- Associated Press - Monday, June 27, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - One of baseball’s proudest franchises is in tatters, its future to be decided not on the field but in the courtroom.

The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court Monday, blaming Major League Baseball for refusing to approve a multibillion-dollar TV deal that owner Frank McCourt was counting on to keep the troubled franchise afloat.

McCourt, upset that baseball Commissioner Bud Selig rejected the proposed TV deal last week, hopes a federal judge will approve $150 million in financing to be used for daily operations, which would give him more time to seek a more favorable media contract. A hearing is set for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) in Wilmington, Del.

“The action taken today by Mr. McCourt does nothing but inflict further harm to this historic franchise,” Selig said in a statement.

Former players are owed millions and even beloved Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully is owed more than $150,000 as part of his contract, court documents show.

The filing by a cash-starved McCourt comes just days before he was expected to miss a team payroll on Thursday and possibly be confronted with an MLB takeover.

Legal observers expect MLB to contest McCourt’s request for filing bankruptcy, arguing the dispute should remain within the confines of baseball. Baseball’s constitution allows Selig to take control of a team that seeks Chapter 11 protection.

MLB would have to file a motion to seek termination of the franchise. A person familiar with the filing, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the situation is still in flux, said MLB will wait to see what happens in the hearing before deciding which way to go.

The main issue is whether “the bankruptcy court maintains control of the proceedings or acquiesce to baseball,” said Edward Ristaino, who chairs the sports practice at the law firm Akerman Senterfitt.

The Dodgers are playing below .500 this season, though they beat the Twins 15-0 in Minnesota on Monday night. First-year manager Don Mattingly acknowledged it was odd to think of the team filing for bankruptcy.

“Obviously a franchise as storied as we are and entrenched in the history of the game, in a big city like LA, a great fanbase, to look at that and say this is happening,” Mattingly said before Monday night’s game at Minnesota. “It is different.”

The Baltimore Orioles in 1993 and the Texas Rangers last year were sold in federal bankruptcy court, though in neither case did MLB seize the team first. In 2009, the Chicago Cubs went into bankruptcy for several weeks as part of the sales process after Tribune Co. agreed to sell the team to the family of billionaire Joe Ricketts.

“For somebody who grew up as a Dodger fan since he was 6 in Brooklyn, this makes me very, very sad,” said Bob Daley, the Dodgers‘ managing partner when Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Entertainment Group Inc. sold the team to McCourt in 2004.

The real estate developer bought the team in a highly leveraged $430 million deal that was the second-highest for a baseball team at the time.

He became just the fourth owner in franchise history, and the sale marked the return of the team to family ownership, although the McCourt clan has been nothing like the O’Malleys.

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