|Lasorda, Mattingly were Dodger blue before. Now? 'We're back in business,' Lasorda says. (Getty Images)|
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Just like Magic, all is well in Dodgers camp now.
There is no more talk about divorce, bankruptcy or franchise looting now that carpetbagging, money-hoarding Frank McCourt has left the building. It's been replaced by smiles all around -- maybe not quite as big as the one new owner Magic Johnson is wearing today, but pretty big nonetheless.
Magic is the new king of the Dodgers, converting a fast-break for the biggest bucket of his career, a $2.15 billion purchase of the beleaguered and bankrupt franchise and its obviously lovely parking lot (which accounted for the extra $150 million).
"Now we're back in business again. We're ready to go," Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda said about Magic Johnson and friends taking over the storied franchise as new owners. "We've got to work to get the fans back ... Dodgers fans will come back. They just had a bad feeling, and they left."
As Lasorda put it, outgoing owner McCourt and the fans had a "falling out." But now the fans will not only be thrilled McCourt has fallen out but that sports legend Magic is the lead figure of the group coming in. It's a feeling that dominated the day here, where the mood changed overnight.
"I've always been a Michigan State fan," Andre Ethier said with a straight face. "I never really liked Larry Bird."
There were only laughs inspired by one Los Angeles writer trying to get the Dodgers people into a who's better debate about Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. "M.J.," Jerry Hairston Jr. quipped.
No matter, the only pertinent question was whether Magic and Co. (which also includes respected longtime baseball man Stan Kasten, investment guy Mark Walter and others) is better than McCourt, and everyone knows the answer to that without even asking. Putting aside the fact McCourt is an all-time terrible owner (and they can finally do that here), the talk was understandably all about Magic, and to a lesser degree, his partner and friend Kasten, who won 14 straight division titles as the president of the Atlanta Braves.
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Mattingly said it's hard to imagine a better combo taking over the team, though the Evansville, Ind., product predictably disagreed with Ethier, saying that the only thing that could make it better is if Bird, Magic's longtime rival, was in the group, too. "I'm from Indiana,'' Mattingly noted, "Magic's my nemesis."
In reality, everyone is a Magic fan here today. The pride of the storied National League franchise is already starting to be restored, even before Magic's arrival.
"I used to go around and talk about the great Dodgers organization. And all of a sudden I couldn't do it," Lasorda said. "People would have laughed at me."
Lasorda recalled lending Magic a Dodgers cap decades ago, and him wearing it around town. Dodgers star Matt Kemp remembered Magic telling him how L.A. used to be a Dodgers town, before it became a Lakers town. On Wednesday, Kemp said, "I think he'll do everything possible to get the Dodgers back to where [we] need to be."
Mattingly and GM Ned Colletti met with the players this morning here to remind them to keep their focus on the field. Both men said the team has done well ignoring the ugly McCourt divorce, the embarrassing McCourt bankruptcy and the rest of the soap opera, and now they need to keep their focus at a time there's more opportunity to be distracted, even if it's all a plus now.
"If I'm a player I'm excited. As soon as you hear Magic Johnson's name, it turns it into a positive. It's positive energy," said Mattingly, putting aside his Bird allegiance.
The players weren't immediately aware of the inner workings of the deal, but the Magic-Kasten-Walter group made the $2.15 billion deal with McCourt for all cash, which will be a major boon to the team going forward. Teams with big debts have to service those debts annually, and sometimes debt service replaces player acquisition. The Dodgers have done miraculously well to acquire big-name players like Greg Maddux, Casey Blake and especially Manny Ramirez at the trading deadline in recent years, somehow getting the trading team to pay their contracts. But now, there will be real money to be spent, real opportunities to be embraced.
The Dodgers made the NLCS two straight years before payroll cuts realistically undercut their chances. They've gone from a $110 million payroll in 2010 to $100 million in 2011 to $90 million this year, which is -- heavens -- Mets territory.
While the team has survived McCourt's looting of team revenues and his fallout with the fans, things should turn around overnight. There is excitement, and there is cash. This is bigger than Albert Pujols going to the crosstown rival Angels.
"Having Magic and Stan is tremendous. Two great icons of Los Angeles sports are Vin Scully and Magic Johnson, and adding Stan to it, that's someone who's spent 30-plus years in organizations and won numerous championships," Colletti said. "I'm glad we're at this stage. It's been a long couple of years."
The long local nightmare is now over. It's Magic time.