- Jon Weisman, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Dodgers fans, you can come out of your hiding places.
I can't promise what you'll find on the outside, but it's time to tiptoe back into the world.
Tonight's announcement that Frank McCourt has agreed to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers, pending approval by federal bankruptcy court, is unequivocally a new door being opened to fans of the franchise, even if McCourt is regrettably remaining a partner (though, thankfully, not the sole owner) in a separate group that will retain control of the land surrounding the stadium.
There is every possibility for things to go wrong under the new ownership, fronted by local hero Magic Johnson and underwritten by Chicago financial firm Guggenheim Partners, but there are also primary reasons to have faith that things will go right.
1. Johnson's commitment to winning is unassailable.
2. Stan Kasten, the part owner and likely team president, is a baseball man first and foremost.
3. Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners who stands to be the principal owner, already probably has a decent house or three.
In other words, while there isn't a person in the ownership group who intends to lose money as owner of the Dodgers, there is no one whose livelihood depends on wringing every last drop from the franchise.
McCourt's crime was not that he was greedy, which is an operating characteristic of pretty much anyone who succeeds in becoming a sports franchise owner, but that his greed knew so few bounds that he was patently reckless. Ignoring the fact that said crime ended up paying off for McCourt in incomprehensible riches, recklessness is not likely to be a chief worry to have about the new owners.
Rest assured, there are different worries for the commoners to have. The new owners have a daunting task as far as satisfying Dodgers fans and fulfilling their wide-ranging dreams.
The first thing I'll start with -- and isn't it about time this became the first thing you start with when it comes to the Dodgers -- is the team.
The Dodgers need to target their new purse strings -- more specifically, what's left of their new purse strings after the extraordinary team purchase price -- to the effective acquisition and development of players.
The budget will be bigger, but it will still be finite, and careful decisions will need to be made. Which free agents will be targeted? How much goes to the farm system and to the international amateur market? What will the criteria be for choosing the new general manager, assuming Ned Colletti is given a polite farewell by the end of 2012?
No decision the new owners make will be more critical to the team's future than these, and none are fraught with more uncertainty. Yes, there's a certain comfort in believing the Dodgers can bid on anyone they like -- certainly, a long-term contract for Clayton Kershaw is a no-brainer -- but throwing money around willy-nilly has never been a foolproof strategy. New owners are great, but nothing beats being smart and lucky.
The to-do list hardly ends there.
The post-2013 cable rights deal that is the secret to the Dodgers' exploding franchise value will have to be negotiated. The windfall that is to come is balanced by a likely commitment of approximately 20 years, so the new owners need to make sure they get this one right. Once it's done, it's done.
Similarly, the long-awaited renovations to Dodger Stadium are not something you can fix with a midseason waiver deal -- you want to nail them at first crack. They need to be done expediently and expertly. In addition to infrastructure improvements, there needs to be an usher and security plan that helps Dodger Stadium find a balance between fan friendliness and a police state. This is going to require significant investment of resources in its own right, but it's imperative to make home plate at Chavez Ravine feel like home again.
The list goes on and on. What's the right amount of stadium advertising, and do they avoid selling Dodger Stadium naming rights? What will they charge for parking? How much does Nancy Bea Hefley get to play the organ?
Ownership of the Dodgers requires an ability to focus on the biggest of pictures and the smallest of details. And if the past few years showed anything, it's that Dodgers fans are sticklers for all of the above. One of the most perplexing aspects of the McCourt ownership is that from day one, Frank and Jamie played the fan base for saps, expecting it to buy into whatever pabulum they were selling like the folks of River City in "The Music Man." They never gave Dodgers fans credit for having a certain kind of truth detector.
I expect the new ownership group won't insult the city's intelligence so cavalierly, and believe me, that'll be something to build upon. But it's going to be a while before we know what the new owners build. We know from his playing days that Johnson can lead with the best of them; we also know from his coaching days that everything he touches doesn't turn to championships. He might be Magic, but he's not the Wizard of Oz.
The bottom line is, you can't expect perfection, but you can demand excellence. Every effort must be made at making the best possible decision a thousand times over.
The new owners might fail. But, finally, Dodgers fans can at least say there's hope.
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