Dodgers’ New Era Begins With Magic
Frank McCourt’s eight years as the Dodgers’ owner were filled with unprecedented turmoil.
But, like Magic, the saga has come to an end.
A group headed by Lakers’ legend Magic Johnson, funded by Mark Walter of Guggenheim Partners and including Stan Kasten, who ran the Atlanta Braves though 14 straight playoff seasons, bought the team and Dodger Stadium Wednesday for $2 billion.
The group also includes Peter Gruber, part-owner of the Golden State Warriors.
They also paid $150 million for half of the stadium parking lots, but McCourt will retain the other half.
Fans who expect an instant upgrade of the Dodgers’ third place team may be disappointed because of the timing.
Rosters are essentially set for this season, and the soonest the Dodgers could make a major upgrade in their roster is likely to be at the mid-season trading deadline.
The Dodgers have been sold for the highest price of any sports team in the world, surpassing the $1.8 billion of the Manchester United soccer team, yet they are forecast to do poorly this season.
The Baseball Network television station, which focuses on the sport full-time, predicts a last place division finish for the Dodgers this season.
According to the network’s experts, fourth place Colorado and fifth place San Diego will move ahead of the Dodgers in 2012.
But Dodger players are optimistic.
“This is a good day for the Dodgers,” said centerfielder Matt Kemp, the runnerup for National League MVP in 2011.
“We can win with the players we have,” said ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
It would take an optimist to rate the Dodgers ahead of either first place Arizona or second place San Francisco. The Giants have significantly improved a weak offense.
But whether or not the Dodgers do better on the field they are likely to have a major boost in attendance.
“Fans stayed away but they’ll come back now,” said former manager Tom Lasorda, now a front office executive.
Johnson’s popularity should restore fans’ confidence, but he said he’ll yield to Kasten on day-to-day baseball operations.
“I won’t get in his way. But I can help recruit free agents,” said Johnson, who will have an office at the stadium.
Johnson is one of the greatest passers in basketball history. Now, in rescuing Dodger fans from McCourt, he is recording another assist.
In my time covering the Lakers during Johnson’s five championship seasons, I found him to be as savvy as he was an outstanding player.
“African-Americans have to own businesses, not just work for other people,” he once told me.
When his playing career ended he plunged into the business world, one venture being the construction of Magic Johnson theatres throughout the country.
When it came time to compete with billionaires for the Dodgers Johnson went about it right, recruiting Walter, a man with the necessary funding, and Kasten, a baseball man with undisputed credentials.
Earlier Wednesday baseball owners approved three finalists and in an auction at U.S. Bankruptcy Court Johnson’s group was chosen. The other finalists were billionaire Steve Cohen and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kronke.
The sale process may take a month before it clears any potential hurdles but none are expected.
Ned Colletti has time remaining on his contract as the Dodgers’ general manager. He is more familiar with Kasten than Johnson based on recent talks.
“Stan is relentless,” said Colletti. “At one time he was running three different teams.”
McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004 for $430 million.
“Magic and Vin Scully are two of the most beloved sports figures in Los Angeles history, and now they’re both Dodgers,” said Colletti.
The Dodgers will open their season in San Diego April 5. Their home opener will be April 10 against Pittsburgh. Both are day games.
If the Dodgers become players in free agency before next season the impact of the new owners will be felt.
This summer the Dodgers stood aside when the Angels won the bidding for Albert Pujols and the Detroit Tigers were the winners for Prince Fielder.
Among the new Dodger owners’ tasks is to sign outfielder Andre Ethier long-term. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season.