- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - When Frank McCourt bought the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004 with his then-wife Jamie at his side, he promised to restore a treasured franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs in seven years and hemorrhaged tens of millions of dollars under its previous owner.

Indeed, the team has gone to the postseason four out of the past seven years. Yet the team’s financial woes have worsened so badly that Major League Baseball has appointed a monitor to oversee the Dodgers, and Jamie McCourt has asked judge presiding over the couple’s divorce trial to order the sale of the team. That doesn’t even factor in a lawsuit filed by the family of a San Francisco Giants fan who was badly beaten on opening day in a Dodger Stadium parking lot.

Next Tuesday, Frank McCourt hits an important deadline _ making Dodger payroll. If McCourt can’t come up with the money _ he needed a $30 million loan from current television partner Fox to cover his bills earlier this year _ MLB Commissioner Bud Selig could take over the team and put it up for sale.

“This is by far the darkest chapter in Dodger history these last couple of years,” said William McNeil, who wrote “The Dodgers Encyclopedia” and “Miracle in Chavez Ravine.” “It’s the only period where the fans don’t have a good sense of optimism about the team.”

That’s partly because fans have just recently been getting a taste of the lavish spending the McCourts bestowed upon themselves, using the Dodgers _ as one family adviser infamously put it _ like their personal credit card.

McCourt, a sinewy and savvy real estate developer, bought the Dodgers for $430 million using a 24-acre waterfront property in Boston as collateral and obtaining short-term loans. He was described at his divorce trial as being asset-rich and cash-poor.

In order to fund their indulgent lifestyle, the McCourts opted to borrow against Dodger-related businesses to the tune of at least $108 million between 2004 and 2009, according to court documents.

Most notable was the string of real estate purchases they made upon their arrival to Southern California. They bought a pair of homes next to each other near the Playboy Mansion and another two in Malibu at a total cost of more than $70 million.

Burdened by the mortgages as well as improvements _ $14 million to rip out tennis courts for an indoor, Olympic-size swimming pool at one of the homes _ McCourt has said he took out $60 million (part of the $108 million) on the land around Dodger Stadium to pay down the mortgages.

That debt is apparently due sometime this year and may be one of the reasons why McCourt is pushing a 17-year television deal with Fox estimated to be worth more than $3 billion.

Among the other expenses listed in court documents the couple incurred: a $225,000 monthly lease of a private jet, $10,000 a month for Jamie McCourt’s hair stylist and tens of thousands of dollars on designer clothing for both of the McCourts.

Although McCourt argued the economic downturn hurt his financial standing, his ex-wife’s lawyers pointed out he attended the Super Bowl last year and had spent as much as $80,000 on a Caribbean vacation. Even now, he still resides at a posh suite in Beverly Hills that runs about $30,000 a month.

He also has trouble explaining why two of his four grown sons were on his payroll at a combined annual salary of $600,000 despite one working at Goldman Sachs and another attending graduate school at Stanford University.

By his own account, McCourt knew he and his family were living beyond their means.

“I think it was a very _ very comfortable, very nice and very family oriented and we had a lot of nice things,” he said in court documents. “I think it became an out of _ out-of-control, unsustainable and very uncomfortable lifestyle.”

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