File photo of Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt speaking at a news conference about increased security at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles

Frank McCourt: Shameless

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Last night, Bob Sacks, a lawyer who represents Frank McCourt, spoke with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. The subject: Frank McCourt’s response to Major League Baseball’s rejection of the television deal McCourt sought with Fox and the impending standoff between McCourt and Bud Selig.

Everyone knows this is a difficult time for McCourt and the Dodgers. Everyone knows that the money is tight and the options few.  Moreover, everyone — at least everyone with a lick of sense or intellectual honesty about them — knows how McCourt and the Dodgers got into this mess.

Mr. Sacks and Frank McCourt, however, are choosing to ignore that. They are choosing to eschew any sense of humility and any notion of responsibility and to put their absolute worst foot forward. From Shaikin’s report:

“Bob Sacks, the attorney, also said McCourt would not surrender control of Dodger Stadium, the surrounding land and some ticket revenues even if he loses ownership of the Dodgers. Sacks said the entities controlling those interests are separate from the Dodgers and would remain under McCourt’s control, which would require any new owner to pay tens of millions in revenue each year to McCourt.

“‘There is the possibility of some fairly acrimonious and extreme litigation going forward, which Frank is hopeful will not occur. If baseball were to act precipitously against Frank, which has been threatened, then there will be a showdown on that issue.'”

“Acrimonious and extreme litigation.”  It’s a phrase so ridiculous, oblivious, irresponsible and frankly obnoxious in this context that I don’t even have the stomach to make the easy jokes at Mr. Sacks’ expense. As a lawyer I’m disgusted by this kind of threat. It casts what, on some level, I still consider my profession in the worst light. It justifies the low esteem in which so many people hold the practice of law.

As a baseball fan I’m disgusted by Frank McCourt’s entire operation and everything he’s done to this point, and my disgust grows by the day. Here’s a man who bought this once proud franchise on the back of $421 million of debt and managed to turn it into something even less than the funny paper he threw at it.  He carved it up, mortgaged it to the gills, looted whatever he could loot and shifted around whatever he couldn’t.  He lived a billionaire’s lifestyle on millionaire money that wasn’t even his to begin with and since it became abundantly clear that such a state of affairs was unsustainable, he has borrowed more and cast about madly to salvage whatever he can. At least as long as he hasn’t had to make any sacrifices himself, anyway.

And now, when he is finally being called to task over his irresponsible spendthrift ways, he has the audacity to threaten to scorch the earth with “acrimonious and extreme litigation,” all the while continuing to hold the Dodgers hostage, be it to some sort of injunction that keeps the team his for the time being (my guess) or via a gussied up extortion scheme in which he holds his control over the parking lots, the ballpark and whatever other ancillary assets to which he lays claim over the head of Major League Baseball and whoever it may get to run the Dodgers once McCourt’s slimy fingers are pried away from the controls.

Of course, Frank McCourt is a free actor with free will and such a course of action is his right. It is a course of action that was even enabled to a degree by Major League Baseball, who neglected to properly assess the risks of allowing such a leveraged transaction to such a questionable figure. And while I believe McCourt will ultimately lose, there is nothing to stop him from choosing to fight this fight with every weapon at his disposal, and I don’t doubt Mr. Sacks when he says such a fight will be “acrimonious and extreme.”

But just because one can pursue a course of action doesn’t mean one should.  Frank McCourt could, if he so chooses, stand down, admit that he has reached an untenable position as the Dodgers’ owner, allow Major League Baseball to take the team over and then collect his profits — of which there likely will still be a considerable amount — when the team is ultimately sold.  By doing so he will be paying a price for his incompetence and avarice, but it will be a relatively small one given the sheer scope of his incompetence and avarice.  And of course there would be a psychic benefit too, as by doing so he would limit the the pain felt by millions of Dodgers fans who have had to live through the nightmare he has created these past few years.

But I highly doubt McCourt will do any of that. He won’t because he lives in a world of zero responsibility, zero accountability and he has absolutely no shame. He is no idiot. He knows what he has done to this franchise. He knows that, at this point, saving himself and saving the Los Angeles Dodgers are two different things entirely.  He just doesn’t care. He doesn’t care and he doesn’t — as is clearly evidenced by his actions to date and the stated intentions of his attorney — have any intention of pursuing a course that places the best interests of the Dodgers and the interests of Dodgers fans anywhere on the priority list.

So bring your acrimonious and extreme litigation, Frank. Do your absolute worst. No sense in trying to do something decent for once in your reign as Dodgers’ owner. At this point, why should you change? And how could you do it anyway, given how little capacity for prudence, reflection and contrition you’ve exhibited thus far?

Mariners sign reliever Joel Peralta

Joel Peralta
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Right-hander Joel Peralta has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mariners that includes an invitation to spring training.

Peralta spent last season with the Dodgers and was limited to 29 innings by neck and back problems, posting a 4.34 ERA and 24/8 K/BB ratio. Los Angeles declined his $2.5 million option, making him a free agent.

He was one of the most underrated relievers in baseball from 2010-2014, logging a total of 318 innings with a 3.34 ERA and 342 strikeouts, but at age 40 he’s shown signs of decline. Still, for a minor-league deal and no real commitment Peralta has a chance to be a nice pickup for Seattle’s bullpen.

White Sox sign Mat Latos

Mat Latos
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Jerry Crasnick reports that the Chicago White Sox have signed Mat Latos.

Latos was pretty spiffy between 2010-2014, posting sub-3.50 ERAs each year.  Then the injuries came and he fell apart. He pitched for three teams in 2015 — the Dodgers, Angels, and Marlins — with a combined 4.95 ERA in 113 innings. And he didn’t make friends on those clubs either, with reports of clubhouse strife left in his wake.

In Chicago he gets a fresh start. It doesn’t come in a park that will do him any favors — Latos and U.S. Cellular Field don’t seem like a great match — but at this point beggars can’t be choosers.

 

Jason Castro loses arbitration hearing against Astros

Jason Castro
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Veteran catcher Jason Castro and the Astros went through with an arbitration hearing over a difference of $250,000 and the three-person panel ruled in favor of the team.

That means Castro will make $5 million this season rather than his requested amount of $5.25 million. This is his final year of arbitration eligibility, so the 29-year-old catcher will be a free agent after the season.

Castro showed a lot of promise early on, including making the All-Star team at age 26 in 2013, but since then he’s hit just .217 with a .650 OPS in 230 games. His power and pitch-framing skills are a valuable combination even within sub par overall production, so 2016 will be a key year for the former first-round draft pick.

Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Eminent Domain and the history of the Rangers Ballpark

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump addresses supporters at a campaign rally, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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Eminent Domain — the right of a government to take/buy private property for public use — and its implications has always been a controversial topic. It became far more controversial in the 1990s and early 2000s, however,  as the practice, which is intended for public projects like roads and stuff, was increasingly used in ways to help developers and businesses.

The controversy came to a head in the 2005 case Kelo v. City of New London in which the Supreme Court held that general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth — not just direct public works — qualified as a “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The upshot: if someone had a good argument that a shopping mall would benefit the community, Mr. Developer and the government can force you to sell them their house.

This led to a HUGE backlash, with property rights people freaking out about what seemed like a pretty clear abuse of governmental power serving the interests of developers. Some 44 states have since passed laws outlawing the use of Eminent Domain for purely economic development. Some of that backlash has gone too far in the other direction, with some laws getting passed which not only required compensation to landowners if land was taken, but merely if land was diminished in value.  Like, if the government passes an environmental regulation which makes your private, for-profit toxic waste dump less lucrative than it was, the government has to pay you. It’s crazy stuff, really. And all of those laws notwithstanding, the topic continues to be a controversial one, with battles over what, exactly, is “public” what is a “public good” and all of that raging on. It’s rather fascinating. At least for boring nerfherders like me.

In the recent GOP presidential debate Donald Trump and Jeb Bush got into it on the topic, with Trump — a real estate developer, or course — defending the use of Eminent Domain to take land for economic development and Bush — a really desperate dude who at this point will take ANY position he can if it’ll give him traction — opposing it. In the days since they’ve continued to fight about it, with Trump charging Bush with hypocrisy since his brother, George W., was an owner of the Texas Rangers when they built their new ballpark with the help of Eminent Domain.

Ahh, yes. We finally get to baseball.

Today Nathaniel Rakich of Baseballot digs into that project and looks at how it all played out against the Eminent Domain debate. It touches on stuff we talk about a lot around here: are ballparks engines of economic development or merely for the enrichment of ballclubs? If they are built by a municipality, are they public goods? Wait, how can they be public goods if you can’t just walk into them for free? And the arguments go on.

It’s fascinating stuff showing, once again, that the real world and baseball intersect all the dang time and it’s handy to have a handle on just how, exactly, it does so.