Let’s get one thing straight: Magic Johnson will generate the buzz, but Stan Kasten will run the Dodgers.
“If they have Stan Kasten in their group, who else would run their team?” asked Kasten’s friend and former associate, Braves president John Schuerholz.
“You’ve got one of the most successful guys in our business, in professional sport.”
Indeed, from a baseball perspective, the involvement of Kasten in the new ownership group is the best news of all for the Dodgers — and that’s not to diminish the presence of Johnson, who also will make a huge impact.
Kasten, 60, is expected to be team president. Johnson, 52, will be one of the owners — likely more than a figurehead, given his passion and work ethic, but not a day-to-day decision-maker.
Remember a few months back, when Johnson said that as an owner, he would have been standing outside Albert Pujols’ door the moment Pujols became a free agent, ready to begin the recruiting process?
Kasten, a tough negotiator, might not want Johnson to be quite that exuberant, though the Miami Marlins successfully employed such a strategy with free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes.
Still, the marriage between Kasten and Johnson figures to work quite well, especially given the backing of Chicago’s Guggenheim Partners, who financed the $2.15 billion deal.
Johnson not only will be incredibly valuable as the face of the franchise, but also is a savvy businessman — his company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, has a reported net worth of $700 million.
“He’s very hard-working and conscientious, and has an amazing gift for detail,” said Tony Ponturo, co-producer of “Magic/Bird,” a new Broadway play about the friendship and rivalry between Johnson and Larry Bird. “He picks up on all the nuances of a business situation.”
Ponturo learned that first-hand when “Magic/Bird” was in the early stages, seeking Johnson’s support. Johnson committed to the project only after doing his homework, developing an understanding for the process and attending “Lombardi,” a play based on the life of Vince Lombardi and produced by Ponturo and his partner, Fran Kirmser.
That’s the thing about Magic, though — he’s a busy guy. It’s impossible to imagine him playing a minor role with the Dodgers, serving as little more than an official greeter. But the big decisions will belong to Kasten, who boasts an excellent track of running high-payroll teams.
You’ve heard of the Braves’ dynasty, haven’t you?
Kasten was the Braves’ president from 1986 to 2003. The Braves, under owner Ted Turner, were a top-seven payroll team from ’93 to ’03 — and No. 3 overall five times in a six-year stretch during that period.
Which is not to say the Braves were wild spenders.
Their signing of Greg Maddux to a five-year, $28 million free-agent contract in the winter of 1992 made Maddux the second-highest paid pitcher at that time. But Maddux won 15 or more games for the Braves the next 11 seasons, prompting Kasten to call him “the greatest free-agent signing ever.”
The Braves, under Kasten, also were heavily involved in the bidding for Alex Rodriguez after the 2000 season. But they didn’t come close to matching the Texas Rangers’ 10-year, $252 million offer. Their restraint showed Kasten’s good sense, and became almost a badge of honor.
Still, Kasten’s friends say that he believes in paying for stars — and now he will be in Los Angeles, a town that craves stars.
Kasten became frustrated during his tenure as president of the Washington Nationals when ownership declined to spend big. Rest assured, the Dodgers will not be bystanders when pitchers such as Cole Hamels and Matt Cain hit the open market next offseason.
“We invested in our product and our product was good and remained good for a long time,” said Schuerholz, who was the Braves’ GM under Kasten.
“If you have good knowledge, good experience, good expertise and money? I’ve always said that the combination (makes) for a successful franchise.”
He was named general manager of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks at 27. He is the only NBA executive to win back-to-back Executive of the Year awards. At one point, he was team president of three professional sports franchises — the Braves, Hawks and the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers — plus chairman of the Philips Arena in Atlanta.
The Braves were successful in part because Kasten delegated most baseball decisions in Schuerholz. With the Dodgers, one of Kasten’s first major decisions will be whether to retain GM Ned Colletti. Kasten won’t necessarily bring in his own man — he promoted Mike Rizzo to Nationals GM rather than look outside the organization. Then again, Kasten also made sure to hire statistical analysts to complement Rizzo’s scouting background.
None of that is particularly sexy.
Magic is sexy. Magic brings charisma. Magic’s fight against HIV has made him one of the most inspiring figures of our age.
“What a great figure to add,” Schuerholz said. “Here’s a guy not even in our sport, but I admire the heck out of him, every fan in America probably does.
“He stands for a lot of really positive things. He adds additional credibility, additional fervor to the organization. He has been a champion himself. I think it enhances the franchise immeasurably.”
Enhances, but doesn’t complete.
That’s Kasten’s job. And rest assured, he will do it well.