Sunday, May 1, 2011

The People's McCourt

As I roam aimlessly through the dial searching for a program with moderate substance and entertainment value, I take a minute and think to myself, "why do I still own a TV that has a dial?." Then I hear it, that unmistakable baritone piano riff as both parties enter the courtroom.

What you are witnessing is real. The participants are not actors, they are actual litigants with real cases. They will settle their disputes here, in Judge Bud Selig's forum. Welcome to The People's McCourt.

Frank McCourt, the defendant, enters the courtroom first accompanied by his high-profile legal team headed up by none other than Jackie Chiles. You may remember that he defended the infamous "New York Four" in 1998 as the first to be charged with the "Good Samaritan Law" in Latham, Massachusetts.

Donning a pair of over-sized Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses, plaintiff Jamie McCourt, estranged wife of the defendant enters sharply with her own entourage of lawyers. Her legal dream team is headed up by the legendary Denny Crane who sports a remarkable record of over 6,000 cases without a loss to his name.

Stick with me here people, this is Hollywood. Anything can happen.

The Honorable Judge Selig enters the courtroom. He fixes his glasses, takes a sip of water from his Milwaukee Brewers coffee mug and begins to read over the case briefing. This is no ordinary case, however. As the McCourts very publicly and very bitterly divvy up the assets of their 30 year marriage, the public waits with bated breath on the ultimate fate of the McCourts' biggest and most famous purchase, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Frank McCourt purchased the Dodgers in 2004 for $430 million, two years after being denied ownership of the Boston Red Sox, a bid that was won by an ownership group consisting of John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino.

McCourt used the collateral from his South Boston real estate ventures (valued around $200 million) to finance the sale to Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp, the previous owner of the franchise. The Boston area parking lots that McCourt sold was the proposed site for what would have been a new waterfront stadium for the Red Sox had he received the bid to buy the team. Red Sox fans everywhere are undoubtedly thankful that he didn't.

Frank McCourt then hired his wife Jamie McCourt, a successful lawyer, businesswoman and noted philanthropist to be the Dodgers' CEO. In five years at the helm of one of baseball's most storied franchises, the McCourts increased the value of the team by approximately 68%, as its estimated value was placed at $727 million by Forbes in 2010.

They also increased the payroll, ticket sales and debt.

Like most Hollywood couples, the magic didn't last long once they made it out to L.A. The McCourts privately separated in October of 2009 and Mrs McCourt was fired as CEO of the Dodgers shortly after the team was eliminated from the playoffs. She filed for divorce from Mr McCourt less than a month later.

Predictably, there was a Hollywood twist.

Shortly after terminating his wife from her leadership position within the organization, Mr McCourt cited alleged infidelities between his wife and her personal driver and bodyguard, Jeff Fuller. He also alleged that his wife and Mr Fuller went on a Dodger funded, jet-setting two week vacation spanning multiple countries including Israel and France. It was for this alleged reason Mrs McCourt was fired for insubordination.

Here's where it gets tricky.

You have to remember folks, this is unfolding like a bad Eric Roberts movie (a bit redundant, I know), so there's yet another plot twist. Just when you think the butler did it in the library with the lead pipe, we get introduced to the shady and ultra creepy groundskeeper.

Under normal circumstances, a judge could decree that since the purchase of the Dodgers occurred within the timeline of the marriage, the team is considered a joint asset and should be split down the middle. Obviously neither McCourt wants to walk away from the potential hundreds of millions of dollars the team could return them in upcoming years.

But as promised, here comes the groundskeeper.

Late last year, it was shown that Mrs McCourt was given a document to sign that had the couple's joint property rights in mind. It was later discovered that Jamie McCourt never actually read the document, and unwittingly signed over her ownership rights in exchange for sole ownership of the couple's many properties. Mrs McCourt later told the LA Times that she "trusted her husband" when he told her the document was designed to protect their assets from creditors.

It looks like Frank McCourt has been cast as the shady new character.

Mr McCourt denies any misdoings, citing that his wife knew exactly what she was signing. As unscrupulous an action as this sounds, its not the most troubling action to Judge Selig.

Further troubling Selig is that just this month it was reported that Frank McCourt had to take out a $30 million loan on his TV deal with FOX to make his first payroll for the team. According to NBC Sports, Selig had previously expressed his disdain towards McCourt using his TV deal "as a means of resolving his personal financial problems."

Talk about your surprise witnesses.

Selig retired to his chambers, pondering his verdict in between a few rousing games of "Angry Birds." The fans of baseball and more specifically, the Dodgers, waited patiently. Then, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in April, Judge Selig made his decree.

The verdict stated that Major League Baseball was going to assume control of the team, only the second time MLB has assumed control of a team, the 2002 Montreal Expos being the only other team to hold that distinction.

Ultimately it looks like this judgement will push McCourt out as the Dodgers owner and provide a window of opportunity for a new ownership group to come in and purchase this prestigious organization. Will it be Donald Trump? Perhaps it will be Mark Cuban. Only time will tell, but it appears as if the honeymoon is over in Los Angeles.

Not to be forgotten in this whole mess is Giants fan Bryan Stow, the 42 year old paramedic from Santa Cruz that was brutally beaten by two Dodger fans in the parking lot outside Dodger Stadium on opening night at Chavez Ravine. Two days ago, the Associated Press reported that Stow was "no longer under sedation, but still remains in a coma."

This is just the last sad chapter in a long and embarrassing public display of a team and a fan base that just wants to get back to baseball.

Let's hope for everyone's sake that eventually this ends up with a happy Hollywood ending. As for now, with fans being beaten into comas, mishandled team finances and a bitter discourse at the top of the organization, the Dodgers are losing in divorce court as well as in the court of public opinion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Bull: LeBron is the MVP

Allow me to take you for a stroll down memory lane, all the way back to June 26th of 2008.  George W. Bush was still in office, Iron Man was the No.1 movie in America and Brad and Angelina were on their way to adopting their 33rd child.  It was also draft day for the Miami Heat.

Two months prior to that, the Heat had just completed a 15-67 campaign that matched the franchise record for losses in a single season and also gave it the worst record in the NBA.  That distinction earned it the second overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft, losing out on the top pick to the Chicago Bulls, a team that possessed a mere 1.7% chance of landing the first pick.  That year the coveted prize was Derrick Rose, the talented freshman point guard out of Memphis.  With Chicago taking Rose, the Heat had no choice but to settle for another freshman phenom, nabbing Michael Beasley out of Kansas State.

Everything happens for a reason, right?

Had the Heat acquired the top pick that year and drafted Rose, the landscape of the NBA could have been drastically different.  It seems that the cruel fates that deprived the Heat of a talented rebuilding piece was the best thing to happen to Miami and Chicago, yet devastated the Cleveland community.

That brings us to the present day. 

 While the Cavs watch comfortably at home, the Heat and the Bulls are in the thick of the playoff race, perhaps headed for what would surely be an epic clash in the Eastern Conference Finals.  With that said, let the MVP talk begin.

The Chicago Bulls made an improvement of 21 wins from last season, posting a 62-20 record, the best record in the NBA.  The Heat finished the season only four games behind the top-seeded Bulls with 58 wins.  Heading into the playoffs, even with the Bulls dominance during the regular season, the Heat is widely considered to be the favorite to win the NBA championship.  The main reason for this overwhelming confidence has to be the talent level of Miami, headed up by its MVP candidate LeBron James.

Over the last several weeks of the regular season, the talk of who would take home the NBA's top individual honor had become a foregone conclusion.  Derrick Rose was running away with the award, but as we take a closer look, it becomes painfully evident that the real MVP resides in South Beach, not on the South Side.

Let's talk numbers first.

LeBron James scored at an average of 26.7 per game this year, good enough to finish second to Kevin Durant in the race for the scoring title, who has won the award in back to back seasons.  Derrick Rose finished seventh.  Not only did LeBron score more points per game, but he also logged more total points than Rose, besting the young guard by nearly 100 points and did it with two less games.

This season wasn't nearly that of his final season in Cleveland, but LeBron posted tremendous numbers this year, including a career high in field goal percentage, all the while taking nearly three less shots per game.  Let's not forget that many times this year James had to defer to the offensive minded power forward Chris Bosh and to fellow superstar Dwayne Wade.

Some seem to think that because James has the added help of his two aforementioned teammates, that in some way takes away from his accomplishments this year.  My question is, why should LeBron be punished for having great talent around him?

The Bulls have one of the most balanced teams in the league, managing role players and superstars alike, so how is it that Derrick Rose doesn't get the same criticism?  Let's not be guilty of a double standard here sports fans, especially with a player that barely cracks the top ten in PER.

If you're not familiar with PER, it's a player efficiency rating created by ESPN's John Hollinger.  It takes into account style and rate of play, overall numbers and minutes played.  The PER then rolls all this data into one big matzo ball of statistical goodness in hopes to "summarize a player's statistical accomplishments in a single number."  And do you know who tops the list when it comes to the PER in the NBA?  You guessed it, Frank Stallone.

Seriously though, LeBron James was tops in that category not only this season, but also finished first in the two previous seasons, both of which he took home the MVP award.

Numbers and stats are nice, but they aren't everything.

The summer of 2010 saw basketball's biggest superstar hold an hour-long special to let the world know where he would be playing in 2011, the ramifications of which were something never before seen in sports.  When LeBron left Cleveland last summer, it made a massive financial impact on two cities.  On one hand his move boosted an already healthy Miami economy, added jobs and sent ticket sales through the roof.

On the other hand, it has adversely affected the city of Cleveland and it's local economy.

When LeBron James' "Decision" was announced, it was estimated that Cleveland's local businesses, a majority of them in the downtown area, were primed to take a hit of nearly $418 million.  LeBron's departure has hurt the pocketbooks of merchandise proprietors, restaurant and bar owners, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

Forbes reported that the net worth of the Cavs dropped an eye-popping 26% in the first year, while Miami's Heat franchise has seen a growth of 17 percent.  Talk about value.

On the surface it's easy to say Derrick Rose is the MVP, and I get it, believe me.  Rose is often effortlessly amazing, making near impossible acrobatic plays on a nightly basis, but he's not LeBron.  LeBron has that marketable NBA superstar quality, and I just don't believe that Derrick Rose is there yet.

If you took Rose off the Bulls and James off the Heat, they're still playoff teams in the East.  Take LeBron off the Cavaliers however, and what you're left with is a 63-loss team with a still loyal fan base, a bitter owner and a bleak future.  With that said, by taking a long hard look at all the empirical data, it's hard to deny that LeBron deserves to become the first "3-peat" winner of the MVP award since Larry Bird.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.  In that world, the eighth seed in the East wouldn't be a sub .500 team, the Kardashians wouldn't be famous and two unfairly overlooked players in Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard would lead the MVP discussion.  Ahh, a boy can dream...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Late For the Prom

The punch bowl has been filled, the paper streamers and the multi-colored balloons have been hung with care.  The corsets are ready to be pinned, and everyone's ready to awkwardly dance the night away to mediocre music.  Too bad no one told the Red Sox or the Rays.

Right now the Sox and the Rays are the two stoner buddies that "totally forgot that thing was tonight" and are getting ready to crash the party with messy hair, bloodshot eyes and tuxedo t-shirts.  Hey, it's nice when you can say "I'm formal, but I'm here to party" at the same time.

The pomp and pageantry of opening day have come and gone.  The unbridled enthusiasm of a new season has been replaced with renewed vigor towards baseball's ultimate achievement, a World Series title.  Here's the bad news: no team in MLB history has ever made the playoffs after starting the season 0-4.  Both of the aforementioned teams have been swept in each of their first two series, falling to 0-6 respectively.  If either of these two plan on making it to the party, they better drop the bag of Funyons and gas up dad's Diplomat.

First, let's start with Tampa Bay.

Let me be the first to officially welcome back the Devil Rays.  We all love what you guys accomplished as the scrappy, come-from-nowhere underdogs that made that nice little postseason run, but seriously, welcome back to your true home--the bottom of the AL East.

The Rays have made 0-6 look really bad, landing themselves dead last in every offensive statistical category.  Heck, they haven't even held a lead in any of their games!  It's not looking like too bright of a future when there's only one everyday player hitting over .250 (BJ Upton, .364), Evan Longoria is on the shelf for the better part of the next two weeks and three more games this weekend against the daunting lineup of the Chicago White Sox.  Can anybody say 0-9?

I can't really say I'm all that surprised at how the season has started for Tampa Bay.  They lost their all-time home run leader, Carlos Pena, and arguably their second best pitcher, Matt Garza to the Cubs.  They jettisoned nearly the entire bullpen, a staff that ranked in the top five last season in every category that matters.  Take away all of the above and what you're left with is a very mediocre team top to bottom, with the exception of a few very good (not great) players sprinkled in.

Things aren't looking much better for the Red Sox.

I feel it incumbent upon myself to try and restrain Red Sox Nation from stocking up on bullets, lengths of rope and razor blades.  Take the keys out of the ignition and open the garage door please, everything will be fine.  Sure, they have the third highest payroll in baseball behind the Yankees and the Phillies.  Sure, they went out and made the two biggest moves in the MLB off-season and are off to their worst start since 1945.  Big deal.

Trust me, as a devout follower of the Beantown boys, I too have felt the sting of losing this first week of baseball.  It was discouraging to get crushed by the Rangers, but it was downright painful to watch the Sox drop all three games to the Indians, a team who allowed 22 runs on opening day, yet Boston failed to score more than four runs in any game against the Tribe.

The starting pitching left a lot to be desired as well.

Aside from Jon Lester's wasted gem on Thursday against the Indians, none of Boston's starters had their stuff, as made evident by the amount of long balls dished out by Red Sox starters.  In the five games prior to Thursday's contest, Boston's starters had allowed a whopping 10 home runs and the bullpen had allowed another four.  Fourteen home runs in five games?  Only Ore-Ida serves up more taters.

I, like most other Boston fans, will agree that being winless heading into the home opening series against the hated Yankees wasn't really the best way to go.  Keep in mind though, sports fans, the 1998 Yankees started 0-3 and lost four of their first five.  What happened with that team?  Oh, they only went on to win 114 games and the World Series that year.  With that said, step away from the ledge Boston, head down to the Cask and grab yourself a Papelbomb and pint of Nobel Pils, because there are a few bright spots for the Sox.

First, let's talk Adrian Gonzalez.  He's that cool kid at the dance who nipped some of his old man's Jack Daniels out of the liquor cabinet and brought his own flask.  He's propped himself against the wall to send out the vibe.  He's got cigarettes, condoms and a great OBP.

You really couldn't ask for much more out of A-Gon in the first week, since he's been nearly the entire offense.  America is about to witness a man born to play in Fenway park.  With the short right field porch and his power to opposite field, the sky's the limit for Adrian and his numbers.  He's not yet getting nearly the backup he needs from guys like Pedroia, Youkilis, Ortiz, and especially Carl Crawford, and when he does, look out.

Perhaps another lineup change is needed.  Some inner circles believe Crawford should be batting first, followed by Pedroia, YoukilisFenway faithful.

It's hard to say that any game is "must win" this early in the season, but if the Red Sox have any intention on fulfilling postseason dreams, Friday afternoon must go the way of Boston.  After all, the Yankees are still the Yankees, the Jays are always tough and Baltimore is on the upswing, making the AL East even tougher this year.  Falling to 0-3 in the division and 0-9 overall would be devastating.

On a side note, the next series that the Red Sox and Rays play together begins on Monday.  Let's hope that each team has won one for the Gipper by then, because the "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance is almost over, and both Boston and Tampa Bay are quickly fading from the picture.