Dodgers owners return focus to field
If you know Stan Kasten, and everybody in baseball knows Stan Kasten, what he has been able to do in the last month has been remarkable.
For the last month, ever since Frank McCourt agreed to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers to a group headlined by Kasten and basketball legend Magic Johnson, until Tuesday morning when the $2 billion sale finally closed, the normally gregarious Kasten has managed to slip in and out of Dodger Stadium to coordinate the in-season transition of ownership half a dozen times without anyone really noticing.
He's met with nearly everyone in the organization -- players, coaches, executives and front office staff -- as well as outside consultants to gain perspective on everything from how the stadium should be modernized to what pieces the team needs to add to give Matt Kemp some more runners to drive in.
But when I saw him near the ownership box last week before a game against the Atlanta Braves, he smiled, held up his hands and said, "I'm not here."
The message was the same as it's been from this new ownership group throughout the entire process: This isn't about us.
Most of it has been out of necessity, of course. All parties involved in the sale signed strict non-disclosure agreements that prevented them from even discussing the team or the sale.
But it should be noted that this group -- funded by controlling owner Mark Walter, who seems to prefer Magic Johnson taking all the public bows -- stuck to the same low-key script even after it bought the team and could easily have been taking victory laps around town while the sale closed.
What does this mean going forward? It's hard to say. But after eight years in which the owners of the team became the dominant story, obscuring every good and bad thing that happened on the baseball field, at the very least it's pretty refreshing.
As much as fans fell in love with the idea of a hands-on owner like Mark Cuban who would live and die with every pitch, the best owners generally sit quietly up in an ownership suite, make the financial decisions to put the team in position to succeed and let the players on the field shine.
How often does Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss appear in public? And Angels owner Arte Moreno is notoriously shy. He's usually seen in front of cameras once or twice a season, if that.
Magic Johnson is not going to be shy, of course. He'll be wearing a Dodgers jersey and hat everywhere for the next couple of months. He'll be an incredible draw for free agents this offseason and an ambassador for baseball in the community.
But Johnson's also smart enough to know that it's a whole lot more exciting to watch Kemp play baseball these days than to watch Johnson cheer from an owner's box seat.
Kemp's a bona fide superstar who just completed one of the greatest offensive months of baseball ever. He's got a smile that can turn all the lights on in a room and plays the game with the same kind of exuberance that made Lakers fans fall in love with Magic three decades ago. In the month since Magic's group bought the team, Kemp has led the Dodgers to the best record in the National League.
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That's what these new owners should be selling: baseball, Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and then some more Kemp.
That's enough. Or at least it should be. Frank and Jamie McCourt never got that. Not even at the beginning when they spent many of their early days trying to win over Dodgers fans through the media instead of spending the money to put a great product on the field, or upgrading Dodger Stadium.
And all that was before the ugliness of the last three years, when both McCourts had an opportunity to spare fans and the franchise from becoming embroiled in their divorce for the ages by settling out of court (as they ultimately did), but instead selfishly took everyone down that very low road with them.
In many ways, Magic has already played his most important role in this transition process simply by lending his name and credibility to this ownership group to help soothe all the wounds the McCourts left open and raw.
It probably took a star of his magnitude to counterbalance all the devilish details of this sale -- the record price tag, the continued (albeit limited) association with McCourt on some of the land around Dodger Stadium, and the strange clause in the sale agreement requiring his group not to disparage or even comment on McCourt or his family now or in the future.
Remember that picture of Magic sitting next to McCourt on Opening Day in San Diego? Here's guessing that was McCourt's idea, not Magic's. But that's not the important part. Ask yourself this: Is there any public figure besides Magic who could withstand such a damaging photograph with his image intact? The other two finalists wouldn't have stood a chance. Billionaire hedge fund king Steve Cohen may never have recovered. Poor Stan Kroenke, who already would've been struggling to outrun the perception that buying the Dodgers was just a land-grab to help return the NFL to Los Angeles, could've have been run out of town.
No, that was something only Magic could have pulled off. And when you think about it that way, it makes you wonder why anyone ever even tried to bid against him.
OK, so it's done now. A day later than anticipated, which was strange to everyone, but not so strange to anyone who has ever tried to close on a house.
McCourt leaves a very rich man, which is what he should have been all along. That part is always going to be hard to swallow.
But for the first time in a very long while, he isn't the story anymore. Baseball is. Matt Kemp is.
That's enough. It always has been.
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