We’re free. Our long, enduring local nightmare is over. That felt even better to write than I thought it would.
Free from the thought of another offseason in which the question isn’t how much money are the Dodgers going to spend on free agents, but rather how much can the Dodgers spend. Free from another 6 months of wondering if our players are going to get paid on time for their work on the field, or if the stadium surrounding it will have enough security to keep paying customers safe. Free from the disgrace of having the most noteworthy headlines read about a divorce proceeding or a loan payment. Free from worrying whether or not the greatest announcer of all-time will finally be fed up with off-field shenanigans corrupting the team that is as much a part of him as is his own beating heart. Free from wondering why the stadium remains slowly withering away year after year, the memories of what has been made into a shining baseball cathedral by our collective hearts and minds growing more distant year after year.
We are free from the ownership of Frank McCourt and his incredible mistreatment of an American Institution. We are free from someone who has taken a franchise that predates Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and treated it not with the reverence it so justly deserves, but rather with the carelessness of a child’s piggy bank.
For the past day and a half, I’ve been deluged with questions of when MAMBINO would come out with our assessment of a Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and Mark Walter-led group buying the Dodgers. The truth is, much like watching Jeremy Lin stroking 38 points in the Garden, or seeing Kobe and Pau vanquish the Celtics in Game 7 in person, a thrown-together post about how happy we all are, or how awesome Magic Johnson is wouldn’t even come close to justifying how excited I am.
I knew that this day was inevitable from the moment that McCourt realized his inevitable ouster from his seat at the head of the table, and began to work hand-in-hand with Commissioner Bud Selig towards finding a new owner. I became guardedly excited with the prospect of this vampire leaving the desecrated remains of my barely breathing team, and a new, swashbuckling owner coming in and resuscitating the Los Angeles Dodgers. But not even in my wildest dreams could I imagine how well this would turn out.
I’ve written before that I never hated Frank McCourt for any of his failings as a business man and a family man. Those are his personal battles to win and lose, and in doing so, his consequences to bear. Rather, I’ve found that his absolute cratering as the steward of this public entity that means so much to so many positively appalling. Yes, his weaknesses of responsibility are his own. But his most egregious offense is that Frank McCourt thought he was man enough to be a Los Angeles Dodger.
The ideals of excellence, honesty and competitive fortitude that had been forged over decades of this franchise’s existence had fallen, so very publicly, under the guard of McCourt. He had lost touch with the community he vowed to help and more than anything, had become a villain to all that cared. Never before has an owner promised so much and not only delivered on so little, but gone entirely the other way and hurt his fan base with an almost malicious carelessness.
Looking back, I suppose we should all shoulder some of the blame. How could we expect so much from someone who hadn’t lived and breathed Dodger baseball? Why would we think that an outsider could possibly understand what it means to hold up a tradition that means more to people than just a simple 9-inning game? There is a certain integrity to being a Dodger that for those who truly understand it and feel it down to the marrow of their bones. That person would know that if any disservice is done to the name and the stature of such a hallowed institution, they’d feel it deeply, trembling as if they had committed some sort of immoral crime. We needed someone immersed in the community, who understands how much responsibility the Dodgers need to take for Los Angeles not just in outreach and service, but also in delivering a product that, until now, has been met with nothing but unwavering support.
Frank felt none of this. He didn’t truly understand what it means to be a Dodger, and to be the one who should most uphold those ideals high. We’ve known for years that Frank McCourt couldn’t lead the Dodgers. Not just to a title, or a pennant, or even a winning season. He couldn’t be the head of the team that is supposed to symbolize hard work and integrity. We asked for someone else, anyone else. For a while, the expression was “anyone but Frank”.
And then we got Magic.
Everything, from his stature in the community to his physical countenance, is the complete and total opposite of Frank McCourt. Where Frank has failed in his near-decade in Los Angeles, Magic has succeeded and thrived in his three-plus.
Earvin Johnson is a man who has been involved in competitive sports his whole life, rather than a business man whose greatest success comes from owning parking lots. Though on the hardwood rather than the infield dirt, Earvin knows what winning entails, and every minute detail that goes into its complex brew. While he won’t be able to evaluate a pitcher or critique a catcher’s throwing mechanics, he can look a person in the eye, have a conversation and understand if that person has the character necessary to be not just a competitor, but a Los Angeles Dodger.
He knows how bad losing feels. As one of the most competitive players in NBA history, Earvin “Magic” Johnson hates to lose. It is one of his most defining characteristics, that’s extended past his athletic career and into his entrepreneurial business endeavors. There’s not much more that any fan could ask for than an owner who hates losing more than any players on the team do.
Earvin Johnson is a man who understands the city. He knows the pulse of Los Angeles, and plainly, what the people want. He knows how strongly the Dodgers are woven into the fabric of the town, and especially its connection to the African-American and Latino communities. When he arrived here in 1979, the Los Angeles Lakers were a popular franchise, but always rode shotgun to the mighty Boys in Blue. Earvin knows the power the team once wielded, and how monstrous their presence can be. He understands that the Dodgers’ success means more than just money in his pocket, but puts money in the pockets of hundreds of Angelenos directly at the stadium and with the team, but also with the thousands more that operate in auxiliary businesses supported by the Dodgers.
Whereas Frank McCourt was an outsider who travelled cross-country from Boston, of all places, and had to take a crash-course in what it’s like to be one of us, Magic Johnson has lived it his entire adult life here. He knows Los Angeles and its people, because he’s lived here, grown here and rooted here. He’s spent more than his fair share of time in East Los Angeles and South Central, starting new businesses for the disenfranchised and breathing life into local economies where attention from companies of the Magic Johnson Enterprises’ stature don’t usually venture.
I suppose that’s the bottom line here; Frank McCourt so badly wanted to be one of us, to feel welcome and authentic. But the more he pushed and the harder he tried, the more difficult he realized that it truly was. Earvin Johnson is one of us. He’s served as the central figure bringing LA championships, doing so with a flair and charisma rarely seen by any entertainer in American history. Yet, as a man who’s HIV positive, he has been invovled in grass-roots outreach and has given so much back to the local communities. He’s become a vulnerable human being to whom people can relate. Magic is larger than life in all ways that Frank is not, and yet paradoxically has become more connected to the every-man than Frank could ever hope to be.
Magic might not be the controlling partner of this enterprise, but our collective knowledge of his strength of character allows us to breathe easy in terms of the unknowns he’s allied himself with. Stan Kasten is a former executive involved with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals organization and has been in baseball for 25 years, professional sports for over 30. He presided over the presidency of the Braves for nearly the entire run of their 14 straight division titles, and while he left all the baseball decisions to should-be Hall of Famer John Schuerholz, all final decisions ran through him. He has breathed the game for most of his adult life, understands what it’s like to work for a historic organization, but most importantly, knows how to build it in order to win. He is a “baseball man,” through and through, a knock on Frank McCourt that obviously bore horrific results.
Are there concerns towards this new ownership group? Of course. I’m concerned that Frank McCourt, who still owns half of the parking lots, has a monetarily small but prospectively large role in the future of the team and the land it plays on. I’m worried that Magic will have too much of a hand in baseball decisions when that really isn’t his role, and yet, also concerned that as a minority owner, won’t have enough sway in others matters in which he should be involved. I am a little concerned that the ownership group paid over $2 billion dollars and still doesn’t own the entirety of the organization. Going a bit further, after that $2 billion, is there going to be enough to fund the team properly? I’m concerned as a moral person in Western society that a crook like Frank McCourt is walking away with nearly a billion dollars.
I’m worried, quite frankly, that this is all too good to be true. However, today’s not the time for us to dwell on how much we have to lose, but rather how much we’ve gained. We have a well-capitalized ownership group who seem to have the perfect combination of baseball experience and connection to the city. This group has seen how even a franchise as well respected as the Dodgers can lose all of its big market luster when not properly looked after. They’ve seen that after decades of losing and another one filled with off-field disgrace, that even the strongest teams can shy away from shouldering the burden of responsibility and expectations.
For so long, I’ve written and complained that the Dodgers and their fans deserved so much better than Frank McCourt. I thought long and hard of the type of man the team needed, and the strength of personality he would need to propel the team forward. What’s most stunning to me today, is that if I had to put together our “dream candidate” to run the Dodgers, and assemble him like a race car made of legos, Earvin “Magic” Johnson would be the very man that I’d make.
I’ve been thinking about this for a day straight, and I suppose what I feel most right now, is privileged. Though we as Dodger fans “deserve” this so much, I still feel honored to be bestowed with what seems to be the most perfect match anyone could conceive. I’ve worn my Dodgers gear around the office in the past, only to be met with looks replicated when you have a sick family member or your pet died. Worse yet, even the downtrodden Mets fans look upon me with a sympathetic eye. However, for the first time in a long time, I feel proud to be a Dodger fan. And I’m not alone.
Even for as much as I’ve said we deserved, we got more. We’re now free to carry the burden that’s been lifted off of us for so long. Yes, please. We’re ready.