Sports Beat: June 17, 2012

chris-paul-clippers-grab.jpgIt's been too long since my last post, so I figured I'd come back with my take on a few things going on in the LA sports world:

The Kings' Stanley Cup championship is quite a vindication for AEG. For years the knock on the corporation was that they could build and manage stadiums, but they couldn't manage teams. Well, not only are the Kings champions in the NHL, but the AEG-owned LA Galaxy are also the reigning MLS Cup champs. It kind of makes you think Phil Anschutz can get Super Bowl winning NFL team here.

More impressive with the Kings is how they've been managed. They won the Cup with an excellent young corps of players who are mostly locked up to long-term deals. There's few teams in a better salary cap situation right now, setting the Kings up to be a super power in the NHL for the next several years.

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I was disappointed that the Kings didn't have Bob Miller call the Stanley Cup Finals on radio. That's not a knock on Nick Nickson, who does a perfectly good job as the Kings regular radio play-by-play man. However, I've always viewed Miller as having the same status as Vin Scully and Chick Hearn. He's one of the nicest and most genuine people I've ever met, and he's a personal hero who has had a positive influence on my own broadcasting career.

When the Dodgers make the playoffs, and the games are televised by Fox and TBS, Scully does the bulk of games on radio while Charley Steiner and Rick Monday do a few innings. When Hearn was doing Laker games, fans could always listen to him on the radio when network obligations came into play (granted, Hearn normally did a simulcast, as does Scully for some innings).

Miller admitted in an LA Times article this week that it was frustrating he couldn't call the final. He meant on television, and he would never knock Nickson. But most LA fans wanted to hear him, and the Kings should have at least had Miller and Nickson switch off on the radio. I certainly wanted to hear Miller's call live.

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Sometimes you have to admit you're wrong. I've been very critical of Ned Colletti over the years, but I think just accept that him and I see baseball very differently. Right now he's proving that his way works pretty good too.

I still think Colletti works better when he has limitations. For example, the Dodgers are starting A.J. Ellis at catcher because Colletti couldn't afford a Rod Barajas-like veteran to block him. Remember how Colletti attempted to block Matt Kemp by acquiring the likes of Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Luis Gonzalez, only to see Kemp outplay all of them. But it's also true that Colletti has done a pretty good job of recognizing which Dodger prospects are legitimate major leaguers, and which ones couldn't hack it. He got rid of pretenders like Andy La Roche and Joel Guzman, while resisting media calls to trade Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodger farm system has been heavily criticized in recent years, but with all the contributions we're seeing from the team's young players, one has to wonder if publications like Baseball America are just wrong in their assessment. Still, perception does matter. If the Dodgers want to make a trade at the deadline, it helps to have prospects that other teams think are good.

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I think Don Mattingly deserves a ton of credit for the Dodgers success. When Mattingly was hired, many media members derided the choice. They said that Mattingly had no managerial experience, and they felt one flukey incident with Jonathan Broxton on the mound was "evidence" that he wasn't ready.

I was one of those who said that Mattingly deserved a chance. It's true that he hadn't managed in the minors, but being groomed for years by Joe Torre had to count for something.

It's not that Mattingly is a brilliant strategist. These days, studies show that most MLB managers employ roughly the same in-game decisions. Rather, what makes a great manager is his ability to manage and motivate 25 personalities over the course of a 162 game season. Over the past 20 years, few people have proven better at handling a clubhouse than Torre. So far, Mattingly has shown that he can handle one too.

Nearly all Dodger players speak highly of Mattingly as a person. And he's done a particularly good job in developing some of the team's young players. Dee Gordon is proving to be the most recent beneficiary of a Mattingly decision.

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T.J. Simers has been writing his Page Two column for well over a decade, but I'm still baffled that some PR reps haven't figured out how to prepare for an interview with him. Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten was the latest to fail the Simers test in a column earlier this week. On the other hand, Albert Pujols passed his test with flying colors.

There's two simple rules to keep in mind when being interviewed by Simers:

1) Don't take yourself too seriously, because Simers doesn't take you seriously.
2) Don't give him PR spin, because Simers will see right through it.

If you're ever indignant or angry around Simers, then he'll tear you up. All you really need to be is open and honest, and it's OK to joke with him.

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I'm not usually a big fan of making moves for PR reasons, but that's basically what the Dodgers did in signing Andre Ethier to a 5-year $85 million contract, and it's a move that I actually agree with.

There's no way that Ethier will be worth $17 million in 2017 when he's older, slower, and 35. Heck, he's been playing old and slow since he was 28. He does hit for some sorely needed power, but $85 million is an awful lot to guarantee a guy who's only hit more than 30 homers once in his career.

Still, in today's warped baseball world, the new ownership group rightly felt that they had to make a "statement" by proving it could keep (and pay) one of its better players. This should make the Dodgers more enticing to big name free agents down the road.

If the new ownership has the money it claims to, then it should be able to absorb large Ethier-like deals the way that the Yankees do. That doesn't mean it's necessarily smart business, and that doesn't mean there aren't other ways to win. But Guggenheim Baseball was tested early in its ownership tenure, and it had to get this done to let the fans, media, and baseball world know that they could back up their words with actions.

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One news item that slipped under the radar this past week was the departure of Clippers GM Neil Olshey, who left for Portland. I'm baffled as to why the Clippers didn't take care of him earlier, and it's enough to make you doubt that Donald Sterling has changed.

It's not that Olshey has proven to be a basketball genius. Blake Griffin is a Clipper because they won the draft lottery a few years ago. Chris Paul is a Clipper because the NBA rejected his trade to the Lakers and because the Knicks didn't have enough tradeable assets. But Olshey has proven to be a particularly astute basketball mind with his other moves, and I really think he's had a significant impact on changing the culture of the organization.

This is a very important time for the Clippers. In the next year, they're going to have to convince Paul and Griffin to both sign long-term contracts, or else they'll risk becoming the Clippers of old. One great way to re-sign them is to have front office stability. That would include keeping the well-regarded GM who helped build the winningest team in franchise history.

Instead, Olshey worked this past season on a month-to-month contract. Instead of giving him security, the Clippers offered him a one-year $750,000 contract. The Portland Trail Blazers offered him three years and $3.6 million, so he left.

I'm convinced that Olshey would have taken a bit of a hometown discount to stay in LA. After all, Olshey should have some loyalty to the organization that took an out-of-work actor and turned him into an NBA GM. But the two offers weren't even close, and I'm not sure why the Clippers weren't even remotely competitive with their offer.

Now, with the NBA Draft less than two weeks away, the Clippers are without a GM. This should be the time of year when the Clippers are working on extensions for Griffin and Paul. Instead it's a time of uncertainty.

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