LOS ANGELES (AP) – At the little hole-in-the-wall cafe that has served for half a century as the unofficial pit stop for Los Angeles Dodgers fans heading to baseball games, there was Magic in the air Wednesday.
That’s Magic as in Earvin Johnson, the beloved basketball icon who, his city awakened to learn, has been named one of the new co-owners of LA’s once equally beloved baseball team.
As for the current owner, the reviled Frank McCourt, the general sentiment was that he shouldn’t let the door hit him in the rear end on his way out of town.
But for The Magic Man, as he’s affectionately known in these parts, it was an entirely different story.
“Everyone loves Magic,” said Dorman Austin as he sat at a table in Philippe’s, the 104-year-old corner deli that claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. The place has been a haven for Dodgers fan since the team moved just a mile up the hill when Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.
On Wednesday, not a person in the place, save a few tourists who had no idea what the hoopla was about, disagreed with him.
“The whole town is going to go crazy. Magic Johnson, he’s the right guy to do this. He’s just so popular,” said Wally Quan, shoving aside his breakfast for a moment to pick up a copy of the Los Angeles Times sports section and point to a half-page photo of the former Los Angeles Lakers star.
“And this guy, he’s a baseball man,” Quan said, pointing to a much smaller photo of Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, who is part of the ownership group that McCourt agreed to sell his bankrupt team to.
The deal must still be approved by Major League Baseball and a federal bankruptcy court.
If it is, Quan and others see the Johnson-Kasten group quickly ending a long municipal nightmare that began with McCourt’s purchase of the Dodgers eight years ago.
Things really went sour for McCourt after he and his ex-wife, Jamie, became embroiled in a long, costly, bitter divorce and the team fell into financial decline, filing for bankruptcy protection last year.
As financial troubles mounted, the team’s play declined, the stadium began to look run down and attendance fell off.
Quan said he quit buying season tickets when he found he couldn’t give them away to friends on the days he couldn’t go.
Meanwhile, some of those who did go seemed to get into drunken fistfights at almost every game. That came to an ugly head during opening day last year when a man was nearly beaten to death for wearing a rival San Francisco Giants jersey.
The crowd at Philippe’s expects Johnson to change all that. If not immediately, very soon.
He’ll turn a struggling team back into a winner, they say, just like he did when he joined the Lakers as a rookie in 1979 and led them to their first championship in eight years.
“Magic won’t put up with mediocre stuff,” said Mike Baldwin, a longtime fan who quit going to Dodgers games after McCourt bought the team.
And although he was a basketball player, not a baseball player, Magic’ll know what to do, said Quan.
“When he played basketball he always went into the game with a strategy to win,” Quan said. “Then when he went into business he had a strategy. And that’s what he’ll do with the Dodgers. He’ll have a strategy to win.”
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