Monday, June 27, 2011

Where Have You Gone, Mr. O'Malley?

My beloved Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy today. Mismanagement and contentious divorce proceedings between the owner and his ex-wife have changed the team from a great icon of America's pastime to a sideshow unworthy of a Lifetime Network movie. This is a sad day for baseball and millions of fans.
This event by itself is a mere footnote compared to our budgetary, geopolitical and military crises. Billionaire owners and millionaire players live in a world detached for most of humankind, the majority of whom need more sustainable economies, housing, water and opportunities.
But this soap opera is more than a mere news item on ESPN or the E! Channel. It is a sign of our cultural disintegration and our loss of any sense of the common good. Let me add that I am not pining for "good ol' days" that never were, not am I making the former owners saints and the McCords the great sinners. The O'Malley family is still despised in parts of Brooklyn for moving the team to Los Angeles. The rich and powerful will always have drama surround them. What is lacking in current ownership is any sense of social ethic, any mooring that thinks of the fans or the game before themselves.
The moment the McCords could not reconcile their marriage, they should have invited Major League Baseball and potential owners to the table and worked on a transition plan that served the team. Instead, they have taken one of the most profitable franchises and made it a laughingstock. Chavez Ravine has gone from the most beautiful spot to watch a game to a dangerous place for opposing fans. Shame on you, McCord family. This is your doing and you cannot blame others. Greed wins the day and television watchers and ticket-holders who sustain the enterprise are left with little but vague hopes that Mark Cuban or another wealthy persona can come in and right the ship.
I am a proponent of free markets, natural pricing and a strong juridical system that will help enterprise be ethical while minimizing unneeded bureaucracy. This said, it is tragic to watch billionaires hold cities hostage while they squeeze tax money our of working voters for stadiums that many will never enter due to the high prices. I am apoplectic when I see players "re-negotiating" millions into more millions well before contract expiration. Yes, one should angle for the best deal; however, once signed, a contract should be honored and the player owes the fans and team her or his best. The unabashed narcissism is sociologically self-destructive as "each person does what is right in his own eyes."
We need you, Mr. O'Malley. We need leaders with business sense, an eye for opportunity and a heart for the community and customers. Owners, your risk deserves reward, but much of the reward of team ownership is offering fans great moments of athletic prowess, positive team spirit and a focus on developing players. Lost in all the Dodger drama is the game itself. I share with George Will the firm belief that baseball is America's game and the innumerable possibilities emerging from a single crack of the bat make it both cerebral and visceral in its delights.

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