Rupert strikes out Ted

Murdoch wanted one of baseball's mightiest teams. His media - and sporting - rival Ted Turner said: `I'll squish him like a bug.' He didn't, of course. By Rupert Cornwell

ONCE, when America was young and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, baseball was about players and their heroics. It was about emerald green ballparks in the blazing summer sun, about Joe Di Maggio's hitting streak and small boys begging for autographs. These days America's grown older, the Dodgers have long become the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even lousy hitters charge $5 an autograph. Baseball's about money. It's about team owners. And right now, it's all about Rupert Murdoch.

Last year, Murdoch, American by passport for the purposes of his ownership of the Fox network, but Australian in every other way, reached a deal to buy the Dodgers from the O'Malley family. Now baseball, for the reasons listed above, may no longer exert its romantic grip it once did on the American psyche. Even so, the sale of the linear descendants of the team that the O'Malleys brutally uprooted to the West Coast in 1957, is something special.

For one thing, there's sentiment involved. Even now, the word Dodger is one of the most emotive in American sport, but four decades ago, the move of Brooklyn's beloved "Bums" - the eternal underdog, the team which broke the colour barrier in major league baseball - was a small watershed in America's postwar history, an early symbol of how money and power were starting to move west across the continent from the Hudson River. This time too, there's big money around. The $311m (pounds 186m) Murdoch is reputedly to pay is a record for any US sports franchise. And then, last and most important, there are the owners: Rupert Murdoch, who now is an owner, and Ted Turner, who already was one and was desperate to prevent the rival he loathes from joining that elite.

Forget baseball's players. The action these days is not on those emerald fields of dreams, but in its boardrooms of mega-bucks. Gone are the Babe Ruths, the Di Maggios, and the Mickey Mantles of yesteryear. The sport's household names, and its largest egos, now belong to the likes of Turner, owner of CNN, Turner Broadcasting Systems and the Atlanta Braves, or the autocratic Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles who sacks a manager a year - or the detested George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees who no sooner wins the World Series than threatens to take the team from the Bronx to New Jersey unless New York City obediently builds him a state- of-the-art $1bn stadium in downtown Manhattan.

But these are mere caprices compared to Turner's feud with Murdoch, simultaneously epic and puerile. The two of them may bestride the global media business, yet they trade insults that belong on the school playground. "I'll squish Murdoch like a bug," Turner brags, having previously likened his rival to Hitler. Ya-boo sucks, Rupert retorts, ordering Fox not to show even a glimpse of Ted or his wife Jane Fonda during its broadcast of the 1996 Series between the Yankees and the Braves.

Petty vanities, however, are only part of the story. Murdoch's advent is feared, too, for the reasons he is feared on this side of the Atlantic: that just as with News Corporation and the British newspaper industry, his true goal is not ownership of the Dodgers, but control of baseball. If he becomes an owner, critics warn, he gets access to the sport's innermost financial books. If this particular Fox is allowed into the chicken coop, mayhem may result. For through its local stations, Murdoch's network has the broadcasting rights for 22 of the 30 major league teams. This means Fox already helps delivers the audiences and advertising revenues which provides much of baseball's money. Combine that role with new-found access to data which the owners traditionally share among themselves, and small wonder some people are already talking about "Rupert-ball".

They paint a devilish scenario; of the Dirtiest of Diggers calculatedly weakening rivals by, say, holding up the extension of a lucrative broadcasting contract. Its coffers temporarily dry, a team might be prevented from buying, or forced to trade, a star player. And Murdoch-the-owner could drive baseball's already bloated salaries through the roof. This year will see a test case, when the contract of the Dodgers' superstar catcher Mike Piazza comes up for renewal. The talk is of a six-year deal worth an unprecedented $100m. But what Murdoch wants, Murdoch is prepared to pay for. Unsurprisingly, it is less opulent franchises like the San Diego Padres, condemned to live in the long shadow of the Dodgers just up the coast, which are most uneasy about letting Murdoch among them. Probably the fears are overdone. Fox is only one of four US terrestrial networks and by some way the smallest of them. If Murdoch is a big fish on the other side of the Atlantic, America is a far larger pool than Britain. And while the Dodgers are huge, with TV followings not only in California, but also Japan and central America, they are not necessarily bigger than the Braves, not to mention the Yankees, probably the most valuable franchise in all American sport. Last night that reasoning prevailed. Despite every curveball Ted Turner threw, the Dodger deal went through by 14 votes to one, when the 16 National League franchises took the decision at their meeting in Miami.

And talking of the Yankees, they are now said to be the object of a bid from another US media giant, Cablevision, for a rumoured $550m, which would eclipse the record set by the O'Malleys' sale of the Dodgers. But if that means the end of Steinbrenner, most Yankee fans - and not only Yankee fans - will reckon the advent of Murdoch is a reasonable price to pay.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice