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Pain Could Follow Any Change

January 22, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

A new owner could assume control of the Dodgers, retain the entire front office and coaching staff and make the transition from one regime to another as smooth and seamless as a routine line change in hockey.

Or, a new owner could do as the Fox Group did when it assumed control of the Dodgers in March 1998: drop the gloves and come out swinging.

Two months after Fox took the Dodger reigns from Peter O'Malley, corporate executives orchestrated a trade of the team's most popular player, catcher Mike Piazza, to the Florida Marlins in a blockbuster seven-player deal. The following month, general manager Fred Claire and manager Bill Russell were fired.

New general manager Kevin Malone was hired, and numerous team employees, including scouts and minor league personnel, were fired. The following winter, Malone hired manager Davey Johnson and signed pitcher Kevin Brown to an industry-rattling seven-year, $105-million deal. Within three years, Malone and Johnson were fired.

"It was a difficult transition, from family ownership to corporate ownership, and I do recall there being a significant amount of uncertainty and changes in a short period of time," Dodger President Bob Graziano said.

"We went from a long period of time when we had so much stability in the organization to the opposite end of the spectrum. I just hope the new owner understands the importance of stability."

No one is comparing the current regime to the decades-long O'Malley ownership of the Dodgers, but under Robert Daly, the Dodgers' managing general partner since October 1999, and General Manager Dan Evans, the Dodgers have regained some stability that was lost in Fox's early years.

The Dodgers have posted winning records under Manager Jim Tracy the last two seasons and went 92-70 in 2002, finishing 3 1/2 games out of a wild-card playoff spot.

But with another potential change of ownership, could more upheaval be on the way?

"I think everyone recognizes that a change in ownership is often accompanied by a change in management," Graziano said.

"But I feel Bob and I have put together a strong management team. At the end of the day, it's the new owner's decision, but I think that owner would be well-served to look at the exceptional team we've put together."

Evans returned to work after a four-day vacation Tuesday to reports the Dodgers have hired a New York investment banker to shop the team, but he said the news didn't throw the front office into a state of anxiety.

"The people I've interacted with, it hasn't even been a point of discussion," said Evans, in the second year of a three-year, guaranteed contract that pays about $500,000 a year. "I don't sense any anxiety whatsoever, because we can't control it.... I'm not going to let this derail me from a job standpoint. We still need to do what we can to improve the team."

Ditto for Tracy. Like Evans, Tracy has two years left on his contract, which pays about $500,000 a year, and like Evans, Tracy won't be deterred by uncertainty about his future.

"That comes with the territory each and every day -- there's pressure to win every day regardless of who owns the club--so it's not a concern," Tracy said.

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