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HELENE ELLIOTT

This deal starts a Dodgers winning streak

With their deep pockets and Magic Johnson's credibility, the incoming owners make it easy for Dodgers fans to be optimistic.

March 28, 2012|Helene Elliott
  • Will the Dodgers new ownership group provide the team with the necessary resources to make them a success on the field and with fans?
Will the Dodgers new ownership group provide the team with the necessary… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )

For now, we can dream.

We can look at the incoming Dodgers ownership group that will be fronted by Magic Johnson, run by Stan Kasten and principally funded by billionaire investment manager Mark Walter as a blank canvas to project our hopes for the team that used to be the single common thread running through a sprawling and diverse city.

Yes, we once thought of Frank McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers that way, figuring nothing could be worse than the stingy, tone-deaf reign of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Bob Daly, chairman of the Dodgers under News Corp., told The Times that McCourt was a fine prospective owner who had gotten "a bum rap." Daly got the "bum" part right, anyway.

McCourt's heavily leveraged purchase and use of the Dodgers as his personal ATM was worse than Fox's ownership. And Dodgers fans, to their eternal credit, showed their displeasure last season by staying away from a stadium where they didn't feel valued or safe, resigned to watching their beloved but underfunded team from afar.

It's much easier to be optimistic now, with the new-car smell of this purchase still intoxicating and with Major League Baseball having given stronger financial scrutiny of this group's funding than it gave to McCourt.

Besides, the new owners haven't done anything wrong.

They haven't raised prices for tickets or parking. They haven't refused to spend big bucks on premier free agents. They haven't skimped on security or maintenance of Dodger Stadium.

Best of all, they're not named Frank McCourt.

Although McCourt won't completely vanish, he will no longer run the team and his role is likely to be confined to developing the parking lots. Hint to the new owners: follow the George Steinbrenner model for limited partnerships. As former New York Yankees minority owner John McMullen famously said, there was nothing so limited as being a limited partner of Steinbrenner. Words for Johnson, Kasten, Walter and company to live by in future dealings with McCourt.

At first blush, the group's agreement to purchase the Dodgers for $2.15 billion is a win-win-win scenario all around.

Fans win because McCourt goes away for the most part. Loathsome though it is, he will walk away with a profit of about $1 billion, enough to support himself and ex-wife Jamie in their repugnantly extravagant lifestyle. The key phrase is "walks away," meaning he no longer has the power to pinch pennies on scouting and player development or let Dodger Stadium's infrastructure crumble.

Johnson, who sold his 4.5% stake in the Lakers in 2010, returns in an owner's role and will remain an influential figure in the city that never stopped loving him. He has shown he's a smart businessman. He's not afraid to bite the hand that fed him, having criticized the Lakers while working as a TV analyst.

"Magic has been my good friend and partner for many years. He will bring such great integrity and excitement to the Dodgers," said AEG chief Tim Leiweke, whose company holds ownership stakes in the Lakers, Kings, Galaxy and L.A. Live, among other properties, and is behind the push to bring an NFL team to the proposed Farmers Field downtown.

"Stan is a friend as well and is as smart an operator as I know and will build a great organization to run the Dodgers. We know these guys well and look forward to helping them and being involved with them in any way that we can going forward."

The sale price makes this deal a huge win for Major League Baseball. It's the largest price paid for a sports franchise and could help drive up the prices of other franchises, at least in major markets. That will make owners happier when they pay the salary of Commissioner Bud Selig, who reportedly will earn more than $20 million annually under the two-year extension he recently signed.

But for this to be successful where it matters most, the new owners must provide resources for the team to succeed on the field. Fans cherish their memories of the 1988 championship team, but that's a generation ago. It's time for something new to celebrate.

Finally, the owners must restore the stability and class the Dodgers once exemplified but lost under their last two owners. Johnson has the business sense and personality. Kasten has the baseball knowledge. Walter has the money. That seems like a win-win-win situation, at least until proved otherwise.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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