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Regime change has rarely looked as inviting as Magic for McCourt

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
Stan Kasten brings front-office experience to the Dodgers' ownership group. (Getty Images)

Call it Magic. Call it Showtime.

Call it the end of the Frank McCourt Era for the Dodgers.

By any name, it's cause for celebrating in the streets of Los Angeles.

The ownership group led by Magic Johnson won the bidding for the Dodgers late Tuesday night in an auction worthy of Sotheby's that even included (Chad) Billingsley.

For Los Angeles baseball fans who have watched the soiling of the Dodgers' brand during McCourt's Reign of Error, this undoubtedly will be Magic's greatest assist since those long ago alley-oops to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that helped the Lakers win five NBA titles.

Regime change rarely has looked so inviting.

There can be no greater gift on the eve of next week's season opener than the promise of all the hope and faith that opening day is supposed to bring with it. As things deteriorated under McCourt in Los Angeles over the past two years, there was no faith and precious little hope.

Johnson, the NBA Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Lakers' legend, was the front man for an entity called the "Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC", which will acquire the Dodgers for a record $2 billion upon completion of the closing of the sale.

Johnson, 52, is very public face for a purchasing group that lists Mark Walter as its controlling partner, and Peter Guber, Bobby Patton, Todd Boehly and longtime sports executive Stan Kasten as the other partners.

In Johnson, the new-look Dodgers will have an asset that immediately will buy extra-innings' worth of goodwill in a community that spoke loudly by dwindling ticket sales. The Dodgers last season drew fewer than three million fans in a non-strike shortened season for the first time in 19 years, and for only the second time since 1989.

Call it No-Show-time.

In Kasten, the new-look Dodgers will have a highly respected, veteran executive to oversee the operation and pull the levers that need to be pulled. A former president of both the Atlanta Braves and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, Kasten most recently served as the Washington Nationals' president.

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As part of the deal, the Dodgers announced that McCourt and "certain affiliates" of the purchasers will form a joint venture which will acquire the Chavez Ravine property for an additional $150 million.

"I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles," Johnson said in a statement that proves even Magic isn't immune to a turnover every now and again.

Fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt? He single-handedly did what two-plus decades of failing to win a World Series couldn't do: He drove Los Angeles baseball fans away by the thousands.

Undoubtedly, Dodgers fans are every bit as thrilled to welcome Magic and his group to the throne room of what once was one of baseball's jewel franchises and the man himself said he is to be part of the historic franchise.

"I think anybody who was here before and sees what's happening now ... it's a lot different," Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes, a four-time All-Star while playing for the Dodgers from 1972-1981, told me last June. "I have to pinch myself sometimes, to be honest with you. Is this Los Angeles?"

Sadly, since Frank and his now ex-wife Jamie purchased the club in 2004, is is what the Dodgers became. Though they reached the NL Championship Series in consecutive seasons in 2008 and 2009, the McCourts' marriage blew up in '09 and they announced they had separated on the eve of the '09 NLCS.

The War of the Roses, er, McCourts was on in full fury, and it became a tawdry and despicable revelation of conspicuous consumption and obscenely lavish lifestyles. While the number of mansions the McCourts owned in L.A. neared double digits, as they siphoned Dodgers money away for everything from expensive haircuts to lap pools, the baseball club was saddled with a lower payroll than the Minnesota Twins last year and made do with Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul in the outfield for a time.

"It is very sad to see what's happened to an elite franchise in sports, not just baseball," Lopes told me during that conversation last June. "The Los Angeles Dodgers of the '60s and '70s were the envy of everyone else in major-league baseball, and I'll just leave it at that.

"Something definitive needs to be done here, and the quicker the better for everybody."

Nine months later, after the most humiliating turn in Dodgers history, something definitive finally has been done.

It maybe wasn't as quick as most of those who subscribe to Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda's belief in the Great Dodger in the Sky would have liked. But for those who bleed Dodger blue, or maybe simply only wear Dodger blue, this is a great day.

It is the best news in Dodger Stadium since Kirk Gibson hobbled to the plate to pinch-hit in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, launching the Dodgers past Oakland to their last great title. Finally, Vin Scully should have something to be proud of again.

For a franchise in need of a miracle, a little Magic works, too.

 
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