Dodgers owners are off to a lively start

Making their first official appearance on a gray morning in a nearly empty stadium, new Dodgers owners lighted up the place Wednesday with raucous promise, defiant hope and only one certainty.

Hang on to your blue, because it's going to be a wild ride.

Magic Johnson wept. Stan Kasten scolded. Mark Walter dodged. There was cheering. There was booing. There was groaning. There were several Dodgers greats who were sentimentally honored and one who, despite sitting right in front of the podium, was completely forgotten.

In the end, moderator Vin Scully jokingly said what many were thinking.

"I'm fed up, I'm fed up to here," he said. "I go back to the changing of the guard, when Branch Rickey handed the franchise over to Walter O'Malley ... and I am telling each and every one of you right now, this is the last new ownership press conference I will ever attend."

Yeah, the Guggenheim Baseball group put on that kind of nutty show, a nearly 90-minute news conference that took place in Dodger Stadium's center field, appropriately on a spot where Matt Kemp has made both diving catches and silly drops.

The good news for Dodgers fans is that the new owners announced they are lowering the parking price from $15 to $10, a move reminiscent of what Arte Moreno did with beer when he bought the Angels.

"We wanted to make a strong, strong statement," said new president Kasten.

The bad news for Dodgers fans is that they still don't know how much of that money will end up in former owner Frank McCourt's pocket, considering he still owns half of the parking lots that the new owners lease.

The new owners said again Wednesday that McCourt will not make a penny off parking and can benefit only from future development on the land. Yet they remain short on details about the nature of their partnership with the unpopular former owner.

That issue momentarily turned the news conference into a schoolyard shoving match.

"Let me address it very directly," new controlling owner Walter was saying. "Every aspect of this operation is managed and controlled by us.…"

At that point, he was interrupted by Johnson, who urged him to leave his seat and make his statement at the lectern.

"Hold on, Mark, go up there and be direct with these people, please, Mark," said Johnson.

Walter hurriedly stood, stepped to the lectern, and repeated, "Every aspect of Chavez Ravine is controlled and managed by us. The former ownership does have economic interest in certain profits that might come from eventual development."

Then Johnson jumped back in.

"We own it 100%, he doesn't get a dime from the parking.… How many times do we want to say it?" Johnson said. "I had [Walter] go up to the mike…. If you need me to come up, I'm 6-9."

Amid much laughter, Johnson then threw the final serious elbow.

"Let's move forward, please, Frank is not here. He is not part of the Dodgers anymore. We should be clapping for that," he said.

There, finally, the Guggenheim group publicly denounced McCourt, which will be as important to some fans as a parking lot document. Nearly as big was the group's decision to laud former owner Peter O'Malley, who was attending a Dodgers ownership news conference for the first time since selling the team in 1998.

"Mr. O'Malley, we owe you a lot," said Johnson. "Stand up, Mr. O'Malley, you put the pride in the Dodgers.… What we want to do is bring that pride back to this city and organization."

Yet the group also stumbled over a bit of Dodgers history when, among other former stars, Steve Garvey and Ron Cey were invited to the stage to hand jerseys to the owners while their infield mate Bill Russell sat in the audience listening to Scully read from a script that said he was not there.

Russell, who appeared in more games in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform than anyone, has been unofficially snubbed by the organization since he struggled to replace Tom Lasorda and was eventually fired from his managerial job in 1998. Here's guessing the new owners will welcome him back.

For the most part Wednesday, they said the right things, the sort of things that sold me on this group when I began publicly supporting them last fall.

Their baseball guy, Kasten, talked about already working with the folks from Levy to alleviate the horrendous concession waits — "I experienced the lines the other day when they made it difficult for me to walk the concourse, and that is not a good thing," he said.

Their community guy, Johnson, talked about telling his staff to welcome all communication from fans — "Don't hesitate to call, because we'll answer all your calls," he said — while the Dodgers also announced that suggestions could be emailed to a new address,

Finally, in what fans really care about, their money guy, Walter, said he would not stand in the way of Kasten's spending whatever it took to improve the team, a promise that will be tested this summer when the surprising Dodgers could need one or two veterans to push them to a championship.

"Do [Ned Colletti and Kasten] have free rein to sign players? Absolutely not. They have to," said Walter. "We want to make the team as good as possible. We have some incredibly great players, but they need support."

At one point during the nearly 90-minute news conference, Walter's voice was completely drowned out by a passing helicopter, which made for perhaps the morning's most perfect moment.

The new Dodgers owners should know — because we know — that everything they promise is just noise until they do it.

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