This article has been updated: 9:29 PM, April 23, 2011.
Major League Baseball’s outside intervention to save the Dodgers is another chapter in a troubling pattern of Los Angeles politics. Like no other big city in America, Los Angeles has been so dysfunctional that time and again it’s taken outside intervention to address our deepest problems. Federal authorities imposed reforms on the police department, on socio-economic disparities in the MTA’s service to low-income bus riders, and in the illegal discharge of toxic pollutants into Santa Monica Bay.
And now the Dodgers are being taken over by Bud Selig in “the interests of major league baseball.” It’s too bad that Los Angeles couldn’t solve its Dodger problem, but it’s about time someone stepped up to the plate.
The common link between all these episodes is that Los Angeles officials seem unable to abide by public interest and constitutional standards on their own. Reform eventually occurs, but not without the prod of the federal judiciary and regulators. Allowing for the significant differences, LA’s downtown boosters often sound like Mississippi officials complaining about outside interference during the Freedom Rides fifty years ago this week.
There is no balance of power in Los Angeles. It’s all developers, all the goal of glitz, all the time. The cheap seats for everyone else. Who among the local ruling class was ready to complain about the multiple mansions of the McCourts, since the McCourts themselves were only trying to keep up with the Malibu neighbors?
Here comes Steve Soboroff, newly appointed vice-chairman of the Dodgers, blasting away at Selig and sounding like Pinnochio in claiming that the Dodgers’ finances are “just fine”. Soboroff, perhaps the best connected of LA’s current generation of developers, was hired this week. “There’s a pre-determined campaign to blow [Frank McCourt] out of town,” Soboroff complains. Most ballplayers and fans will say, "Yeah, Baby," to that prediction.
Fortunately, the Los Angeles Times, historically a cheerleader of boosterism, has editorialized in favor of the team going into receivership at Selig’s direction. In a Times op-ed, the independent baseball writer, Dave Zirin, says it all: “For a generation now, baseball has been a highly leveraged real estate urban development plan in which men happen to play a game.”
You can be sure that there’s an agenda, maybe a couple of agendas, behind Soboroff’s defense of McCourt. At the very least Selig’s intervention threatens to disrupt and expose future financial and development plans for Dodger Stadium. As the Times’ Robin Abscarian suggests, without being explicit, “…more enticing for McCourt was Soboroff’s development experience, given the 300 acre Chavez Ravine site, the development of which has been an undercurrent in the discussion of the Dodgers’ future.”
But even if Abcarian pulls her punches, an undercurrent? It wouldn’t be surprising. As Zirin writes, the Dodgers are also a “team founded on the original sin of the Chavez Ravine land grab.” Can it be that a plan is underway to return Chavez Ravine to its place in the heart of the Mexican-American community, this time as high end condominiums with a percentage set-aside for the poor, while Dodger Stadium is demolished and rebuilt around the Staples Center? Not immediately, of course, because there is much to manipulate. But are certain developers thinking, “Si, se puede”?
Where have the Mayor and City Council been as the McCourts steadily squeezed the Dodger family base for higher prices on tickets, food and parking? As they treated the team as cash cow for their LA lifestyle? As they allowed the booze to flow while cutting security? As Zirin asks, why is no one proposing that the Dodgers be controlled like the Green Bay Packers, an enterprise owned and operated in the interest of their 112,000 loyal fans? In a time of economic recession and malaise, why isn’t this a compelling issue for an ambitious politician? One reason: there are no campaign contributions from fans.
The Robin Abscarian article suggests that only a full independent investigation of the McCourt’s misuse of Dodger funds to subsidize their multi-mansion lifestyle will yield the evidence necessary to rescue and rehabilitate the Dodgers’ franchise. The fans are in withdrawal. As measured by the decline of season-ticket sales. Both the fans and team have reason to believe they are being cheated by vulture capitalists out of the resources needed to keep their best players, acquire a few more, and keep the Stadium affordable to LA families.