
Mark Cuban has done a fantastic job with the Mavericks. He's taken an NBA afterthought with astronomic financial and historic potential and fulfilled almost every goal one could have after buying a professional sports franchise. I have tremendous respect for everything he's done, and as outlandish and boistrous as his personality may be, with the moves he's made and the marketing savvy he's shown in Dallas, he's only proven that it works. The Mavericks are one of the top 5 most prominent NBA franchises, and have been that way for a decade now. They have been to the playoffs every year of his ownership and now are NBA champions. That's great. I'm happy for the guy. But bringing that type of attitude to the Dodgers isn't enough. There are other preconditions that he needs to meet in order to take over a job that we thought a couple other guys could handle. As much as I want to be swayed by his past accomplishments, I'm much more interested in what his future plans would be.
I'm not asking for anything. I'm asking for the best. That's what we deserve. Last time we asked for anything but Fox, and we ended up somehow the worse for it. Step up Mark, and in the way we need you to step up.