Did Bud Selig do the right thing by taking over the Dodgers?


Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is losing control of his team to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. (Nick Ut/AP)

Those offenses don’t include team embarrassments such as the money the McCourts paid Russian physicist Vladimir Shpunt, reports the Los Angeles times, to apparently “channel positive thoughts toward the team,” and worst of all, the horrifying incident of the San Francisco Giants fan who was recently beaten into a coma in the Dodgers stadium parking lot. It’s not hard to see how Selig would have felt stepping into such a situation to protect “the best interests of baseball”—a commissioner power he has expanded under his tenure—was necessary. Baseball is more than just a business, and the Dodgers are more than just a team. Stepping in to protect the team from what ESPN writer Jon Weisman calls “the irredeemable Frank McCourt,” is understandable for many.

Still, others argue that McCourt, who could still sue Selig over the move, is right. Forbes’ Mike Ozanian argues that Selig is correct in his defense that he is meeting the financial requirement that MLB teams can’t have debt exceeding 10 times operating income. Despite taking on new debt, Ozanian points out, “the franchise itself is not in violation of baseball’s debt limit rule,” because it has less than $300 million of debt and $33 million of operating income.

And then there are those who argue that while the Dodgers’ finances are bad, the Mets’ are no better. Is Selig going to seize control there? (Selig says the two situations are different.) Not only is the team $450 million in debt and carrying a $50 million annual tab on bonds for Citi Field, USA Today reports, it had that, ahem, association with a guy named Bernie Madoff who conspired to pull off the biggest economic Ponzi scheme in the history of the financial world.

Whether you agree with Selig’s move or not, I think the real question is what kind of leadership Selig needs to show now. When Major League Baseball took over the Montreal Expos in 2002, it did not end so well. This time around, Selig will need to give his appointed trustee plenty of room to run and keep the search for a new owner short and sweet. If he does those things well, FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron writes, things will end much better.

As he nears retirement, some are writing that Selig, who has seen his share of controversy during his own tenure, is at the peak of his game. The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner writes that between the move to seize control of the Dodgers and in light of the labor strife at the NFL and NBA, “Bud Selig has never looked better than he does right now.” But while I agree with Kepner that Selig’s move to take over the Dodgers is “the kind of decisive, assertive action that should define the office of the commissioner of baseball,” this story isn’t over yet. Selig will need to quickly find a new qualified owner for the Dodgers, keep competitive levels high for the team, and exit MLB’s ownership quickly and with limited legal mess. It is only then that we can begin to sing codas for the commissioner’s career.

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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