Keep It Bright, Mr. Murdoch

The long winter is nearly over. In just two weeks umpires will bellow, "Play ball." And for Los Angeles and Dodger fans, this opening day will be a wake-up. There will be a new man at shortstop, yes, but more important there will be a new face in the owner's box.

Walter O'Malley brought the Dodgers west from Brooklyn for the 1958 season. For nearly four decades, he and later his son Peter ran a first-class, fan-friendly operation at Chavez Ravine. Last week communications mogul Rupert Murdoch, born an Australian but now an American, signed a formal agreement to buy the Dodgers from the O'Malley family. Barring a hitch when other baseball club owners vote on the sale this week, Murdoch's U.S. cable and TV unit, the Fox Group, will own the Dodgers.

It's a passage to ponder. The days when families owned baseball teams and the children inherited them are gone. The Stonehams with the Giants, the Griffiths with the Senators and Twins, the O'Malleys with their Dodgers--almost all now have yielded to corporations or partnerships whose primary owners made their millions in other fields.

The O'Malleys put Los Angeles on the big league sports map. They charged reasonable prices to watch a game, eat a Dodger dog, drink a beer. Their teams were top-rank, with World Series rings to prove it.

Murdoch has wisely asked Peter O'Malley to stay on as Dodger chairman, probably until the end of this year. O'Malley's longtime aide, Robert Graziano, will be president, another nod to continuity.

Fox officials have promised not to spend outrageous amounts of Murdoch's money in a bid to buy a pennant. That should comfort owners with shorter pockets who may be thinking of the Florida Marlins debacle. Last October, after winning a dramatic World Series, the Marlin owner, declaring the team's TV and turnstile returns were not what he wanted, dismantled the squad, trading away the top players and their top salaries. The world champion Marlins aren't expected to make much of a splash this year, and Florida fans are rightfully angry.

Unlike the Marlins, the Dodgers have a history, one the O'Malleys made and honored. From "Dem Bums" in Brooklyn through the years beneath the palms in Los Angeles, they've given us great entertainment. Murdoch should heed that tradition. The Dodgers are a jewel that he needs to keep bright.

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