Sports Beat- October 22, 2011

I know it's been a while since I've written for LA Observed. So for my first post back, I figured I'd take a look at several sports topics going on in Los Angeles now.

--If I were the Angels, then I would hire Kim Ng as the first female General Manager in MLB history. Ng will reportedly interview for the job and is being seriously considered.

I've never met Kim Ng, but every person I know that's worked with her has raved about her. She is one of the best contract negotiators in the game and has earned the respect and admiration of her peers. I actually supported her candidacy for the Dodgers GM job back in 2006, and I'm convinced that any man with her credentials would have gotten a GM job years ago. Arte Moreno should make the bold move to bring in a new perspective that the Angels could sorely use.

Whoever takes over the Angels job will have to rebuild a farm system that in the mid-2000s was one of the two or three best in the game, and a few years later barely ranked in the top-20. Tony Reagins was an excellent player development executive, and under his watch, many Angels prospects became quality Major League players. But when he got promoted to the GM spot, the Angels suddenly stopped developing talent.

Part of that is because the Halos didn't have first round draft picks three times from 2005-08. They also got unlucky with injuries to Kendry Morales and of course, the tragic death of Nick Adenhart. And their 2004 first round pick, Brandon Wood, was a tremendous bust. But the current Angel way of doing business - signing or acquiring players with enormous contracts like Vernon Wells, Scott Kazmir, and Bob Abreu - is unsustainable.

I believe that Ng will use her negotiation skills to get the Angels some great bargains. And I know she'll attract excellent scouts and minor league instructors to allow the Angels to build from within again.

* * *

--If there's one lesson to be taken from this year's Rangers-Cardinals World Series, it's that the Dodgers spent enough to win in 2011. The Cardinals had the 11th highest payroll in MLB and the Rangers ranked 13th in payroll, according to USA Today. The Dodgers ranked right between them at No. 12 for over $104 million in payroll, and they actually spent way more when you include the deferred money they gave to Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, and Juan Pierre.

I don't want to defend the McCourts, who have been an absolute embarrassment. I truly believe the Dodgers can't be fixed until they are sold, and the sooner the better. But while the McCourt divorce and Dodger bankruptcy undoubtedly damaged the team, I believe their struggles over the past two seasons can largely be attributed to a poor allocation of resources.

Giving Juan Uribe a three-year $21 million contract was stupid. Giving Casey Blake a three-year multi-million contract when he was 35 made no sense. Signing an injury-plagued Rafael Furcal to a big deal was obviously going to come back to bite them. Despite being accused of being cheap, the Dodgers began Opening Day in 2011 with one of the oldest lineups in baseball. They only got their record over .500 when they were forced to start playing some of their young players.

Baseball today isn't necessarily about having the biggest names. Both the Rangers and Cardinals are in the World Series today because of their organizational depth. The Rangers farm system has been ranked among baseball's best for several years. And Tony LaRussa has mixed and matched the Cardinals' full roster to get St. Louis deep into the postseason.

Today's baseball analysts love to over-simplify the game by generalizing about pitchers and a handful of top players. But consider the Phillies. In 2008, the Phillies won the World Series with a pitching rotation of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. In 2009, the Phillies added Cliff Lee and lost in the World Series. In 2010, they added Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and lost in the NLCS. This year, they added Cliff Lee back and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Every year, the baseball media buzzed after each major pitching acquisition, and every year the Phillies ended their season a little worse.

This is why teams are investing in philosophies like "Moneyball" and trying to balance the right propriety metrics with improved scouting methods and player development. Conventional wisdom in baseball is seldom right these days.

Moving forward into 2012, Ned Colletti and the Dodgers front office need to get smarter about how they evaluate talent and how they spend their money. Two areas where the Dodgers could improve is on defense and in their farm system. The Dodgers have ranked last in the National League in UZR (ultimate zone rating) since Colletti took over as GM in 2006. And while their farm system ranking has modestly improved, it's still a far cry from the one that was ranked among baseball's best around the time Colletti took over.

Many Dodger fans think their problems could be fixed by just spending as aggressively as the Yankees or Red Sox. But I'm convinced that giving $50 million in extra payroll to a Colletti-led front office would make the Dodgers as wasteful as the Cubs and Mets have been over the years.

* * *

--Rick Neuheisal's days are numbered as the UCLA Head Coach. I thought he was the perfect hire four years ago, and I'm surprised as anyone that it hasn't worked out. But when I watch UCLA play, I see a team that's undisciplined, unfocused, and unmotivated. I don't believe the players have bought into Neuheisal's system and it seems like Neuheisal hasn't won their respect.

According to Scout.com, Neuheisal had three top-10 recruiting classes from 2008-10. At a time when the Bruins should be looking like a rising force, they've instead looked like a disaster. Yes, UCLA doesn't have terrific facilities, and the UC system's financial troubles have made it difficult for the school to be fully invested in football. But the bottom line is that Neuheisal has done a bad job of coaching his talented players. By every measure he's been less successful than Karl Dorrell, and I'm still baffled as to why he switched to the pistol offense - a gimmick offense that undermined Norm Chow and never fit UCLA's personnel.

So who should be the next coach at UCLA? One name to consider is Al Golden. A finalist for the job a few years ago, Golden did an amazing job turning around a Temple program that was on life support. He parlayed that into the University of Miami job, but he's probably looking to leave with the school about to be hit with crippling sanctions for violations that occurred before he came to Coral Gables.

Another name that might pop up is former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. An innovative offensive mind, Leach might be a good fit for UCLA, if not for the fact that he's still suing ESPN, the Pac-12's television partner. Other names out there are Steve Mariucci, Herm Edwards, and Jim Fassel - former NFL head coaches who seem about as appealing as Pete Carroll was in 2000.

Names like Boise State's Chris Petersen and former Florida coach Urban Meyer are a pipe dream. Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti isn't too far-fetched, but I'm not sure if he's the right fit.

I don't think UCLA should be ashamed of looking for a top assistant at a successful college program or from an NFL team. In 1997 USC decided to hire Paul Hackett (who had head coaching experience) over an up-and-coming coordinator named Bob Stoops. Prior head coaching experience is one of the most overrated credentials when teams are considering new hires, and it obviously didn't help Rick Neuheisal.

One name that I like is San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He was Associate Head Coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh, and he's doing a terrific job under Harbaugh again in the NFL.

Other names I'll throw out there are Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, and Colorado offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

* * *

--I think it's going to take until Christmas for the NBA lockout to end. With no significant progress having been made, it appears David Stern may wait for players to miss out on a few more paychecks and hope they'll give up more ground. That's what happened in 1998 at least.

While the lockout is often being framed as a battle between owners and players, I think the biggest problem with the NBA is the product. Yes, the league is coming off one of its best seasons, one which saw an increase in interest and the rise of a few young stars. But there are significant problems with the NBA still.

There's a prevailing sense that a team has no hope of winning a title without having one of the league's few elite superstars. Fans of approximately two-thirds of NBA teams probably feel like their franchise is completely irrelevant. And these days, even when a small-market team is fortunate enough to have a superstar, fans have every reason to believe he'll want to leave for one of an elite group of franchises.

There's also a certain amount of passion missing from NBA players during regular season games, and the season is probably too long. Yes, the NBA economic model isn't working, but there are some deeper problems that will take time to address.

* * *

--It's very rare that I agree with a Bill Plaschke column, but that was the case this week when he bashed Jamie McCourt. Actually, I agreed with him until this line:

Several years ago, I remember confronting Jamie on the field about the rising violence in the stands, and suggested that perhaps the increased playing of gangster rap and the endorsement of Snoop Dogg as a video board celebrity fanned the flames.

She look at me and laughed, saying, "Aw, everybody's just having a good time."

What an absurd statement. Jamie McCourt may be out of touch, but so is Bill Plaschke.

The idea that playing rap music (usually because it's a player's at-bat music) and putting Snoop Dogg in a corny "This is My Town" ad would lead to fan violence is ludicrous. I've also heard music from Star Wars at Dodger Stadium and seen Yoda in a "This is My Town" ad, but that hasn't caused Chavez Ravine to turn into a sci-fi convention.


More by Phil Wallace:
USC fires Lane Kiffin
Hollywood Park back in the picture
HBO's Real Sports highlights Chivas USA's troubles
Don't get too excited about the Lakers' cap space
How Jim Buss ruined the Lakers
Previous Native Intelligence story: Angeleno Datebook- October 20, 2011

Next Native Intelligence story: LARB eyes Joan Didion

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