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July 31, 2006

At the trading deadline:

The Dodgers sent away one natural shortstop and added another, and dispatched touted phenom Joel Guzman. The Angels stood pat, holding on to their richly talented youngsters. Here are the details:

From the Cubs: The Dodgers get Greg Maddux — not the Greg Maddux of old, but perhaps still a decent starting pitcher. He has won 327 games in his career, but this season has a 4.69 ERA and has been struggling some. Sent to Chicago is Cesar Izturis, who is a nifty little defensive infielder but who became expendable when the Dodgers signed Rafael Furcal over the winter. Who will play second base while Jeff Kent is hurt? Keep reading.

From the Devil Rays: The Dodgers get Julio Lugo, Tampa Bay's everyday shortstop. He was destined to move to second base or the bench eventually with the Devil Rays, and that shift happens now with the Dodgers. He will play while Jeff Kent is hurt, and then who knows. But to get Lugo, GM Ned Colletti gave up Joel Guzman, who was thought by the previous Dodgers regime to be the prize hitter of the farm system. Originally a shortstop, they have had him playing all around in Las Vegas this season. The Dodgers also send Sergio Pedroza to Tampa Bay. So a blue chip prospect like Guzman for Julio Lugo? Oh man...

(Jon Weisman points out that Lugo is a pending free agent, so this is potentiallty fifteen years of Guzman for two months of Lugo out of position. Of course, Guzman might not pan out. Should be noted, though, that Baseball America rated him the 26th best prospect in the minors and qupoted a scout saying, "At 16 years old, the kid was as good as or better than anyone I'd ever seen." They don't say that about Julio Lugo.)

ESPN roundup

The National experienced

On Saturday, we survived the 5 Freeway to get to The National in Anaheim. This is the Super Bowl of sports-memorabilia conventions (and, like the big game, started in L.A.). Big-money collectors like Gary Cypres roamed the aisles like rock stars, while Gary Engel, co-author of Sayonara Home Run! The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card (Chronicle Books), was manning a booth stocked with Sadaharu Oh and Ichiro cards. Autographs hounds lined up to meet Joe Montana ($170 for a photograph of you and Joe), Magic Johnson ($135 for a "regular" autograph), and Duke Snider ($100 for a "premium" autograph). There were some Hollywood celebs: the line in front of Catherine Bach was long; the line in front of Ernie Hudson was, uh, not so much. Two of the guys from "Entourage" were posing happily with young women.

It seemed like every type of memorabilia that has ever been produced concerning sports was on display and available at a price: baseball cards, natch, but also basketball, football, hockey, cycling, track, and boxing cards, books, posters, stamps, jerseys, mitts, bats, hats, balls, pucks, sticks, basketballs, programs, bobbleheads, banners, advertising ephemera, ticket stubs, vintage photographs, Wheaties boxes, artwork, championship rings, trophies, badges, pins, board games, and more. You could get your stuff "rated" – that is, you could pay $50 to have certified experts judge the condition of your item, which goes a long way in determining its value and price. What was billed as the "world's most valuable hockey card" – a 1911-12 George Vezina card from Imperial Tobacco – was priced at a cool $150,000. (Yes, hockey cards are now cool.)

Lots of local stuff was available: you could've bought a pristine ticket for a Los Angeles Dons football game in 1946, or a mint Rose Bowl program from 1934, or an unused ticket to the 1932 Olympic boxing competition at the Olympic Auditorium, or the special edition of the Los Angeles Examiner published on April 18, 1958 -- the Dodgers' first Opening Day in L.A. (at the Coliseum).

The ratio of pasty white men over the age of 35 to "other" was approximately ten to one, and we heard some classic lines. "I only collect helmets," one guy said, as he caressed an early 20th century leather contraption that surely caused a few concussions. "I'm one of those guys whose mother threw out his collection, then spent my entire adult life buying it back," said another. One exhausted dealer said that he was going back on the road: "I'll be at the first-day cover convention in Cleveland next week" – and who knew there was such a thing?

Those who collect this stuff tell me that the "hobby" has changed considerably since the early 1990s. That marked the crest of a bull market in cards, one that attracted investors and saw the opening of card shops on ever corner. Inevitably, that caused problems: too many dealers and too much product saturated the market. Sort of like what happened with cigars.

Today, the high-end level of sports memorabilia remains hot; the well-stocked booths of auction houses Sothebys and Lelands signal that the classics will always have a certain cachet. But I truly wonder if the next generation of collectors – today's kids – will be willing to pay thousands of dollars for, say, a Grover Cleveland Alexander autographed ball or a Paul Waner game uni. It seems to me that they'd be more interested in a Tony Hawk autographed skateboard or a Shawn White game-day snowboard. And, those were about the only items I didn't see in Anaheim.

My big purchase was a Mecca tobacco card, circa 1910, of John Hayes for $7. I'm betting that Hayes will be huge in 2008, the 100th anniversary of his controversial victory over Dorando Pietri in the 1908 Olympic marathon. In two years, I expect to cash out for at least $10.

Baseball Sunday

That roster move the Dodgers needed to make was to stash Nomar Garciaparra on the DL to rest up his knee for several more days. It's his second trip to the disabled list this season, but at least it's not his hand. It was a damaged hand that stripped away his power the last couple of seasons.

So the new guy, Wilson Betemit, started off his L.A. career with two doubles. Not bad. The Dodgers hit three homers today and swept the Nationals. They're still in last place and still talking about giving up blue-chip prospects for help this season. At Dodger Thoughts, Jon Weisman takes on Bill Plaschke for mis-stating the beliefs of fans he doesn't agree with or understand very well. Bill lost some respect with his mis-read of MoneyBall and his lame attacks on computers as a baseball tool, and he doesn't look much better going after fans who fret that Ned Colletti (who comes from the poor-trading Giants) might overpay with a Joel Guzman or Matt Kemp to get some declining journeyman. After all, the fans still remember the Dodgers trading Pedro Martinez. At, Ken Gurnick gives a good summation of the current Dodgers situation.

In Boston, the Angels beat the Red Sox to win the weekend series and end the road trip 6-4. They are in second place, a half-game behind Oakland, and they begin four games with the A's today in Anaheim.

Tracy Ringolsby, the former Angels beat writer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, was honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame for his long newspaper career. He now writes for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

July 30, 2006

When the NFL returns to L.A.

Terrell Owens, newly of the Dallas Cowboys, was in Southern California this weekend, attending team training camp in Oxnard. Since L.A. doesn't have a professional football team besides the USC Trojans, this was newsflash material for area NFL fans, who turned out in record numbers to see a Texas sports franchise.

That's desperation.

It really is too bad the NFL hasn't replanted its flag here, because if any town could make the most out of a playa like T.O., it's Los Angeles. John Donne wrote that no man is an island, but he'd never seen some of the homes on Rockingham, or an ego like T.O.'s. We love self-involvement here -- it's not just an noun in L.A., it's a lifestyle. I, for one, can't wait until football comes back to the land of excess, because let's face it: It is the sport of excess.

The one thing I ask from the future owner of the L.A. franchise -- please pick a name that fits the city. How did we wind up with a team called the Rams in the first place? Sure, that might have been the name of the original 1936 AFL squad from Cleveland, but when tourists come to Los Angeles, even they know its time to primp. The Hawaiian shirts stay in Kansas.

So in the interest of keeping football in L.A. for years to come, here are my bottom five names for the new team, whenever it finally gets here. I'd give you my top five, but I don't have more than an hour to work on this. (Want the top five? Pay me for my time.)

10. The Juggernauts. Is there a more appropriate name than the L.A. Juggs for this town? (I have to give credit where credit is due -- Brad Riddell, a screenwriter in my fantasy football league, uses this one. That said, who knows where he got it from.)

9. The Raiders 2: Al Davis Go Home. Yes, it's a lot to get on a helmet, but after everything the Oakland franchise put this city through, Davis deserves it. Plus, it's a sequel, which film industry execs will appreciate.

8. The Winter. Because as everyone knows, there's nothing better than a winter in L.A.

7. The Savages. Great mascot. Plus, it could refer to all those other groups that you and your peeps don't belong to. You know -- those guys. Freakin' savages.

And the number six name for Los Angeles' new franchise is:

6. The Inferno. Been to the Valley recently? Or to any one of the talent agencies? Trust me, it fits perfectly.

July 29, 2006

Dodgers get a Betemit for third

Wilson Betemit is an interesting player, a Dominican infielder with some sock in his bat (OPS of .841 in his second full season.) He gives the Dodgers another shortstop on the roster to go with Rafael Furcal, Cesar Izturis and Ramon Martinez, but Betemit will probably be the regular third baseman until Andy LaRoche arrives from the minors in the next season or two. He could then move to second base or slip into the utility role he filled for Atlanta. The Dodgers sent the Braves infielder Willy Aybar, another intriguing player who probably could not hold a major league job at 3B, and also got to shed Danys Baez, who proved in his 49 innings as a Dodger that they were overly optimistic to acquire him as a bullpen closer last winter. The move likely means Bill Mueller is done and pushes Cesar Izturis out of the lineup once he finishes filling in for Jeff Kent at second.

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the trade on the official Dodgers blog, by PR director Josh Rawitch:

As you might imagine, yesterday was pretty hectic leading up to game time. The team knew that it wanted to activate Tomko (who looked pretty efficient out of the 'pen), but there was not a spot open. Ned, Kim, Roy and Bill LaJoie were literally on the phone with various clubs, including the Braves, up until about five minutes before first pitch.

I was standing in Ned's office as the deal was literally getting completed and as soon as it was, he had to hustle downstairs to let Grady know and to inform Danys and Willy about their new homes. Both guys took it in stride, though it was obviously tougher on Willy, who has known no other organization since he was 16 years old. They're both good guys who deserve good things down the road.

Once Ned and Grady had informed the players, Kim called me and told me I could announce it in the press box, which took place at about 7:37. The broadcasters got this just seconds before they went on the air and passed it along to all the fans. Ned made his way upstairs, where he met with the media to explain the move during the top of the first inning and then immediately headed back to his office to try and work some more magic.

I'm rarely in the clubhouse during a game, but had to head down there last night to say goodbye to those two guys and see if they would be willing to talk to the media before they left. Both guys obliged, which says a lot about them. I can't imagine being told that I have to pick up my life and move it to the other side of the country in the next 24 hours and then have to explain my feelings to the world. Sure, these guys make a lot of money, but they are human beings with families and lives that they go into utter disarray for this period of time.

Rawitch also reports on some roster maneuvering that is prompting speculation. James Loney was called up from Las Vegas, Betemit will be held off the roster until Sunday, and then another player has to go (if just to the disabled list.) Betemit, by the way, has another place in baseball lore. The Braves were sanctioned for signing him as a 14-year-old kid and telling baseball he was 16. His birthdate is still wrong in some baseball references, but apparently is really Nov. 2, 1981, making him 24 years old.

ESPN, L.A. Times,

July 28, 2006

Another Furillo alum says farewell

Bud Furillo hired Mitch Chortkoff onto the Herald-Examiner sports desk more than forty years ago. At Chortkoff's current print home in the weekly Santa Monica Mirror, he praises Furillo as a mentor and boss and talks about the Herald's tactics for trying to outperform the larger staff of higher-paid scribes at the Los Angeles Times.

We were too young to appreciate some of Furillo's methods, but as the years went on and our careers took shape the appreciation grew for what he did for us.

Specifically, it was about what to do. Get the story, and if a rival (often the Times) got it first then take it away from them the second day by finding a new development. Some of our best reporting came after another paper had the story first.

We weren't paid as well as the Times staff, but a lot of people said we had the better sports section. It was lively because of Furillo's leadership. If you read the Herald you knew what was going on with the LA teams. It wasn't just a job, it was a way of life. We worked in the office in downtown LA, had parties at Furillo's Downey home, attended sports events together. One year Furillo invited us over for a staff Christmas party but became occupied with a bowl game on television. Several of us commented that he was ignoring his guests.

“Just wait,” he said. “You'll see why.”

The game ended and Furillo grinned broadly. He had bet on the game and won, and that's how he gave us Christmas bonuses. It didn't come from the newspaper's management. It came from him.

Furillo's rules for covering sports were simple, he says: Get the story, be fair, become a guy the players respect even if they don't agree with everything you write, make your deadlines. Steve Bisheff at the Orange County Register is promoting the idea of naming the Coliseum press box for Furillo.

July 27, 2006

Papa Chet deserves a place too

With the Times' sports hole shrinking faster than the Dodgers' pennant hopes, it was nice to see Lonnie White given space to write about two Negro League legends, Josh Gibson and Buck O'Neil, before the upcoming Hall of Fame ceremony in Cooperstown. (Full disclosure: Lonnie and I share the same publisher, Angel City Press.)

PosterThis weekend, seventeen former Negro League players and execs will be inducted into the Hall. Gibson, of course, is already a member, but O'Neil was snubbed. The thrust of White's story was that, while Buck probably didn't deserve HoF honors for his playing career, he deserved entry for his "ambassador" skills.

No argument there. As Keith Olbermann put it: "For all the many stupid things the Baseball Hall of Fame has ever done. . . This is the worst."

I just wish the Times had focused on another, more local snub. According to many Negro League experts, Chet Brewer had the pitching credentials to be in the HoF. He played for 25 years ­ including stints with the Kansas City Monarchs and the Cleveland Buckeyes ­and outdueled the great Satchel Paige on occasion. He's known for the legendary "Battle of the Butchered Balls" game in 1930, when he and the Homestead Grays' Smokey Joe Williams traded strikeouts in a game played under dim lights (Brewer racked up 19 Ks, Williams had 27 in 12 innings). That year, Brewer won 30 games; his lifetime ERA in the Negro Leagues was 2.89.

Papa Chet also had impeccable "ambassador" credentials. He played all over the world ­ including Cuba, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines ­ and is a member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame. He also managed Jackie Robinson before he signed with the Dodgers. After his playing career, Brewer settled in L.A., scouted for the Pirates, and mentored a generation of Major League stars from the inner city, including Reggie Smith, the Murray brothers, Bobby Tolan, Dock Ellis, Joe Black, Willie Crawford, Enos Cabell, and Bob Watson.

Phil Pote, the Seattle Mariners scout who coached at Fremont and Locke high schools and befriended Brewer, once told me: "[Chet] could've been very bitter over the fact that he had the ability to play many years in the major leagues ­ and perhaps have been a star­ and yet he was deprived of that. Instead of withdrawing from baseball, you got the feeling that he said to himself: 'Maybe I can help some of these kids get to what was not possible for me.' In that sense we were blessed by his presence."

Brewer might not have been bitter, but he knew all too well that he'd been deprived of a major league career solely on the basis of his skin color. Before his death in 1990, at age 83, Brewer used to tell this story: "There was a time when a colored man bugged the white man to let him play. And he bugged him and bugged him and bugged him. And the white man said, 'Boy, get outta this dugout before I call the police.' "But the colored man wouldn't let him alone. So finally the white man puts him into a uniform, to embarrass him. Sent him in front of this big, mean relief pitcher and says to himself, 'This'll teach that boy.'

"Well, don't you know the first ball that big old white man threw, the colored boy hit into right field, with the bases filled. And as the colored boy takes off, the white man says, 'Well, will you look at the Cuban go!'"

Chester Arthur Brewer, the soul of black baseball in L.A., deserves his place in Cooperstown.


July 26, 2006

Art imitates life


This week's Sports Illustrated features the baseball-themed orange crate artwork of Pasadena artist Ben Sakoguchi. The piece is by LA Observed contributor David Davis. There's an online gallery of thirteen Sakoguchi images at the SI website.

Last place - and not even that good

With their 10-3 loss to the Padres today in the afternoon heat at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers fell to 1-13 since taking off a few days for the All-Star game. Those aren't the only ugly numbers. In those fourteen games, the pitchers have allowed 82 runs. Just 29 Dodger runners have scored. They are eight games under .500 and the furthest from first place they have been all season. And it gets worse. Starter Brad Penny gave up six runs, tying his worst outing of the year.

Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts pored over the numbers and discovered this has been the Dodgers' worst thirteen-game stretch since they came to Los Angeles. Oops, that was last night. Make it fourteen. Weisman and his readers also comment on something you didn't see before blogs came along. At Inside the Dodgers, team PR director Josh Rawitch reacts to Bill Plaschke's "don't surrender" column in this morning's L.A. Times and gives his side of the pre-publication debate he had with the columnist.

When Odalis went after Plaschke

Yesterday’s departure of Odalis Perez brought up one of my fonder sportswriting memories. It was September 19, 2003, and the Dodgers were still in the playoff hunt. Perez had been scheduled to pitch the day before, but had opted not to because he had a chipped fingernail.

Bill Plaschke, the columnist for the LA Times, had taken Perez to task for this in a column – in fact, Perez was the focal point of the entire piece.

Perez said he couldn't pitch because he couldn't grip the ball. Yet at this critical point in the race, there are those who will surely wonder about his grip on reality.

"I want to be prepared 100% to be out there," Perez said. "I don't want to be risking one thing when I know it's not good. I want to go out there confident and knowing I'm going to pitch a good game."

As Perez spoke these words behind the batting cage before the game, Shawn Green was carrying his damaged right shoulder into the clubhouse, Adrian Beltre was dragging his sore legs into the dugout, and Dave Roberts was working his tender hamstring down the foul line.

On a Dodger team that is dirt-caked and crawling toward the finish line, if Perez needs to feel 100%, then that would make him the only one.

Many people agreed with Plaschke; others felt that he’d been unduly harsh, and neglected the truth of such injuries, which is that they can make pitching quite painful.

What made the column memorable for me, however, is that Plaschke showed up at Dodger Stadium the next day. Before the game, a bunch of reporters – including Plaschke and this one – were down on the field watching batting practice when Perez stormed out of the dugout.

He was crazed. He saw Plaschke and went straight for him, spewing four letter combinations like punches, and then coiled to throw one of those, too. He never got it off, of course – immediately, coaches and team officials got between Perez and Plaschke, and pulled Perez away.

I’ve gotten to know Bill a little over the past few years, and a little later, I ran into him in the press box cafeteria. We exchanged an amused look and I said something about it being a close call, and how nuts Perez had seemed.

Not only had Plaschke been unfazed by the whole thing – he had gone to the stadium that day expecting it. When you wrote about someone the way that he had, he said, you had an obligation to show up and face them. Then he heaped some food on his tray and went about his business.

I’d only been working as a sportswriter for about a year at that point; I felt like a green gunslinger getting a tip from the Man With No Name.

It’s hard for me to gauge what kind of props Plaschke gets here in L.A. – a lot of people seem to like him, a significant number don’t, I think, which probably means he’s doing his job. But it was one of those moments that you wished more people knew about, because Plaschke brings a level of integrity to his job that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, these days.

July 25, 2006

Odalis goes from bad to worse

The chunky lefthander with the hittable fastball got his wish to pitch regularly, but his personal nightmare is that most of his starts will now be in Kansas City. The Dodgers wanted to be rid of Perez so badly that they had to bribe the last-place Royals with two minor leaguers and cash considerations, and take Elmer Dessens off of KC's hands. Dodgers brass had been saying publicly that Perez would not be traded, but the whole time GM Ned Colletti was trying to dump the ineffective (and expensive) pitcher.

"Moving him was something we really needed to do for all concerned, including him," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said on a conference call. "He lost his starting job, obviously. It's probably best to cut ties and move on. We were not getting much productivity out of that roster spot."

Colletti said the Royals wouldn't accept a straight-up trade for Perez, and demanded prospects and cash, too.

"It hasn't been easy," he said. "If it was easy, it would've happened a while ago."

Dessens has been this route before. He pitched for the Dodgers last year and the season before, getting in 40 games — even starting seven — and defining the term journeyman. Dessens, who is 35, hails from Hermosillo.

Fernando and Jered

WeaverIn 1981, when Fernando Valenzuela started the season 8-0, Fernandomania spontaneously broke out. This year, after his call-up from the minors, Jered Weaver has started 7-0. And yet, there's been no Jered-hysteria in Anaheim.

Those pundits wondering why don't really understand Fernando-mania. First, there was mystery to Valenzuela. When he first came to the Dodgers, he didn't speak English and used translators to communicate with the Anglo-dominated media. His glance-to-the-heavens-and-close-your-eyes wind-up was like no one else's. He didn't look like a pitcher — he resembled, well, Babe Ruth.

More important, his success in 1981 galvanized an entire community ­ one that felt alienated from this city and its institutions. Fernando-mania was more than just fans' appreciation of a talented rookie on a hot streak: it was expression of empowerment. That's why fans came out in droves to Chavez Ravine (not to mention the fact that the Dodgers took their first World Series title since 1965).

Jered Weaver is a known quantity. He was born in Northridge. He went to Simi Valley High. Some of us saw him pitch at Blair Field for the Dirtbags (still my favorite nickname in college sports). After college, he had a well-documented contract battle involving one of the most famous sports agents in the land. His brother's a veteran big-leaguer who played with both the Dodgers and the Angels.

There's no mystery here: Jered's a brilliant young pitcher, mature beyond his years, with off-the-charts potential. That doesn't translate into mania, hysteria, or frenzy -- even in Anaheim.

Two other points: it's interesting that Weaver, who could pass for a cast member of the O.C., has joined a team that, under the ownership of Arte Moreno, has consciously reshaped its image and signed Latino players (including Bartolo Colon and Vlad Guerrero). And, it's worth noting that in racking up his 7-0 mark, Weaver has beaten Kansas City (twice), Baltimore, Seattle, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Oakland. Only Oakland is above .500. Now, if Weaver could swing the bat like Fernando....

Photo: AP

Does he mean Drew?

The sharpest and often funniest letters to the editor in the L.A. Times all week run in Sports on Saturdays. Steve Freeman got his point across about a certain fragile and laid-back Dodger in this past weekend's collection:

I agree with Brad Penny that some of his Dodger teammates don't always give their best effort. I also agree that the perpetrators should remain nameless.

I DREW my own conclusion as to whom the main culprit is. Penny's comments DREW many questions from players and fans. I simply DREW a picture in my head of who that player is.

It's a guy who plays with absolutely no fire or intensity. Maybe if he hit for power like he's supposed to and DREW more walks, he'd live up to the expectations of his salary. But, out of respect to the team, I DREW a line and I won't mention his name in this letter.


Los Angeles

And to christen this space with the first of what will surely be many hockey references — David's below doesn't count — there was this one from Rob Matheson: "The recent moves by new General Manager Dean Lombardi have been questioned by many Kings fans, but there is a method to his madness. He has replaced Luc Robitaille (40) and Jeremy Roenick (36) with free agents Rob Blake (36) and Scott Thornton (35). Obviously, the Kings are in a youth movement."

Bandwagon fan and proud of it

I think L.A. is the best sports town in the United States, and possibly, the world.

No, there is no punch line.

New York? Please. New Yorkers have no tolerance for losers, and I’m sorry – losing is an integral part of sports. No Yankee fan will admit it, but it’s true: When you’ve got more rings than fingers, what difference does another one make?

Boston? Two great teams and less than a million people, no matter how storied the franchises, do not the greatest sports town make. (I don’t count hockey, and let’s face it: No one else in America does, either.)

Philadelphia? If your fans routinely pelt opposing players – and sometimes your own – with D-batteries, you’re not the nation’s best sports town. You’re a penal colony.

That leaves Chicago. Great sports town, but no. Sports mean too much there. Unless you like opera, the blues, or an endless variety of prepared meats, a sporting event is the hottest ticket on any given night in the Windy City.

Which is why Los Angeles is, to paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio channeling Muhammad Ali on the prow of the Titanic, the king of sports world.

Here in LA, we not only tolerate losers – we encourage them. (Just stand up at any Laker game, and survey the crowd.) People went to Clippers games for hopeless decades before the team finally reached the Western Conference Semifinals this season. You know why? Because here in Los Angeles, we love basketball in a way no other city loves basketball. Plus, most of us can’t afford anything but the nosebleeds at a Laker game. And even then, never more than two seats together.

History? We’ve got the Dodgers and the Lakers, franchises with remarkable histories. So what if no one knows what they are. That’s nothing to scoff at. That’s a choice. Angelenos follow the sage advice of the great sports enthusiast Albert Einstein: If we can look something up, why bother wasting precious brain space on it?

Unlike any other city, we put sports in their proper perspective. We heed the advice of UCLA’s legendary coach John Wooden: Never get too high with the wins, or too low with the losses. It can mess up your hair.

And finally, we’re bandwagon fans. That’s right – I not only accept it, I embrace it.

Sure, I’ve heard all the jokes: We show up late, we leave early, we only care about teams when they’re winning. So what? You know what that sounds like to me? Common sense.

Besides, what’s so bad about a bandwagon? Know what a bandwagon is to me? A four-wheel conveyance that comes with its own music.

Hop on, people. Let’s have some fun.

David Neiman is a freelance sportswriter who’s even happier to be a contributor to LA Observed than he is about being an LA sports fan. This is his first post, but far from his last.

Can barely recognize him

StampEarlier this year, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 39-cent stamp honoring Sugar Ray Robinson (who spent most of his post-boxing life in L.A.). The design of the stamp looked a lot like those vintage fight posters you see in boxing gyms; you could almost smell the liniment. Now comes "Baseball Sluggers," featuring Mel Ott, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Mantle, and the Dodgers' own Roy Campanella. What a whiff. Generic design, drab colors. And, with three New York City-based players, a total lack of geographic diversity.

Induction weekend in Pasadena

Gibson,  Valenzuela and Zenimura

For those keeping score at home, it's been a banner year for Terry Cannon's Baseball Reliquary. In February, Cannon and his merry diamond pranksters debuted Ben Sakoguchi's astonishing series "The Unauthorized History of Baseball in 100-Odd Paintings," at the Da Vinci Gallery on the L.A. City College campus. In March, the Reliquary and Cal State L.A. rolled out the groundbreaking exhibit "Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues," thereby introducing the world to the Carmelita Chorizos team.

Now comes the eighth annual "Shrine of the Eternals" induction ceremony, which kicks off Sunday afternoon at the Pasadena Central Library. Don Malcolm, of Big Bad Baseball fame, has called the Shrine the "Alternative Hall of Fame" because it eschews Cooperstown's slickness and, instead, honors the rogues, reprobates, and revolutionaries who've given the national pastime its pulse. Past honorees include Dick Allen, Bill Veeck, Curt Flood, Lester Rodney, Ila Borders, Roberto Clemente, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Moe Berg.

This year, the Reliquary will induct a typically eclectic trio: Josh Gibson, the Negro League home-run king who passed away just before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers; Fernando Valenzuela, the Dodgers' screwball phenom (and current Spanish-language radio broadcaster) whose success has come to symbolize the growing clout of L.A.'s Mexican-American community; and Kenichi Zenimura, the diminutive catcher from Fresno who managed to build a baseball field at the Gila River, Ariz., internment camp he and his family were held in during World War II.

Equal parts performance art and "Inside Baseball" geek-fest, the ceremony is free and open to the public. Several of Sakoguchi's paintings are displayed throughout the library, as are other artwork and Reliquary ephemera. Most important, I understand that the Pasadena Library's air conditioning is swell.

David Davis is an LA Observed contributor. He is the author of Play by Play: Los Angeles Sports Photography 1889-1989 (Angel City Press). He is a contributing writer at Los Angeles Magazine and a contributing editor for the Amateur Athletic Foundation's "SportLetter."

Photo montage: