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Magic Johnson tells players it's winnin' time

Minority owner Magic Johnson makes first visit to spring camp and talks to players about his favorite topic. 'It was basically about winning,' Carl Crawford says.

March 22, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times
  • Magic Johnson took questions from players during his first visit with the Dodgers this spring.
Magic Johnson took questions from players during his first visit with the… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

PHOENIX — Minority owner Magic Johnson visited the Dodgers for the first time this spring and spoke to players in a team meeting Friday morning.

"To sum up the whole meeting, it was basically about winning," outfielder Carl Crawford said. "Everybody knows Magic is a winner."

During the hourlong meeting, Johnson took questions from players. "I thought that would be fun," Johnson said. "It was amazing."

Johnson said he was asked about how his Lakers teams approached road games.

"We loved going on the road," Johnson said. "We loved shutting the crowd up. That's when your mental toughness comes into play, when you have to go into Boston Garden against Larry Bird or against Michael [Jordan] in Chicago. You really have to be tough. You really have to be focused on your game."

Johnson was asked by Matt Kemp, "When are we going to play one-on-one?" Johnson's response: "Whenever we win the World Series."

A standout basketball player in high school, Kemp said last year that he could beat Johnson in a game of one-on-one. Shortstop Dee Gordon made a similar claim.

"I told Dee Gordon he was too small," Johnson recalled, laughing.

Crawford, a former high school point guard, said meeting Johnson was a thrill. "I had never met him in person," Crawford said.

Catcher A.J. Ellis had a chance to speak with Johnson on the side. "Those are the conversations that you remember for a lifetime," Ellis said. "Speaking to him and speaking to Sandy Koufax earlier this spring, this year has already been amazing for me."

Johnson remained at Camelback Ranch to watch the Dodgers lose to the Cincinnati Reds, 6-5. He sat with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

Replacing Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez underwent a 45-minute surgical procedure in Los Angeles to repair a torn thumb ligament.

Manager Don Mattingly sounded as if he was still leaning toward replacing Ramirez at shortstop with third baseman Luis Cruz instead of Gordon.

As for Ramirez's No. 5 spot in the lineup, Mattingly said it would probably go to Andre Ethier. With Ramirez healthy, Ethier would have batted sixth.

Cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez, like Ethier, bats left-handed. But since Gonzalez hits left-handed pitchers well — he hit for a higher average against them last season than he did against right-handers — Mattingly said he wouldn't hesitate to bat Gonzalez and Ethier back-to-back.

Short hops

Crawford is scheduled to start in left field against the Chicago White Sox on Saturday night. It will be Crawford's first game as a position player since he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in August. Crawford has played in four games this spring, all as a designated hitter. . . . Chad Billingsley or Hyun-Jin Ryu will pitch the Dodgers' second game of the regular season, Mattingly confirmed. Billingsley appears to be the first choice to face the San Francisco Giants on April 2, with Ryu the backup option in case the nail on Billingsley's bruised index finger falls off. . . . Ryu was visited by fellow South Korean and former Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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