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T.J. SIMERS

Not-so-fresh start: Magic takes in Dodgers' opener with McCourt

Why is the new face of the Dodgers sitting in the Petco Park stands beside Frank McCourt, the man who ruined the Dodgers fan experience for so many?

April 05, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Former Lakers great Magic Johnson, left, who is part of the Dodgers' pending new ownership group, sits with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt during Thursday's season opener against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park.
Former Lakers great Magic Johnson, left, who is part of the Dodgers'… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

SAN DIEGO — I thought it was the start to a new Dodgers era: The Dodgers winning and everyone happy. Or the Dodgers losing, Magic smiling and everyone still feeling better.

But if the Dodgers are poised to get off to a fresh start, why is Magic sitting beside Frank McCourt for the team's opener at Petco Park?

Why would the best thing that has happened to the Dodgers in recent years allow himself to be photographed sitting next to the worst thing that has happened to the Dodgers?

Is Magic oblivious to what has happened to the Dodgers fans' experience? Is that why he said he was excited about building on the fantastic foundation laid by McCourt? Who says something like that?

After the game, asked why he was sitting with McCourt, Magic said, "I'm just here enjoying the game."

Asked don't appearances mean something if you're going to be the face of the Dodgers in this fresh start, Magic said, "I'm just here enjoying the game." And then he left with McCourt.

As loved as Magic might be, is he clueless to what McCourt means right now to Dodgers fans? Does Magic realize that Frank is using him as a shield from rotten tomatoes coming his way?

Who is advising Magic? It can't be a close friend or anyone interested in preserving Magic's reputation, because they would tell him the last place he should be seen these days is sitting beside McCourt.

Howard Sunkin, who has been McCourt's flunky, was also there. So was Lon Rosen, who failed in a previous stint with the Dodgers and now serves as Magic's flunky.

What does one flunky say to another? I'm guessing Rosen wanted to know all about the $400,000 McCourt took out of the team's Dream Foundation to boost Sunkin's pay.

Why would Magic allow himself to be seen sitting in the same row as Sunkin? His group has already won the bid to buy the Dodgers; does this mean Sunkin remains as a Guggenheim business partner like McCourt?

No one questions Magic's credentials as a great basketball player and sports icon, but he's still going to have to prove himself as a baseball executive. So far his judgment has been suspect.

In basketball parlance, someone should have set a screen — keeping Magic as far away from McCourt as a photo lens might reach.

There is already a huge question mark hanging over this new ownership group: The guys who bought the Dodgers agreed to keep McCourt as a business partner. They haven't explained that yet.

But must they now remind everyone with photos of Magic and McCourt sitting together that McCourt really isn't going anywhere?

There are indications that Magic will probably own less than 3% of the Dodgers once the deal is complete, but his value to the franchise has already been astronomical.

No one probably cares that a couple of unnamed insurance companies will be providing much of the money used to buy the team and that there could be investor problems down the road. As long as Magic is OK with everything, what's not to like?

Why jeopardize that credibility by linking himself to maybe the most despised figure in Dodgers history?

Before the opener, I found GM Ned Colletti and McCourt standing in the hallway outside the Dodgers' clubhouse. I suspect they were asking each other what they're going to do next in their lives.

I got a "hello" out of McCourt, which is one more word than I got out of Angels owner Arte Moreno a day earlier.

Manager Don Mattingly said that as far as he knew McCourt had not spoken to the team. What a wasted motivational opportunity.

I know how much athletes like money, and McCourt explaining to the players how he swung a $2.15-billion deal would have gone so much further than Mattingly telling the guys "to be ready."

Mattingly said there was "a little bit" of emotion as he realized he might be saying goodbye to McCourt. Funny, never once has he said he misses Jamie McCourt.

More telling, though, was his answer to the question of whether he's heard from the new controlling owner.

First he needed help, not sure if the new owner's last name was Walter or Walters.

Mattingly said he has yet to hear from Mark Walter via a phone call or text. Maybe the Chicago businessman is too busy watching his Cubs play.

Mattingly said Stan Kasten sent him a "good luck" text, and so obviously Kasten has done his homework and knows A.J. Ellis is now the Dodgers' starting catcher.

As for the players, it was opening day and Andre Ethier was already in a funk. How can a baseball player not be giddy with excitement on opening day?

But as interested as Ethier always is in getting a new contract, he must be really on edge waiting for the new owners to officially take over.

No one on the Dodgers should be happier with a change in ownership than Ethier. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and the new owners will want to do everything they can to let the fans know they are going to be big spenders.

That should make Ethier rich, so why is the guy so moody? I hope we don't find out he's been hanging with Andrew Bynum.

As for the 2012 Dodgers, they begin the season given a terrific chance to have a good record, with 28 very winnable games.

Seven of their first 10 games come against the Padres, the closest thing the majors have to a minor league team. They also get Houston and Pittsburgh early.

They should be sitting in first place when Guggenheim officially takes over, which ought to make the insurance company investors very happy.

In fact, the way things are going, I wouldn't be surprised once Guggenheim takes over to see Magic walking McCourt to the mound so he might throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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