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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Miller: Dodgers headed in right direction with Magic on board


The Dodgers are off to a good start in the Magic Johnson era. (US Presswire)  
The Dodgers are off to a good start in the Magic Johnson era. (US Presswire)  

SAN DIEGO -- And out here in the Commissioner's Doghouse opener. ...

Disgraced, outgoing Dodgers owner Frank McCourt sat in the front row chumming with Earvin Johnson, the Magic man to whom he's selling.

Disgraced, replaced and back post-haste Padres owner John Moores skulked around in the shadows upstairs, handlers probably advising him against making any quick moves toward the windfall local television contract within reach lest he strain an oblique or something.

Talk about cracking open a season in just about the strangest way possible.

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Only the divorce lawyers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were missing during the Dodgers' 5-3 win over the Padres.

"That was kind of cool," Matt Kemp, who broke it open with a two-run homer in the eighth, said of Magic's appearance. "After I came back from that home run, he stuck his head in the dugout and said, 'Nice job, kid.'

"I was like, 'Hey, that's Magic Johnson right there!'"

You want drama?

Only lip-readers with binoculars could say for sure what McCourt and Johnson talked about as they watched Kemp score twice while going 2 for 4 and flu-stricken Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw pitch three gutsy innings before departing. I imagine it went something like this:

"Magic, there is a killing to be made in parking. Really, you should charge $75 a car."

"Frank, that's why you're you and I'm me. I want to win and bring pride back to Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium."

"That's all you want to do? That's it? That's easy: Fire Jamie."

"Frank, she's not even around anymore."

"Magic, you kill me! Now give me an advance on that $2.15 billion. I'm installing gold-plated toilet seats in my new mansion. ..."

You want intrigue?

Only Moores' reappearance as owner was weirder than Magic risking toxic exposure by sitting so close to McCourt. This was a guy who couldn't get out of baseball fast enough when his marriage of 44 years blew up, and became so enraged when fellow owners lined up to nix his sale of the Padres to Jeff Moorad over the winter that he was the only fellow to vote against a contract extension for Commissioner Bud Selig.

Once he saw he was poised for a soft landing into a nest of new TV money, then realized the Dodgers' staggering price tag likely will earn him more than the $530 million he was getting from Moorad's group, owning a baseball team suddenly sounded much better to him again, according to one ownership source.

Upshot of it all is; few with the Padres know what's up. Tom Garfinkel went from club president under Moorad to acting CEO in limbo land. Another source speculates that Moores will regroup and put the Padres back on the market soon.

"I think they're completely different [situations]," Padres manager Bud Black said before the game, noting that the Padres' latest uncertainty has lasted only a month or so, compared to the Dodgers' riding through the desert on a headless horseman with a reviled name for the past several years.

McCourt and Magic together Thursday represented pretty much everyone's worst nightmare.

McCourt to Dodgers fans for his obscenely lavish lifestyle and impudent stewardship of the franchise and its history.

Magic to the rest of the National League because his incoming group has deep pockets and, with Stan Kasten expected to run baseball operations, brains.

Money and smarts is the unbeatable combination in running a baseball team in today's game.

"We've got to beat 'em," said Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Padres executive vice-president and Magic's Los Angeles homie. "That doesn't change.

"We'll welcome 'em with open arms. Then we'll try to drop some crooked numbers on 'em."

Good luck with that. Especially with the Dodgers looking to become Yankees West again in terms of payroll and prestige.

"Since I've known him so well, I'm happy for him," Winfield added. "It's good for baseball and it's good for L.A.

"He knows baseball. He knows sports. And he knows L.A."

Kemp has met Johnson a few times before but said he's never had a conversation with him. Magic showed up Thursday not long before the first pitch, said some hellos in the Dodgers' dugout then settled into his seat. He still hasn't addressed the team formally -- the sale is expected to become final sometime in the second half of April -- and did not go into the clubhouse Thursday.

Though these current Dodgers are so young that they don't even remember when Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Walter O'Malley roamed the Chavez Ravine earth, they know Magic.

"When he got here, the Lakers weren't Los Angeles' team. The Dodgers were," Kemp said. "I think he knows how important, how special, this team is to Los Angeles.

"And that's a great feeling."

Showing he can still execute a fast-break with the best of 'em, Magic left quickly after the game without any public words. He smiled and waved as he was whisked through the Padres' parking garage to a waiting Cadillac Escalade. Behind smoked glass windows, he rapidly disappeared into the night.

Walking with him, McCourt peeled away from the group to his own vehicle. And that went just as you'd expect: It was stuck behind another parked car, and he had to wait to get out.

It was hard not to watch that scene and figure it as a metaphor for where the Dodgers have been, and where they're going.

"In baseball, it's hard to turn something around in one or two years," Winfield said. "And, it's certainly hard to create a dynasty."

Neither of these teams looked anywhere close to dynasty Thursday. One of them, though, will be going places soon enough.


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