DENVER—In Dennis Gilbert’s first endeavor to buy a big league team, he made a run at the Rangers only to come in second in the bankruptcy court to a group headed by Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas folk hero Nolan Ryan.
But he wasn’t deterred.
He is ready to get back in the bidding again, and this time it’s the Dodgers that have caught his attention.
With Frank McCourt finally agreeing to step aside and sell the Dodgers through a bankruptcy process similar to what the Rangers went through, there was no shortage of potential suitors for the team. In addition to Gilbert, so far it looks like his competition could include several groups headed by people with significant Dodgers ties, most notably Peter O’Malley, whose father Walter brought baseball west of the Mississippi back in 1958 when he moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn and whose family owned the team until it was sold to Fox in 1998.
Other names that have surfaced with interest are Steve Garvey, an all-star first baseman for the Dodgers during his playing days, and Fred Claire, a longtime Dodgers employee who served as the team’s general manager from 1987-1998.
Then there is Gilbert.
Born in Brooklyn in 1947, and raised in Los Angeles, he’s a former minor league player turned insurance executive, who at one point was a power broker among baseball’s player agents. More recently he has returned to running his Beverly Hills insurance business and serving as a special assistant to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
He also put up his own money in January 2003 to create the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, which assists scouts who are faced with financial or medical setbacks, and paid for the construction of a baseball stadium at Southwest JC in South Central Los Angeles that serves as the home field for local Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) program.
He, however, hasn’t bled Dodger Blue—at least not yet. And that will likely be a challenge he will face in his attempt to buy the Dodgers.
Always Looking For Challenge
But then, challenges are nothing new for Gilbert.
He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where he was the only white player on an American Legion team that featured the likes of Bob Watson and Bobby Tolan. He went undrafted out of high school, but signed with the Red Sox, spent a year at the Class A level with the Sox and then a year in Class A with the Mets before being sent home.
He resurfaced in Mexico for three years, and when that didn’t work out he returned to Southern California, where he coached at the junior college level. The father of one of his players introduced him to the insurance business, and he went from an insurance newcomer making cold calls to customers to the insurance agent of the stars, which, in itself, underscores Gilbert’s determination.
He never felt comfortable with just calling people on the telephone. So he started showing up outside the Los Angeles courthouse, and when he would see a couple exit the building carrying the packages that signified they were just married, he would approach them about buying insurance.
Then he started stopping by the cafeteria at the UCLA medical school early in the morning to have coffee and chat with medical students, who figured he was also in school, which led to another new source of clients.
He also held seminars that featured a dinner buffet, and during one of those he caught the attention of an agent whose client list included Johnny Carson. The agent purchased some annuities from Gilbert that were very successful, and word of mouth led to a list of Hollywood types becoming his clients, including Whitney Houston, Liza Minelli and the Oak Ridge Boys.
As lucrative as selling insurance was, it did not help Gilbert divorce himself from a desire to be involved with baseball. Then one day in 1980, Bobby Brett, older brother of Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, approached his longtime friend Gilbert and asked for help. Bobby handled George’s finances, but he didn’t get along with Ewing Kauffman, who was then the owner of the Royals, so he asked Gilbert to negotiate a contract for Brett.
A door had opened for Gilbert, and he didn’t hesitate. He built an agency that included among its clients Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Curt Schilling and Jose Canseco.
By the turn of the century, however, Gilbert decided to return to his insurance business, and in November 2000, Reinsdorf hired him to help in contract negotiations and consult on baseball issues.
It gives him an excuse to be at Dodger Stadium for virtually every game, and to slip over to watch the Angels in Anaheim.
Now, however, Gilbert is looking to be more actively involved. He wants to be an owner.
The Rangers perked his interest, but he was no match for the package put together by Ryan and his investors.
Now, with the foundation of his group from his bid in Texas and the addition of Southern California investors, Gilbert is ready to make another run at ownership, with the Dodgers.