LOS ANGELES — Peter O'Malley, president of the Los Angeles Dodgers, hung a "For Sale" sign on the last family-owned franchise in Major League Baseball last week. Because the deal also includes valuable real estate in Florida and the Dominican Republic, the expected selling price might run as high as $500 million.
The move was not a surprise. It was a shock to the sports world, totally unexpected. None of the usual problems that trigger a sale - poor attendance, limited cash flow, losing record, bad management, disagreement in the front office, and turbulence in the family - contributed to Mr. O'Malley's decision.
"It finally occurred to me after a lot of thought that this was the time to sell," O'Malley said. "If you look carefully at professional sports today, what you see is a high-risk business. With costs continuing to go up, you need a broader financial base than an individual family can provide."
More than a year after Los Angeles and Anaheim lost their professional football franchises to Oakland and St. Louis, respectively, O'Malley (whose only business is baseball) saw a second basket in 1996 in which to transfer some of his eggs. It would take the shape of a second stadium to be built on Dodger property, a stadium capable of holding an established or expansion National Football League franchise.
For the O'Malley family, it would have provided a tremendous source of additional revenue. However, the people who run the city of Los Angeles rejected the idea.
Instead they told O'Malley that any future NFL franchise in L.A. would play its games in the Memorial Coliseum, home of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics. Considering the amount of tax revenue the Dodgers have paid Los Angeles over the years the answer was not what O'Malley expected of the city's nattering nabobs of negativism.
Beyond that, O'Malley does not like a constant diet of conflict, which has been as much a part of baseball's last two decades as the infield fly rule. He may also be concerned about how damaging inheritance taxes would be to his family.
Player strikes, drug problems, umpire unrest, skyrocketing salaries, and the lack of a permanent baseball commissioner have a tendency to grind on a person like O'Malley. In addition, he reportedly is not comfortable with having to share $5 million or more a year with small-market National League teams. This was part of the agreement that helped end baseball owner-player strife late last year.
According to former Dodger general manager Al Campanis, whenever a crisis occurred in the Dodger family when Campanis was there, the first thing O'Malley would say is, "Let's sit down together and figure out what's right and then do it."
Peter O'Malley was 14 in 1950 when his father, Walter, an engineer and lawyer, acquired ownership of the Brooklyn Dodgers after a complicated power struggle and financial battle with Branch Rickey. Even most casual baseball fans still remember Rickey.
In 1947 the Branch, who often often went out on a limb, integrated the major leagues by putting Jackie Robinson in a Dodger uniform.
In 1958 Walter airmailed his Brooklyn franchise to Los Angeles. At this point, one story became two.
The first story has the elder O'Malley moving the Dodgers to L.A. only after the Brooklyn Sports Center Authority in 1956 refused to condemn property that would have allowed the Dodgers to build a much-needed new ballpark in Flatbush. With O'Malley's money.
The second story is that Walter O'Malley was taking the Dodgers to Los Angeles no matter what. His detractors offer as proof the more or less alleged fact that O'Malley in 1955 quietly traded his Fort Worth, Texas, territorial baseball rights to Phil Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs.
In return, Wrigley turned over his territorial rights in L.A. (including a scaled-down replica of Chicago's Wrigley Field) to O'Malley.
Eventually he would deal the Wrigley Field real estate to the City of Los Angeles for the rights to Chavez Ravine, which encompassed some 300 acres only a mile from Wilshire Boulevard.
This is where Dodger Stadium stands today, looking Este Lauder younger than most stadiums built 20 years later.
As preparation for succeeding his father as Dodger president in 1970, Peter O'Malley majored in business law at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and Finance. He also worked summers as a low-level, minor-league employee of the Dodgers.
Selling scorecard ads and washing uniforms for the team's Spokane (Wash.) franchise were just two of his many jobs.
Later he would become Spokane's general manager. Unlike his flamboyant father, who figuratively led parades all his life, Peter has always marched with the flute section, his aversion to publicity part of his personality
The O'Malley family (Peter's wife was once the chief designer for the Denmark Royal Theater) includes three children: two boys (Kevin and Brian) and Katherine. Kevin, who played baseball last year at the University of Pennsylvania, has already worked summers for the Dodgers, but reportedly is not interested in ever running the franchise.
Actually Peter O'Malley shares ownership of the Dodgers with his sister, Mrs. Roland (Terry) Seidler, mother of 10 children and Walter O'Malley's secretary when the team first moved to Los Angeles. Surely one of her six sons would be interested in someday replacing Peter O'Malley.
Tom Seidler, asked if he had ever sat down and point-blank informed his uncle that he would like to be president of the Dodgers some day, replied that he had not. "But I think he knows how much I'm into baseball," he elaborated. "I also know that I'll be staying in baseball whether it's with the Dodgers or some other team."