By GREG BEACHAM, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although the Southern California sun stayed behind the clouds, everything else about the Los Angeles Dodgers' introductory news conference for their new ownership group Wednesday signaled the dawn of a bright new era for a beloved franchise.
Magic Johnson, Mark Walter and Stan Kasten stood on a stage in center field at Dodger Stadium on what venerable broadcaster Vin Scully called "a soft day," pulling on white jerseys and blue Dodgers caps for the club's third ownership change since 1998.
The new owners vowed to restore the Dodgers' dignity after Frank McCourt's often-stormy and sometimes sleazy tenure. While outlining a long-term vision, they also offered an immediate carrot for their long-suffering fans: a $5 reduction in the $15 parking charges at the stadium.
"What we want to do is bring the pride back to this city and this organization," said Johnson, his voice echoing off thousands of empty seats in the iconic stadium. "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. We're committed for the long haul. We're going to be owners for a long time."
The new owners are aware their franchise's prestige and fan support declined under McCourt, who sold the Dodgers for $2 billion to the group fronted by Johnson, headed by Walter and run by Kasten. Although they made the playoffs four times in McCourt's eight years, the Dodgers haven't won the World Series since 1988, before the O'Malley family's sale of the club sent it into an increasingly unsettling series of ownership changes.
Johnson, the former Lakers star, announced the parking changes along with extra access to batting practice and other future incentives for fans. The group is investigation a renovation to the notoriously cramped clubhouses, and Kasten plans to investigate Dodger Stadium's infamously epic lines for beer and refreshments.
Johnson and Walter also answered numerous questions about the peripheral involvement of McCourt, who is widely reviled by Dodgers fans for his seemingly profligate lifestyle at the club's expense before putting the club into bankruptcy last June.
Walter confirmed McCourt still has an interest in potential future profits from development of the 300 acres in Chavez Ravine. But Walter claimed all revenues from the parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium go to the team, and all decisions on future development will be made by the current ownership group, which also includes movie mogul and Golden State Warriors part-owner Peter Guber.
"Frank McCourt is not involved in any shape and fashion," Johnson said. "Frank is not here. He's not a part of the Dodgers any more. We should be clapping just for that."
Walter also didn't flinch when asked about the enormous price his group paid for the Dodgers, the highest ever paid for a pro sports franchise and $500 million higher than the next bid. Walter acknowledges he has been asked by friends and partners why he paid so much.
"I always say, why did the price get so high? It's the Dodgers," said Walter, who acknowledged being nervous during a brief speech off cue cards on the stage. "I viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own one of the most successful franchises in sports. I believe if we build the franchise from the long point of view, the value of the investment will be apparent. This is a generational investment."
The Dodgers themselves have already done much to restore the pride cited by their new owners, getting off to a first-place start in the NL West with a strong opening month while the ownership deal was finalized.
The Dodgers are an exceptionally attractive property to Walter and Kasten for several reasons: Along with a brand recognized worldwide and a well-preserved stadium in the hills between downtown and Hollywood, the Dodgers also have NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and slugger Matt Kemp.
Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, gave a strong vote of confidence to general manager Ned Colletti's work so far, with Kasten saying he expects the Dodgers' payroll "moving forward will be north of where it is now."