LA Dodgers: Euphoria of New Ownership Gives Way to Questions on the Field

Howard RubenContributor IApril 6, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 5 : Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is congratulated by teammate Andre Ethier #16 after hitting a home run during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres in the home opener at Petco Park on April 5, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Okay, can everybody just settle down for a minute? The Dodgers have played one game and already the coronation has begun.

The utter euphoria that descended on Los Angeles when word spread that the team had finally been sold by Frank McCourt must have felt like New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl all rolled into one.  Driving down the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, you could actually hear a collective sigh of relief from the Dodgers faithful. 

I think the earth swayed under my wheels—or maybe it was just another small earthquake.

In one stroke of the pen, and a commitment to spend $2.15 billion to purchase the storied franchise (the most for any sports franchise in history), the Guggenheim Baseball Management coalition of Mark Walter, Magic Johnson, Peter Guber and Stan Kasten became the white knights in a saga that has dragged on for years out at Chavez Ravine.

But, now the real work begins. The deal is expected to be approved April 13, and Major League Baseball is saying the Dodgers should not be allowed to exit bankruptcy until McCourt reimburses the league $8.3 million it spent, mostly on lawyers fees, to fight this case.

Will the Dodgers contend in the West this year? After Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and a healthy Andre Ethier, just who do the Dodgers have. And can they win more than 82 games, which they'll need to do if they want to advance to the postseason?

Which James Loney will step out at first base this spring—the one who may have been the league's MVP in August, or the other Loney who seemed to be destined to be traded much of the season due to horrendous hitting?

Can Matt Kemp top his MVP-caliber season in which he clubbed 39 home runs, drove in 126 runs, hit .324, stole 40 bases, had 33 doubles and 195 hits while playing every game for the Dodgers? He says he wants to be a 50/50 player this year and got off on the right foot with a homer Opening Day victory over the San Diego Padres.

Ethier, hobbled by injuries last year, was healthy this spring and looks more like the player of 2009 and 2010, when he hit 31 and 23 homers and drove in 106 and 82 runs, respectively.

From the standpoint of franchise stability, the acquisition of the Dodgers by "The Johnson Group" could not have been scripted any better. Magic Johnson is a sports icon and Stan Kasten is one of the more respected front-office executives in the game of baseball, having led the Atlanta Braves from 1986-2003. During that time the Braves won more games than any other team in Major League Baseball. 

From 1991 to 2005, the Braves won 14 straight division titles, five NL pennants, and the World Series in 1995. Kasten ran the Braves, Hawks (NBA) and Thrashers (NHL) at the same time before stepping down in 2003.

Immediately following the deal to buy the Dodgers, John Schuerholz, president of the Braves who was originally hired by Kasten as their GM in 1990, told Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Consitution: “I’m happy for Stan, and I think it’s a good day for baseball. With Stan’s involvement and his experience and expertise and ability to build and operate professional sports franchises, especially in baseball, I don’t think [the Dodgers] could have made a better choice.”

So, there is reason to be excited and optimistic about the Dodgers. They say that great teams come from great ownership, and that everything trickles down from there.

Up until now, the Dodgers were an organization in disarray. With Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and the financial heft of Guggenheim behind them, the team suddenly looks like it's on the road to redemption.

Now, we'll find out soon enough how real that major-league commitment by ownership truly is. This year's team looks pretty much like last year's.

The Dodgers of 2011 started slow and finished strong. It will be interesting to see how they come out of the gate, knowing now that the main focus will be on the field, and not in the tabloids.