Baseball’s “Best Interests”: Watch Dodgers Burn

In an opinion piece titled, “One of baseball’s enduring myths,” published by THE SPORTING NEWS on May 14, 1994, then-acting Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wrote of the powers of his office as set out by the ubiquitous “best interests of baseball” clause:

Bud Selig and Frank McCourt

The all-power commissioner’ never was an accurate portrayal

The truth is, the Major League Baseball commissioner by definition has never been all-supreme or omnipotent except where public confidence and integrity are concerned. The notion of an almighty commissioner directing the business of baseball is incorrect.

For Dodger fans wondering why Selig hasn’t stepped in to try to clean up the mess that their storied franchise has assuredly become, that would be your answer.

Actually, that was your answer until Selig sent a letter to Texas Rangers ownership eight months ago.

Richard Sandomir of the NEW YORK TIMES reported May 15, 2010:

Last month he (Selig) cited his “best interest” powers to outsiders — lenders to the Texas Rangers — in a letter telling them he expected them to accept the estimated $575 million bid for the team by a group led by Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher and team president, and Chuck Greenberg.

In essence, he said he could invalidate the liens that the lenders hold on the team to put the Greenberg group in place.

Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University, said Selig was testing the breadth of his vague powers. “He’s saying to lenders, ‘If you don’t agree to the sale, I’ll take over the team, and my gaining control will impact you,’ ” he said. He added, “It’s consistent with the views of commissioners and leagues that they get to decide who their owners will be.”

In other words, Selig stepped in because:

1) He wanted to stiff the Rangers’ debtholders.

2) He wanted to rig the sale of the Rangers to owners who one could argue lacked the future financial resources of other prospective bidders - including Mark Cuban.

Today we got word that a judge has effectively deemed Jamie McCourt as partial owner of the Dodgers with her ex-husband Frank McCourt.

What that effectively means is the price Frank is going to have to pay Jamie to go away just went up. Up by, perhaps, hundreds of millions.

If you don’t know already, Jamie McCourt never cared about baseball or running the Dodgers. For years I’ve noted in this space that she was merely using the Dodgers to explode her real estate portfolio and, quite literally, enable a political career.

Not only does Jamie fail to have the resources to buy out Frank’s share in the team, she never had any intention of doing so. Her buyout claim is and always was a negotiating tactic to obtain a larger settlement. As was the entire court proceeding that just concluded.

The whole point of Jamie going to court was to pretend to a judge that she really wanted part ownership in the team so she could extract more money out Frank. (See the Dodgers.)

What today’s judgment means for the Dodgers is that Frank is going to have to take a considerable amount of money directly out of the team to pay Jamie off. Frank doesn’t have that money at the moment, but will soon be handing over much of the proceeds of the team’s next television broadcast rights contract to Jamie. (Broadcast rights revenue that could’ve gone into the team.)

With such a tradition-rich MLB franchise in the nation’s #2 media market on the ropes, and with the recent precedent Selig set in imposing his will on similarly over-leveraged Ranger ownership, why isn’t the commissioner stepping in?

From Selig’s 1994 opinion piece:

The truth is, the Major League Baseball commissioner by definition has never been all-supreme or omnipotent except where public confidence and integrity are concerned.

Makes no sense that MLB wouldn’t make its presence felt - until you find out that Selig is the same guy who allowed the McCourts to buy the Dodgers with literally none of their own money down. (They didn’t have any.)

It’s in “the best interests of baseball” for MLB to have team payrolls as low as possible. The last thing Selig wants the Dodgers to turn into is another Yankees or Red Sox situation. Keeping a cash-poor owner in place in the #2 market artificially lowers payrolls league-wide - and increases profit margins and franchise valuations.

Because of the enormous population size of Los Angeles County, ticket prices and the tradition of the franchise, MLB knows the future of the Dodgers is assured regardless of any outcome on the field or in a (divorce) courtroom.

Selig from 1994:

The notion of an almighty commissioner directing the business of baseball is incorrect.

Don’t laugh Yankee fan.

You’re next.

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