Bye Bye Frank McCourt, Hello Magic Johnson!

Dodger fans breathed a collective sigh of relief last evening as the Frank McCourt era for the Dodgers is officially coming to an end with the purchase of the team by Los Angeles Legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC Partnership for a reported $2 billion dollars. In a separate deal Frank McCourt sold the same partnership some land around the stadium used for a parking lot for an additional $150 million (which is more than McCourt’s ex-wife Jamie will receive from their highly publicized divorce proceedings). While the Guggenheim group sounds like something I used to call my brother when we were little, I can assure you that it is one of the largest privately held global financial services firms with more than $125 billion in assets. Magic Johnson is the very public face for the management group that will taking over control of the group while other partners include Mark Walter, Peter Guber, Bobby Patton, Todd Boehly and  longtime sports executive Stan Kasten who many may remember as President of the Atlanta Braves from 1986-2003 among other roles.

Stan Kasten brings baseball success to the new Dodgers ownership group. As President of the Atlanta Braves from 1986-2003 the Braves won the most games of any franchise, and he most recently helped improve the Washington Nationals from 2006-2010 as President there.

How did this all happen? This whole thing started in 2004 when McCourt purchased the Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch and his NewCorp industry for $403 million dollars. McCourt used a South Boston parking lot property that he owned as collateral in this deal, and NewsCorp reportedly received about $200 million dollars when they re-sold that property to Morgan Stanley and Boston real estate investor John B. Hynes III in 2006. On the baseball front McCourt also made some huge changes immediately after taking over control, firing General Manager Dan Evans and replacing him with Paul DePodesta (who is featured in the book Moneyball, but portrayed in the movie by Jonah Hill’s fictional character Peter Brand because DePodesta did not approve of the way his character was featured). In McCourt’s first season of owning the club the Dodgers won the NL West (96-69 regular season) but were swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series. In 2005 the Dodgers regressed finishing 71-91 and out of the playoffs, partly due to the decision not to re-sign Adrian Beltre (who finished second in NL MVP voting in 2004) and instead signing J.D. Drew, Derek Lowe, and Jeff Kent to monster contracts. After that season McCourt fired Manager Jim Tracy and General Manager Paul DePodesta and brought in Grady Little and Ned Colletti (respectively) to replace them. In 2006 the Dodgers made the playoffs as the NL Wild Card, but were bounced by the New York Mets in a 4 game sweep once again. 2007 was another down year where the team went 82-80 and failed to reach the postseason. In October 2007, Grady Little resigned and was replaced by Joe Torre and the team finally had some playoff success. In 2008 and 2009 the team made consecutive National League Championship appearances. Things were looking up for the organization, but on the eve of the 2009 NLCS it was announced that Frank McCourt had separated from his wife Jamie after 30 years of marriage. I’m not going to get into it here, but the whole ordeal was messy and interfered with television deals and day to day operations of the club, as Jamie was a front-office executive with the organization during the marriage. The divorce and the financial implications had a major effect on the franchise, and in April 2011 Major League Baseball eventually took control of the club. On June 27, 2011 the Dodgers also filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection, and after much discussion between McCourt’s lawyers and MLB lawyers he finally reached a deal with the league to put the team up for sale. Everything that happened over the past 8 years culminated in yesterday’s proceedings and the eventual sale to Magic Johnson’s group.

In a statement made by Magic Johnson yesterday he said “”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”. That sentiment was also echoed by Dodgers star outfielder Matt Kemp who said “”I think it’s tight, man, for Magic to be one of our owners… He knows what the Dodgers mean to L.A. Magic is very important to L.A., and the fans love him. This is a pretty good day for the Dodgers.”

Matt Kemp, 2011 NL MVP Runner-Up, is thrilled to have Magic Johnson aboard.

Yesterday was a great day for the Los Angeles Dodgers and for lovers of baseball everywhere. Frank McCourt backing away makes room for an ownership group who wants to win and knows how to handle finances and gets rid of the awkward relationship that exists when a governing body has control of one of the teams it presides over (see David Stern nixing the Chris Paul trade in New Orleans). It also brings back to L.A. one of the most historic figures and legends in Magic Johnson, a guy who knows just a little something about winning and defying the odds. Will this move restore the Dodgers to one of the most celebrated franchises in all over sports? Time will tell but from my point of view this is a fantastic start. Ball is in your court, Magic.

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