Divorce pitches future of Dodgers into doubt

Estranged husband and wife battle for control of Los Angeles baseball team
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The Independent US

Forget baseball. The biggest show in town, for fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is about to take place at the local divorce courts, where hostile pitches will shortly be flung between a recently-separated couple who own the glamorous sports franchise.

Frank and Jamie McCourt, who together bought the Dodgers in 2004, are now involved in an ugly battle for control of the star-studded club, which this week suffered the ignominy of ending its year on a thrashing that saw it dumped out of end-of-season play-offs.

Like any Hollywood divorce, the McCourt's legal battle is already turning into classic soap-opera. On Thursday, Mrs McCourt turned up at her office at Dodger Stadium, where she worked as the club's chief executive, to find that she'd been sacked by her estranged husband.

The move sparked an immediate legal response from Mrs McCourt's high-powered lawyers, who dispute her husband's right to hire and fire her. Reports suggest she's now lining-up a team of investors in an effort to launch a hostile takeover of the Los Angeles institution.

"Jamie is disappointed and saddened by her termination," her attorney Dennis Wasser told the Los Angeles Times. "As co-owner of the Dodgers, she will address this, and other issues in the courtroom." He added that proceedings would be filed "in a couple of weeks".

It was the latest act in a compelling drama that began this month when news of the couple's separation leaked. They had been married for 30 years, and have four grown-up sons, one of whom is Drew McCourt, the club's Director of Marketing.

As the team's season simmered towards its climax, fans watched in amusement as the couple sat, stony-faced and pointedly ignoring each other, in separate rows of the Owners' Box, where cameras usually turn on the hotdog-munching Hollywood elite.

The couple's fortune, made in real estate in their native Boston, is almost a billion dollars. They bought the Dodgers for $430m [£269m] from Rupert Murdoch's Fox, but it was recently valued by Forbes magazine at $700m. They also own four Los Angeles homes valued at $80m, including two houses virtually next door to the Playboy mansion.

The key players in the divorce battle are also star-studded. Mrs McCourt's attorney has represented Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Jane Fonda and Alec Baldwin. Mr McCourt has hired Marshall Grossman, a lawyer who has looked after Mariah Carey, Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling and Roseanne Barr.

Both sides dispute who actually owns the Dodgers. Mr McCourt is registered as the owner with Major League Baseball, which runs the sport. But they are understood to have presented themselves together for approval by the sport's commissioner when they purchased the club.

Under California law, property owned by a couple who have been married for 30 years would usually be split 50-50. But Mr McCourt's lawyers claim to have documents proving that he is the team's sole owner.

To Dodgers fans, the most important issue will of course be how the turmoil will affect the team's ability to sign players during the close season. Despite being one of the sport's most glamorous and highly-paid outfits, with some of baseball's highest ticket-prices, the club has failed to win a world series for two decades.

This year was overshadowed by the revelation that their deadlocked star player, Manny Ramirez, who earns more than $20m-a-year, had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. He was banned for 50 games, or roughly a third of the club's fixtures.