John­son’s take is spot on

Los Angeles Times - - INSIDE BASEBALL - BILL SHAIKIN ON BASE­BALL bill.shaikin@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Bil­lShaikin

Magic John­son says the tele­vi­sion black­out has not hurt the Dodgers’ brand, and the fans let him have it. How can he not feel their pain?

He does. But here is the thing that stings: John­son is ab­so­lutely right.

Re­mem­ber when Frank McCourt sup­pos­edly was destroying the Dodgers’ brand? Fans spent hard-earned money to sup­port the Dodgers, and McCourt used it to fund his lav­ish life­style. He dragged the team into bank­ruptcy. He spent less money on play­ers than the Min­nesota Twins did.

Then he sold the Dodgers, and the fans came back. The NHL called off an en­tire sea­son to pick a fight with its play­ers, and the fans came back.

The NFL aban­doned Los An­ge­les two decades ago, and a knee-jerk cho­rus has wailed that pro foot­ball lost a gen­er­a­tion here. But tele­vi­sion rat­ings re­main high, and the Rams, Charg­ers and Raiders would not be fight­ing to get back to L.A. if they thought the fans would not come back.

A high-rank­ing Dodgers of­fi­cial be­rates Times re­porters when­ever we ask about the black­out, com­plain­ing that we should point the fin­ger at DirecTV for its al­leged re­fusal to ne­go­ti­ate to carry Sport­sNet LA. But the Dodgers and Time Warner Ca­ble bet that so many fans would say “I need my Dodgers” that DirecTV would be forced to strike a deal. That bet failed, and keep­ing the Dodgers off its satel­lite sys­tem has not hurt the DirecTV brand.

If the Dodgers thought their brand was be­ing ir­repara­bly harmed by the black­out, they might con­sider low­er­ing the ask­ing price for Sport­sNet LA by shav­ing $1 bil­lion, or $2 bil­lion, off their con­tract with TWC. But not now, not at the dawn of a sec­ond year of a 25year, $8.35-bil­lion deal that has helped to fund a pow­er­house team and art­fully ren­o­vated sta­dium.

The Dodgers are run­ning a lit­tle scared at the mo­ment. For a year, they have in­di­cated Sport­sNet LA would get on all the L.A. air­waves as soon as gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors ap­proved a merger be­tween Com­cast and TWC. But that ap­proval was sup­posed to come last win­ter. Now the ap­proval might come this sum­mer, or it might not come at all.

It is likely that some kids watch­ing Mike Trout ev­ery night on FS West will grow up to be An­gels fans. It is un­con­scionable that base­ball fans are de­prived of Vin Scully. It is dis­may­ing that Dodgers fans are held hostage in a busi­ness dis­pute.

But loy­alty to the Dodgers runs so strong and so deep here that the team can pros­per de­spite dis­ap­pear­ing from TV for a year or two. Noth­ing magic about it.

Closing time?

Mike Scios­cia would not put up with Fer­nando Rod­ney’s chronic high-wire act. Scios­cia gen­er­ally grants his vet­er­ans a long leash but, two games into the 2011 sea­son, he yanked Rod­ney from his role as the An­gels’ closer.

The Seat­tle Mariners ought to con­sider the same dras­tic ac­tion. For the last-place Mariners, a team with World Se­ries as­pi­ra­tions and the trendy pick to win the Amer­i­can League West, a slow start would be com­pounded by the weight of ex­pec­ta­tions for the first play­off ap­pear­ance since 2001.

Rod­ney’s per­for­mance has been dread­ful this sea­son. He coughed up a four-run lead to the Oak­land Ath­let­ics last Sun­day — the Mariners ral­lied to win the game — and blew a save op­por­tu­nity against the Dodgers on Tues­day.

Rod­ney, 38, had an earne­drun av­er­age of 2.85 last sea­son, when he had 48 saves and struck out 10.3 bat­ters per nine innings. The right-han­der has an ERA of 16.20 this sea­son, through Fri­day’s games. He has faced 19 bat­ters, re­tir­ing eight. He has struck out one.

Gi­ant mess

The San Fran­cisco Gi­ants col­lected their World Se­ries cham­pi­onship rings be­fore Satur­day’s game, then re­sumed their cur­rent mis­er­able sea­son. They lead the ma­jors in losses, and they are the only team in the Na­tional League West with a los­ing record.

“I wish we had a magic wand to wave right now, but we don’t,” Manager Bruce Bochy said.

What could be par­tic­u­larly fright­en­ing for the Gi­ants is that this should be a rel­a­tively softer part of their sched­ule.

So far, the Gi­ants have played the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs, Colorado Rock­ies and San Diego Padres. But when the Dodgers visit San Fran­cisco on Tues­day, the Gi­ants will start a stretch of 12 games that will in­clude nine games against the Dodgers and An­gels.

Royal wave

The Kansas City Roy­als did not get a lot of love this spring. The Cleve­land In­di­ans were the trendy pick to win the AL Cen­tral. The Detroit Tigers were the solid pick. The Chicago White Sox were the sleeper pick.

The Roy­als were the de­fend­ing AL cham­pi­ons, but the re­spect they got this spring re­flected this con­sen­sus: They were a wild-card team last sea­son, a team that trailed by four runs in the eighth in­ning of the wild-card play­off game. They were the hottest team in the league — they swept the An­gels and Bal­ti­more Ori­oles en route to the World Se­ries — but maybe not the best.

But they started this sea­son 7-0, the last un­beaten team in the ma­jors. They lead the ma­jors in runs, and their bullpen had a 0.99 ERA, through Fri­day.

The Roy­als will cool down, of course. They lost their right fielder, Alex Rios, to a bro­ken fin­ger last week. But con­sider this: In the last 22 games in which Madi­son Bum­gar­ner does not ap­pear against them, the Roy­als are 19-3.

Ben Mar­got As­so­ci­ated Press

FER­NANDO ROD­NEY has lit­tle rea­son for pos­tur­ing this sea­son, hav­ing a 16.20 earne­drun av­er­age as closer for the last-place Seat­tle Mariners through Fri­day.

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