Local girl swings for the fences, scores

November 17, 2008|By SUSAN REIMER

Jamie Luskin McCourt is a local girl who made good. Really good.

The tomboy daughter of Baltimore's appliance guy, Jack Luskin, who grew up playing street ball with her brothers and their pals, and scoring baseball games with her dad at Memorial Stadium, and listening to Chuck Thompson broadcast the Orioles on her little transistor radio, is now president of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the highest-ranking woman in Major League Baseball.

And she didn't do it by marrying the millionaire team owner.

Well, actually, she did.

But she and Frank McCourt fell in love when they were freshmen at Georgetown University, and they have four sons together, and it was her idea to buy the Dodgers.

And, though her story is more glamorous than yours or mine, she is, like so many of us, part of that first wave of women who used their college education to forge a career and then cobbled together that career and a family.

"I have worked all my life," the former Pikesville High School three-sport athlete said Friday before speaking at the Network2000 Women of Excellence luncheon in a packed ballroom at Martin's West.

"When I had doubts, I talked to a friend of mine who was a pediatrician, and she said, 'Jamie, your kids aren't going to come to you at the age of 21 and say, "Thanks for staying home all these years." You need to do what you need to do.' "

Her appearance here - she said it was a high school reunion - is combined with meetings in New York with other executives in Major League Baseball. Of all the professional sports, it was perhaps last to become comfortable with women in the clubhouse, much less the executive offices.

"I try to just stay focused on my job as long as I can," she said about being a woman in a man's world. "Then someone will remind me and I am aware of it all over again."

She opened her speech before more than 1,000 women with a stream of verbal snapshots of growing up in Baltimore.

Crabs at Obrycki's. Grocery shopping at the A&P and Green Stamps. Taking the No. 5 bus downtown to shop at Hechts, Hochschild-Kohn and Stewart's. The Beatles concert at the Civic Center. Berger's cookies, bowling on Park Heights Avenue, Utz potato chips and the Diner. She never went to see the movie, she once told a reporter, because she was afraid that Barry Levinson might not get it right.

"God, I love Baltimore," said McCourt, 53. "That's what you do in Baltimore. You grow up in Baltimore. You grow up with family and friends and shared memories.

"And that's the business I am in now. Baseball and making memories for fans and their families."

Jamie McCourt graduated from Georgetown with a degree in French and a teacher's certificate, and that's what she expected to do - teach - because that's what women did.

She followed her boyfriend, later husband, back to his hometown of Boston and worked in a travel agency and waited for him to ask her to marry him, because that's what women did.

But on the first night in their first apartment together - there was no furniture and they were sleeping on the floor - she turned to him and told him she was going to law school.

She'd applied to the University of Maryland to please her father, because that's what women did. But she actually got in to the law school, and she decided to go.

Law degree in hand, she moved to New York City because it was glamorous and fun and sophisticated. "I was ready to launch," she said, and she loved her life there.

But when McCourt asked her to marry him, she moved to Boston - just temporarily, he promised.

Twenty years, four children and a master's degree in business from MIT's Sloan School of Management, and she was still in Boston. She shelved her dreams of a life in the big city, because that's what women do.

Her husband was making a fortune in real estate during all this time, and when the Red Sox came up for sale, Frank McCourt made a bid for his cherished hometown team (His grandfather had run the Boston Braves.)

Jamie McCourt, who had declared as a kid that she was going to have her own baseball team someday, who wanted to write her business school dissertation on buying a baseball team and building a stadium, couldn't believe her luck.

When the Red Sox went to somebody else, Major League Baseball went to the McCourts and asked them if they were interested in buying another team. "The Yankees?" she asked, hopefully.

Nope. The Dodgers.

Frank McCourt, who had never left his hometown, said he'd think about it. His wife said, yes.

That was in 2004. The couple and their four boys moved across the country to L.A. Frank McCourt made his wife a team vice president and then president. She oversees the business side of the team, and the fan side. She is in the business of making memories, she says, one kid at a time, one family at a time.

Frank McCourt didn't install her in the executive offices so someone in the family would be there to keep an eye on the cash box. Jamie McCourt has a jaw-dropping legal and business resume. But at the end of the day, she is just another multitasking, working mother.

"I can be in a meeting where we are working on the [Dodgers'] 50-year anniversary and get pulled out to check the language in a contract for a Madonna concert and have to take a call from home because there's a problem," she said.

She is also teaching at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, a course titled "The Pursuit of Leadership, a Female Perspective."

She tells her women students to find their strengths, their skills and their passion and then to use those tools to create a life of success and happiness.

"It is not easy," she promised. "And it is not for the faint of heart."

"But, oh, what a journey it has been."

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