Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is a sports owner once again

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There aren’t many major league ownership reigns which ended more ignominiously than Frank McCourt’s reign as Dodgers owner. He was granted access to one of business’ most exclusive clubs — one which being a convicted criminal or even a Nazi sympathizer cannot get you kicked out of — and somehow got kicked out. The clear lesson from his saga was that saddling your team with debt, using it as your own private piggy bank and exercising bad judgment at every possible turn will not get you drummed out of baseball but, by gum, having it all go public in a divorce case sure as heck will.

McCourt landed pretty safely, though. By sheer luck, his being kicked out of ownership coincided with the vast appreciation of major league franchise values and the expiration of the Dodgers cable television deal. He may have left in disgrace, but he also left with a couple of billion dollars thanks to the genius of capitalism. At the time it was assumed he’d ride off into the sunset, continuing to make a mint off of parking at Dodgers games (he retained a big piece of that pie) and not get his hands messy with sports ownership again.

Such assumptions were inoperative:

The soccer club has suffered from poor financial decisions in recent years. So I guess it was a match made in heaven.

Thank Goodness! The Yankees may finally be profitable!

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The bones of this story from the New York Post are all well and good: the Yankees are refinancing $1 billion in debt they still owe on Yankee Stadium, taking advantage of lower interest rates and, in all likelihood, saving them perhaps $10 million a year. That’s good for any business, obviously.

The framing of it all is pretty hilarious, though:

Yankees team owner Hal Steinbrenner is making a new pitch to return the team to profitability . . . Shaving perhaps as much as $10 million annually from the stadium loans could make the team profitable, said a source familiar with the team’s finances.

Baseball finances are notoriously opaque. Most teams are 100% privately owned and many of them, the Yankees included, are still family owned. While they’re big businesses on a big stage with TV and famous employees and all of that, the model is still roughly that of a car dealership. You don’t know what Biff Hopkins of Biff Hopkins Chevrolet makes or what his company’s balance sheet looks like exactly, but you know his spoiled punk kid has a brand new Corvette, Biff owns a lake house and they’re the richest dadgum family in this here county.

The same with the Yankees. It’s laughable in the extreme to suggest that the Yankees are losing money or just about breaking even. They may say that themselves when it suits them to portray themselves in that fashion, but it takes a lot of magical thinking to accept it at face value. This is illustrated six paragraphs later by this passage, which negates the entire framework of the piece:

The Yanks are roughly breaking even now. That’s just the team and doesn’t include other businesses, such as the YES Network or Legends Hospitality.

You know, the other businesses owned by the same people, making money directly off of the allegedly breaking-even baseball team but categorized in certain ways for certain purposes.

Among the purposes, as the article makes clear, is to structure stadium financing in super convoluted way so as to allow the city to issue bonds for what is, essentially, a money-printing operation for one of sports’ richest franchises.

Oh, I’m sorry. For that plucky little small business in the Bronx, just trying to make ends meet so it can stay family-owned for another 43 years.

Remembering Carlos Delgado’s protest in the wake of Kaepernick

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Over the weekend, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick created a stir when he did not stand for the National Anthem before an exhibition game and later told reporters that his refusal to do so was a protest of institutional racism in America. Given how issues which touch on patriotism and protest play in a sports setting, it’s not at all surprising that this quickly turned into a huge controversy, with many decrying Kaepernick’s act, even as many have rushed to his defense.

Because this is the NFL and because we live in the social media era, the volume of this controversy is understandably cranked to 11. But it’s not the first time an athlete has mounted such a protest. Back in 1995 NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf similarly refused to stand for the Anthem and the same sorts of pro and con arguments emerged, albeit at the far more measured pace of 1990s discourse.

In 2004 a baseball player made a somewhat similar protest. That player was Carlos Delgado, who made a point to not be on the field during the by then de rigueur playing of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch which most teams adopted in the wake of 9/11. Part of Delgado’s protest stemmed from his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It likewise reflected his protest of the United States Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a weapons testing ground for decades and Puerto Ricans’ call for the government to clean up the island which had become contaminated with ordinance over 60 years of bombing.

Delgado was backed by his team, the Blue Jays, who made no effort to intervene in his protest. He likewise had the support of his teammates. Even profoundly conservative ones like Gregg Zaun, who disagreed with the substance of Delgado’s protest yet respected his right to protest how he chose. At the time Zaun said “He has his opinion and he’s decided to use that as his platform. Whether or not I agree with him, I salute him.”

Which is not to say that Delgado did not take considerable criticism for his protest. Many, including commissioner Bud Selig, said that, while they respected his right to protest how he wished, they hoped he wouldn’t protest in such a fashion. Or, at the very least, they hoped to better understand why he chose to make a political statement at a sporting event, suggesting that they really didn’t think his act to be appropriate. Lost on them all, it seemed, was that the act of playing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch was itself a political statement, but I suppose that’s an argument for another time.

Carlos Delgado weathered the controversy well, playing for five more seasons after 2004 and maintaining the respect he had always had in baseball as a team leader, a respected veteran and a consummate professional. Kaepernick doesn’t have the track record in his sport that Delgado had by 2004 and there are some who have suggested that, this controversy aside, he may not have long in the league due to his skills and health and things. It’ll be interesting to see how those differences, as well as the different media environment in 2016 compared to 2004 affect this whole saga.

What we know for certain, however, is that Kaepernick’s reasons for protest are his own and he is, obviously, free to protest however he’d like. He is, of course, likewise subject to criticism from those who don’t care for his protest. That’s how free speech works. Even in sports, where a great many people choose to believe that protest and political speech, at least of a certain variety and of a certain leaning, does not have a place.