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Dodgers new ownership vows to restore luster to tarnished franchise

With core in place and somewhat hands-off management, Kasten could bring back O'Malley years

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

3:56 PM CDT, May 5, 2012

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On a windy, foggy Friday, there was a break in the clouds as the Dodgers were finishing batting practice.

It wasn't quite Ferris Bueller weather, but for a while the sun shone brightly and it felt a little warmer at Wrigley Field. That was when Todd Boehly, his wife and three children walked from the first-base seats onto the warning track.

As Chad Billingsley stepped onto the mound to start his warmup, the Boehly family posed for pictures, Todd in a Dodgers jersey, unbuttoned, over his dress shirt. It was one more step in what has been a charged transition for the Chicago-based Guggenheim Baseball Management group, which seems to have picked exactly the right time to invest $2 billion in a baseball team.

Mark Walter, the controlling partner, also is spending his weekend at Wrigley. Like Boehly, he's a North Shore resident who, according to new Dodgers president/part-owner Stan Kasten, was a huge Cubs fan right until the moment Major League Baseball approved him to buy the team that had been languishing under the mismanagement of Frank McCourt.

Kasten said he would be happy to provide introductions, but the new owners would be doing no interviews. Not today, not tomorrow and probably not the next day. He wasn't smiling when he said that, but he could have been.

During a long tenure in Atlanta, when at different times he ran the Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, Kasten worked for one of the best owners in sports and one of the worst. Ted Turner somehow managed to be both.

There's usually a learning curve for new owners, and no one has illustrated it better than Turner. He was extremely hands-on after buying the Braves, even suiting up to manage one game in 1977. But after he developed a global perspective and loftier ambitions than winning the National League West, he summoned Kasten to tell him that he would like to add baseball responsibilities to Kasten's role as an NBA general manager.

"I started off telling how I would do things, that I'm a believer in player development and scouting,'' Kasten said. "He cut me off. He said, 'I don't care how you do it. Just do it.'''

In the time it took him to say about 10 words, Turner had given Kasten complete authority. He then left him alone to run things, with their relationship eventually boiling down to one or two formal meetings a year. Some say that was when the Braves turned the corner toward becoming a powerhouse.

This ownership group will be more involved than the latter-year Turner. But Kasten and his most famous partner, Magic Johnson, will be the driving forces.

Walter, an Iowa native who gravitated to Chicago when he attended Northwestern Law School, and the full ownership group made a command appearance Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

Walter praised the "limitless pride and potential'' of the franchise, vowing to make it the best it can be in every area.

"I promise you this commitment will be a labor of love,'' he said.

With the exception of a stadium in disrepair, what's not to love? The team has a strong core built around NL elites Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, a huge new television contract that could bring it $4 billion over 20 years and an early lead in the West, thanks partly to some wise spending of GM Ned Colletti.

With MLB running the team and McCourt in the midst of a bizarre bankruptcy, Colletti cut the payroll from $120 million to $105 million but still found ways to restock with veterans like Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Mark Ellis.

Colletti's best choice might have been his manager. He promoted Don Mattingly when Joe Torre resigned late in the 2010 season.

"He puts guys in the right places,'' Colletti said. "He has an idea with a player and you say, 'What's he doing?' Then it's like, 'Oh, that's what he's doing.' Just like Whitey Herzog.''

It's a long way to October and even further to truly restoring the footing of a franchise that longs for the days of Walter O'Malley. But the vows have been spoken, and the honeymoon has begun.