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DISBELIEVING FANS THROWN A CURVEBALL.

Byline: Dennis Love Daily News Staff Writer

It was as if Santa Claus had just announced he was getting out of the Christmas business.

``Selling out for what reason?'' Louis Arce demanded to know, staring across the top of an early-afternoon beer at the image of Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley on the TV screen at The Short Stop, an Echo Park bar a few blocks from Dodger Stadium. ``Tired of making money?''

O'Malley's announcement that his family would sell the Dodgers was greeted with incredulity in the shadow of Dodger Stadium and across Los Angeles on Monday, with fans like Arce grappling to fathom why the family whose name has been synonomous with one of sport's premier franchises since 1950 suddenly would decide to put it all on the block.

Yet even while O'Malley patiently tried to explain his rationale during a news conference carried live on local television, many fans seemed to intuitively understand that the popular owner's decision was yet another example of how modern professional sports has been impacted by an ever-escalating emphasis on big salaries, new stadiums and mega-dollar TV contracts.

``He's tired of it,'' said Mike Balmer, The Short Stop's manager, as O'Malley's news conference neared an end. ``It's not fun anymore. . . . All you can do is hope that the next guy runs as good an outfit as he did.''

``It sounds like a financial decision all the way,'' said George Prehn, another Short Stop patron. ``A bunch of accountants got together and said, `You've gotta do it.' He's taking care of the family. It's too big to be solely owned, tax-wise.''

O'Malley alluded to such considerations during his remarks, saying that ``estate planning'' was a key motivation in the decision to sell the franchise that his father, Walter O'Malley, moved from Brooklyn in 1957, effectively launching the nationwide expansion of Major League Baseball.

It also was not lost on Dodgers fans listening in to the news conference when O'Malley said he now viewed family ownership of professional sports franchises as ``a dying breed.''

``When a quality family like the O'Malleys can't afford to hold on to one of the most lucrative organizations in any sport, then something's wrong with the system,'' said Brent Wallace as he ate a burger at Weber's, a popular watering hole in Reseda. ``I think people are afraid that the Dodgers will change without the O'Malleys in charge. . . . I know I am.''

O'Malley stressed that his first priority in finding a new owner would be ``commitment to the community.'' Despite those assurances, some fans couldn't help but wonder about worst-case scenarios.

``My fear is that some foreign investor will come in and decide to take it away from L.A.,'' said Duane Liss, sipping coffee at the Lamplighter Restaurant in Van Nuys. ``Is there anything that would prevent the city from buying it? If the team makes money, why not? That way you wouldn't have somebody coming in and making demands for a new stadium and then deciding to move the team.''

When someone mentioned that the Dodgers organization surely was too lucrative a property to ever relocate from Los Angeles, Liss replied: ``Yeah, that's what they used to say about the Rams, too,'' referring to the National Football League club that moved from Anaheim to St. Louis in 1995.

Monday's announcement, to some, sounded like yet another epitaph for Los Angeles, a city that seems to have suffered an inordinate number of setbacks in recent years.

That the Dodgers - perhaps L.A.'s best-known and revered institution outside the entertainment industry - would be sold by the family that built the team into one of the most widely admired organizations of any kind in the world was a development that seemed to threaten a sense of identity carefully groomed over the past four decades.

``If the O'Malleys can sell the Dodgers, then anything can happen,'' said Kendra Bartlett, another Weber's customer. ``My dad said that when Walter O'Malley died (in 1979) that it was sad, but that everything would be OK because the O'Malleys would always be there . . . but a lot has changed since then.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 7, 1997
Words:687
Previous Article:BUTLER NAMED EDITOR OF DAILY NEWS.
Next Article:FOR SALE: THE DODGERS : O'MALLEY CITES COSTS OF RUNNING PRO SPORTS TEAM.


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