Tom Schieffer says he won’t get involved in player decisions as the management monitor of the Los Angeles Dodgers unless they would push the team’s payroll far over budget.
Schieffer, 63, appointed by Major League Baseball to oversee the Dodgers’ business and day-to-day operations, said he will leave most player personnel moves to General Manager Ned Colletti.
A childhood fan of Mickey Mantle who grew up on minor-league baseball with his newscaster-to-be brother and later helped George W. Bush buy and run the Texas Rangers, Schieffer said in an interview that he retained final approval or veto of any big-money deal Colletti might bring in.
“If there’s a special circumstance, an obvious example being if you’re $20 million out of budget, then I would be the final stop on that,” Schieffer said this week by telephone from his Dodger Stadium office. “I would be the one that would say, ‘Yes, it’s all right to do’ -- or not.”
The Dodgers’ player payroll this season is about $104 million, 12th among the 30 major-league teams, USA Today reported. Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch said the team doesn’t release payroll information.
Schieffer, Commissioner Bud Selig, Executive Vice Presidents Rob Manfred and John McHale Jr., and other MLB officials are meeting for the second day in a row in Milwaukee to discuss the Dodgers’ situation.
Selig appointed Schieffer on April 25 to take management control of the Dodgers from owner Frank McCourt and address what the commissioner called “my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the” team.
The Los Angeles Times reported two days ago that the Dodgers lack the cash to meet payroll at the end of May. The newspaper said it based its report on information from two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Failure to make payroll could lead to the Dodgers’ players filing for free agency, Greg Bouris, a spokesman for the MLB players’ union, said today in an e-mail. MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined to say whether MLB would provide the money.
McCourt said last month that the Dodgers were in compliance with baseball’s rules and “are current on all their payments.” He said any financial question was being caused by Selig’s delaying approval of the team’s proposed $3 billion television deal with News Corp.’s Fox Sports.
McCourt sent two letters to MLB yesterday seeking immediate approval of the proposed 17-year deal and accusing Selig of a “conscious decision to put the Dodgers in this state of distress” by withholding approval until an investigation of their finances is done. The letters were reviewed by Bloomberg News.
“There would be no issue whatsoever about that issue -- or any other issue involving the Dodgers’ financial strength and viability -- had the commissioner timely acted on Mr. McCourt’s request for approval of the Fox transaction, or were he to approve it now,” McCourt’s letters to MLB said.
Manfred said in a statement yesterday that “any financial problems faced by the Los Angeles Dodgers are the result of decisions made by Mr. McCourt and his management team over a period of years.”
Schieffer said in the interview that he told McCourt, club staff members and players on his first day on the job April 29 that “we’re here to help and not to hurt.”
Joined by Joe Torre, a former manager of the Dodgers and New York Yankees who now oversees MLB’s on-field operations, Schieffer said he told the players to focus on the field and “not worry about what’s going on in the front office.”
He said he wanted to restore fans’ faith in the franchise.
“Right now there’s an awful lot on the Dodgers on the business page, and you want to get them back on the sports page,” he said.
Schieffer said he met with McCourt several times during his first days on the job, and that he attended Dodgers games on each of his first five work days. He hasn’t met with Jamie McCourt, who says she owns half the team.
The McCourts were granted a divorce in October after almost 31 years of marriage. A Los Angeles judge last year invalidated a postnuptial agreement that Frank McCourt said made him the Dodgers’ sole owner, leaving the team’s ownership in limbo.
Schieffer grew up in Texas and accompanied his father to games of the minor-league Fort Worth Cats. His father died when Schieffer was 10, he said, and Tom and brother Bob Schieffer -- 10 years older and now anchor of CBS News’s “Face the Nation” -- bonded over baseball.
“It was a common ground that we shared,” Tom Schieffer said. His favorite player was Mantle, the Yankees’ Hall of Fame center fielder from Oklahoma.
Schieffer served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives before completing law school. He was an investor with Bush in the group that bought the Rangers in 1989 and was their president from 1991 to 1999. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Australia from 2001 to 2005 and to Japan from 2005 to 2009.
Schieffer said he’s not sure how long he will be needed with the Dodgers. At heart, he remains a baseball fan.
“I think it’s going to be difficult, but you’re talking about going to baseball games,” he said of his latest challenge. “In diplomacy, you can have six-party talks and at the end of the day you don’t get to go to a baseball game.”