Extreme Moneyball

Aug 13th, 2010 | By businessnews | Category: Business

Frank and Jamie McCourt borrowed and blustered their way into a California dream life of mansions, Gulfstream jets, and ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The dream has ended


Christophe Elise/Icon SMI/Corbis

By Richard Siklos

Jamie McCourt’s Beverly Hills offices—also known as Jamie Enterprises—are as tastefully understated as the yellow sundress she was wearing on a recent August afternoon. The wall behind her desk is filled with baseball caps, arranged neatly in rows, and photos of her at the Obama inauguration are prominently placed. She pulls out a tribute video from happier days, before her husband of 30 years, Frank McCourt, fired her as chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team: Vin Scully, the team’s legendary announcer, praises her “brains and energy”; Tommy Lasorda says “she does a wonderful job”; and the dean of UCLA’s business school gushes that she is a role model for women who is a “gorgeous, energetic, smart, brilliant person.” Jamie is shown hugging players and her sons, and swimming her morning laps at the McCourts’ Beverly Hills mansion. At the end, the petite, now 56-year-old blonde says to the camera: “There’s that myth about having it all at one time. I don’t think that’s true, but you can have a lot.”

It’s from this office, for the better part of a year, that McCourt has been plotting her quixotic return to the Dodgers front office. Last October, Frank McCourt alleged, among other things, that she’d had an affair with the ballclub’s “director of protocol,” before casting her out of a job she says she loved. Since then, Jamie has been painted by her husband as professionally inept, consumed by publicity, and living a lifestyle that is “out of control.” She disputes it and believes she will win a court case that begins on Aug. 30, in which the fate of the Dodgers is set to be determined. Her plan is to buy her estranged husband out of his share of the team and return triumphantly to the owner’s box.

In a town where celebrity scandals are as common as wildfires and taco trucks, the McCourts have transfixed the city with tales of marital discord and conspicuous consumption—which was fueled by more than $100 million they have taken out of the ballclub since buying it in 2004, according to depositions. Theirs could be the most expensive divorce in California history, with the total bill estimated by both parties to be approaching $20 million and rising. It’s also a cautionary tale about what happens when marriage and business fuse into a toxic partnership.

Their story has social and moral components, too: Frank and Jamie McCourt are embodiments of the boom-and-bust ethos of the past decade, a miraculous period when a pair of relative unknowns could borrow and bluster their way into a lifestyle that includes mansions, private planes, and one of the premier trophy properties in the history of sports. Now, as it all threatens to unravel along with their 40-year relationship, the McCourts have embarked on one last luxury binge, hiring some of the priciest lawyers in the business, including, on Jamie’s team, David Boies, who just successfully fought to have California’s same-sex marriage ban overturned, and Bert Fields, who has represented the Beatles and Tom Cruise, among others. In Frank’s corner is Stephen Susman, a Houston-based litigator described by the American Bar Association Journal as “a voracious animal” who “scares people on his own side.”

As allegations have flown back and forth like spitballs, efforts to settle the case have been unsuccessful, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon has raised the possibility that if the couple can’t reach an agreement, the Dodgers might have to be sold for no other reason than to pay their legal bills. A growing chorus of fans and columnists would like to see that happen. The team—which the McCourts have revitalized, leading the club to the playoffs three of the past four seasons—is now seen as adrift: Its general manager says he’s tired of being asked whether woes on the field are related to ownership turmoil.

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