McCourt Adjusts to An L.A. State of Mind
Dodgers, New Owner Visit Fenway Park
By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 12, 2004; Page D01
BOSTON -- Forgive Frank McCourt if he still sometimes refers to this city as his home.
After all, the Los Angeles Dodgers' new owner, whose grandfather once ran the Boston Braves, was born in nearby Watertown and made his fortune here.
He may be set to move into a $25 million mansion in Bel Air, Calif., but his four sons were raised in the Boston suburb of Brookline, where he coached Little League baseball and youth hockey for a decade.
As for the Red Sox, the team McCourt cheered almost from birth (and tried unsuccessfully to buy in 2001), the real estate magnate said he has no such split loyalties.
"I checked, and I now bleed [Dodgers] blue," McCourt, 50, joked, in his 25th-floor office overlooking South Boston, and the two-dozen acres of largely undeveloped waterfront parking lots that constitute the bulk of his fortune. "Those are my guys now. Whatever they call me, I am a fan first and an owner second."
McCourt has been called many things since he purchased the team in February for a highly leveraged $430 million, among the highest prices ever paid for a sports franchise.
Dodgers fans concerned about how much money he borrowed dubbed him "McBankrupt" and alliteratively castigated him as a "cash-poor carpetbagger" and a "penniless parking lot attendant" on talk radio and in Internet chat rooms and letters to local newspapers.
His outspoken wife, Jamie, who is the team's vice chairman, was likened to Rachel Phelps, the villainous former stripper and team owner from the comedy film "Major League."
But above all else, McCourt said repeatedly while in Boston this week for his new team's first series ever at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, he is a baseball fan who has seats behind home plate for each of his team's home games this year and wants to restore the Dodgers to the ranks of the game's elite.
"I think a lot of that turbulence from the beginning is behind us now," McCourt said. "A lot of it happened because people didn't know me, and the rules prevented us from really talking about the team while the deal was being finalized. Now they can see that I am one of them. The silver lining of the whole thing was that it showed me these fans really care about the team. Imagine going into a marketplace and buying a team and no one cared."
His supporters say that should come as a welcome change to Dodgers fans, who after 15 seasons without a playoff win, find their team 31-27 and contending in the National League West.
"Whenever you have a change in leadership there's gonna be some upheaval," said General Manager Paul DePodesta. "But this is a passion for him. He wants to know what's going on and be involved to make things better. People appreciate that."
Media conglomerate News Corp. bought the team in 1998 from the O'Malley family, which had owned the club for nearly 48 years. In its first major move, the new bosses unloaded the Dodgers' best and most popular player, catcher Mike Piazza, and quickly developed a reputation for treating the club as an investment rather than the civic institution fans felt it to be.
When the company put the team on the market last year, McCourt pounced, fresh off the disappointment of losing out on a bid for the Red Sox. He lobbied to tear down Fenway Park, built in 1912, and move the team to a new stadium on his land in South Boston. But as the price tag climbed above $600 million, he bowed out. "I knew there'd be other opportunities," he said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company