A day that changed the Dodgers' world

Stephen Dunn

Thursday, Grant Brisbee wrote an insightful piece about all the good and unpredictable things that have happened to the Boston Red Sox in 2013. His point, I think, isn't that the Red Sox have been particularly lucky. But that most playoff teams are lucky. There are so many teams competing for the same prizes, most of them interested in basically the same players for basically the same reasons, that winning is maybe 40 percent inspiration, 40 percent perspiration, and 20 percent luck. Or maybe it's 20/20/60. I don't know. But it's a lot.

Anyway, I started thinking about the other teams that are still alive. Except I started with the Dodgers and didn't get any farther. I thought about all the money the Dodgers have spent. I thought about Yasiel Puig. And I wondered how different the roster would probably look if Frank McCourt still owned the club. And then ... Well, a question popped into my head. When I posed this question to some of my colleagues, they fairly recoiled in horror.

Which scared me a little, because my colleagues don't generally scare easy.

But you know, what the hell. Here's the question:

If Bryan Stow hadn't been nearly killed in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, would the Dodgers be as good as they are?

My colleagues' reaction suggested, however implicitly, that such a question is ... what? Disrespectful? Trivializing a tragedy? Just fundamentally unspeakable?

Or maybe it's just a dumb question. Because the answer's so obvious. Maybe there's no connection between Bryan Stow and the Dodgers' massive payroll. But I'm sorry, I think the answer's not so obvious. And if the answer's not so obvious, is there some journalistic code of ethics that prohibits one from asking the question?

I say no.

Looking back at the sale of the Dodgers, which was consummated in the spring of 2012, I'm struck by something: In retrospect, it's difficult to say exactly why Frank McCourt was forced by Major League Baseball to sell the franchise. Here's Bill Shaikin, perhaps the world's No. 1 expert on the subject, writing in the immediate wake of the agreement between McCourt and MLB:

The sale agreement caps what might be the most tumultuous season in club history, which started with San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow being beaten into a coma in the Dodger Stadium parking lot and ended with the league charging McCourt with "looting" $189 million in team revenue for personal use. The Dodgers called that allegation inflammatory and unsupportable.

In the interim, the Dodgers played before a half-empty stadium, with McCourt saying the league had spooked fans by raising unwarranted concerns about stadium security and the league saying fans had refused to support McCourt's ownership.

McCourt took the team into bankruptcy in June. McCourt and Commissioner Bud Selig had been scheduled to testify at a trial this week, but the court postponed the proceedings to allow settlement talks to proceed.

There was, of course, also the small matter of the nasty divorce. But let's think about this ... Was there any particular issue that necessitated the sale of the Dodgers? In McCourt's first six years as owner, the Dodgers went to the playoffs four times. In 2010, the year before the tragedy in the parking lot, the Dodgers drew 3.6 million fans, which was second-most in the National League. Attendance-wise, they were the same brilliantly successful team as always.

In 2011, everything went to hell. Attendance fell from 3.6 million to 2.9 million, which sounds pretty good but a) it wasn't pretty good for the Dodgers, and b) it was good for just sixth in the league. But would a 20-percent attendance drop, by itself, have been enough to force Commissioner Bud's hand? Would McCourt's "looting" have been enough? I don't think so. Owners have long been in the habit of spending franchise money on yachts and the like. And while McCourt did run short of cash, it's now highly apparent that the Dodgers' next TV deal would have bailed him out of bankruptcy, financed his divorce settlement, allowed him to increase the payroll, and purchased a few more mansions and kept his children safe from the terrifying vicissitudes of the real world.

In fact, there was so much money available in the long term, the Dodgers so incredibly valuable, that McCourt came out of the whole affair an incredibly wealthy man. Imagine that.

Getting back to the original question, though? I believe the beating of Bryan Stow contributed to the general atmosphere around the franchise that led to the ejection of Frank McCourt from the Lords of Baseball's highly exclusive club. I believe that if McCourt had remained, the Dodgers would eventually have regained their financial footing and perhaps even outspent the rest of the league, as they're doing today. But I don't think that would have happened as quickly, or as effectively.

For Bryan Stow and his family, March 31, 2011 was a tragic day. If any of us could wave a wand and make it unhappen, we would. But for the Los Angeles Dodgers, that day was an inflection point. One of many inflection points, yes. But without it, the Dodgers' world today might be substantially different than the one we know.

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