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Dodgers' sale: Falling deeper into the Frank McCourt rabbit hole

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Even as we supposedly approach the end of this mescaline-shrouded trip of an ownership sale, the tale continues to grow curiouser and curiouser.

Really, the whole thing is so completely bizarre. The cast of characters is all over the map, beginning, of  course, with Frank McCourt, who bought the Dodgers with equity in a parking lot, mismanaged the team into bankruptcy and almost a billion in debt, and is still about to exit a ridiculously wealthy man.

And then there are the bidders. They include a guy who once interviewed to be their general manager (Dennis Gilbert), a guy who used to be their general manager (Fred Claire), a guy who used to be their manager (Joe Torre), a couple who used to play for them (Steve Garvey, Orel Hershiser) and a guy who used to own them (Peter O’Malley).

Then there are guys who won NBA championships (Magic Johnson), one who owns the current champion (Mark Cuban) and another who owns an NFL team (Stan Kroenke).

There are stupid-rich investment guys (Steve Cohen, Tom Barrack, Stanley Gold), stupid-rich guys who may yet jump in (Patrick Soon-Shiong, Ron Burkle), guys who are agents (Arn Tellum), who built TV networks (Leo Hindry) and actual TV networks (Fox, Time Warner, Comcast). Alas, sadly the Dilbeck Investment Group has been left a financial casualty, although the good news is I do get to keep the 2005 Accord.

Some have advanced and some have not, though apparently they can get slip back in if they only up their initial bid by another $200 million or so.

And yet somehow this ongoing sale still grows more fantastic. The Times’ Bill Shaikin reported that in addition to the original final eight approved by McCourt for the auction, there is a ninth named Jared Kushner, the 31-year-old son-in-law of Donald Trump. Listen, David Lynch hit on the head couldn’t come up with this stuff.

Kushner is the son of New York real estate mogul Charles Kushner, who served prison time for what the New Times said was for “orchestrating one of the more memorable get-even schemes perpetrated in the name of sibling rivalry. He had hired a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law and captured their encounter on hidden camera to show his sister.” Aldous Huxley on a psychedelic flashback couldn’t come up with this stuff.

Baby-faced Jared Kushner has zero experience in sports management, though that hardly makes him unique in this group. His claim to fame is buying the New York Observer in 2006. He is now on his fourth editor. He also used family money to purchase a Manhattan office building for a record $1.8 billion in 2006, which the New York Times said is now bleeding money.

Shaikin said Kushner family money would primarily be used for his bid on the Dodgers. Ain’t that just swell? A silver-spooned sports neophyte with inherited money and connected to Trump. What could go wrong?

Maybe you think it cannot possibly grow more preternatural, but just wait, tomorrow calls.

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— Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Dodgers owner Frank McCourt bids farewell to retiring Manager Joe Torre in October of 2010. Now Torre could be part of the ownership group that McCourt selects to replace him. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

Dodgers sign Clayton Kershaw to two-year, $19-million deal

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That may not have been the truly long-term contract some of the faithful were hoping for, but the Dodgers did avoid arbitration with Clayton Kershaw this year and the next by signing him Tuesday to a two-year, $19-million contract.

The Times’ Dylan Hernandez reports Kershaw will earn a $500,000 signing bonus, $7.5 million this season and $11 million in 2013.

The club had previously exchanged arbitration figures with National League’s Cy Young winner, submitting $6.5 million to Kershaw’s $10-million bid.

His contract is in keeping with the Dodgers signing players at a comparatively low salary for next season, then raising it significantly the next. Matt Kemp, who signed an eight-year, $160-million contract in November, will earn just $10 million next season, $2 million of it deferred.

The Dodgers’ 2012 active payroll now figures to come in about $93.5 million.

It seems a fair contract for both the Dodgers and the 23-year-old Kershaw, thought particularly for the Dodgers. After his third season, and second consecutive Cy Young win, the Giants Tim Lincecum signed a two-year, $23-million deal in 2010.

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Dodgers sign right-hander Jamey Wright as a nonroster invitee

Dodgers announce 2012 spring training broadcast schedule [Updated]

-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers sign right-hander Jamey Wright as a nonroster invitee

Jamey WrightThe Dodgers signed veteran Jamey Wright Tuesday because … yeah, well, because they could. Because, why not?

He’ll be a nonroster invitee, so there’s no real risk involved. His chances of making the team out of spring are what you might call slim, as in Dee Gordon-standing-sideways kinda slim.

Dodgers have plenty of veterans in their bullpen now, so he’s not an answer there. They could badly use a left-handed reliever, which is swell, except Wright is right-handed.

And if he’s never lived up to that first-round pick by the Rockies status, he’s at least managed to hang around for a long time. He’s 37 now and made his major-league debut at age 21.

He spent last season with the Mariners, where he was at least decent enough. He appeared in 60 games, going 2-3 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. That’s actually a career-low ERA, and he’s been around for 16 seasons.

It’s that annual spring nothing-to-lose signing. Maybe injuries will enable him to sneak onto the roster. Maybe he starts at triple-A Albuquerque to see what happens. And maybe he has an opt-out clause should he not make the team.

A minuscule gamble, and sometimes they prove useful.

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— Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Jamey Wright in 2006. Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Dodgers announce 2012 spring training broadcast schedule [Updated]

Now that the silly, lip-synced, concussion-induced, look-at-me professional sport that doesn’t even play in Los Angeles is finally over, we can move on to the world’s greatest game?

Get those big-screen LEDs and plasmas fired up — pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch in Arizona in just two weeks, and on Tuesday, the Dodgers released their spring training broadcast schedule.

Counting their three Freeway Series games against the Angels, the Dodgers will televise 18 spring training games.

The only sigh-inducing element is that Vin Scully will not broadcast any games from Camelback, so he won’t be heard from until April 3 when the Dodgers and Angels meet at Dodger Stadium. Maybe we should have sent him some cookies.

[Updated at 11:35 a.m., Feb. 7: Here's some good news. In a new announcement, the Dodgers said Scully will now broadcast a pair of games from Camelback on March 17 against the Giants and March 18 vs. the Angels.]

There are 13 games scheduled to be carried by Prime Ticket, three on KCAL Channel 9 and two on Fox Sports West. The Dodgers’ new flagship radio station, KLAC-AM (570), will air nine games and Spanish-language station KTNQ-AM (1020) will carry eight.

Once again you won’t see or hear it all, of course. On nine different game days, the Dodgers will be on neither English-speaking TV nor radio.

Scully aside, the Dodgers’ regular-season announcing duos of Charley Steiner and Rick Monday, and Eric Collins and Steve Lyons, will announce the spring broadcasts. Jaime Jarrin and Pepe Yniguez will broadcast the Spanish-language games, with Fernando Valenzeula joining for three games.

The spring opener March 5 against the White Sox will be on radio only. The first televised game is the following day on Prime Ticket with Steiner and Monday.

The complete spring broadcasting schedule can be found here.

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The Dodger who can have the greatest effect on the 2012 season

— Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers web musings: There is never getting enough of Vin Scully

Amazing, isn’t it? Vin Scully has been around for 61 wonderful years in Los Angeles, must have called more than 9,000 games.

Anyone else going back to the days of Mickey Cohen would have worn out their welcome several decades ago. Yet there never seems to be getting too much of the most beloved man in Los Angeles history.

So here comes another profile on Scully, this one from Drew Schmenner of the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, in advance of his speaking at the Sacred Heart Church and School on Feb. 11.

There may not be anything particularly revelatory in this latest piece, but Schmenner does a solid job, and even if we’ve heard the stories before, they still seem fresh coming from Scully.

Here he describes the origin of sitting back in key moments and letting the crowd’s reaction tell the story:

“It all goes back to when I was a little boy, and we had a big, four-legged radio, and I loved to crawl underneath it and listen to a college football game. When I heard the roar of the crowd — I've made it a cliché by now — but the speaker suddenly became like a showerhead with water coming all over your body, only this time, it was just sound, and it just thrilled me beyond belief, and so, to this very day, if something well-done elicits a roar from the crowd, why I enjoy every second of the pure sound of it.”

Also on the web:

-- Yes, it’s true. I guess it’s understandable, but still unsettling. The Times’ Carol Williams on Dodgers asking the bankruptcy judge to reject claims by the family of Bryan Stow for his severe beating on opening day.

-- Hall of Fame baseball writer Ross Newhan says the Dodgers’ sale is growing more shadowy every day. And he reasons correctly if Fred Claire’s group can get back in the auction if they raise enough capital to reach Frank McCourt’s $1.5-billion figure, isn’t that true of Dennis Gilbert and anyone else eliminated in the first round?

-- More hugs for McCourt. The New York Daily News’ Bill Madden writes the looming record price for the Dodgers portends well for all baseball owners, but particularly embattled Mets owner Fred Wilpon.

-- The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna looks at the best and worst free-agent signings this winter by position. He calls the Dodgers’ signing of Mark Ellis the worst value signing at second base.

-- Another ranking, this one slightly better for the Dodgers. The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers ranks the Dodgers baseball’s 14th best team, one spot behind the Giants.

-- Steve Dilbeck

The Dodger who can have the greatest effect on the 2012 season

  

Dodgers' Frank McCourt: MLB owners' new inspiration

He is the key to the Dodgers’ 2012 season, the one player in a position to most affect whether the team is again mediocre, or poised to make a postseason run.

Andre Ethier, a dismayed Dodgers nation turns its eyes to you.

The Dodgers went into the off-season talking about how they would make a run at a big bat. As you just might possibly have noticed, it never arrived.

Now even if you’re doing the massive assuming the Dodgers are for 2012 -– Matt Kemp will approach the same numbers, Juan Rivera will still drive in runs, Juan Uribe can’t possibly be as awful as he was in 2011, Dee Gordon will hold up over the course of the season, James Loney will more closely resemble his second-half self -– that still doesn’t figure to be enough to lift the team into the playoffs.

The one player who has the potential to have a massively better year in 2012 is Ethier.

The extremely talented, emotional, hard-working, inconsistent, prideful, exasperating All-Star right fielder.

After the 2009 season, Ethier was on the verge of superstardom. He hit 31 home runs, had 106 RBI and completed his second consecutive season with a slugging percentage north of .500. He started 2011 like he might make a run at the triple crown. Then came a broken pinkie from which he never seemed to fully recover.

Last year there was an early 30-game hitting streak in an otherwise disappointing season. Finally there was that odd, they’re-making-me-play-hurt rant, followed by denial, followed by season-ending knee surgery.

His final 2011 numbers: .292 batting average, 11 homers, 62 RBI, 67 runs and a career-low .421 slugging percentage.

There is plenty of room for improvement there, and if Ethier can do it, he can provide that big bat that was sorely missing last year. He is the one player who can make a dramatic difference in the Dodgers' lineup.

Which doesn’t mean it will happen, though I suspect it will. Still, prophesying Ethier’s future performance is like trying to predict the next Alec Baldwin remark. Could be really good, could be what the hell?

Now there are a couple of very good reasons to anticipate Ethier will bounce back with a huge season. Presumably he is healthy, his knee surgery was not major and that pinkie certainly should have healed by now. And he is in his contract year. He signed a one-year, $10.95-million deal this winter and can become a free agent for the first time at the end of the coming season.

General Manager Ned Colletti said the Dodgers were interested in signing Ethier to a long-term deal, which so far hasn’t happened. Ethier took notice of Chad Billingsley getting a three-year deal last spring, and that was long before Kemp signed his $160-million deal this off-season.

Ethier may determine he'll be in a better negotiating position after putting in a full, healthy season, whether re-signing with the Dodgers or hitting the open market. Or maybe he would prefer the security of a big contract right now. It’s Ethier, so it’s a guessing game.

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said Ethier gave away 100 at-bats last season by letting his emotions get the best of him. That was almost 20% of his season. For a guy who bats in the middle of the order.

Ethier turns 30 in April, so you would like to think he’s maturing enough to stay focused and not allow setbacks to send him gyrating off course. He is an intelligent and, when he wants to be, highly charming (as demonstrated in the following MLB.com video) player. He and Kemp could own this town.

And if the Dodgers are going to contend, he’ll need to.

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-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers Web musings: 2012 team is not wowing followers

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It seems Ned Colletti’s off-season maneuverings aren’t exactly converting the skeptics. Guess a $90-million payroll just doesn’t buy what it once did.

So the team that returns the National League Cy Young Award winner and MVP runner-up is not exactly getting a lot of off-season media love. Of course, they did have Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp last season and all it netted them was an 82-79 record.

Know those power rankings that are still the rage in professional sports? In the early results, the Dodgers are not faring well. Not even as good as last year’s squad.

Sports Illustrated’s Joe Lemire ranks the Dodgers’ baseball’s 18th-best team. That’s actually down four spots from where he had them finish last year. Arizona is listed at No. 11 and San Francisco at No. 15.

Earlier, Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown ranked the Dodgers 19th.

I don’t put much stake in these rankings, particularly at this time of the year, but it does indicate how the Dodgers are being perceived nationally.

Also on the Web:

--Bloomberg Businessweek’s Roben Farzad has a lengthy overview of the Dodgers’ sale.

“It’s a sports-business circus here,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC.

Farzad claims the three current favorites in the bidding are the Rick Caruso-Joe Torre group, the Magic Johnson-Stan Kasten group and Steven Cohen.

--Hall of Fame baseball writer Ross Newhan doesn’t think South Korean conglomerate E-Land's financial backing of Peter O’Malley should negatively affect his bid.

Wrote Newhan: “No one has the ability to put the organization back together faster than the former owner.”

--Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall said he was staying with the team despite overtures from potential owners wanting him to run the Dodgers should their bids succeed. But, really, what else is he going to say?

--Dodgers.com’s Ken Gurnick said the Dodgers were thrilled with the results of their "young guns" mini-camp in Arizona. Also joining the prospects were Chris Capuano, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen and Scott Elbert.

--The Dodgers and White Sox have scheduled a spring game March 23 in Tucson to benefit the Christina-Taylor Green Foundation.

--Jamey Carroll tells MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger he’s ready to be the Twins’ everyday shortstop.

--The Red Sox are hoping right-hander Vicente Padilla arrives to camp on time after a report in Nicaragua he may not be able to leave that country over a failure to pay child support.

--The Dodgers have released a copy of the Dodger Stadium 50th anniversary logo, sponsored by State Farm. The Times’ Dylan Hernandez wonders if it includes a discount on fire insurance.

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-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw and slugging center fielder Matt Kemp celebrate after Kershaw's shutout against the Detroit Tigers last summer at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images / June 20, 2011

Dodgers' James Loney won't face charges after freeway accident

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Would love to announce everything has been cleared up in James Loney’s arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence, after officials announced Wednesday he would not be criminally charged.

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office said there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against Loney after all drug tests came back negative.

Which is very good news for Loney, and the Dodgers, though it doesn’t exactly explain how he drove his Maserati into three cars on the 101 Freeway on a weekday evening in November.

Loney refused comment to The Times on Wednesday through his agency, as he did when the news of his arrest first broke in December. Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti previously said Loney told him he struck his head on something after the first collision and then could not remember what happened.

Which would include sideswiping the next two cars, trying to flee the scene and acting in such a manner that California Highway Patrol officers thought he was under the influence.

Hey, hit your head hard enough and odd things can happen.

The Dodgers were satisfied with Loney’s explanation, enough so that they signed him last month to a one-year contract for $6.375 million.

Loney, who turns 28 in May, is scheduled to return as the Dodgers starting first baseman after hitting .288 with 12 home runs and 65 runs batted in last season. His .416 slugging percentage was the third-lowest for any major league first baseman with a minimum of 500 at-bats.

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Dodgers' Frank McCourt: MLB owners' new inspiration

If Stan Kroenke gets the Dodgers, doesn't L.A. get the Rams?

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-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Dodgers first baseman James Loney is congratulated by teammates after hitting a two-run home run against the Colorado Rockies last spring at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times / May 30, 2011

Dodgers' Frank McCourt: MLB owners' new inspiration

Hey, fight that laughter. I’m serious. Well, you know, mostly serious.

So how could the man who mismanaged the Dodgers so badly that  Commissioner Bud Selig had a lieutenant take over the team's daily control, who shamed the team by dragging it into  bankruptcy court, who has become a local and national laughingstock and whose fans deserted him in record numbers act as a beacon to his fellow Major League Baseball owners?

Because he’s about to make them all richer. OK, make that, even richer.

Not only are the Dodgers about to break a record for a baseball team sale price, they’re going to shatter it. And it appears they may be sold at twice what Forbes estimated their value to be less than a year ago.

Forbes has pretty much set the standard for evaluating the worth of professional sports franchises, and it is usually very accurate. But Forbes, like most everyone else, apparently misjudged the escalating effect of media rights deals.

In March, Forbes estimated the Dodgers to be worth $800 million. And then their attendance dropped by more than 600,000 in 2011.

No matter, McCourt believes he will get at least $1.5 billion in the sale of this team, maybe more. All indications from the veiled process indicate he’s going to get it. Larry King, part of the Dennis Gilbert group, said they failed to advance to the second round after an initial bid of $1.25 billion.

The current record for the sale of a team is the $845 million the Cubs brought in 2009.

If the Dodgers get twice what they were estimated to be worth, MLB owners will sit back and lap up a trickle-down effect. It’s the rising-tide effect. And the irony is too great. The one owner they most despised and wanted gone is about to make them all wealthier on his way out.

It has William Juliano at The Captain’s Blog wondering if McCourt’s success might inspire other MLB owners to sell, particularly those in major markets. The troubled Mets seem a prime candidate.

At least eight bidders have advanced to the second round of the auction. Eight deemed well-heeled enough to approach McCourt’s desired price. They’re hardly all from Los Angeles, which is going to leave at least seven of the obscenely rich who desire an MLB team without one.

Other owners are surely taking notice. Just don’t expect a note of gratitude to be headed McCourt’s way.

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-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers web musings: It's the daily question

Frank3
The off-season for the Dodgers used to be spent wondering if the new pieces would fit, if they’d be any good, if they had a shot at the World Series.

That would normally be the first question asked by acquaintances, or those I was just meeting who discovered what I did for a living:

How are the Dodgers going to be this year?

Only, not this off-season. This winter it is seldom asked. Now the first question is always:

Who’s going to be the new Dodgers owner?

Like I had some remarkable insight into the curious cranium of Frank McCourt. I usually just reply, "The guy who bids the most." Not trying to be flip, it’s just that those of us follow the Dodgers professionally have no double-secret knowledge of what is really happening behind the scenes that we’re failing to share with the public.

Which doesn’t mean we don’t like to speculate as much as the next guy. Will it be all money for McCourt? If bids are close, does a guy with L.A. roots win out, the guy with a baseball background, the guy who took McCourt to lunch?

Jon Heyman, the veteran baseball writer now at CBS Sports, likes the chances of the Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten combo, particularly if local billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong joins their group.

Heyman  said he heard the bidding is already up to $1.5-billion range, which is certainly believable since Larry King, who was in the Dennis Gilbert group that didn’t make the first cut, told ESPN’s Jim Bowden they bid $1.25 billion.

The Times’ Bill Shaikin reported that at least eight groups advanced into the next round. They’re all stupid rich, and still waiting in the wings are billionaires Soon-Shiong and Ron Burkle, who are still expected to join someone’s group. Or some groups may yet merge, or bring in a group that didn’t make the first cut.

Really, I would tell you exactly what’s going to happen, if I or anyone else, actually knew.

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