Whether Magic Johnson and Guggenheim Partners spent too much for the Dodgers is a rational fear

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – No one’s ever completely happy, not when tomorrow’s just sitting there waiting to screw things up.

True enough, after the Magic Johnson-led group fell from the sky the night before, what followed nationally was an entirely rational fear Guggenheim Baseball Partners had overextended itself and the Dodgers, sunk by the McCourts over eight years, might never dig out.

Magic Johnson is part of the largest purchase of a sports franchise in history.
(US Presswire)

While that won’t be answered before Cole Hamels or Matt Cain is standing behind Clayton Kershaw in the rotation, an insider with the Guggenheim group insisted there was plenty of money to both own and operate the Dodgers, the latter part of which being where the previous regime got ratty.

Magic, his business partners and traveling companions flew Wednesday afternoon from New York to Los Angeles. They’d forged the largest purchase of a sports franchise in history, by plenty. A photo landed on Twitter of Magic sitting in a private jet. He wore a Dodgers cap and his signature smile. He was giving a thumbs up.

On the eve of what was supposed to be a three-way auction, the GBP people effectively canceled the bidding with their sledgehammer offer, according to sources with knowledge of the deal. Readying their offers, the other two groups – Steve Cohen’s and Stan Kroenke’s – were told not to bother.

The auction was over before it began. GBP, apparently, would make one – and only one – offer, and it would have to start with a 2. It settled on $2.15 billion, and allowed McCourt to become a partner in the Dodger Stadium parking lots.

“They didn’t want to win by a field goal,” a source said of Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter and company. “They wanted to win by two touchdowns.”

As Magic headed home, Major League Baseball awaited details of the deal. Once delivered to Park Avenue, the contract’s language and terms will be reviewed by MLB lawyers and then by commissioner Bud Selig, who’ll likely confer with other owners. Then the deal will have to pass through bankruptcy court.

The three final groups had been approved by baseball, but that was when the Dodgers price tag was believed to be in the $1.6-billion range. By previous standards, Walter in essence bought two teams. Most critical to MLB, according to league officials, is that the coming television deal – for perhaps $4 billion over 20 years – not be used to pay down the debt of the purchase price. That, if you recall, is the area that eventually polished off McCourt.

By agreement, the process is to close by April 30, at which point – assuming the numbers work out – Jamie McCourt will be paid off, Frank McCourt will be rich, and Magic will be carried into Dodger Stadium on a litter adorned in gold leaf.

[ Related: Five things Magic Johnson and the new Dodgers owners need to do ]

Barring a massive problem with the proposed funding, and assuming the owners who supported Cohen over Walter don’t rampage, Selig will not kill this transaction. The league has just acquired one of the iconic African American businessmen/sportsmen in the nation, a hero in Los Angeles, and a figure who’d dwarf – literally and figuratively – McCourt. It has to work.

So, around the Dodgers on Wednesday, the road grays looked a little less drab and the blues a bit more promising. For the club’s baseball operations, field staff and players, the past 2½ years have been an exercise in, manager Don Mattingly said, “Survival.”

“So much was going on for the owner there wasn’t a lot of attention on where we’re going as an organization,” Mattingly said. “It was about survival. And rightly so. There was a lot of stuff going on.”

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly watches the action Wednesday with a little more reason to smile.
(AP)

Instead of a present and engaged owner or president, general manager Ned Colletti and first Joe Torre and then Mattingly steered the club.

“Now,” Mattingly said, “you have a force that says this is where you’re going and this is how we’re going to get here. That shouldn’t be the manager’s or general manager’s job. Obviously we didn’t have any choice last year.”

Plenty of times last season Tony Gwynn Jr. stood out in left field at Dodger Stadium and wondered where all the people were. McCourt had driven them off. The mood changed. The organization sagged.

These are still those Dodgers, at least for the moment. But tickets were said to be moving well in L.A. as word of Magic’s involvement spread. And the chatter among players was that Magic was coming, that a baseball man in Stan Kasten was coming, that an owner with room on his credit cards was coming.

But, mostly, that Magic was coming.

“You can’t help but be a little excited about it, even if it has no bearing on what happens on the field,” Gwynn Jr. said. “You’d have to be living in a cave for 30 years not to know Magic and what he brings.”

There was a basketball in a trophy case in the home Gwynn Jr. was raised. It belonged to his father, the Hall of Famer. And it was signed by Magic.

When Magic retired, Gwynn Jr. recalled, his dad was so heartbroken he didn’t watch the NBA for four years.

“Literally,” he said.

Even Mattingly, an old Indiana guy, understood how this would play. In high school, he’d gone to see Indiana State play twice, grew to adore the gangly kid from French Lick, and was devastated when the Sycamores lost to Johnson’s Michigan State team.

“It’s going to be good to be on the same team,” he said of Magic. “They only way it would have been better is if Larry Bird came with him.”

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Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Mar 28, 2012