People Interview: Squeeze Play

Dodger President Bob Graziano, a 17-year team veteran, faces pressure from all sides as he seeks to build a winner on both the field and at the bottom line

By DARRELL SATZMAN

Staff Reporter

From his chair in a spacious office high above left field at Dodger Stadium, Bob Graziano leans forward to get a better look at a group of minor leaguers stretching in the morning sun. It's an enviable view, but one that belies the pressure on Graziano, the Dodgers' president, to field a winner. The Dodgers haven't won a playoff game since 1988 the longest drought since the team moved to Los Angeles 42 years ago. Even more distressing to some fans is a sense that the team has become just another soulless sports franchise under the ownership of Fox Entertainment.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have been losing money, lots of it. While the team generated $143.6 million in revenues, among the highest in baseball, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told Congress in December that the Dodgers lost $69 million in 2001, the most in the league.



Question: Prognosticators say the Dodgers are not serious title contenders in 2002. You probably disagree.

Answer: I don't think anybody is saying the Dodgers roster, as it stands today, is done. At the same time, you have to be careful at looking at a team on paper and judging what its performance will be at the end of the year. You think back to 1999 and you look at our team on paper and everybody was already thinking about playoff tickets, and that was a very disappointing year. And in 1988 nobody thought we had a chance to compete and we went on to win the World Series. You have to understand the chemistry of a team, and from that perspective I think we are very strong.



Q: Some question the accounting, but the Dodgers led baseball in losing money last year. How are you going to turn that around?

A: The commissioner recently went before the House Judiciary Committee and the numbers he presented to Congress were absolutely, indisputably correct. It's hard for people to understand why contraction is happening, why the focus is on the labor negotiations, why all these things are happening in baseball without understanding the economic state of the game. I believe the only way to get it fixed is to bring all the stakeholders together and try to fix the economics. You have to have the Player's Association, you have to have the agents, you have to have the clubs all sitting together trying to figure out how they can ensure the long-time viability of the game.



Q: With average salaries nearing $2 million a year, the typical fan could be excused for being skeptical about baseball's economic woes.

A: Every club wants so desperately to bring a championship home to the fans. We're no exception. So you end up doing things that may not always make economic sense. Certainly we've been able to grow revenues tremendously over the past several years. Unfortunately, in the quest by 30 clubs to bring championships to their markets, our cost side has gone up so much faster than our revenue side.



Q: Fox has owned the team for about four years. How would you respond to fans who have been critical of its ownership?

A: When Fox bought the Dodgers, the payroll was roughly $48 million; last year, it was almost $115 million. When you talk about financial commitment, Fox has put in the money to try to win a championship. We're losing more money today than we lost in the last years of the O'Malley ownership, substantially more. And we were losing money in the last years of the O'Malley ownership, which is part and parcel of why Peter and his family understood the need to transfer ownership to a larger entity that could bear the ups and downs of Major League Baseball. I understand the criticism, but if the fans believe our record is a reflection of us trying to save money, that's a misconception.

Q: There has been talk of Fox selling the team. Are the Dodgers for sale?

A: Not to my knowledge.



Q: Some fans have been put off by personnel decisions, both on the field and in the front office.

A: The changes have been made to accomplish the objective I talked about before, to win. There hasn't been the stability, but I would challenge you that anytime there is an ownership change in a business the natural byproduct is to have changes within the organization. On the flip side, there are a lot of people who have been here for a long time. It's not like all of a sudden everyone who was here before is gone and we have new people who don't understand the sport and don't understand the Dodgers.



Q: It's been said the Dodgers didn't get fair value for Gary Sheffield, who was traded to Atlanta. Why trade your best hitter?

A: (Sheffield) got frustrated with the fact that he didn't know if he was going to be in Los Angeles for two years, five years or 10 years. He wanted assurance he was going to be here and we couldn't give it to him. And when you look at what (General Manager) Dan (Evans) was able to get, in terms of Brian Jordan, I think it was a very good trade.



Q: Dodger Stadium is one of the oldest facilities in baseball. Is it a viable stadium for the 21st century?

A: You look at Dodger Stadium 40 years old and you see how it's stood the test of time. I think Dodger Stadium is viable well into the foreseeable future. We needed to add more sponsorship and signage in the stadium in order to be economically competitive with the new ballparks. But you look at the design, look at the sight lines, , it really is a gem.



Q: Are any more changes in store?

A: Not in the short term. I think in the past four or five years we've looked at all the opportunities to increase revenues in the ballpark. We were originally looking at a larger renovation but we selected those few items that made the most sense from a revenue production standpoint: dugout seats, luxury suites, revamping the stadium club.



Q: More Dodgers' games are being broadcast now, even as ratings have declined. How concerned are you about that?

A: There is obviously a lot of competition, but I think the fundamentals are still there. If you can get kids to play and you can get them interested, if you can engage women in the sport, which I think baseball has been able to do better than any other sport, than I think long term we're going to be successful.



Q: Baseball's contract with the player's union expired in November. What's happening with the labor talks?

A: There is a marked difference between these negotiations and the negotiations in the past, and that is that they are being held quietly and in a professional matter. There's not a lot of comment on the labor negotiations, which in my opinion has often hurt the process. The discussions are ongoing, (Selig's office) is handling them and from the clubs' perspective and the commissioner's office, we're not going to comment on every step of the way.



Q: Selig failed to eliminate two teams this off-season, the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins, but he said he'll try again. What's your view on contraction?

A: If you've got teams in markets that can't be supported in those markets, you've got one of two choices: relocate them or close them down. I don't think baseball has ruled out relocation in the future, but I think they clearly understand that having gone from 26 teams to 30 teams in a very short of period of time was a mistake. Now the process of correcting that mistake, albeit very difficult, is probably the right thing to do for the health of the game.



Q: The Dodgers are one of baseball's haves. What do think should be done?

A: As long as markets are supporting their teams, they ought to have a chance, fans ought to be able to have faith that their team can win when they go to spring training.



Q: Selig has talked about a salary cap and a luxury tax, devices that are used to control costs in other leagues. Are those things necessary for baseball?

A: The problems are so complicated and pervasive that we're going to have to look at a myriad of solutions. You can't just look at cost controls on player salaries, you can't just look at revenue sharing, you can't just look at reducing the number of clubs in the industry, you can't look at one particular solution you've got to look at all of them.

Interview:
Bob Graziano

Title: President and Chief Operating Officer
Organization: Los Angeles Dodgers
Born: Los Angeles, 1958
Education: Bachelor's in business administration from USC.
Hobbies: Training for first marathon, spending time with family.
Career Turning Point: Leaving Ernst & Young in 1984 to work for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committe.
Most Admired Person: Wife Debbie
Personal: Married, two sons 12 and 8.

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