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Is the Dodgers’ bankruptcy one of the worst moments in baseball history?

Jun 28, 2011, 10:02 AM EDT

Ray Chapman

Interesting idea floated in Buster Olney’s column this morning. It’s behind the ESPN paywall, but the gist is that, according to Olney, the Dodgers’ bankruptcy has to be one of the “10 worst chapters in Major League Baseball history.”

He doesn’t do a formal list or order them, but he throws out several potential top-10  (or bottom 10, depending on your point of view) moments.  The ones he names: segregation (which he says would be the worst, and I agree, even if it wasn’t specific to baseball), the Black Sox scandal, the Pete Rose gambling thing, steroids, collusion in the 1980s and the 1994-95 strike.

That’s six.  He says the Dodgers thing is the ninth or tenth worst.  For that to be true, there can’t be four worse moments in baseball history. I’m, not criticizing Buster’s list here — he’s making a bigger point in all of this — but for fun, let’s see if we can find four!

  • The cocaine scourge of the 70s and 80s has to be on that list.  People died. People’s lives and careers were ruined and the game was clearly impacted, both competitively and culturally.
  • Ray Chapman getting killed with a pitched baseball has to count, right? I mean this is a ballgame we’re playing here. If it freaking kills someone, that has to be a dark chapter.  And it can’t be dismissed as a freak thing, because it was the direct result of baseball’s general indifference to player safety in the name of saving some money by leaving dirty baseballs in the game longer, not suspending games due to darkness, etc.
  • Some may argue that this isn’t even the darkest chapter in Dodgers’ history, citing the move of the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Not sure how I feel about that. Everyone wants to paint Walter O’Malley and/or Robert Moses as villains in the go-west drama, but there were multiple historical, financial and political factors in play there. And of course, baseball was going to go to California eventually. And let us not forget, it’s arrival there could be painted as a bright chapter depending on whether you lived in Los Angeles or Brooklyn. Or whether you were a baseball fan or one of the poor Mexicans who were kicked out of their homes under dubious circumstances to make room for Dodger Stadium. But that’s another story.
  • It’s hard to make this an actual “chapter” because it involves distinct incidents in time and space, but the untimely deaths of ballplayers like Lou Gehirg or Roberto Clemente — or the accident that ended Roy Campanella’s career — seem like far darker things than the Dodgers’ bankruptcy. Maybe that counts. Maybe not. I’m not sure.
  • Maybe this goes together with collusion or can be classified in a general chapter entitled “the owners’ exploitation of ballplayers over time,”  but I think the existence of the reserve system until the 1970s was simply awful and, unlike the Dodgers’ bankruptcy which is going to murder Frank McCourt’s balance sheet, the reserve system cost a lot of money to people who didn’t have it coming.

Maybe some of those don’t rate.  And of course I’m sure we could come up with more.  Either way, I like morose topics so I’m glad that Buster introduced it this morning.

As I sit here right now, though, I’m not going to put the Dodgers’ woes into the top 10.  Although feel free to convince me otherwise in the comments.

  1. Kevin S. - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    In no particular order:

    Black Sox
    Segregation
    Collusion
    Cocaine
    Ray Chapman
    George Steinbrenner/Dave Winfield/Howie Spira
    Pete Rose
    Jeffrey Loria
    Contraction threats (might tie in to previous item)
    Reserve clause
    1994 World Series
    Selig’s failure to manage the steroids PR disaster
    Frank McCourt failing to buy the Red Sox.

    I’d put all of those above the Dodgers mess. Only one of which might be slightly biased.

    • aceshigh11 - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:02 AM

      “Frank McCourt failing to buy the Red Sox.”

      Oh, aren’t you a funny little man.

      • Kevin S. - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:38 PM

        Thank you, I’ll be here all week!

  2. kopy - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    Top ten? More like the 11th worst chapter in MLB history!

    But seriously, I think the whole fix on the Expos to re-arrange the owners and then contract them was a dark chapter. Especially when combined with the attempted contraction of the Twins.

    They could maybe make an argument for Ten Cent Beer Night, Disco Demolition Night, and the Senators’ final game. None of the 3 riots were too crazy, but they all happened around the same time and could be considered one “rush the field” chapter.

    • cur68 - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:58 AM

      Expos was the worst for me. I lost my team. It was like they died or something. Clearly a personal thing, but there it is.

      • kopy - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:18 AM

        I liked the Expos too, as I think you know, but even from a completely neutral standpoint, anything that results in MLB trying to completely delete 2 teams can’t be anything but a dark chapter. It’s only the court order that the Twins finish their Metrodome lease that spared one and sent one to DC instead of sending both to oblivion.

        I also just thought of the Steve Bartman thing. Most people now agree it wasn’t a big deal, but at the time it was. It’s new ground, but anything that results in death threats of an individual fan has to be a dark chapter. It pretty much ruined his life. Incidents like that have happened before, I’m sure, but the lack of technology allowed the fan to slink back into anonymity and lead a normal life.

      • cur68 - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:09 PM

        Agree about Bartman. To this day I don’t like when a fan gets involved in a play by accident and is vilified. Bartman did something that lots of people have done. It wound up ‘seeming’ to make a difference but the outcome of that Cubs game had more to do with lousy Cubs D than Bartman maybe interfering with a ball that looked more in the seats than in the field.

  3. Chris Fiorentino - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    I missed Buster’s article on the Ranger’s bankruptcy being one of the worst moments in baseball history. Granted, Hicks wasn’t quite the piece of crap that McCourt is. However, bankruptcy is bankruptcy and so why wasn’t the Ranger’s bankruptcy in the conversation?

    • Kevin S. - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:13 AM

      If we’re just talking about the bankruptcy, you’d be right. However, I think the entire McCourt saga is far worse than what went on down in Texas, no?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:07 PM

        Well, I would venture to say that Hicks paying A-Rod a quarter of a billion dollars may have hurt all of baseball more than McCourt hurting one franchise, don’t you think? Especially when at the end of the day, he couldn’t afford the guy anymore and had to trade him away while paying half his salary to a team that takes in over a billion dollars themselves. Again, not saying Hicks is as bad a sleeze than McCourt. Just saying that Hicks in some ways hurt MLB a ton more than McCourt has.

    • gammagammahey - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:16 AM

      A lot of it has to do with the fact that the Dodgers are one of the signature franchises in MLB. Tom Hicks isn’t quite as big of a turd as McCourt but he’s not too far off either.

  4. briandoneal - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    http://www.baseball-almanac.com/legendary/librdrk.shtml

    Here’s a 1999 list of 10 best and Worst moments

    • Kevin S. - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:16 AM

      Love how AstroTurf made that list. Andre Dawson’s knees probably aren’t laughing about it, though.

    • bigharold - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:51 AM

      The Dodgers moving to LA isn’t a dark moment, it was inevitable. Baseball was going west, it needed iconic teams to anchor baseball there and the Dodgers and Giants weren’t drawing nearly as well as they had been. Their star players were getting older and their fan base had started moving out to Long Island. NYC wasn’t going to be able to support three MLB teams forever as evidenced by there have been only two since the Mets were founded.

      Clemente and Campanella were both dark and tragic but that was more life intruding into baseball. It wasn’t really baseball. If you include them, you’d have to include a lot of others too, starting with Thurmond Munson.

    • jimbo1949 - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:40 PM

      Bright Side

      2 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s home run chase of the Roger Maris record.

      Dark Side

      Mention of drug abuse in the 80s, nothing about PEDs

  5. wahooinpa - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Ty Cobb going into the stands to beat the crap out of a crippled man?

    • Kevin S. - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:21 AM

      “Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son-of-a-bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it! “

    • aceshigh11 - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM

      Ty Cobb knew how to win, damnit!

  6. gammagammahey - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    The worst moments in baseball history (as told by a bird):
    1983 – Dave Winfield kills a seagull with a throw
    2001 – Randy Johnson kills a dove with a pitch
    1981 – Yankees kill off “Dandy” mascot

    • Ari Collins - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:48 AM

      I can’t believe I have an addition to this.

      2003 – Jae Kuk Ryu, minor leaguer (I think with the Rays at the time), kills the team osprey with a pitch. DIfference is, he actually meant to hit the bird.

      History’s greatest monster?

    • foreverchipper10 - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:53 PM

      Randy Johnson hitting that bird was not a dark moment. It was incredible. I am not pro animal violence or anything but the odds of that happening are astronomical. It is and always will be a video clip to see.

  7. Joe - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Maybe the Dodgers and Giants moving can go under a headline of “the owners’ exploitation of cities,” and you can roll in taxpayer-financed ballparks, etc.

    As dark as Gehrig/Campenella/Clemente/Munson/etc. were, I don’t think you can count them. That’s life, in my opinion. Accidents and illnesses happen even to the greats. With thousands of ballplayers in the history of the majors, it’s inevitable that some of them will have been cut down in their primes.

    IMO, Donnie Moore is the most tragic of these. I was saddened by the Lyman Bostock murder, too.

    You could argue that the cocaine years were “just life,” too, because people get addicted to drugs. But I think MLB was in a position to know about and do something about illicit drugs at the time and failed to do so. (Gee, where have we heard that before?) The off-field accidents and illnesses are outside of MLB’s purview.

  8. deathmonkey41 - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    The Red Sox winning the World Series and ending one of the greatest droughts of all time.

  9. kirkmack - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    Segregation
    Steroids
    MLB taking over ownership of the Expos and running the organization into the ground
    Threats of contraction
    1994 World Series, or lack thereof
    Black Sox
    Pete Rose gambling
    Collusion
    Reserve clause
    The death of Bart Giamatti, the lame duck commissionership of Faye Vincent, and the hostile takeover of MLB by Bud Selig in order to push his small market agenda that did more to ruin small market teams than strengthen them.

    • kirkmack - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:00 PM

      As I re-read this, my list is really only 7, as the death of Giamatti resulted in Faye Vincent being the new lame duck commish, resulting in Bud Selig eventually forcing him out in his hostile takeover bid to take over MLB in order to push his small market agenda, resulting in the strike/lockout of 1994 that lead to the cancellation of the World Series, also resulting in the Expos being ‘owned’ by MLB, moved to DC amidst contraction threats, the resulting ruination of small market teams like the Royals, Pirates, A’s, Brewers (owned by Selig in a clear conflict of interest), and Twins, and causing Selig to be so obsessed with breaking the player’s union that he turned a blind eye on the rise (or at least explosion of) of steroid use in baseball.

  10. writtenbyross - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    I would like to nominate for consideration Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch

    Although technically it was directed better than the Dodgers…

    • deathmonkey41 - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:08 PM

      Air Bud? Can we talk about Ed? I’m not sure how you ruin a baseball movie with a monkey…or anything with a monkey for that matter…but Matt LeBlanc found a way.

      • writtenbyross - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:42 PM

        Well done, sir. Well done.

  11. derekjetersmansion - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    In 20 years, this will be the worst moment.

  12. tuftsb - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    and Mike Lupica doesn’t make the list?

  13. Detroit Michael - Jun 28, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing is almost a complete nonevent from fans’ perspective. The team is still viable on an ongoing basis except for servicing debt payments, still in existence, still playing. This doesn’t really affect fans except that McCourt hasn’t been investing very much in the team lately, something that happens quite frequently throughout baseball history.

    The Rangers filed bankruptcy last year. They also won the AL pennant. I don’t think any of us would rank their 2010 season among the 10 worst events in baseall history.

  14. deathmonkey41 - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    Chris Berman being in the booth of any televised game?

  15. Chris Fiorentino - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    How does Derek Jeter’s calf injury not make the list?

    • Kevin S. - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:24 PM

      Why is that bad, because he can’t ruin the Yankees 2011 season now? :-P

      • tuftsb - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:45 PM

        As for Jeter, I wonder about his absence from the Old Timer’s Day and the salute to trainer Gene Monahan – and return trips to NY by Williams and Torre..

        Did Jeter believe that Monahan did not treat his bruised ego correctly after the off-season contract kerfuffle? Was it because Minka Kelly’s birthday was Friday the 24th and his birthday was Sunday the 26th and he wanted to spend time with her and not the Yanks?

  16. Robert - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Brooklyn Dodgers 2012..

  17. mkd - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:39 PM

    I think for the Dodgers thing to crack the Top 10 you need to lump it in with what’s happening with the Mets, what just happened with the Rangers, what goes on anywhere Jeffery Loiria is and whatever the hell has been going on in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City, Washington DC, Oakland and Chicago (Cubs version) the last few years.

    The people Bud Selig has approved to be in The Club have been almost uniformly disastrous not just for the teams they own but for baseball in general. It would be naive to think that this is the worse bunch of owners in history, since owners have always been terrible no-goodniks, but this latest batch seems to be hitting new lows. This is what happens when you prize personal fidelity to the commissioner’s office over liquidity and competence.

  18. Roger Moore - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    The eviction of poor people from Chavez Ravine is unfairly laid at the Dodgers’ feet. The eviction was planned as part of another redevelopment project well before the Dodgers moved, but was stalled by problems with the planned redevelopment. It probably would have gone through eventually even if the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn. It was only rich, white neighborhoods like South Pasadena that were able to block those kinds of projects indefinitely.

  19. simon94022 - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:50 PM

    A few more:

    1876 — the original New York and Philadelphia NL franchises do a crude cost-benefit analysis and refuse to play the remainder of their schedule. They are expelled from the league.

    1890s — dual ownership. 12 franchises, 8 owners. Those who owned two teams could shift all the best players onto one.

    1899 — contraction. To solve the dual ownership problem, the NL expels Baltimore, Washington, Louisville and Cleveland.

    1910-1922 (approx) — the gambling era. It was a lot bigger problem than just the Black Sox. Nothing before or since has done more to erode public confidence in the game’s integrity.

    1936-1964 – total Yankees domination. It’s not just that the Bombers had great teams, as they’d had with Ruth in the 20s, but starting in the mid-1930s their domination of the game was so total that severely damaged the other 15 clubs, and especially the other 7 American League clubs whose fans had absolutely nothing to hope for.

    1953-1971 – the relocation era. Six of the original 16 teams left their home towns, and at least 6 others threatened to, alienating fans across the country. The Giants/Dodgers move gets the most press today, but some of the worst moves included A’s-to-Kansas City, Braves-to-Atlanta, and Senators-to-Texas. Those moves didn’t even result in successful franchises in the new cities until decades later.

    • royalsfaninfargo - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:09 PM

      Great historical references. Not many people look at the entirety of Baseball history when thinking about it. The 1936-1964 Yankees total domination is one of the overlooked aspects of the decline in baseball’s popularity after the 50’s. Not to pick on the Yankees or New York because any team in that position would have done the same. There is a great book about this that came out not to long ago:
      http://www.amazon.com/Bottom-Ninth-Branch-Stengel-Baseball/dp/0805092366/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309280707&sr=1-5

      • simon94022 - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:51 PM

        Yeah, I have nothing against the Yankees (seriously), but that kind of competitive imbalance was ridiculous. 22 pennants in 29 seasons, and in almost all if those years the AL race was over by August. Of the 7 non-Yankee pennant seasons, two were war time years with replacement players. And another was 1954, when the Yankees lost the pennant despite going 101-53.

        The fact that fans outside New York had basically no reason to be excited about baseball for several decades played a big role in the massive relocation of teams that began in the 50s, as well as the rise of football which eventually passed baseball in popularity.

        The other American League teams developed a kind of sick codependence on the Yankee dynasty. While it was killing their fanbases, they depended on the attendance bump that home games against the Yankees brought. And in the worst cases, like the Kansas City A’s, they grew dependent on the cash the Yankees could pay them for their players.

        Say what you will about competitive imbalance in the AL East today, it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be.

    • simon94022 - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:22 PM

      Also, how about July 4, 1950. Giants fan Barney Doyle is murdered in his seat at the Polo Grounds by a sniper on Coogan’s Bluff. The sniper had fired randomly into the crowd “for fun”.

      According to Time magazine that week, as soon as police removed the dead body “standees scrambled for the two vacant seats, and the game began”.

      • royalsfaninfargo - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:04 PM

        I had never heard of that. That is messed up. Although in this description the “sniper” is a 14 yr old boy who was shooting a .45 from his roof. Still how messed up is that?
        http://articles.nydailynews.com/1998-08-30/news/18088663_1_new-yorkers-polo-grounds-mr-truman

  20. frug - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    Does “Marge Schott” qualify for individual entry?

  21. foreverchipper10 - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    How the Brian Stow beating is not on here blows my mind. Also, a few years back I remember a father and son running onto the field and attacking and savagely beating the first base coach for the Royals I believe. That should be on here as well.

  22. po8crg - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    A couple of nineteenth century horrors that have been missed:

    Dual ownership leading to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (what was effectively a minor league team playing in the majors)

    Routine violence in the NL at the end of the nineteenth century – one of the reasons the AL took off was that they cleaned the game up.

    For all who are saying that MLB had to go to California, they could have admitted the PCL as a third major league; it was remarkably close to matching the AL and NL until the Dodgers and Giants came West.

    • simon94022 - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:48 PM

      Great point about the violence in late 19th century NL games. Umpires were so openly intimidated with threats of assault that fans lost confidence in the integrity of their calls. Ban Johnson smartly cracked down on this in his new American League, so that umpires were able to eject rulebreakers more easily, and threatening or bumping an umpire became grounds for suspension.

  23. Old Gator - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    1. The designated hitter
    2. Corporate naming of stadiums
    2a The designated hitter
    3. The carcinogenic baseball hot dog
    3a The designated hitter
    4. The four dollar beer
    4a The designated hitter
    5. Beanbag guns
    5a The designated hitter
    6. Hip hop over jumbotron speakers
    6a Hip hop over jumbotron speakers
    7. Scrooge McLoria and the Chihuahua
    7a The designated hitter
    8. Public financing of stadiums
    8a The designated hitter
    9. The absence of Mark Cuban
    9a The designated hitter
    10. The stale bun in which the carcinogenic baseball hotdog is secreted
    10a – the loss of independence and integrity of the Commissioner’s Office

    • spudchukar - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      11. The Designated Hitter

    • Detroit Michael - Jun 28, 2011 at 4:02 PM

      You must really dislike hip hop over jumbotron speakers. That item really stands out on your list. ;)

      • Old Gator - Jun 28, 2011 at 5:10 PM

        I can’t stand it over any speakers – especially not the ones in the car that pulls up next to me at the traffic light. I doubt I would like its vibrations through the floor if I were deaf.

    • mvd513 - Jun 29, 2011 at 3:08 AM

      Shit. Where is beer only $4?

  24. brianpmoore - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    Tawny Kitaen beating up Chuck Finley wasn’t exactly a Cooperstown moment.

    • royalsfaninfargo - Jun 28, 2011 at 4:37 PM

      Awesome! I have always wondered if she beat up David Coverdale as well.

  25. dirtyharry1971 - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    1. bud selig
    2. luxery tax
    3. bud selig
    4. citi field
    5. bud selig
    6.interleague play
    7. bud selig
    8.pete rose
    9. ortiz taking pills trying to get preg
    10 bud selig

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