This article originally appeared on June 23rd. With news that McCourt is going to sell the team, and Cuban’s statements that he’d be interested if the price was right, we felt like it was worth reading again.
TMZ recently asked Mark Cuban if he’d be interested in buying the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“If the deal’s right and they’re fixable, then, yeah, I’m very interested,” he said.
When you took control of the Dallas Mavericks in January 2000, the team was on its way to a 10th straight losing season. Some of your starters and key rotation players included Cedric Ceballos, Erick Strickland, and Shawn Bradley — in baseball terms, Late-Career Garret Anderson, Matt Treanor, and Esix Snead.
And that was the best Mavs team in a decade.
So don’t talk to me about fixable. Not when Koufax Jr.’s taking the mound every five days, and the center fielder’s a pending 40/40 machine who has flings with Rihanna, because why the hell not.
Of course by “fixable,” the newly-crowned NBA champion owner means fixing the seemingly irreparable damage that Frank and Jamie McCourt are doing to one of baseball’s most storied franchises.
If you haven’t yet read Larry Behrendt’s scathing takedown of the McCourts at itsaboutthemoney.net (with a big assist from Josh Fisher), please do so now. Here’s a small snippet that should make you vomit in terror, even if you’re not a Dodgers fan and/or hold a silly, 30-year grudge against them:
How did the Dodgers manage to fund the McCourt lifestyle? Let’s start with salaries: Jamie McCourt received up to $2 million annually for her services as Dodgers’ CEO. Frank McCourt received up to $5 million annually from one or more businesses affiliated with the Dodgers. The Dodgers also paid up to $600,000 in annual salary to two of the McCourt children, one of whom was attending Stanford University and the other of whom had a full-time job at Goldman Sachs.
But $7.6 million a year was not nearly enough money to meet the needs (estimated at over $2 million a month) of the McCourt family. The McCourts spent money at a rate that turned heads, even in Los Angeles. Best known is the McCourt appetite for real estate. After buying the team, the McCourts proceeded to buy four homes in Los Angeles – two in Malibu, two near the Playboy Mansion – at a combined cost of around $89 million. This figure includes the estimated cost of McCourt “improvements” to these homes, including a roughly $14 million bill for tearing out tennis courts at one property and replacing them with a swimming pool. Then there were the other expenses: the vacation properties, the private jet, the private drivers, the hairdresser who worked exclusively for the McCourts five days a week … the list goes on and on. Here’s an expense that’s one of my personal favorites: over one 18-month period, Jamie McCourt paid over $100,000 to various florists, and charged the Dodgers for the expense.
If the McCourts had simply looted the team, that would be bad enough. The bigger problem is that (as Behrendt’s article explains in great detail) the Dodgers no longer control many of the most basic pillars of a baseball club, such as the ability to sell its own tickets. By carving up the team (and related investments) into 20 different companies, Frank McCourt was able to buy the Dodgers with little to no money out of his own pocket, then chop up all his debt into what he figured would be manageable bites that wouldn’t need paying off for years. Now leveraged to the hilt, he’s barely making payroll, and the situation’s only going to get worse the longer Major League Baseball takes to wrestle the team away.
Eventually, MLB seems likely to succeed, just as it did when it presided over the Texas Rangers’ bankruptcy and the Montreal Expos becoming wards of the state. There may be multiple lawsuits, and the eventual purchase price for a new owner will surely be lower than if a less conniving owner were running the team for the past seven years. But you have to figure Bud Selig and the Lords of the Realm won’t consider their work done until a new Dodgers owner can be assured of his ability to run the team without being handcuffed by McCourt’s shell corporations. We can’t say exactly how right now, but given MLB’s history of legal triumphs and the league’s many friends in high places, that seems the most likely scenario.
If the Dodgers are indeed fixable, Cuban’s track record bodes well for his ability to make them into a powerhouse again, both on and off the field. Counting the 20 years leading up to his purchase of the Mavs from Ross Perot and his partners, Dallas had won just 40% of its games. When Cuban took over, the team already had its future franchise player, Dirk Nowitzki, on the roster. He spent liberally to build from there.
Some of the moves he made were subtle. The Mavericks’ locker room consistently ranked among the most luxurious in the game, but so too did the visiting locker room. Cuban knew he’d need to attract free agents to come to Dallas; beyond simple salary considerations, fancy locker rooms and shiny arena amenities can go a long way toward convincing players that you run a first-class organization.
Cuban also threw a ton of money at those free agents. He (and the team’s player-evaluation staff) didn’t always make the right choices — just ask Steve Nash, who skipped town and won two MVPs in Phoenix after the Mavs refused to ante up. But the effort was always there. If Nash could have combined the talented teammates he had in Phoenix with Cuban’s free-spending ways (as opposed to Suns Owner Robert Sarver’s maniacal and destructive refusal to pay a penny in luxury tax), the Canadian star might have won multiple titles before his buddy Dirk ever won one.
Most encouraging is Cuban’s reverence for analytics, and his strong desire to hire coaches and instructors who think along the same lines. He tapped Indiana University prof Wayne Winston to develop proprietary metrics that beat the work that existed in the public domain, or in most other organizations. He wooed Roland Beech away from his excellent website 82games.com, then teamed him with Mavs coaches to develop better in-game strategies. The Mavs were so successful in building an optimal roster that they knocked off the superstar-laden Miami Heat, using the greatest crunch-time lineup on the planet — “Win Time”, as Cuban calls it. Whatever little edge could be found, Cuban wanted it, went after it, and spent money to get it.
We don’t yet know what kind of manager Don Mattingly will grow up to be. But if Cuban were to take over the Dodgers, it’s a good bet Mattingly would have to learn to embrace cutting-edge in-game strategies (likely less effective in baseball than basketball, but certainly still useful) or give way to a next-generation Earl Weaver. Cuban would likewise target the most progressive general manager, the most forward-thinking baseball ops staff, and the most open-minded scouts, crosscheckers, and coaches.
You know what you get when you combine aggressive spending with an organizational culture that would foster innovation and constantly look for competitive advantages? The Boston Red Sox. That’s the upside here for Dodgers fans.
You might find Mark Cuban to be uncouth, an ego guy who sometimes overshadows the accomplishments of his own team and makes himself the story. He might be that guy again if he bought the Dodgers. Or maybe he’d tone it down, the way he did when he kept his mouth shut during this year’s playoffs and let his team’s play do the talking. If you’re a Dodgers fan, all of that shouldn’t matter much. You’ve still got Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, you still play in the second-biggest market in the country, you’ve still got decades of history behind you, and millions of people begging to support the team. You’ve also got an owner who’s engendered more bitter feelings among Dodgers fans since the team ditched Brooklyn for the West Coast.
Things are going to get better for the Dodgers no matter who replaces Frank McCourt. If the new guy turns out to be Mark Cuban, expect them to get a lot better.
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