Another day, another round of bankruptcy-induced hand-wringing. It's maddening that we've spent so many months discussing the Rangers' Hicks-induced plight ad infinitum and yet know so little about the principal players involved. We still don't know anything. We can infer whatever we'd like to infer from Chuck Greenberg's impressive prose or Mark Cuban's NBA-side dealings, but none of it necessarily means anything in terms of their future ownership of a baseball team, and as much as we'd like to think that we know how next Wednesday's team auction will conclude, our best guesses amount to shots in the dark at this point.
Aside from Friday morning's strange developments on this matter, however, and the likely on-target speculation that this mess could stretch into the 2011 calendar year if the Chuck Greenberg/Nolan Ryan-led ownership consortium doesn't prevail, there's a newer wrinkle that has developed -- the forthcoming involvement of the News Corp.-owned FOX Sports, which has reportedly been preparing behind the scenes to obtain pre-approval from Major League Baseball to submit a bid next Wednesday. The apparent motivation? An overriding interest in ensuring that FOX Sports retains Rangers television rights beyond the 2015 expiration of the team's current television contract.
Of this latest twist in the Rangers' ownership narrative, Chicago-based sports consultant Marc Ganis stated the following: "It makes some sense to protect their broadcast but it's a bit like the tail wagging the dog. [...] Also Fox/News Corp. had owned the Dodgers at one point and that was not a positive experience." Indeed, this is the rare instance where we can point towards one of the Rangers' prospective owners, note that they have previously owned a major league ballclub, and analyze their previous M.O. ... and as Ganis alludes to, the precedent here is not particularly reassuring. In fact, one might go so far as to say that it's downright frightening.
In March 1998, long-time Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley sold the franchise to News Corp. for a then-record sum in the low-to-mid $300 million range, and soon thereafter resigned from his post of team chairman/CEO. Rupert Murdoch summarily installed FOX television executives with no baseball background into these high-level roles, laying the foundation for a significant payroll spike -- the Dodgers' team payroll rose from $47.9 million in 1998 (12th) to $90.3 million in 2000 (2nd) -- and a heaping dose of interference from the Dodgers' new overlords.
Then-elite catcher Mike Piazza entered the 1998 season with free agency looming at the end of the season, and was looking to re-sign for record eight-figure money; News Corp., however, had other plans, as they viewed Piazza as a "public relations problem" and, perhaps more disturbingly, wanted to position themselves to acquire the broadcasting rights of the then-World Champion Florida Marlins. News Corp. executives Peter Chernin and Chase Carey engineered a stunning seven-player May trade with the Marlins without the involvement of then-Dodgers general manager Fred Claire, who was dismissed five weeks after the trade's completion (as was then-manager Bill Russell), and the entire player personnel department was revamped.
Said Claire afterwards: "The trade of Mike Piazza was devastating to the Dodgers on a couple of counts, The Dodgers lost a great player who should have stayed with the organization forever. But also, the structure of the Dodgers got turned upside down, and that led to a number of other significant events, in my view. [...] Things that happened after that trade, it just turned everything upside down. It led to the firings of [coaches] Mark Cresse, Reggie Smith, Goose Gregson. It just had a tremendous impact on the entire organization. [...] It also made no sense. As bad as the deal itself was for the Dodgers, for a variety of reasons the timing of it was absolutely bizarre. It had nothing to do with the team itself or any type of normal move that's ever been made."
Remember that thing I said about us not knowing anything? Yeah, scratch that. I'm pretty sure we're not ready for something like this happening.