Hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen has jumped to the head of the bidding pack by adding the richest man in Los Angeles to his group, Patrick-Soon Shiong. Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported this twist in the auction storyline Sunday evening. We had all been under the impression that if Patrick Soon-Shiong was going to jump into the bidding mix he was to be a part of the Magic Johnson group. Soon-Shiong had purchased a minority share of the Los Angeles Lakers from Magic Johnson in the past. This new addition to Cohen’s group probably will also lead to a reworking of the structure of his bid which originally gave Cohen 100% ownership of the team. Soon-Shiong would own a minority stake in the Dodgers. Steven Cohen most likely felt the need to include someone in his group from the Los Angeles area along with L.A. agent Arn Tellem in order to compete with Magic’s overwhelmingly loyal L.A. fan base. Cohen is from the East Coast, and rumors are that he has never even stepped foot in Dodger Stadium.
Steven Cohen has also been talking with former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, and how he could be a part of the team in some capacity. Cohen would most likely appoint Arn Tellem the company president, and La Russa would be in charge of baseball operations. As much as I want a World Championship for the Dodgers again, La Russa would not necessarily be the one to bring it home in my opinion.
Steven Cohen is reportedly ready to offer up to $2 billion for the Dodgers, and with Soon-Shiong now on board they can easily afford that price tag. Cohen’s wealth is estimated at $8.3 billion and Soon-Shiong’s at $7.2 billion. The Magic Johnson group had bid $1.6 billion.
Today a mediator will hear appeals from the Stanley Gold/Disney group and the Hindery/Barrack group who were rejected by the MLB. Later this week the MLB owners will vote on the bidders, and then McCourt can start negotiating with them before he chooses the winning bid by April Fool’s Day.
Frank McCourt has one last chance to leave the team in good hands, and to create a dignified exit for himself. He has said that he would like the new owner to be someone who loves the community. Steven Cohen lives in Connecticut, and he grew up a Mets fan. I wouldn’t argue that his intentions for the team are from a bad place, but the last thing us fans want is another greedy billionaire running things into the ground.
Who else loves the city of Los Angeles more than Magic Johnson? He clearly is the fan favorite out of the remaining bidders which also include Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley with Tony Ressler and St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke along with Cohen. Obviously cash talks, but this auction isn’t over yet Dodger fans. I think an owner who makes decisions from across the country, and one who isn’t in Los Angeles to gauge the fans and be a part of recreating that special Dodger Stadium experience in person is a disappointing option. Although one can say they are a Dodger fan, if one has never attended a game at Chavez Ravine or eaten a Dodger Dog while watching the Boys in Blue play live it is very hard for me to think they would know how to run this organization the Dodger way.
I realize the team is also a business, and Steve Cohen is a very successful businessman. Yet, the Dodgers who have a rich history and have special character as a sports team. They should be treated as such. It is important to find the right balance between running the team both as a company and also as an extension and expression of the Los Angeles baseball culture.
If Cohen does win, we must hope that he has the best interest of the team at heart. I have been jumping to the conclusion that because he’s an East Coast hedge-manager he is innately evil. That very well could be true, but at least he does not want to raze Dodger Stadium (not that I know of), and he doesn’t want the Dodgers just to couple it with a NFL or NBA team. He also is extremely wealthy, so the days of bankruptcy and budget constraints would be over. We could hopefully obtain the elite players which the Dodgers duly deserve to have on the field. Yet my heart still leans toward Magic. I do believe he loves Los Angeles and the Dodgers as much as we do.
Perhaps the dollar amount of the final bid chosen will not be the only deciding factor. Maybe Frank McCourt will look past the few hundred million that may differentiate the top bids. He owes it to us fans to look closely at these bidders, and make the right decision not only for his bank account but also for the fans in Los Angeles.