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West Coast Bias, as I'm known here, has griped about Dodgers owner Frank McCourt for more than a year now.
Today, I'll give Frank his due twice over: 1) He's done wonders for the image of Bud Selig, who now appears both bold and virtuous for having seized control of the Dodgers, all the more so after Frank vowed to defy Selig on Wednesday. 2) As we ponder Frank's shenanigans, another maligned owner of a Southern California ballclub comes out looking pretty good.
Hint: The other owner lives in Texas, counts Selig among his pals and still sparks verbal fire from Padres fans who say he deceived them.
Yes, John Moores, we're talking about you.
Let's review: Moores, like McCourt, went to divorce court in California and endured the slings and arrows of expensive lawyers. Yet in the two years after Becky Moores filed for divorce in 2008, the wrangling never revealed Moores to have diverted baseball revenues into his pockets. Lawyers prodded and blustered, but we never read about Moores paying bloated salaries to cronies, either to run a ballclub charity or to count paper clips.
Nor did the Moores divorce expose either personal or company debts that alarmed Selig.
Frank, come to find out, plundered a reported $100 million from the club, either to service his debts or to enrich family and friends.
Moores did the opposite. He wrote personal checks for the Padres, spending millons to answer cash calls on the club.
Did Moores use Petco Park to advance his real estate ventures in downtown San Diego? It sure looks like he did, but he incurred risk when he built hotels and condos in nearby neighborhoods. Applying what he learned from Petco's construction, Moores also created a sports facility management company, JMI Inc., that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. Some Padres fans don't like that Moores' non-Padres businesses benefited from a ballpark that absorbed $300 million in public financing. I see those enterprises as wholly different from corrupting the team's finances.
If Padres fans want to complain about Moores, better to carp about his not spending more aggressively in baseball's amateur markets last decade. Or for failing to allow his baseball front office to make an offer to outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. Before he became a free agent, Guerrero told club officials that he wanted to accompany the Padres into their new downtown home.
Did the Padres underfund their scouting department even as their revenues rose in the last decade? You have to think they did based on the number of scouts that general manager Jed Hoyer hired last year after coming over from the Red Sox.
Let's not confuse short-sightedness with crookedness, though.
Moores is still in the midst of selling off the Padres, piece by piece, to CEO Jeff Moorad, per a complicated deal that Selig approved in early 2009.
It was a distress sale. Nonetheless, agents and executives in baseball suggest that Moores, a shrewd money man, outfoxed Moorad in fetching the money he did for the Padres. Reportedly, the price exceeded $500 million -- about $120 million more than Forbes had valued the Padres the previous year. From the looks of it, Selig and Moores fared better in that deal than Padres fans did. Selig, remember, is employed by the owners. They like it when a fellow owner gets top dollar for his club. For what it's worth, San Diego's player payrolls in the two years since the sale was announced were both in the bottom two, the franchise's lowest rankings that I could find for consecutive years since 1988, which was the first year in USA Today's salary data base. This year's payroll is 27th out of 30.
Selig hasn't done Dodgers fans many favors, either, as I spelled out both last month. Remember, this is the same commissioner who discouraged McCourt from following through on a deal to sign Guerrero seven years ago. I guess it was OK for the Red Sox and Yankees to spend whatever they wanted to spend on players, while the Dodgers and their debt-laden new owner had to defer to the commish.
Perhaps Selig is making amends now. Like so many Dodgers fans, he doesn't see McCourt as a fit steward of the Dodgers. Coincidentally, stewardship is one of Frank's pet words. Addressing Dodgers employees, Frank likes to say, "I am the steward of this club." Along with a one-way ticket back to the East Coast, Frank needs a dictionary to refresh him on what stewardship means.
Photo: Neon Tommy, Creative Commons 2.0