I'm a baseball fan. It's not just love of the game, the view of the San Gabriel Mountains on a warm summer afternoon, the informed and gentle voice of announcer Vin Scully, or the legacy of players like Jackie Robinson (from Pasadena), Duke Snider (Compton), Sandy Koufax (Brooklyn), Fernando Valenzuela (Mexico), and Chan-ho Park (Korea). I'm a fan because we Angelenos from so many diverse neighborhoods and all walks of life share a bond. We can come together, whether in joy or commiseration, praise or scorn, at street corners, water coolers, neighborhood bars, playgrounds, and places of worship, to share thoughts about which no one is an expert and as to which no one's station in life entitles him or her to a greater say.
That bond, and its contribution to civic pride and community cohesion is invaluable, and it's available to all. Baseball remains the great spectator bargain in professional sports; an occasional trip to Dodger stadium is still affordable for most fans, and there's always radio and television.
Frank and Jamie McCourt, a real estate developer and lawyer, respectively, bought the team in 2004 and promptly transplanted themselves from Boston. From the outset the deal was precarious, financed in large part with debt and without any personal investment from the new "owners." While the team improved a bit, soon our attention was diverted to increased ticket prices, embarrassing revelations about the McCourts' lifestyle and whimsical spending, the divorce saga and the battle between spouses over ownership, and more recently a gruesome act of violence against a Giants fan that may have resulted from McCourts skimping on stadium security. Enter baseball commissioner Bud Selig, with a trusteeship roundly applauded by fans and commentators alike.
So, after trusteeship, what's next? The billionaires and wannabees are already hovering and making public statements. Are we relegated to taking a chance on another soap opera, too much debt service, a hidden agenda for the Chavez Ravine real estate, a move to another city for tax subsidies and a newer stadium? I hope not, and there's a surefire way to minimize those risks: community ownership.
It's time to have a public conversation about how best to protect our team for the future. Let's start that conversation with a quote from the community-owned, World Champion Green Bay Packers: "We know that it is team work on and off the field that makes the Packers and Wisconsin great. As a publicly-owned team we wouldn't have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans."
Support indeed. The Packers organization is a not-for-profit public corporation. Green Bay residents and supporters have, on several occasions, most recently in 1997-98, purchased shares of stock to help finance, among other things, field construction and improvement. At the last sale, a share -- that is, a chance to express your pride and support in a concrete way -- cost $200, and over 120,000 shares were sold. (No shareholder may own over 200,000 shares.) This despite the fact that the redemption price is minimal, no dividends are ever paid, the stock cannot appreciate in value, and stock ownership brings no season ticket privileges. But each shareholder does have the right to vote for the Board of Directors, which selects an Executive Committee, which in turn selects a President.
To be clear, this isn't a plea for municipal funding. The Los Angeles city budget woes wouldn't support such a move at this time. Nor is this a suggestion that the community vote on things like who bats third or which pitchers should be in the rotation. There would still be a chief executive, but the chief executive would have to justify his or her tenure to an elected board or directors. And because the board of directors is elected, management too, periodically, would have to demonstrate a worthy record of performance or be turned out of office.
Are we ready for transparency, oversight, checks and balances, accountability, and public participation? I think so. Can we count on the public to step up and buy shares? Large numbers of fans spend their hard-earned funds for jerseys, caps, T-shirts, and other expressions of civic and team pride. But shares offer an added dimension: the right not just to have a say at the street corner or the water cooler, but the right to cast a vote for who gets to run the team. To sweeten the deal, the team could issue special "Shareholder" jerseys to fans who choose both pride and the right to have a voice. Now that's a stock purchase that's recession-proof.
Glenn Rothner is a Pasadena lawyer who represents labor unions and handles civil rights cases. In his final year coaching Little League, he and his co-coach helped their sons' team win the league championship.