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Trying to work up a good sporting moral outrage over McCourts' financial plans

February 23, 2010 |  8:52 am
Frank The McCourts do make it easy to be distrustful now, don’t they?

After having gone through 632 image makers. After having won consecutive division titles, had a respectable big-market payroll, become active in the community, made numerous stadium improvements … it’s hard to shake the sense that for them, it’s all about greenbacks.

About getting filthy rich. Buying the rest of Malibu. Not only owning the Dodgers, but an NFL team, a soccer club in Beijing, a club in the English Premier League, the Disneyland parking garage, the complete rights to the Beatles’ catalog and at least one small Latin American country.

New revelations keep coming out about their finances via the ongoing divorce proceedings between Frank and Jamie McCourt. Bill Shaikin of The Times continues to be on top of the story, and his latest certainly paints an unsavory picture of the organization’s financial plans.

Shaikin’s newest report said court documents show the Dodgers actually plan to keep their payroll below its 2009 level for the next nine years, all while club revenue could nearly double.

If the actual plan, this would more than verify suspicions, it would justify some good ol’ sporting moral outrage.
Of course, you know what they say about numbers. Particularly numbers used, as in this case, to justify a significant Chinese financial outlay in international investments.

As Mark Twain popularized, there are lies, damned lies and (baseball) statistics. Most would be ecstatic to make financial plans nine months out, let alone nine years. As our economy taught us the past few years, things change.

Even if fairly benign, the document initially does nothing to allay fears the divorce is going to leave the team under new monetary restraints, at least until played out. The document said the Dodgers had a total payroll of $132 million last year, and project a payroll of $107 million this season.

This is a frightening drop-off. Particularly against the McCourts’ current backdrop.

Yet the document was reportedly prepared last May, long before serious marital problems were apparently part of the McCourts’ planning and lawyers suddenly did their talking instead of would-be image makers.

Shaikin reported the Dodgers spent 46% of revenue on player compensation in 2007, their fourth year of ownership. It was down to 42% a year later and club projections call for it to fall to 25% by 2013 and remain at that level for the next five years.

Now, that is some serious planning. If the Chinese buy it, I can find some numbers to make a power hitter out of Juan Pierre.

That would mean an additional 21% of club revenue is going somewhere. For cynics, a 3-0 fastball right down the middle.

Really, the McCourts should have done enough to earn community trust by now. Honest.

Only they arrived from Boston with serious doubts about their piggy bank, and now comes a document that claims an intent to spend about half the amount of club revenue that Commissioner Bud Selig encourages teams to devote to payroll.

People can do interesting things with numbers, which is probably what’s happening here. Still, the McCourts have to know many remain leery of their ultimate aim, and that this latest document will only leave them more scrutinized than ever.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Frank and Jamie McCourt in 2006. Credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times