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The McCourts/Photo by Larry Goren/Icon Smi/Newscom

When diamonds aren't forever

Sports | Owner divorces threaten to wreck baseball teams

Issue: "Homegrown terror," Dec. 5, 2009

Divorce devastates-and not just children. Millions of San Diego Padres fans tasted the foul flavor of marital breakup earlier this year when owners John and Becky Moores parted ways.

The split triggered organizational turmoil as the former couple jostled over their financial settlement. John Moores wound up selling a third of his ownership share to secure the funds needed to pay his ex-wife. And the team's payroll suddenly shrank considerably with stars like Jake Peavy sent packing to save money. The Padres finished the season 20 games out of first place in the National League West.

Now, a second high-profile separation threatens further pain for Southern California's baseball community. L.A. Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are in the throes of a messy divorce proceeding, both claiming significant rights to the Dodgers franchise. Frank McCourt, who recently fired his wife from her CEO position with the team, claims sole ownership due to a 2005 document both parties signed. Jamie McCourt claims the document was meant only for provisional protection in the event of bankruptcy and that she remains the public face of the team.

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California law complicates matters further with its special designations for "community property." If a judge rules that the Dodgers fall under that category, a whole new range of considerations comes into play. What constitutes half of community property is no easy determination. One party may be required to buy out the other, or a judge might decide that joint management is in order.

Whatever the legal outcome, the team is likely to suffer. The Dodgers finished in first place this past season and advanced to the National League Champion­ship Series on the strength of a $100 million payroll, the ninth-highest in the game. That number could well drop should either of the McCourts need to achieve greater asset liquidity.

Many fans are concerned, especially after witnessing the San Diego debacle play out just down the road. It's enough to make Yankees owner George Steinbrenner seem a beacon of stability, with his 53 years of marriage to the same woman.

Hands down

Joe Cada, the 21-year-old son of a Detroit casino dealer, became the youngest player ever to win the World Series of Poker's main event, cashing in for $8.55 million. Cada outlasted Darvin Moon, a logger from Maryland, in a heads-up battle that spanned 88 hands and nearly three hours. He bested a field of 6,494 players that began competition in July.

Having reached the pinnacle of the poker world at such a young age, Cada is far from finished. The Michigan native, who chose to play cards professionally rather than attend college, says his goal now is simple: "To win back-to-back."

But that's no easy feat. Not since 1988 has a defending champion captured the title again the ensuing year-a fact pointing to the reality that for all the skill needed to play the game well, it's still a gamble to win.

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