With Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten, and Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter set to take over the Dodgers, I thought I'd share some advice:
--Think Before You Act
I always felt Frank McCourt's biggest problem was that him and Jamie immediately came in and tried to put their stamp on the team. They made rash decisions without realizing out what the fan and media reaction would be. Then they tried to go back on many of them and looked foolish in the process.
The early days of McCourt rule were particularly bizarre with well-liked VP Derrick Hall resigning, respected GM Dan Evans being forced to interview for his own job, and local legend Ross Porter being ousted. Whether it was forcing Nancy Bea Hefley to play less, screwing up multiple stadium renovations, or using organizational resources on Jamie's image, the McCourts just could never get it right. Their early missteps set the tone for the next seven years.
When I worked for the Tampa Bay Rays, we regularly engaged our fans and would conduct focus groups to understand the implications of every off-field decision. It was a process that served us extremely well, particularly as we worked to improve the fan experience. Similarly Arte Moreno kept most of the Angels organizational structure in place, and used Disney methods that were already setup at Angel Stadium to create a fan-friendly atmosphere.
Stan Kasten has never lived in LA before. Mark Walter has never owned a baseball team before. And Magic Johnson has never been in this position before. The trio would be best advised to sit back and take notes before taking and bold and brash actions. If anything, I hope that their first few months at the helm are relatively uneventful as Johnson and Walter learn the business and Kasten learns the organization and the community.
--Make a Grand Gesture
Arte Moreno famously lowered the price of beer when he took over the Angels. Stu Sternberg offered free parking at Tropicana Field for his first two years with the Tampa Bay Rays. These types of gestures may seem gimmicky, but they really work with fans. They show the community that the owner is on their side.
My personal recommendation would be to lower the price of parking for cars with four people or more. Not only would the move make games more affordable for Dodgers fans, but it would also reduce traffic around the stadium and help the environment. If the Dodgers lowered the price of parking from $15 to $8 or $10 for cars with four people or more, then one could essentially think that it's only $2 or $2.50 a person to park at Dodger Stadium.
That's just one suggestion, but there's plenty of other ideas that the new owners could consider which would make a difference.
--Reexamine Baseball Operations
I noted earlier that the new Dodgers ownership group should evaluate the organization before rushing into any decisions. Kasten has said that Ned Colletti and his team will stay in place and he has no plans to make any changes. He did the same thing in Washington when he kept Jim Bowden in his job. I do believe that Kasten needs to take his time to evaluate Colletti and determine if he's the right GM for the Dodgers.
On the other hand, I've evaluated Colletti for the past seven years, and I have serious doubts about whether he's the right GM for the team. The general consensus among the LA media is that Colletti has been hamstrung by McCourt's frugal ways. But the reality is that the Dodgers have had a competitive payroll every year under Colletti, usually spending more than $100 million in player salaries.
Few GMs have a worse track record on free agents, and it's not just the signings of Jason Schmidt, Andruw Jones, and Juan Pierre that I'm talking about. Colletti regularly spends millions on aging infielders like Casey Blake, Juan Uribe, Mark Ellis, or Rafael Furcal (when everyone knew he was hurt.) These moves have taken playing time away from the few prospects the Dodgers have had.
Under Colletti, the Dodgers farm has gone from one of the top-3 in baseball in 2006 to 24th in this year's Baseball America rankings. I wrote more in depth about the problems with the Dodgers' farm system back in January. But Stan Kasten really needs to take a hard look at what has happened to baseball operations. Why has the organization stopped developing prospects since DeJon Watson took over player development? Why has scouting director Logan White struck out in so many drafts in recent years?
Some say that McCourt took funding away from these crucial areas, like scouting and player development. I'm not completely sure to what extent that is true, but I do believe that Colletti, Watson, and White should all be thoroughly evaluated and held accountable. Fortunately, Kasten knows how to build a farm system from his time in Atlanta, and I trust he'll make the right decisions.
--Consider the NFL
I've long been a supporter of pretty much any stadium plan that has a chance to bring the NFL back to LA. But I've always said that the best place for an LA football stadium is Chavez Ravine.
Peter O'Malley always wanted to build one on the property, but local officials like County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and former councilmember Mike Hernandez stood in the way. If it wasn't for them, then O'Malley might still own the Dodgers and they wouldn't be the mess they are today.
According to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, AEG's proposed downtown football "may be all but dead in the eyes of many involved." If that's the case, then attention could shift back to Chavez Ravine, where Magic Johnson is one of the deed holders. Johnson was already partnered with AEG on their proposal.
There's obviously a ton of hurdles and major issues that need to be considered. They include the team that would move here, the financing of a stadium, the share of a team that Johnson and co. might want to own, etc.
But a Chavez Ravine football stadium wouldn't cost over $1 billion like the one downtown. And the surrounding area already can support an attendance of 56,000 for baseball. A typical NFL stadium these days seats 65-70,000, which is not that much more, and there could always be solutions with expanded shuttle service from Union Station. Chavez Ravine offers an ideal setting for tailgating, it's accessible from three freeways, and it's an area that's used to supporting sports.
--Know who is really in charge
The entity known as Guggenheim Baseball Management may own the Dodgers, but the Dodgers don't belong to them. To the people of Los Angeles, the Dodgers are viewed as a public trust that ultimately belongs to the fans. As long as Magic, Stan, and Mark are completely cognizant of that, and have that in the back of their minds with every decision they make, then they'll be fine.
Fox treated the Dodgers as a pawn in a regional cable TV battle, and never gave the organization the proper care. McCourt treated the Dodgers as his personal asset, which he felt free to run at his discretion. Both those ownership tenures were failures.
The O'Malley family always saw the Dodgers as an asset that belonged to the community, and they saw themselves as stewards of an entity that Los Angeles grew to love. This is an organization with as rich of a tradition as any in baseball. And it deserves an owner who understands that he's not owning the Dodgers for himself, but rather that he's owning it for all of us.
I believe that Magic, Stan, and Mark have the potential to be the kind of owners the Dodgers need. So long as they listen to the fans and take some advice.