I hate to rain on the Dodgers' parade, I really do. No one is a bigger believer in Magic Johnson in this town than I am, but at some point we're all going to have come back down to earth from this Blue Heaven honeymoon we're all in and realize Magic's smile can only do so much.
As great as it is to no longer have Frank McCourt as the owner of the Dodgers, having Magic agree to become a part-owner in a group that includes controlling owner Mark Walter doesn't change anything on the field. It will make for some great stories and photo-ops on Opening Day, but as April turns into May and we head into summer, Magic's ownership stake will be about as significant as Jay-Z's stake with the New Jersey Nets.
There's no question Los Angeles loves a good story and we're all suckers for a happy ending, but the only thing that will consistently keep us coming back to the arenas and stadiums is a winner. The fact is, this Dodgers team isn't much different than the group that finished last season 82-79.
I can still remember Lakers fans coming back to the Forum in droves in 1994 when Magic was named the Lakers' coach. He started out 5-1 and there were sellouts every night. The Lakers, however, finished the season on a 10-game losing streak and people stopped coming regardless of who was on the sideline.
With all due respect to Magic, Albert Pujols will make a far bigger impact this season for the Angels, and it's not even close. It's actually a simple question when you think about it from a basketball perspective, like asking a Lakers fan if they would rather have Kobe Bryant on their team or Fernando Valenzuela as their owner. "Fernandomania" would be cool to have in the owner's box but it wouldn't change anything on the court.
He's a game-changer
Most of the time when sports writers weigh in on the impact of an offseason acquisition it's an X's and O's question. Straight up: Which player will translate into more wins this year? But unless Magic Johnson has learned to hit a curveball over the winter, that's not what this question is. No, this is about something much bigger and more important. About cultural messages delivered and precedents set.
When the Angels signed Albert Pujols in December, I wrote that it was a franchise-changer because it was the first time Arte Moreno had stepped into the batting cage with the big boys on a free agent and blown everyone out of the water. He'd won some big prizes before, most notably Vlad Guerrero, but this was on an entirely different scale. And what's more, the reason he was able to do it -- the windfall of new television money from Fox -- signaled that he may be able to do it again and again if the situation calls for it.
It was hard to see anything trumping that statement until Magic Johnson agreed to become the first African-American owner in baseball history, and yes, he will hold the title of owner. This isn't just a franchise-changer, this changes baseball. I know it's symbolic. And yes, Pujols probably translates into more wins for the Angels this year than Magic will for the Dodgers. But social change isn't measured in wins and losses, and it's certainly not measured over one season. We forget that sometimes in an era when the headlines change every eight hours or so. The news cycle makes for the kind of quick buzz that can undercut real substance.
The impact of Magic Johnson buying the Dodgers might not be felt all at once, but it will resonate forever.