MLB tells McCourt enough is enough

For the past six months Major League Baseball has been rather nice to Frank McCourt as it tried to escort him out of its club. It tried, in no particular order: shaming him, reasoning with him, paying him off and bullying him.

Friday afternoon, with a court filing in Delaware petitioning a judge to order the sale of the franchise, baseball finally told him to stop.

For good and forever.

For the Dodgers' sake and the good of the game.

In the end, a judge will listen to both sides and decide the issue based on case law and a whole other set of priorities that seem silly to the Dodgers fan who just wants to go to a game and buy a Dodger Dog without that money keeping McCourt afloat any longer.

But a very important thing happened Friday. Something all those fans who've been staying home in silent protest this year have wondered. Something that has come into sharp focus the last two months of this season as the Dodgers have surged to a pleasant finish behind the magic in Matt Kemp's bat and the fire in Clayton Kershaw's left arm.

Baseball said it still cared.

Enough to fight this all the way to the end, no matter how bitter or ugly things may get.

Enough to do it now, so that locking up Kemp to the rich long-term deal he so clearly deserves is still a possibility and runs at free agents such as Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols aren't just idle dreams.

Baseball said a lot with its unprecedented action to seize control of the franchise back in April. It has said a bit more in court filings and statements along the way.

But there always seemed to be a limit to its conviction and a caution behind its actions. And for the past few months, McCourt and his lawyers have exploited that caution by outmaneuvering the league and finding protection and comfort in bankruptcy.

In bankruptcy court, only McCourt's creditors matter. Their interests are greater than the best interests of baseball and a city trying to live through the strangest kind of purgatory.

As one of McCourt's new media strategists emailed in a statement: "In United States bankruptcy reorganization cases, liquidation is the last resort, not the first option."

The message is clear: McCourt ain't selling.

The question remains: Can baseball make him?

This case was always headed to this place, with McCourt challenging the powers of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. It just got there a lot faster.

For the past few months, as lawyers on both sides traded insults and barbs in legal filings 3,000 miles away, it seemed as though McCourt would be able to run out the clock on Major League Baseball through an endless series of legal maneuvers.

Baseball had little choice but to live with that conviction unless it changed its tone and tact to become as fierce as McCourt.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers played on and played well. The turmoil of April gave way to the thunder in Kemp's bat. The doldrums of June and July yielded to the dominance of Clayton Kershaw. Things felt different this past month. Happier. Healthier. Maybe even hopeful.

The Dodgers began to matter again. The players made it so.

Baseball had two options: To let all of this new growth wither on the vine, or speak loudly and lay its convictions on the table.

Friday afternoon, baseball finally spoke in an unwaivering voice.

It is time. This must end for the game to go on.

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.