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Dodgers excited about new ownership

DODGERS SALE

'Basketball guys' on the team were pulling for Magic Johnson. Ned Colletti and Tom Lasorda like Stan Kasten's experience.

March 28, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Matt Kemp, right, and Tony Gwynn Jr. celebrate during a Dodgers game. Both players wanted Magic Johnson's group to buy the team.
Matt Kemp, right, and Tony Gwynn Jr. celebrate during a Dodgers game. Both… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

PHOENIX — Outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. sounded noticeably excited about the news that a group led by Magic Johnson had agreed to purchase the Dodgers.

"I'm pumped," Gwynn said. "I'm only pumped because I'm the biggest Lakers fan. I grew up a huge Magic Johnson fan."

He speculated that he wasn't the only one feeling that way Tuesday night.

Matt Kemp told Gwynn that he wanted Johnson's group to buy the team. So did James Loney and Dee Gordon.

"The big basketball guys were all pulling for Magic," Gwynn said.

Gwynn's father, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, has met Johnson on a few occasions and has a basketball signed by Johnson in his house.

Gwynn Jr. has never met Johnson and is looking forward to doing so.

"I'll probably have a basketball in hand," he said.

Tom Lasorda also sounded excited, but for a different reason.

While saying he was pleased that a popular Los Angeles sports figure such as Johnson was part of the group, the Hall of Famer former manager he was optimistic about the Dodgers' future because of the man who will be in charge of the day-to-day operation of the team if the deal closes as expected: former Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten.

"He's a very, very astute baseball mind," Lasorda said. "I think he'll do one hell of a job because of his experience. He's done it before."

Kasten made in name in sports with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. In 1979, Kasten became the youngest general manager in the history of the league at 27.

He became the Hawks' president in 1986. That same year, he became the president of the Atlanta Braves.

Under Kasten, the Braves became a dynasty. A 66-96 team in 1985, they were National League East champions six years later. The division title was the first of 14 consecutive they would win.

In 1995, they won the World Series.

Kasten simultaneously became the president of three professional sports teams in 1999 when he also took over the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers.

Kasten stepped down from all three positions in 2003. He became president of the Nationals in 2006, a position he held until the end of the 2010 season.

Kasten has overseen the construction of the Braves' Turner Field, the Hawks' Phillips Arena and the Nationals' Nationals Park.

"When you look at what he's been able to accomplish, you wonder how one person could do it all," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said.

Colletti said he exchanged a few emails with Kasten on Tuesday night. They had dinner together as a couple of weeks ago.

"When you think about Stan, when you think about Magic, you think of guys that have won a lot," Colletti said.

Asked how the Dodgers could do that, Colletti pointed to the acquisition of amateur players.

"I think, generally speaking, we need to upgrade our presence in Latin America from a signing standpoint," Colletti said.

Kasten's teams in Atlanta and Washington invested heavily in player development.

High-powered agent Scott Boras, who hasn't had many players sign with the Dodgers in the last few years, said stable ownership should result in the addition of better players.

While applauding Colletti for his efforts to sign Prince Fielder, Boras

said negotiations were hindered by the instability upstairs.

"When a general manager has hesitations that are not related to baseball, it makes both of our jobs very difficult and different," Boras said.

Colletti didn't know if the new ownership group was willing to add to the team's payroll at the July 31 trade deadline. Gwynn said he was hopeful.

"You would think there's more flexibility for Ned to do his magic," Gwynn said.

Changes in ownership are often followed by widespread changes in personnel. Colletti said he would tell his staffers to focus on their immediate tasks instead of worrying about their futures.

Colletti said he would do the same. "I not only say it, but I live it," he said.

Of the instability of the last year, Colletti remarked, "There's no question the last year or so has been different and has had its own set of challenges."

Colletti was surprised by how quickly the deal came together.

"I'm glad that we're about to move on," Colletti said.

Similar thoughts were shared by others.

"At least we know who owns the team," Lasorda said.

Former player Steve Garvey, who assembled his own group to buy the team, said he was looking forward to the new era of Dodgers baseball.

"This wonderful and historic franchise should not have been in this situation," Garvey said. "But you move forward. There's no reason to look in the rearview mirror."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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