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They bleed Dodger blue but see red over Murdoch

June 25, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ From the same seat near home plate, Betty Chatwood has watched every Los Angeles Dodgers home game in the past 21 years _ a die-hard demonstration of loyalty that earned her the nickname ``Dodger Mom.″

But she fears things may change if worldwide media mogul Rupert Murdoch succeeds in buying the Dodgers.

``I think it stinks, I don’t want it,″ she said during a lull in a recent game.

``What worries me is if I’m going to be allowed to buy my seat,″ she said. ``Somebody said he wants to put double deckers on right and left field and that’ll ruin the park.″

She isn’t alone. Fear and rumor have haunted the regulars at Dodger Stadium since Murdoch _ owner of a global news and entertainment empire _ said last month that he was negotiating to buy the team.

Fans worry that the homey atmosphere cultivated for five decades by the O’Malley family will vanish under Murdoch _ known for sensation-driven tabloid newspapers and racy fare on his Fox television network.

``If the sale includes the Fox attitude, if it impersonalizes things beyond the O’Malley ideal, I don’t want that,″ said fan Mark Tomidy, 25.

Murdoch is aware of fans’ concerns and he wants to dispel them, said Vince Wladika, a vice president at Fox Sports, the Murdoch subsidiary handling the purchase.

``We’re not about to turn around and start tearing down the Dodgers,″ he said.

He said talk of building a second deck of seats in the outfield, which might block some of the views of Los Angeles from inside the park, is speculation.

``This is a club that has tradition,″ he said. ``It’s one of the most recognizable names in all sports. That tradition comes with a value and you don’t start making changes that destroy that.″

For example, Fox Sports wants the Dodgers’ front office staff to remain. And most of the staff probably will, said Bob Graziano, a Dodgers executive vice president.

Fox does plan to add luxury boxes at the stadium, but at the club level. Other changes will be tasteful and subtle, Wladika said.

Taste and subtlety have never been the hallmark of Murdoch endeavors. In Britain his tabloid newspapers feature photos of bare-breasted women, and the Fox network is best known for overheated shows like ``Melrose Place.″

``Murdoch has always believed that a couple of things are sure-fire sellers,″ said New Yorker columnist Ken Auletta, author of a Murdoch profile. ``People are always interested in sports, and the other thing is they’re always interested in sex.″

On the other hand, don’t expect Murdoch to intervene if Mike Piazza’s batting average drops or pitcher Hideo Nomo gives up too many hits.

``He’s not a micromanager that way, but he’s not the O’Malleys,″ Auletta said. ``Murdoch is a tough guy ... with the Times of London he made the pledge (not to make changes) and a year later he fired the editor.″

The Dodgers’ expected $350 million to $400 million price tag would be a record for a baseball team, but it’s a drop in the bucket for Murdoch, whose News Corp. is expected to earn $1.1 billion on revenues of $11.2 billion for the fiscal year ending this month.

Murdoch’s vast holdings include the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, Fox Broadcasting Co., the New York Post and other newspapers worldwide, and international cable television and satellite operations.

So far, the Dodger deal appears to be moving slowly. The team is still waiting for major league baseball’s permission to show its books to Fox. After that, the sale must be approved by Major League team owners, said Graziano.

This purchase would be the smallest in a series of recently announced Murdoch acquisitions that includes $1.7 billion for International Family Entertainment, parent of the Family Channel.

Symbolically, however, the Dodgers acquisition stands out as a ``trophy property″ that will boost Murdoch’s public profile significantly, said Harold Vogel, an entertainment industry analyst for Cowen & Co. in New York.

Owning the Dodgers also meshes with his plan to join Tele-Communications Inc. in an $850 million deal to form a new sports network to compete with Disney’s ESPN.

``It’s small in terms of monetary impact. It’s large in terms of psychological and strategic importance,″ Vogel said. ``Los Angeles is a major market for sports and major media and having a presence in the LA market is significant.″

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