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By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
DODGER STADIUM.–The morning drizzle had subsided, but the skies were dreary, grey and anything but Dodger blue.
No matter. One magic smile brought plenty of sunshine to the proceedings Wednesday.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers legend with the infectious grin, beamed as he donned a Dodgers jersey and, with his management team, assumed control of the storied franchise.
And not a moment too soon, really. After the expected formalities and introductions, the persistent question about the former owner was finally met with the power and skill of a “showtime” fast break.
“Frank’s not here. He’s not a part of the Dodgers anymore. We should be clapping for just that,” Johnson said of the not-so-dearly departed ownership of Frank McCourt, who was forced to sell the team in agreement with bankruptcy filing.
Johnson is a member of a partnership that was created last December to acquire the team and improve its standing on and off the field. The group includes former Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, entertainment mogul Peter Gruber and Chicago businessman Mark Walter.
The new owners, collectively known as Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC, outbid several other groups to purchase the Dodgers, paying a reported $2.1 billion. McCourt retained some rights to the land surrounding Dodger Stadium and is expected to share in any revenue from future development of that property.
The new owners took great care not to utter the name of the former boss until repeatedly pressed to make a concrete statement. Under the control of Frank and then-wife Jamie McCourt, an ownership that began with great promise soon degenerated into a series of tabloid-style headlines of financial abuse and tawdry behavior.
Johnson heaped praise on former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, who was among the dignitaries and former players in attendance. It was O’Malley’s father, Walter, who moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. Under the family ownership, the Dodgers flourished on the field and at the turnstiles, drawing annual crowds in the millions, something previously unheard of in sports.
“It’s going to take some time to get this franchise back to where Mr. O’Malley had it, but we’re going to work, and we’re going to do it,” Johnson said. “We’re committed for the long haul. We’re going to be owners for a long time.”
The commitment to the fans began right away, as Johnson announced an immediate reduction of the general parking rate, from $15 to $10. He also revealed plans to give fans more and wider access to players and to implement strategies to shorten lines at concession stands.
Walter added that while no plans have been made for material changes to the stadium itself, GBM intends to make improvements to the aging park, which first opened in 1962 and still is considered one of the sparkling jewels among major league venues.
Johnson, who is involved with the proposed construction of an NFL stadium in Downtown, added that there are no plans in the foreseeable future to move the Dodgers nor to rename the stadium.
Among the former stars at the announcement were Maury Wills, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, “Sweet” Lou Johnson and Don Newcombe, who was the roommate of the great Jackie Robinson.
Any uncertainty of the future was effectively tempered by the reassuring voice of Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who joked, “I’m tired, and this is the last introduction of a new owner I will agree to attend.”