The Guggenheim group are heroes today in Southern California as the Dodgers defeated Arizona 7-6 to clinch the National League West title. The group promised to bring quality baseball and victory back to Los Angeles after the wretched reign of Frank McCourt and in their first full year of ownership, the Dodgers launched an improbable midseason onslaught of victories to reach this point.
The Dodgers have held the heart of Los Angeles sports fans for years. With a set lineup, a beautiful ballpark, Vin Scully and a tenure that began in 1958, they have always marketed the nation's second largest population center like a small town. Straight-A nights, Boy Scout nights, Kiwanis nights -- it was a special occasion to go to Dodger Stadium notwithstanding who the opponent was or who was pitching.
I fell in love with baseball growing up in Los Angeles as a hardcore rabid Dodger fan. From Koufax and Wills to Garvey and Cey to Gibson's homer they have been a classic franchise. Until the dark times. When Fox traded catcher Mike Piazza, it destroyed the set lineup tradition.
McCourt never had sufficient financing to buy the team in the first place. He was heavily leveraged. He allegedly used the team like a piggy bank, fielding mediocre lineups and using revenues to support a lavish lifestyle. Fans began staying away in droves. The drama of the McCourt divorce overshadowed the team's play on the field. He extorted a king's ransom of undeserved profit for mishandling the team when Guggenheim bought them in May of 2012.
Guggenheim paid a shocking $2.15 billion for the franchise and stadium and were widely ridiculed. But they did not rise to financial primacy with rash analysis. They knew they had a rich television market and a beloved franchise that dominated Southern California. And when they turned around and struck a $7 billion television rights deal with Time-Warner, their judgment started to make sense. They did not walk away like McCourt with the money -- they invested heavily in the stadium and the team.
The Dodgers had a series of injuries and a makeshift lineup of sometime reserves and looked miserable the first months of the season. The new ownership had invested a fortune in young Cuban Yasiel Puig and when he was called up he became the most dynamic player in baseball.
The return of another major investment, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, electrified the team. He is hitting .351, and has 20 homers and 57 RBI's having missed 50 games. Carl Crawford, another costly acquisition in the Red Sox trade got healthy and hit in the .300's. Highly paid Adrian Gonzalez has hit near .300 and is approaching 100 RBIs. And in free agency, the team spent mega-dollars to acquire Zack Greinke, who is 15-3 and forms, with Clayton Kershaw, the most dynamic one-two pitching punch in baseball.
It is rarely true, no matter how often repeated, that money buys World Series titles. Look at recent history. The Dodgers needed to come together and play like a unit with confidence, and they have. Traditionally the Dodgers built through the farm system and used their own players in a set line up for years. But that system had atrophied, and a heavy dose of testosterone replacement was necessary to give the Dodgers the tools.
I feel bad for Angel owner Artie Moreno, who has been reinvesting in his team for years. But Thursday was the Dodgers' night, as they have taken the first step back to redemption.
Thank you, Guggenheim. Baseball is better for you.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.