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The McCourt Appeal

By Steve Bailey
Globe Columnist / January 16, 2004

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Today we initiate the Frank McCourt Appeal, as worthy a cause as you will find in Boston. Our motto: Please give so he can go.

The South Boston parking lot king's new new thing is to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, a storied baseball franchise. McCourt has offered $430 million for the team. The problem: It is not at all clear he has the dough.

The L.A. papers have started deriding McCourt as "the Boston parking lot attendant." We in the Boston press get a bum rap about being too nasty. Here's a sample of the beating McCourt is already taking, and they don't even know the guy yet. "I called the Boston office of Frank McCourt, you know, the poor guy who is trying to buy the Dodgers, and his secretary said he'd call me back," wrote T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times. "He never did, and it's my fault -- knowing he doesn't have money to buy the Dodgers, I should have told his secretary to have him call me collect."

That's where you come in. The McCourt Appeal is designed to help our parking lot attendant realize his dream of owning a major league team -- only not here. We've seen enough; it's someone else's turn. Can't L.A., the land of the car, use some parking lots? Send those donations to the Frank McCourt Appeal, c/o The Downtown Column, The Boston Globe, Boston, MA 02107. Give till it hurts.

Few in this town have talked the talk more and walked the walk less. McCourt is strong on vision. Doing is his problem. Cooperative is not a word often associated with the man. For years he has presented countless slide shows with his vision of the New Boston on the other side of the Fort Point Channel. No other plan was ever grand enough for McCourt. He was going to buy the Red Sox. He was going to build a new Fenway on the waterfront. Instead, 25 years after McCourt bought his South Boston land from a bankrupt Penn Central, what we have down there is acres of parking lots.

The last, best service McCourt could offer the city he loves is to sell his parking lots to someone who would do what he couldn't or wouldn't do -- build something.

McCourt didn't call me back yesterday, but his wife and business partner, Jamie, did. She cited the enormous investment McCourt has made in infrastructure, including a new subway station near the federal courthouse. "In the end, Frank is intent on producing something special, something unique," she said.

Despite his questionable finances, the Dodger deal is going to get done because baseball commissioner Bud Selig wants it done. Just as Selig wired the Red Sox sale for John Henry & Co., he is wiring this deal not for McCourt but for Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch wants out of the money-losing Dodgers in the worst way, and Selig wants to accommodate him. Baseball's television contract comes up for renewal in a year, and with the major networks mostly out of baseball, Selig wants Murdoch's Fox Network in the game.

In the end, Selig will wink and find a way to count enough of that McCourt debt as equity. But as Yogi Berra said, "It's not over till it's over." That's why I urge you: Give, and give generously, to the McCourt Appeal. . . .

Neighborhood news: Speaking of the waterfront, there's some horsetrading going on down there. Developer Steve Karp, who wants to build on Pier 4, is obligated to provide space for a museum or similar civic use in his mixed-use project. Instead, he has approached the Institute of Contemporary Art, which plans to build on adjacent Fan Pier, about making a donation to its project in lieu of providing civic space on Pier 4. "We would be open to anything that would improve the vitality of the waterfront," says Jill Medvedow, director of the ICA, which hopes to break ground on the $60 million museum in May. Karp declined to comment.

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at 617-929-2902 or at bailey@globe.com.