Then again, who better than Magic Johnson to be L.A. baseball’s new point man? How often do you get to see players get excited about their new owner? Each of them came to their lockers to find a pair of Magic’s basketball jerseys autographed by him — one personalized to keep, the other to go to a favorite charity. They were as giddy as kids on a playground. A while later, Magic and his partners splurged on expensive players to wear Dodgers jerseys. In they came: Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford — stars in their own right.
“When we acquired Hanley,” the team’s general manager, Ned Colletti, tells me, “I asked if he had any questions. He asked if he could meet Magic.”
Anything the new owner doesn’t know about baseball, he intends to learn. Mainly, he intends to let the baseball authorities take care of that end while doing everything in his power to make the franchise as popular and as prosperous as possible. (The first thing he did was announce a reduction in the cost of parking.)
“Did I play baseball? No,” he says. “Do I love baseball? Yes. People have been coming up to me since this happened and asking, ‘Were you a fan?’ I absolutely was. I grew up a big Detroit Tigers fan. I could take you through them all: Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Gates Brown, Aurelio Rodriguez, on and on. I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell on the radio. I got Ernie there and Vin Scully here. Talking baseball doesn’t get any better than that.”
Whereas basketball was action-packed, fast and furious, baseball is a slow dance, a picnic in a park. “If you have a friend, a client, whatever, what a wonderful place to be,” he says. “I go to a baseball game with my wife, Cookie, and we sit there for three or four hours together, just catching up.”
Of course, a new face means more new faces. The organization that gave the game Jackie Robinson needs to lead by example, so last fall during the World Series, it was disclosed that Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie, was joining the Dodgers’ board of directors. More history being made. Magic Johnson has many other ideas on this front. You say this is Black History Month? In his world, every month can be Black History Month.
I point out that the only thing he hasn’t tried seems to be acting. Jordan had his movie Space Jam. His buddy Larry Bird did a bit in Blue Chips. Shaquille O’Neal was a genie in Kazaam. Kareem even flew the plane in Airplane! Where’s Air Johnson’s in-flight movie?
“I have been offered a lot of parts,” Magic says. “They even asked me to do an urban, African-American version of Donald Trump’s Apprentice. But I’m saying no. I’m going to focus on just being a businessman. I have a lot of things I still want to do. A lot of things.”
I’ll just tell you now: He’ll do them.
Mike Downey is a former Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit newspaper columnist. Although he did not buy the Dodgers, he does happen to be a part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor-league club the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops.