Rupe rounding third

Fox Group closes in on Dodgers ownership

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Group on Thursday formally signed the document transferring ownership of the team from Peter O’Malley to Murdoch, clearing the way for the deal’s final hurdle: approval next Thursday from Major League Baseball’s ownership committee during their meeting in Florida.

Terms of the deal still weren’t confirmed, but O’Malley characterized press reports that have gauged the sale at anywhere from $311 million to $350 million as “very accurate.”

A Thursday afternoon press conference at Dodger Stadium announcing the signing of the purchase agreement was held largely to send a message to professional baseball’s ruling class that a transitional Dodger management team was already in place.

It was announced that O’Malley would remain with the organization, pending approval of the sale, in an advisory role, while carrying the title of chairman of the board. And O’Malley’s longtime top executive Bob Graziano would be promoted from executive VP to president and CEO of the team.

O’Malley said that he has committed to retain a role in the running of the Dodgers through at least year’s end, when he will reevaluate. He said Thursday that the reason the announcement was being made was that “the other owners and our employees deserve to know what the management of this club will be going forward.”

It was also O’Malley’s opinion that the vote of Major League owners “will not be unanimous.” It’s known that San Diego Padres owner John Moores opposes the sale, fearing that Murdoch will drive up baseball salaries. The opposition of nine of the 16 American League team owners or five from the National League would block the sale, but most in baseball — including O’Malley — expect the deal to go through.

“My confidence level is pretty high that it will be approved,” O’Malley added.

Peter Chernin, prexy and co-chief operating officer of News Corp. and chairman and CEO of the Fox Group, said Thursday that in O’Malley and Graziano, “We are sitting here today locked in with the management we think is critical for completing this transaction.”

Chernin called O’Malley’s involvement in the transition “critically important,” seeing him as a man who “probably has more wisdom, more understanding about the team and the game of baseball itself than we’ll ever gain in our lifetime.”

Asked to look beyond the sale’s anticipated approval next week, Chernin replied, “The position of our ownership is to maintain the key Dodger traditions, the greatness of the stadium. … We want to maintain the classiness and tradition of the Dodgers. We would hope that fans won’t see much of a change.”

Besides the purchase of the Dodgers team itself, the deal includes Dodger Stadium and its 300 acres, the Dodgertown spring training site and minor league team in Vero Beach, Fla., and a training complex in the Dominican Republic.

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