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Could Mets owner Fred Wilpon help save the Dodgers for Frank McCourt?

February 9, 2011 | 11:47 am

As the Dodgers settled in for spring training last year, five months after the acrimonious divorce between Frank and Jamie McCourt revealed their lavish spending, Frank McCourt said he was grateful the spotlight had been diverted elsewhere in the sports world.

"Tiger Woods was fantastic for me," McCourt told USA Today.

Not nearly as fantastic as Fred Wilpon could be for him.

Wilpon, the Mets' principal owner, said two weeks ago he would consider selling 20% to 25%  of the franchise, in order to resolve liability associated with the Bernie Madoff scandal. That might not be enough, since Forbes magazine estimates the Mets' worth at $858 million and the trustee representing the Madoff victims is demanding $1 billion from the Mets' ownership group.

Wilpon has denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to fight the trustee in court. For more on the issue, here's a primer from MLB Trade Rumors and a detailed story from the New York Times. From the perspective of McCourt and the Dodgers, though, the focus is on this quote from the N.Y. Times story:

"What the trustee is looking for here is a payment in cash," said David Sheehan, the lead lawyer for trustee Irving Picard. "So whether they utilize the Mets, SNY ... or any other resource is of no moment to us. What we're looking for is a billion dollars, and ... where they get the money is of no moment to us."

What that means is that Wilpon could sell a share in the Mets and/or SNY, the team-owned cable channel, to help finance a settlement, at $1 billion or something less. And what that means for baseball is that Wilpon would be diverting the money generated from any such sales to resolve litigation rather than to improve the team.

McCourt and his attorneys would find that extremely interesting.

Commissioner Bud Selig has so far resisted any deal in which Fox would pay McCourt a hefty sum in exchange for the Dodgers' long-term broadcast rights. The logic: The money Fox would pay should go to improve the team, not to pay off an ex-wife in a divorce settlement.

The Wilpon and McCourt sagas are far from over, and it is unclear whether either man can make good on his vow to maintain control of his team.

Selig has granted Wilpon a meeting, a courtesy the commissioner has not extended to McCourt. It is no secret that Selig wants McCourt out.

If Wilpon and McCourt each can find the financing to keep his team -- when that revenue would not go to improve the team -- could Selig say yes to Wilpon and no to McCourt? Given McCourt's history of litigation, that position could be extremely uncomfortable for the commissioner's office.

-- Bill Shaikin

 

 

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