Commissioner Bud Selig is taking away control of the Los Angeles Dodgers from owner Frank McCourt, whose troubled finances and unresolved divorce settlement have seemingly paralyzed the once-proud franchise.
Selig told McCourt on Wednesday he will appoint a MLB representative in a few days to oversee all aspects of the business and day-to-day operations of the club.
However, McCourt appeared to signal his intent to challenge Selig's decision.
"Major League Baseball sets strict financial guidelines which all 30 teams must follow. The Dodgers are in compliance with these guidelines," McCourt said in a statement issued late Wednesday night. "On this basis, it is hard to understand the Commissioner's action."
At the same time, McCourt was preparing to sue MLB, a baseball executive familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity before McCourt issued his statement.
"It's hard to imagine it would happen somewhere like the Dodgers, but there's crazy stuff going on everywhere. You're seeing monster major banks going down, so obviously it can happen," first-year manager Don Mattingly said before the team beat the Atlanta Braves 6-1 without McCourt in attendance.
The Dodgers have been mired in controversy since Jamie McCourt filed for divorce in October 2009 after 30 years of marriage and a week after her husband fired her as the team's chief executive.
"I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the club," Selig said in a statement.
A person familiar with Selig's thinking said the commissioner may choose to force a sale. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because Selig's statement did not mention that.
"It's not a good day when you have turmoil within an organization," said general manager Ned Colletti, who admitted he wasn't sure what happens next.
"I'm waiting for Major League Baseball to give me some insight into it."
Former Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals chief executive Stan Kasten is a possible candidate to oversee the club, the person familiar with Selig's thinking said. Reached by telephone, Kasten declined comment.
MLB Executive Vice President John McHale Jr. is another possibility, as is Corey Busch, the baseball team executive said. Busch, a former San Francisco Giants executive vice president under Bob Lurie, helped negotiate the McCourts' acquisition of the Dodgers.
"My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt's ownership," Selig said. "The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future."
Colletti held a closed-door meeting with the players to assure them Selig's decision would not affect them on the field.
"I'm sure Major League Baseball isn't trying to hurt the franchise or isn't trying to derail the Dodgers," he said.
Baseball officials could not recall another instance in modern times when the commissioner seized control of a team from its owner. Before Tom Hicks sold the Texas Rangers last year, Selig appointed McHale to monitor the Rangers but technically left Hicks in charge of the franchise while McHale worked behind the scenes.
Even when suspending George Steinbrenner from the Yankees in 1990 and forcing Marge Schott to sell her controlling interest in the Cincinnati Reds in 1999, the commissioner's office allowed the owners to choose their successors as the controlling executive.
"This is one of the great franchises. It's hard to imagine a mess like this ever having happened," former commissioner Fay Vincent said. "It's a very sad situation. I feel very bad for baseball and for Bud."
In December, Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon in Los Angeles invalidated a March 2004 postnuptial agreement giving Frank McCourt sole ownership of the team, allowing Jamie to seek one half of the franchise.
"As the 50 per cent owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I welcome and support the commissioner's actions to provide the necessary transparency, guidance and direction for the franchise and for Dodgers fans everywhere," Jamie McCourt said in a statement.
The couple's divorce was finalized in October, but no agreement has been reached to finalize their assets.
"It's sad," said Tom Lasorda, who managed the Dodgers to their last World Series title in 1988 and serves as special adviser to McCourt.
"I've spent 62 years in this organization and I've never seen anything like this happen. Frank loved the Dodgers. A lot of people may not realize that, but he really loved the Dodgers."
Selig's move came after the Los Angeles Times reported this week that Frank McCourt had arranged a $30-million loan from Fox, the team's television partner. Selig has not approved a $200-million loan from Fox to the club, which was first proposed by the Dodgers last summer, and the Times said the money was needed to make payroll.
"I don't think it's going to affect us," catcher Rod Barajas said. "They're not going to break us up and sell guys because they can't make payroll."
McCourt and the team have been criticized for poor security since Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten as he left Dodger Stadium following the season opener. Stow remains in a medically induced coma.
As of Wednesday, the Dodgers had averaged 38,320 fans, down 11 per cent from their average last season.
The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988, the longest barren stretch for the franchise since winning its first title as the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955.
"I commend Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's control of the Dodgers and bringing integrity back to the game," Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said. "It is my hope that the commissioner appoints a representative from the O'Malley family to oversee the team's business affairs during the investigation — a return of the O'Malley family to the Dodgers would be a home run for fans and the Dodgers."
The O'Malley family owned the Dodgers from 1950-98. The McCourts purchased the Dodgers from Fox, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., for $430 million in 2004. Payroll dropped in both 2010 and 2011; even though it stands at nearly $104 million, the Dodgers were 12th among the 30 teams on opening day.
Martin McGinty, a 73-year-old Dodgers fan from Arcadia, Calif., welcomed the takeover news.
"McCourt wants to spend no money and attendance is way down," he said. "People are becoming disgusted at the way McCourt is handling the team. It's time they get somebody who'll spend some money. This is L.A. You need to spend money and have a decent team."
Selig's move might be seen by some as a precedent should the New York Mets have additional financial problems. With owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz under pressure from a lawsuit tied to the Bernard Madoff swindle, the Mets borrowed $25 million last year from Major League Baseball. Unlike the McCourts, Wilpon is a longtime friend of Selig.