STUDIO CITY, Calif. -- Josh Macciello lives about where you would expect a guy who says he wants to buy the Dodgers would live.
In other towns, with other social graces, someone who has hit it as big as Macciello claims he has might show off a little more. Something sprawling with a big fountain out front. But in Los Angeles, those that have the most to spend generally tend to stay out of view.
Macciello and his wife Anna and their three children have a 4,600-square-foot home in a celebrity-studded section of Studio City, and the house is impressive, if understated. Family portraits hang over the fireplace. Sports memorabilia from Michael Jordan and fine china are on display.
I'm looking closely at the house, tucked up in the hills on one of those narrow streets that tend to flood after heavy rains, because Macciello says he controls billions of dollars in assets and he just doesn't look the part.
Could a 36-year-old guy wearing a black "Rocky Balboa" T-shirt, sporting Clark Kent glasses, tattoos on his biceps, a Cartier on his wrist and a pointed, graying beard on his chin really be in position to make a $1 billion-plus offer to buy the Dodgers?
I'm skeptical. But curious.
Everything seems like a clue, and a riddle. The furniture, the way he dresses. Is it nice enough? Is it too nice? Is he trying to impress me? Would a guy with as much money as he claims to have need to?
As we approach the large oak dining room table, I get another clue. It is set beautifully with paper plates and plastic forks and knives.
"My wife asked if she should put out the china for this," Macciello says in a thick, Brooklyn accent. "But I was in the mood for Zankou chicken. You've had it before, right? They have take-out places all over here. The garlic sauce is the best."
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
I have spent the past month vetting as much as I could about what Josh Macciello said during our first four-hour interview in early December.
He said he has spent the past couple of months trying to buy the Dodgers. Or at least, trying to get people to let him try to buy the Dodgers.
His problem is pretty simple: No one has ever heard of him.
Macciello's Internet presence consists of a LinkedIn profile, a few poker player pages from the time he finished 17th in a World Series of Poker event in June of 2010, a Classmates.com profile from Jefferson High in Tampa, Fla., and the website of his company, Armital Entertainment.
People who control billions of dollars in assets tend to leave a much larger digital footprint. Which is why Dodgers fans had no idea what to make of this guy when he did interviews on L.A.-area radio and television stations last week. His enthusiasm was infectious. Callers into the program seemed to love him. Then, people got skeptical.
"Did anyone hear ESPN Radio earlier today?" popular Dodgers blogger Roberto Baly wrote on his website, Vin Scully is My Homeboy. "A guy by the name of Joshua Macciello was on the Mason & Ireland show. Macciello wants to purchase the Dodgers and has big plans.
"I really enjoyed his enthusiasm. He seems to have passion and wants to win. This is the problem, it sounds too good to be true."
Macciello responded to an email Baly sent him within minutes.
Thank you for tuning in today. I know most people are not going to know what to believe, if I am a real possibility or not but I will tell you direct my friend, I AM 100% for real and as we get closer to this deal finalizing you will see myself and my team as one of the groups making the right steps to take over the Dodgers and bringing LA a championship. You can blog that on your blog in BOLD letters!!!! Feel free to email me anytime. I am a people person and if I don't get back to you right away I apologize.
CEO, Armital Entertainment LLC
Co-chairman, Armital LLC
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Here's what I know: Macciello attended one year of college and played baseball at a community college in Alabama before leaving school after a serious arm injury in 1994. After that, he moved home to New York and talked his way into a job on Wall Street with his brother-in-law Edward O'Connell. A few years later he moved to California, met his future wife, Anna Oganesyan, at Valley College in North Hollywood, Calif. -- they've now been married 12 years -- and began an up-and-down career in the entertainment industry producing and financing feature films and television projects.
Here's what Macciello says: He became a millionaire two or three years ago after a series of successful financing deals on motion pictures. "Putting people and projects together, making good middle money," he said. His break into the top 1 percent came just a few months ago when he says he secured control of several gold mines in the Western United States that have been appraised in the tens of billions of dollars.
When I asked to see the appraisal of the mine, he produced it immediately. When I later independently called the Washington state-based appraisal company, they confirmed they had a business relationship with Macciello, but asked that their name not be used in this story.
I then spoke to Macciello's wealth manager, who also asked that his name not be used in this story for confidentiality reasons, and he swore on his 30-year career that Macciello, "has been able to secure a firm commitment to use a bunch of different gold mines as collateral to bid on the Dodgers."
'I'M NOT THE GUY WHO CAN PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL BUD SELIG'
Still, it's all pretty hard to believe. And because his latest financial jump has occurred so recently, Macciello hasn't even filed a tax return yet that would reflect it.
"No, I always have to prove it," he said, when I asked if people believe him when he says he's a billionaire. "They ask for confirmation and we give them the claims showing that we own [the mines] and the actual assay and geologists reports that support that claim that's been going on since 1999."
Then he corrects me on something.
"It's not like Josh Macciello has billions in his bank account," he said. "I am chairman and CEO of a company that's partnered up with another company, and through those two companies we acquired several gold mines that are worth billions of dollars.
"Had it been five years ago we wouldn't have been as fortunate, but due to the economy and where gold prices are now and where they're projected to be in the next five years, we're very blessed to be in the position we're in, to be able to say we have billions of dollars of assets."
Macciello says he intends to use those gold mines as collateral to finance his bid for the Dodgers.
Those appraisals, as well as a personal note to owner Frank McCourt on Nov. 21, in which he made a substantial offer for the team, have gotten Macciello through the first door in the Dodgers bidding process.
I've been able to confirm that he has had extended discussions with the Blackstone Group, the New York-based investment firm handling the sale of the team for McCourt.
However, he has not yet submitted the formal paperwork to bid on the team in advance of the Jan. 23 deadline. Macciello says that's because he is trying to align himself with the right partners to give his bid more credibility in the baseball world.
"I'm not the guy who can pick up the phone and call Bud Selig," he explains.
In interviews last week, Macciello said he has met with former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to seek his counsel on how to approach the situation, "as an Italian-American," and that he's spoken to several other high-profile investors.
Lasorda's representative confirmed they met at a Beverly Hills restaurant last week, but maintained that Lasorda intends to remain neutral in the process.
AN EMAIL FROM BRAZIL
I don't think Mike Murphy has any reason to lie to me. He has done some business with Macciello over the years and considers him a friend, but is mostly happily retired as the former CEO of Mars Inc. Americas.
Murphy's potential involvement with the Dodgers, should Macciello buy the team, would be minimal. Seats in the owners' box, maybe a few business lunches. His reputation is far more valuable than his participation.
Last week, he wrote me two emails from a beach in Brazil, where he has been vacationing recently.
I am a retired CEO with over 30 years' experience running multi-billion-dollar international businesses. My association with Josh has been rewarding both personally and professionally.
I followed up by asking him:
The first reaction to Josh among fans, media, etc., is that he's coming out of nowhere and they want to know if he's for real. Did you have the same reaction when you first met him?
Interesting question, although not surprising. Coming from nowhere only describes someone who doesn't meet the stereotypical profile. This is a benefit to Josh, as it causes a sense of 'unknown' to competitive investors; especially those who are using name recognition with little to no skin in the game. If the due diligence process proves Josh to be a legitimate player -- then so be it.
Over the years I have trained myself to be blind to appearances and only try and see the essence of who I am dealing with in Josh's case, he's for real and there is nothing he says that he doesn't personally believe in. [Winston] Churchill was short and fat, [Steve] Jobs and [Bill] Gates never graduated from college, [Abraham] Lincoln lost most elections he entered and had a history of mental illness, and Josh has a Brooklyn accent and a tattoo -- the rest is history.
As for the fans, they are the only legitimate inquiry as they not only love the Dodgers, but more importantly represent the brand's essence and resulting value. Fans have the gift of discernment and can smell legitimacy quicker than anyone -- they will love and relate to Josh in a heartbeat.
BREAKFAST AT JERRY'S
Every Saturday, Macciello has breakfast with an 81-year-old man named Michael Bash at Jerry's Famous Deli in Studio City.
Bash is the president of Berkley Enterprises, a multimillion-dollar real estate development company headquartered in Las Vegas.
"I was introduced to him by my CPA and I'm like his mentor," Bash said. "When I was young I also looked for older people for advice. He reminds me of myself when I was in my 30s.
"Now he wants to buy the Dodgers. I don't know enough about what he's doing on that to say whether it can happen. I'm not involved with it," he said.
"I just know Josh. He's a very bright man, he's very creative and he's very ambitious."
WHY JOSH MACCIELLO?
A month has passed since I first met Josh Macciello. In that time, former Dodgers manager Joe Torre resigned his position in the commissioner's office to announce he was teaming with L.A. developer Rick Caruso on a bid, and several other prominent businessmen have gone public in their interest in the team.
I ask Macciello why he is doing this when there are so many other worthy suitors.
"In many ways the Dodgers mirror my life," he said. "I'm the guy that's not supposed to be here talking to you. The [Brooklyn] Dodgers were the team who played between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants. They weren't supposed to beat those guys, but they did."
In some ways, this auction is more democratic than a normal franchise sale. Baseball will formally vet some of the groups and let Blackstone know which would be approved by three-fourths of the 30 owners. But ultimately McCourt will have the final say.
Even if Josh Macciello is who he says he is, it's hard to imagine him making it to the end of the process unless his bid overwhelms those of everybody else, or he partners with a more established group.
At best he is an underdog and a dreamer. At worst he is delusional or disingenuous.
He has left several clues along the way. He told me, before I found out by searching property records myself, that he leases his house in Studio City for $10,000 a month, but does not own it. He disclosed that he'd changed his name from Joshua Cruz to Joshua Macciello when he moved to California before a names and aliases search made that information seem incriminating.
And yes, he served Zankou chicken on paper plates when I visited his house because he just likes Zankou chicken and garlic sauce.
At the end of all this I suppose I'm more curious than skeptical. Josh Macciello mostly appears to be who he says he is. A guy who came from nowhere, chasing down a big dream. But like most things in life, that might not be enough. Will Major League Baseball let him into what is still the most exclusive ownership cabal in professional sports? Will he even be allowed to seriously bid?
It is expected that 20-30 groups will file preliminary bids by the Jan. 23 deadline to buy the Dodgers. Josh Macciello intends to be one of them. His intentions seem relatively pure. He's just a baseball fan who says he has the money to buy a baseball team.
"My old baseball coach in high school, Pop Cuesta, used to say to us: 'Everybody else makes this game a lot harder than what it really is,'" Macciello said. "You hit the ball, you throw the ball, you catch the ball. That's it."
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLA.com. ESPN enterprise reporter Paula Lavigne contributed to this report.