Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Magic ends Dodgers' nightmare
By Ramona Shelburne ESPNLosAngeles.com
It felt, all along, like the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fans deserved an ending like the one they got Tuesday night when Frank McCourt agreed to sell the team to a group fronted by basketball legend Magic Johnson.
Like the nightmare should end in a dream.
But the world doesn't work that way. Not enough anyway. And at so many moments over the past two years, as McCourt has kept the franchise in a sort of purgatory while he settled a gut-wrenching divorce from Jamie McCourt, everyone here started to expect things to get worse before they got better. The belief in a happy ending faded. The hope of one might have, too.
Magic Johnson's ownership of the Dodgers could help fans move on more easily from Frank McCourt.
Which is why this feels so strange and not just sudden.
Frank McCourt didn't just sell the team to some reclusive billionaire. Or to one of the dozens of strange but important names who emerged throughout this process.
Frank McCourt didn't just take one last swing at Los Angeles for the road. He sold the team to one of the most beloved sports stars and businessmen this town has ever known: Magic Johnson.
Yes, he's just one of the front men for the group. He's chipping in a significant amount to you and me, but nothing consequential to a $2 billion bid. The real money is coming from Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners, whose company controls at least $125 billion in assets world wide.
And yes, it is a little troubling that their group agreed to form a joint venture with McCourt for the land around the stadium.
But for the moment, I don't care. And I suspect not many Dodger fans will care as soon as they see Johnson in front of a podium as the new face of the Dodgers.
All the other stuff, all the concerns about how anyone can operate a team, drop in another $200 million to $300 million for renovations to Dodger Stadium and about the same amount into the team's payroll at both the major league and minor league level, all of that doesn't feel important right now.
That stuff is for another day, when we have a clearer picture of how Magic's group plans to own and operate the team.
What matters on this night is that Frank McCourt sold his franchise to the one man who would immediately make Dodger fans feel good.
In the end, that act, that choice, might go a long way toward rehabilitating McCourt's legacy. That seems like a ludicrous thought right now. But give it 10 years. Give Magic 10 years to use the biggest platform he's ever commanded to reach out in the Los Angeles community, to reconnect the African-American community with baseball, to be the African-American owner of the franchise that broke baseball's color line.
I'll admit, I was a little skeptical of Magic's intentions when he first announced he'd jump into the bidding. A half dozen groups had sought him out, so maybe he was just flattered to be courted. Maybe he was just excited to be involved.
But everything I've heard about the man from people inside and outside of his group is that he's all-in. Engaged, passionate, excited about every meeting. This isn't just a hobby for him. It's one of the biggest things he's ever done.
After the way the franchise has been run by its past two owners, it's easy to forget what a gem it is. The Dodger brand still means something both here and around baseball. It has been tarnished by both McCourt and Fox, but 15 years is but a speck of the franchise's baseball history.
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If Magic and his partners do the right things, the lean years, the ugliness of the past two years, will fade fast.
So how will Magic and his partners run the show? All we have to go on at this point is their actions, which have been rather brilliant. Not once did Magic disparage McCourt publicly. If anything, he took pains to treat him with respect.
He chose a financial backer -- Walter -- who preferred to stay in the background behind him and Stan Kasten. He chose to add the well-connected former president of Sony Pictures, Peter Guber, to his group late, signaling that he may have learned a thing or two about the value of celebrity in this town from Lakers owner Jerry Buss. And he chose Kasten, a man who has been the president of franchises in the NBA, the NHL and MLB.
The one negative, and it's a big one, is that his group agreed to partner with McCourt on a joint venture for the land around the stadium. According to one source with knowledge of the situation, that decision might have been the key one. That part will remain troubling until it is explained further.So will the amount of money McCourt stands to walk away with, even after he pays his creditors and his ex-wife.
But this doesn't feel like the night to dwell on such things. The Dodgers and their fans have suffered through too much.
No, this is a good night. A Magic night.