Apparently there was some question in Los Angeles these past few months as to who would wind up owning the Dodgers, once the team was sold at auction and the sordid tale that was Frank McCourt’s stewardship of the franchise was mercifully concluded. Apparently, there were big-money suitors all over the place, some of whom were perceived at various times to be the favorites.
Once Stan Kasten, baseball’s top consigliere, worked his deal-making magic — lining up Magic Johnson as the face-man, and Mark Walter, head of Guggenheim Partners, as the top money-man — was there really any question that this would be the group that would own baseball’s West-Coast flagship franchise?
The only real question was the price — and that part was a stunner: The Kasten/Johnson/Walter group will pay $2 billion for the Dodgers, a record for any sports franchise and more than double what the Chicago Cubs, another flagship franchise, went for just three years ago. Among the bidders who fell short were one led by billionaire hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen and former manager Tony La Russa, and another led by St. Louis Rams/Denver Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke.
For Dodgers fans, who have suffered untold indignities these last few years as the McCourt regime unraveled, there could not have been a better outcome. Walter, who will hold controlling interest in the franchise, presides over an investment banking firm that manages more than $100 billion in assets. Johnson is merely the most popular sports figure in Southern California – and a successful businessman himself.
And Kasten, as folks in Washington surely know, is the ultimate baseball-ownership insider, having served as president of the Atlanta Braves during their 1990s-2000s heyday and the Washington Nationals from 2006-10. In Washington, it was Kasten’s inclusion in the Ted Lerner ownership bid, at least as much as Lerner’s own deep pockets and local ties, that won that group the right to buy the Nationals.
Had Bud Selig drawn up his dream syndicate to own the Dodgers, it would have looked a lot like the one that wound up winning. Although the sale process was set up as a straight auction, with McCourt given the final say on the winning bid, it would be naïve to think MLB didn’t steer the process the way it has plenty of others in the past.
And while Johnson will be the face of the new group and Walter will be the boss — assuming the purchase is approved — it is Kasten who will be its brains and its brawn. Sarcastic, extroverted and often confrontational with those who don’t share his agenda (yes, at times that includes the media), Kasten is also one of the smartest front-office men in baseball, if not all of sports. And despite the damage the McCourt regime inflicted upon the Dodgers brand, it would not be surprising if, given the franchise’s revenues (soon to be bolstered by a lucrative television deal) and deep-rooted fan base, the Dodgers experience a quick turnaround under their new owners.
Practically overnight, the Dodgers just became relevant again.