Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I'm Willing to Believe Guggenheim Is for Real

         By Ross Newhan

         I have written about baseball since 1961, when the American League expanded to Los Angeles and Gene Autry was awarded the new franchise.

        It is only natural, over a half century in too many press boxes to count and yawning through too many news conferences to count, that a degree of skepticism would emerge. I am not easily fooled nor apt to offer false praise.

       Yet, after a gray and cool morning at Dodger Stadium ("what the Irish would call a 'soft day'" said a master or ceremony named Vin Scully in a fine brogue) , I came away from the news conference at which the new owners of the Dodgers were formally introduced believing that this group is sincerely dedicated to doing what is best for the team, its fans and the community.

      Of course, this introduction follows the dark cloud of Frank McCourt and the equally depressing tenure of News Corp. (you certainly remember the new sheriff in town), so, perhaps, anyone displaying enthusiasm and saying the right things is going to look good by comparison.

      At the same time, as I wrote yesterday and am even more firmly convinced today, anyone paying a record $2.15 billion for this onetime flagship franchise isn't suddenly going to close the account.

      "We are going to be in on everything that fits, short-term and long-term," said the new president, Stan Kasten, referring to the potential pursuit of an expensive free agent if the 2012 Dodgers remain in the hunt at the trade deadline.

      Kasten, a former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, is an exponent of building from within, but in reaffirming his group's dedication to reeestablish a "culture of winning" he said, "we understand where we are (in the context of a demanding big city) and we are not going to pass up any opportunity. We are not going to sit and wait for 25 kids to grow into the Dodger uniform."         
    From Kasten's realistic experience to the understated conviction of Mark Walter, the principal money man, to the magnatism of Magic Johnson, the Big Three of Gugenheim Baseball presented an impressive image.

    Johnson, who will operate out of McCourt's old office in a night and day transference of personality and popularity, fought hard to hold back tears and find the right words when asked to express his emotions at being baseball's first African-American owner. He noted his long-time affection for the Dodgers and said, "God is so good, and I know that because I am standing here as a Dodger owner. It is still hard to believe, and I am determined to be in that office every day. We are going to reach back and give back to the city and the organization."

     In the first move to give back, as Arte Moreno lowered beer prices in his first act as new Angel owner, the new Dodger owners are lowering parking prices from $15 to $10, and under persistent questioning, they insisted that they control everything and receive everything financially from Dodger Stadium and the parking lot and that McCourt only receives an equity percentage IF there is any development in the parking lot, for which they have no immediate plans. The McCourt questioning was so persistent that at one point Magic seemed to lose a degree of patience and said, "if he is part of future development, so what?"

    It is believed that there WILL be future development in the lot and major renovations in the stadium (the group has brought in engineers but have no immediate blueprint other than some work on the power, water and infrastructure.)

   Similarly, Kasten said he will use this year as a "laboratory" to determine if changes in the baseball department are needed (meaning general manager Ned Colletti is probably safe through the season) but that he thinks the Dodgers are "under-staffed" in some areas he did not identify and there will be  some immediate hiring.

   Time is the judge on all things, and time will determine it Guggenheim Baseball's deeds reflect their introductory words. I believe they will, cynicism aside.

  So, apparently, does one other interesting person. Peter O'Malley, whose father brought the Dodgers to Los Angeles and who succeeded his father as club president before selling the team in 1998, was a guest at the news conference, and whose grace and class of ownership was repeatedly saluted by each of the new owners ("the O'Malley's pioneered scouting and develpment so it's not as if we would be reinventing the wheel," Kasten said in a reference to building from within.

   O'Malley would never have returned to Dodger Stadium if McCourt was still the owner, so one key fan is back, and this skeptic believes many others will follow.

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