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August 30, 2006

Toney, Leinart, Young

My girlfriend and I (and Orly the dog) are heading to the mountains this weekend, which means I'll miss the James Toney-Samuel Peter fight at Staples on Saturday. Toney's had a checkered career in and out of the ring: on the negative side, he didn't show up for the biggest fight of his career (against Roy Jones, Jr. in 1994); his life-story was turned into one of the worst boxing films ever made (Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan as manager Jackie Kallen, a flop that the New York Times' A.O. Scott called a "flat-footed feminist fight picture"); and he tested positive for steroids after one fight. On the other hand, he's a masterful tactician a la Archie Moore (with an old-school 69-4-3 record that surely will earn him a spot in the Boxing Hall of Fame); his profanity-laced tirades are more entertaining than Don King's monologues; and he routinely whups bigger opponents. Plus he lives and trains in L.A. – usually at Freddie Roach's gym in Hollywood -- and has his own line of cigars. No pick here, just hoping the "good" Toney makes an appearance.

Speaking of boxers and dogs, two of my favorite subjects, I'm digging the "Yo, Dawg! Neuter Your Dog!" billboards that feature Laila Ali, Lamon Brewster, Brian Viloria and Genaro Hernandez (and their pooches). The campaign comes courtesy of the Sam Simon Foundation, a non-profit organization financed by the TV producer ("The Simpsons," "Drew Carey," and others) and boxing manager that offers adoption and free spay/neuter services.

* * *

The big-mouths on sports talk radio have been doing the math re: Matt Leinart and Brynn Cameron's pregnancy. As in, she's due in November and he was spotted leaving Paris Hilton's place in May. Hm. Here's the real math: The Daily News posted the story on its web-site on Monday night; the Times has yet to acknowledge the alleged conception. The News, meanwhile, followed up with a story yesterday about the USC women's basketball team – Cameron plays on the team – and reported that Cameron "will red-shirt for personal reasons."

* * *

Camarillo's own Delmon Young, who gained national notoriety for throwing his bat at an umpire and receiving a 50-game suspension, made his Major League debut last night with Tampa Bay. Young is a beyond-cocky 20-year-old, but his confidence isn't misplaced: the kid hit a home run in his very first game.

August 29, 2006

T.J. gets some love

Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers took questions from the blog The Big Lead.com, which calls him "funny and fearless." Unrandom excerpts:

Q: Give us your favorite Kobe Bryant story never told.

When he was having problems in Colorado, I got a call from his agent who wanted me to know Kobe was going to rent out a bowling alley for some kid with cancer, and wanted to know if I wanted to write the story. Yeah, right.

Q: You’ve had your share of run-ins with athletes. Plaschke famously clashed with Raul Mondesi. Which athlete has been the biggest prick to you, and is there one particular incident that sticks out?

That’s a tie between Jim McMahon and Kevin Brown. McMahon blew his nose on me. It began months earlier when I parked a golf cart against the back door of the Charger locker room so he couldn’t run from us out the back door. I went to him each day and he would swear at me and I would ask him to slow down so I could write it all down. Later I asked him a question, he blew his nose on me and said there’s your answer.

As for Brown, after my first column he picked up a metal box and tossed it against the wall. Two years later I went back to him to mark the anniversary of his last great pitch.

Q: By all accounts, you are a journalist who knows when to mix in a salad. What’s the secret to not over-eating in the press box?

Take a look at Bill Dwyre. I have that image in my mind every time I go through the chow line.

Q: Will there be a football team in Los Angeles, and frankly, do you even want one?

Football team will be here for the 2011 season at the latest—as early as 2007 or 2008. I believe there’s a good chance Chargers set up shop in Angel Stadium parking lot in new stadium, and the Saints in the Coliseum—playing in Rose Bowl while Coliseum is rebuilt. Roger Goodell, the new commish, worked harder on the LA problem than anyone and will make it happen. That means I’ll have to go to work on Sundays, but what the heck, more fresh meat.

The website, which I know nothing about, recently lambasted editor-turned columnist Bill Dwyre for being over 60 and for running the Times' sports section into the ground. I think what's been going on at LAT Sports is too complex to pin on Dwyre. It has more to do with larger priorities at the paper, which inexplicably do not seem to count sports as highly as they should. When I interviewed Times editor Dean Baquet last fall and again at the April LAT book festival at UCLA, he copped to cutting Sports too much in recent years and pledged to restore some resources. Instead, the newshole has been tightened considerably and other trims made. Some of the cuts attributed by the blog to Dwyre, however, actually were ordered by his successor, Randy Harvey. There have also been some go-ups, notably the addition of investigative editor Bill Rempel.

August 28, 2006

Mike Quarry, RIP

Over a decade ago I published a long story about Jerry Quarry, the former heavyweight contender from Bellflower who had sustained major brain damage because of the punishment he took in the ring. It was one of my first feature stories, and I was pretty proud of myself.

When I recently re-visited Quarry's career for a feature about his historic fight against Muhammad Ali in Atlanta, I discovered that at least two members of Jerry's family were still upset with me about the first story. They claimed that I'd been duped by another family member and so had missed part of the tale. They had a point: I'd concentrated so much on Jerry's condition that I ignored a sibling feud that would have greatly enriched the story.

I thought about this after reading two stories published following the death of Mike Quarry, Jerry's younger brother and an excellent boxer in his own right, who passed away prematurely in June due to pugilistic dementia. In the first story, the Times' Bill Dwyre wrote a heartfelt profile (some would call it "Plaschke-esque") of Ellen Quarry, Mike's widow, and the patience she showed in caring for Mike during his final years.

Having interviewed Mike Quarry in the mid-1990s, as the after-effects of the damage he and Jerry received in the ring were painfully obvious, I can attest to Ellen's courage. Looking after Mike was a challenging, thankless task – and Dwyre's column rightly praised Ellen Quarry for being equal to the challenge.

Wrote Dwyre: "[Ellen] became his second mother, deciding that, whatever it took, and however long, she would stay the course, leaning on friends, professional care-givers and strong faith to survive, one day at a time."

In the second story, San Gabriel Valley Tribune columnist Robert Morales journeyed to Shafter, north of Bakersfield, for Mike's funeral. There, he discovered that surviving family members had a very different opinion of Ellen (who didn't attend the funeral). Unlike Dwyre's uplifting tale of a widow's courage, Morales' column uncovered a complex, nasty feud.

Wrote Morales: "Neither Mike Quarry's sister Wilma Pearson, nor her husband, Robert, is convinced that Mike had become violent enough to warrant being put on Haldol. Robert Pearson drafted a letter signed by his wife and her two remaining sisters, Janet and Diana, questioning Ellen Quarry as to why Mike had to go on Haldol.

"I don't know her motivation; all I know is what was happening," Robert Pearson said. "She kept telling everybody how violent Mike was, and that was why she had to keep him on this medicine. But he was never violent. His caregiver told us Mike was never violent. And he was fired."

Continued Morales: "According to Ellen, Mike's sisters visited him only once or twice during the six months he was at Seasons. So she said it is unlikely that they could understand just how much their brother had regressed and how erratic his behavior had become."

Three follow-up comments. I also attended Mike's funeral, on a blisteringly hot summer day. Since Jerry's death in 1999, three siblings (including Mike) have passed away, as has their father Jack. Another brother, Robert, was at the funeral on a one-day pass from Folsom. (Sounds like a bad country song, eh?) The family has always boasted that there's "no quit in a Quarry," but clearly they're a shaken clan. What's sad is that, buffeted by much loss and pain, the family has been unable to find peace within their own ranks.

In another column, Morales profiled former welterweight contender Randy Shields. Morales wrote that Shields is helping to " produce a documentary called "The Long Road Home" . . . that details the sad plights of many boxers who sustained debilitating injuries in the ring that led to poor quality of life or death." According to Shields, the story of Mike Quarry will be featured in the documentary. I look forward to this film with the hope that it will spotlight the sorry condition boxing leaves many of its fighters.

And, finally, it's interesting to note how, at the tail end of Dwyre's reign as the Times' sports editor, the section virtually ignored boxing. The weekly column all but disappeared; if your name wasn't De La Hoya or Arum, you got no love. But since down-shifting to columnist earlier this year, Dwyre has made boxing one of his priorities, writing at least seven columns about the sweet science (including this past weekend's piece on Brian Viloria). Better late than never….

Coming and going

The Dodgers come home to play the Reds with a two game lead over the division, thanks to another solid start by Chad Billingsley and Wilson Betemit's sixth homer since arriving in L.A. Billingsley gave them seven innings (with just one walk), a welcome breather for the bullpen after short outings by Brad Penny, Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe. Billingsley's ERA since the All Star break is now the best of any National League starting pitcher. There's a good analysis of how he has modified his pitching style by Ken Gurnick, the beat writer at MLB.com.

Billingsley was a strikeout pitcher in the Minors, with an overpowering fastball and the bravado to rely on it. But after his first month in the big leagues, with soaring pitch counts and doubts about his readiness, Billingsley fully incorporated into his repertoire a cut fastball he had only toyed with previously.

Now, he and catcher Russell Martin agree the cutter is the reason why he can sail through seven efficient innings with one strikeout and only one walk on only 92 pitches.

Good defense behind him also help the rookie hurler. Manager Grady Little praised the defense for turning a big double play on Chris Snyder in the sixth inning.

"When the kid joined the club, he was in more of a strikeout mode than he is now," said Little. "He knows he has a good club behind him and we'll make the plays. The fielders are more on their toes instead of watching ball one, ball two, ball three. It makes a difference."

"The cutter is the reason guys are putting balls in play," said Billingsley. "I know as a hitter, the cutter is the hardest pitch to recognize. So if you're looking fastball, that's what the cutter looks like, but when it cuts it gets mis-hit."

"In the Minor Leagues," said Martin, "the hitters foul off the fastball. Here, they don't miss it. With the cutter, they miss it just enough to put it in play. Like he said, it's harder to pick up than a slider or a changeup. So he's getting contact earlier in the count. When he was just throwing fastballs, he's blowing it by hitters. The cutter, he wants them to put it in play."

A little bit south, the Angels head for Seattle still 5½ behind the A's. Sunday in Anaheim they learned what happens after you rile up the Yankees with HBP's, especially Derek Jeter. The Angels' John Lackey hit Jeter on Friday night and Ervin Santana hit him on Saturday. On Sunday Jeter smashed two home runs as the Yankees won 11-8. Bernie Williams also hit two and drove in six RBI. Worse for the Angels, rookie starter Joe Saunders could only stick around for 2+ innings, throwing 75 pitches in the short stint. It's the second time recently that he has come out early, and Bill Shaikin picked up concern that he may be tiring. The 132,663 tickets sold this weekend were the most ever for a three-game series at Anaheim.

Bob Timmermann at The Griddle has started charting how each intra-city rivalry is doing: the Angels are a half-game better than the Dodgers. Timmermann also announced the end of his Random Game Callbacks after 143 games. He would dig out of the archives a game from baseball's past and analyze it in remarkable detail. They were a fun read, but apparently hard to do. He managed to include all thirty current teams and many from the old days.

August 26, 2006

George Brett and the Pine Tar Game

One of the wonderful charms of YouTube is the old footage being made available again, often to brand-new audiences. Below is video of a crazed George Brett charging the umpire during the "Pine Tar Game" on July 24, 1983. Brett had just put the Kansas City Royals ahead with a two-out, ninth-inning home run off Yankees closer Rich Gossage. Yankees manager Billy Martin approached the home plate umpire to ask that the spread of sticky pine tar on Brett's bat be measured to see if it violated Rule 1.10(b), which forbids any substance more than eighteen inches up the handle. Martin had known for weeks that Brett's pine tar was illegal. but waited until the right moment to use his knowledge. When the umpire nullified the home run and called Brett out, the game ended with the Yankees winning.

American League President Lee MacPhail later overruled the umpire, restored the home run and had the teams replay the end of the game a month later. Both teams traveled to Yankee Stadium on an off-day. The replay took twelve minutes (and sixteen pitches) and was delayed by Martin's appeal that Brett had not touched all the bases. A different umpire crew was on hand, but they possessed a signed affidavit from the earlier umpires saying that Brett had indeed stepped on every base. Martin was ejected from the replay, and Brett wasn't there either. He stayed on the team plane playing cards. Brett later told the Hall of Fame that the pine tar incident "was the greatest thing that ever happened in my career."

Hat tip to Blue Notes

August 25, 2006

Jered Weaver finally gets an L

Pretty nifty start to a major league pitching career: ten weeks and thirteen starts before he loses the first time. Weaver pitched better against the Red Sox than he has in some of his nine wins, but the Sox' Josh Beckett was better and David Ortiz blasted his 46th homer. What can you do. Weaver allowed just five base runners in six innings, including the dinger. His ERA stands now at 1.92, he is allowing less than a runner per inning, and his record is 9-1. He's already in the record books beside Whitey Ford as the only American League pitchers to start with nine victories.

So the Angels begin a weekend with the Yankees in Anaheim still deeply in second place, 5½ back of Oakland. The Dodgers have a less-impressive record but go into Arizona for three still in first place by a game, after being owned by the Padres (and the umpires) in San Diego.

August 24, 2006

For college sports junkies

LASportsBeat is a new website that aims to advance every college game, match and tournament in the area, "with a focus on the non- major sports and with no special emphasis given to USC or UCLA." There's also news of coaching changes and other story turns. Founder, publisher and editor Steve Grace, who started running video of prep games on LA 36 when the channel's general manager, explains:

It's my goal to feature the lesser known schools and athletic teams equally with the larger schools. The aim of the blog is to profile all schools and sports along with the athletes in competition.

I love watching college sports and soon after moving to Los Angeles realized that there were numerous athletic events taking place weekly in Southern California, but with no publicity. Enter the world of LASportsBeat. I can get as excited watching a Division III lacrosse game, as I am at the USC/UCLA football game. But with nowhere to turn for listings of those games I decided to create my own site to help publicize these events for local college sports fans.

I've also found over the years that attending a basketball game in Redlands, or a soccer game at Northridge, connects me with the region that I live in. Yes, there can be lots of driving involved, but I am forever amazed at the passion on each and every campus for their teams not to mention the high quality of area athletes.

Grace admits that he also likes to eat and will slip in some restaurant reviews.

August 23, 2006

Lax, Toots, and Dempsey-Carpentier

Lacrosse, North America's oldest indigenous sport, has had a tough year. First, the scandal at Duke University brought negative publicity to a sport that gets less-than-zero publicity. Then, Canada beat the U.S. to win the 2006 World Lacrosse Championships and end Team USA's jaw-dropping 28-year reign. (Their previous defeat? In 1978 – to Canada.) And, there's been scant local coverage of the newest professional sports team in town – the L.A. Riptide of Major League Lacrosse – and it's not because they bombed in their inaugural season. The team, which is owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, finished at 6-6 – this after starting with three consecutive losses – and just missed making the playoffs.

The rash of bad pub should change this weekend, when AEG's Home Depot Center in Carson hosts MLL's championship weekend. On Friday, the first semi-final game (at 6 p.m.) features two expansion teams – the San Francisco Dragons and the number-one seeded Denver Outlaws – while the second game (at 8:30 p.m.) pits the Boston Cannons against the Philadelphia Barrage. The winners meet in the finals at HDC on Sunday at 2 p.m. (also televised live on ESPN2).

* * *

At the International Documentary Association's always-excellent DocuWeek, I caught a screening of Toots, the feature-length doc about legendary saloon-keeper Toots Shor. During its heyday (from the 1940s through the mid-1960s), Toots Shor served as both watering-hole and salon for NYC's journalists, sports icons, Mobsters, and wannabes -- a very masculine world comprised of equal parts boozing, gambling, and sports. Directed and produced by Toots' granddaughter, Kristi Jacobson, Toots is a paean to a lost NYC, and the film includes compelling interviews with Jackie Gleason, Frank Gifford, Peter Duchin, Pete Hamill, Bert Sugar, and Gay Talese. And, while Toots' fall from grace wasn't pretty – he died broke, the victim of a bad gambling habit and changing times – the film rightly celebrates his life.

Growing up in NYC, I was too young to know Toots or to frequent his joint (tho I do recall the last, sad incarnation of Toots Shor, opposite the "new" Madison Square Garden). But watching this sweet doc, I couldn't help but relate. Toots Shor was a Jewish kid who came to NYC with nothing and opened a saloon. Just like my great grandfather, David Davis, a young Jewish man who came to NYC with nothing and opened a saloon on the lower East Side. My great grandfather got out of the business after Prohibition, but I still keep the original labels that advertised his kosher wine and his slivovitz. I would've loved to try his slivovitz.

At the screening I attended, Jacobson mentioned that Toots will be released in the fall. If you want to see the film during DocuWeek, you've got two chances: on Wed. at 8:25 p.m., and on Thurs. at 10:20 p.m., at the ArcLight.

* * *

My great grandfather's son – that would be my grandfather -- was our family's first sports fanatic. He used to regale us with stories about seeing Lou Gehrig on the Columbia University campus and watching the Millrose Games. His favorite tale involved the time he and his frat brothers got jobs selling hot dogs at the Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier fight, at Boyle's Thirty Acres in Jersey City, back in 1921.

The fight itself was over quickly, in four rounds, but Dempsey-Carpentier proved to be a significant sporting event. Not only did Dempsey's victory over the undersized Frenchman symbolize America's might in the period immediately after World War I, but the bout's success (it was boxing's first million-dollar live gate) helped pave the way for sports' first Golden Age during the 1920s, when expanded media coverage and promoters like Tex Rickard transformed games into big-business entertainment.

I was reminded of my grandfather's connection to Dempsey-Carpentier because Chika, a veteran photographer for Japanese publications, sent me a recently-published boxing photography book entitled Les Plus Beaux Combats de Boxe (yes, it's French, published by Michel Lafon). Outside of Chika's own expert photos – she shot the hell out of great contemporary match-ups like Hagler-Hearns, Tyson-Douglas, and Foreman-Moorer – the image that arrested me was a panoramic shot of the vast crowd at Dempsey-Carpentier.

In the foreground of this black-and-white photo, amidst a sea of bowler-wearing men, you can see three college-aged vendors -- one selling hot dogs, the other two hawking programs or newspapers – enjoying a breather. Now, I'm pretty sure that the vendor in the photo isn't my grandfather, but the image reminded me of how much he enjoyed talking about that fight -– and how, when the main event started, he ditched the hot dogs to watch the action. A true fan, indeed.

August 21, 2006

Kings will honor Luc

LucThe new Kings regime won't make the same mistake the old one did. They will retire Luc Robitaille's number at Staples Center on January 20, halfway into his first season of retirement from the NHL. After Wayne Gretzky retired, it took the Kings more than three seasons to throw him a party and hang his sweater on the wall. When I wrote about the Big Chill for Los Angeles Magazine in 2001, some insiders blamed strains between Gretzky and the Kings' second-most-popular ex-player, general manager Dave Taylor. Since then, I've come to give more credence to the argument that Gretzky didn't want to have a party in L.A. — which included placing a statue outside Staples — until his old pal and paycheck signer Bruce McNall was released from federal prison.

In any case, Taylor is gone from the Kings front office and the fete for Robitaille has been set. He's the team's all-time leader in goals scored and the league's most prolific left wing ever.

August 18, 2006

Around the parks

I've been on jury duty the past three weeks, so I'm catching up on a few things. Please excuse any tardiness and/or staleness.

Pittsburgh CrawfordsThe Negro League Baseball exhibit at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park officially closed on Wednesday, but staff members told me that it'll remain open through next weekend. (Admission is free.) The exhibit is geared toward kids and those people unfamiliar with the Negro Leagues and consists primarily of black-and-white photographs. Most of these images came from one source: the collection of historian Larry Lester.

For a museum with "California" so prominent in its name, the most disappointing aspect of the exhibit is its lack of localized information. The exhibit ignores the rich history of "Blackball" in this state – for instance, according to Kevin Nelson's The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball (Heyday Books), a semi-pro team used to play at White Sox Park in Boyle Heights – nor do the curators mention the many Black barnstorming teams that toured in California during the winter months. All in all, a missed opportunity to delve into a part of the Negro League experience that has been largely ignored.

* * *

Last week, I went to a Dodgers-Giants game and found myself in agreement (!) with Times columnist T.J. Simers: Why haven't the Dodgers, the city of L.A., and the MTA figured out an efficient way for fans to get to Dodger Stadium via public transportation?

Dodger Stadium parking lotsFrom our place in Highland Park, my girl-friend and I can almost see Chavez Ravine. The Gold Line, meanwhile, passes within spitting distance of home plate. The only way to get near the Stadium via public transportation is by bus – and the nearest bus stop is located on Sunset, quite a distance from the parking lot, much less the stadium. And, the shuttle bus that took fans from Union Station to Dodger Stadium – which used to run only on Friday night home games -- no longer operates.

Contrast that with the Hollywood Bowl, which has figured out how to run efficient, inexpensive shuttles from all across SoCal.

The environmental damage that the bumper-to-bumper traffic around Dodger Stadium causes can't be good for Echo Park or its residents. So, the only reason we can figure out why the Dodgers don't push for a better system is – surprise - $$$$. Do the math: according to the team's website, the parking lot has spaces for 16,000 vehicles. Let's say the stadium attracts 10,000 cars per game, at $10 per car. Over 81 home dates, that means $8,100,000 in club coffers -- or, just enough to pay for a decent pitcher. (Add to that figure the money from season-ticket holders who pay their own fee.)

Think Dodger Blue? How's about: Think Dodger Green.

* * *

My favorite L.A. Times read is Steve Lopez, who is worth the subscription price alone. His juicy columns routinely tweak the rich and powerful, not to mention champion the underdogs. (Full disclosure: Lopez was honored earlier this year by the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, an organization for which I do volunteer work.)

True to form, Lopez recently questioned the huge subsidies awarded to Anschutz Entertainment Group for the L.A. Live project downtown (to be located opposite AEG's Staples Center.)
Wrote Lopez:

The topper, though, is that taxpayers are forking over subsidies to L.A. Live developer Philip Anschutz, a Denver billionaire seven times over, and I'd like to call attention to this before our fawning city officials give him Griffith Park. . . . Anschutz got $58 million in city bonds and $12 million in redevelopment grants for the land around the Staples Center, and now he's been promised $290 million in hotel tax rebates over the next 25 years to help finance the $2.5-billion sports-entertainment colossus called L.A. Live.

Lopez then spoke with Tim Leiweke, AEG's point person. At the end of the column, Lopez wrote that, "[Leiweke and I] set a lunch date for next week at Liberty Grill, a brand-new downtown restaurant run by his wife, who's in on the ground floor of the renaissance. Leiweke is then going to sell me on L.A. Live, or at least that's his assignment."

Now, I'm with Lopez on this one: the city has rolled over and given AEG a sweet deal, primarily because the hotel segment of L.A. Live is seen as the "solution" to bail out the lame Convention Center. But that column was published on July 26. It's now August 18. What happened?

Chances are, Leiweke has been away on business or is on vacation. He's the busiest man in business. Bottom line: Lopez owes his loyal readers (like me) a follow-up column about L.A. Live (and, here's hoping, other columns in the future).

* * *

One other story that deserves some follow-up reporting: The Justice Department's housing discrimination lawsuit against Clippers owner Donald Sterling. So far, it's yielded one story in the LA Times – written by Myron Levin in the California section. (Through his attorney, Sterling denies that he violated the Fair Housing Act by seeking to exclude African-Americans and people with children from his many apartment buildings in Beverly Hills and Koreatown.)

SterlingYes, these are "just" charges, but in a recent column posted on ESPN.com, Bomani Jones quite rightly laments that neither this lawsuit – nor a previous suit against Sterling that was settled out of court – "has qualified as big news. . . . On the section of the Los Angeles Times Web site dedicated to the Clippers, the lawsuit against Sterling can be found only on the AP news wire. On ESPN.com, it takes a few clicks to find the story."

Continues Jones: "People tend to think of the more annoying manifestations of racism, like how hard it can be for non-white people to get cabs in New York. But in the grand scheme, stuff like that is trivial. What Sterling is accused of is as real as penitentiary steel.

But for some reason, that hasn't qualified as big news in most places.

Sterling deserves to be raked over the coals for this. Judgment should be reserved on the suit the Department of Justice filed until a verdict or settlement has been reached. But he's already paid millions in the face of similar allegations.

It's not Sterling's job to bring attention to his ethical transgressions. That's the job of the media. And as it relates to Sterling, we have dropped the ball."

Cold War intrigue at TSC

It's that time of year when local NHL players start reserving ice time at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo and skating in practice pick-up games, getting in shape for training camp. It's a bit like having NBA stars show up at your park and playing a little 4-on-4 in front of anyone who cares to come watch. Thursday's workout caught a little more media interest than usual because Russian star Evgeni Malkin, who AP says is "seen by many as the best hockey player in the world outside the N.H.L.," showed up to skate. He snuck away from his Russian Super League team in Helsinki to fly into L.A., where agent Pat Brisson is trying to cut a deal to get Malkin onto the Pittsburgh Penguins. Malkin's status has been caught up in a rights dispute between the NHL and Russian hockey officials. From the Calgary Sun:

"In Russia they're using the word defection," Brisson said. "He hasn't done anything wrong. He's not defecting. Basically, he said, 'It's my right, this is what I'm doing.' "

Malkin's stint on the ice with players such as Rob Blake, Glen Murray, Chris Drury and Anson Carter was a welcome relief for the 20-year-old, caught in a tug of war between his Russian Super League club, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Malkin was drafted by the Penguins second overall in 2004 and has yet to sign. Anyway, local fans are happy he's here.

Hockey notes: The Ducks traded Vitaly Vishnevski to Atlanta, and the Kings' former defenseman-enforcer and Fox Sports West analyst Marty McSorley has gone north to San Jose as TV color man for the Sharks.

August 17, 2006

Bunch of suspensions

In the aftermath of last night's brawl in Texas, Angels manager Mike Scioscia sits for three games, mound-charger Adam Kennedy for four games, pitchers Kevin Gregg and Brendan Donnelly also for four and coach Ron Roenicke for a game. Three Rangers also received suspensions.

Wooden gets an honor (sort of)

The U.S. post office in Reseda, out in the west end of the San Fernando Valley, will be named for John Wooden on the coaching legend's 96 birthday Oct. 14. How nice, you might say, especially if you went to UCLA. But Wooden doesn't live in Reseda and never has, and the community was clearly second choice. First choice would have been Encino — where Wooden has been a longtime resident — but the post office there was already named for Chick Hearn, the Lakers' late announcer. So Rep. Brad Sherman, a UCLA alumnus, took #2 — at least Wooden's daughter lives there and presumably he has visited a few times. President Bush signed the bill today.

Meet Howie Kendrick

Sports Illustrated chats with the young Angels hitter about his climb to the majors, taking a foul ball away from Ben Affleck at Fenway Park and why he lives in an Anaheim motel, stashing his extra clothes in the car when the team goes on the road. It's a nice read. Here are a couple of excerpts about being accepted and the day he learned that his first-ever experience as a first baseman was hours away.

In spring training I went to hit in the cage after a workout. [The White Sox] had come up from Tucson, and [Konerko's] in the cage doing some work. I walk in, and he's like, Hey, do you want me to get out of here? I was like, Noooooo, don't get out, you're all right. I went to the other side of the cage to hit. When we played the White Sox the other day, I told him, "That was me in the cage. I didn't want you to get out because I respect you guys." He goes, "It's not 'you guys' any more. It's 'us.'" That was pretty cool.

[fast forward]

It was in Detroit in May, sitting in the locker room, and [second baseman] Adam Kennedy comes in and says, "Hey, you're first base today." I'm like, You're kidding. He goes, "No, you're at first." I'm like, What am I going to do? I've never played first base before! I was so nervous. I didn't have any balls hit to me that day, so I was like, Phew. I caught everything, though. I'm borrowing a glove because I don't have one--it's our bullpen coach, Orlando Mercado's, glove. It has MERCADO stitched on it.

It's in the August 21 issue, as told to Ben Reiter. Spotted at Matt Welch's blog.

August 16, 2006

Best Dodgers news yet

Chad Billingsley only gave up one walk in seven innings last night. Perhaps the kid has turned the corner. He kept the Marlins off the scoreboard, allowed them just three hits and struck out nine. Grady Little:

We're very proud of what Chad was able to do out there. He was in complete control from the first pitch of the game. He's not the finished product yet, but he's going to be around here for a long time.

After Billingsley came out for a pinch hitter, the Dodgers erupted for four runs and made him a winner. They now have won 17 0f 18, the franchise's best stretch since 1899.

August 15, 2006

Local angles

Vinny called it: In the top of the 9th during Sunday's game, Vin Scully observed the pitch-by-pitch rise in Giants manager Felipe Alou's unhappiness with pinch hitter Jose Vizcaino. The score was 0-0 and the Giants had a guy on, so Vizcaino was supposed to bunt. When he took a good pitch, Scully caught that Alou was not happy. Same when Vizcaino fouled one off. We could all see Alou's disgust when Vizcaino finally bunted so poorly that pitcher Brett Tomko got the lead runner at second base. Vizcaino was cut the next day. Wouldn't surprise me if the Dominican ex-Dodger's pretty nifty career (for a .270 hitter with no sock) is over after 18 seasons and 1,804 games. Jose has played for seven teams, including L.A. twice, and had 104 post-season at-bats. Twice he was traded with Jeff Kent, to the Indians and the Giants. [Ahem: Emailer Jeff got me thinking back to Sunday night, and it wasn't Scully at all. It was Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN.}

Satisfied customer: Blogger John Stodder, who comments as dzzrtRatt at Dodger Thoughts, posted that Sunday's 1-0 win at Dodger Stadium "was the greatest baseball game I have attended in person in my life."

Piazza happy in San Diego: Now he tells Sports Illustrated he plans to play next season, and is leading National League catchers in home runs. SI also gives some love to Chase Utley.

Last man in: Matt Leinart collects on a deal with the Arizona Cardinals that ESPN says could pay him $50.8 million. He's expected in camp today. Leinart's agents at CAA, Tom Condon and Ken Kremer, negotiated the contract.

August 14, 2006

In honor of 'Snakes on a Plane'

This video has been around longer than YouTube, but here it is again for anyone who hasn't seen Jules Winnfield instructing youth hockey players in the subtlety of the Inglewood Jack.

Random weekend notes

Celebration- Russell Martin's tenth-inning, party-launching walk-off homer on ESPN's Sunday night game gave the Dodgers a weekend sweep of the Giants. Martin's shot into the left-field pavilion broke a scoreless tie. Greg Maddux wowed the home folks by giving up just two hits through eight innings. Sunday's dramas got to Bill Shaikin, who ledes in the Times: "You might want to frame that ticket stub, or at least stash it in your wallet, to prove you were here on Sunday. October is not yet on the Dodgers' schedule, but something magical is happening around Dodger Stadium, and this evening might be remembered as the most magical in a memorable summer."

- The stats keepers at Elias say it was the first extra-inning 1-0 walk-off homerun since 2002 (and Martin's first career game-ender.) The last three players to hit decisive homers in 1-0 extra-inning games were all Dodgers catchers: Paul LoDuca in 2002 [not 1992, my mistake] and Rick Dempsey in 1989.

- Elias also raves about Jered Weaver's eighth win for the Angels, beating the Yankees in New York. Whitey Ford and Livan Hernandez are the only other starters in a century to begin their careers 8-0 in eleven starts. Chone Figgins led off the game with a home run. Things got dicey in the 9th when Scot Shields gave up consecutive homers to Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, but Francisco Rodriguez finished for the save.

- Want to be wowed yet again by what blogs bring to baseball reportage? At The Baseball Analysts, check out visiting writer Jeff Albert's side-by-side video analysis of subtle changes in the swings of A-Rod and Andruw Jones.

- Barry Bonds played all three games at Dodger Stadium this weekend and was booed every time he batted or caught a ball in left field. He went 2 for 8, with a double and four walks, and drove in just one run. Pitchers challenged him Saturday and Joe Beimel even struck out Bonds with runners on, but on Sunday they walked him intentionally with no one on in the 10th inning. That's right, after the count went to 2-0, Grady Little ordered the tying run put on base.

- The Sparks ride into the WNBA playoffs as the top team in the Western Conference. Lisa Leslie finished the regular season averaging twenty points a game for the first time in her career.

- USC football broadcaster Pete Arbogast is blogging from Trojan practices and proudly admits he's not there to serve you the reader: "My hope is not to be a blunt reporter, trying like some others to uncover truths and half-truths in hopes of making a name for oneself. God knows (as do YOU) that I am an unabashed 'homer,' and will only write things that benefit my University and the team that we love so much." Daily News columnist Tom Hoffarth razzes him about it: "That's an admirable trait if you're wearing a cardinal and gold sweater and hoisting young ladies over your head on the sidelines. But as a professional broadcaster, you'd think that approach would severely typecast you for any employment opportunities." He goes on to list some jobs Arbogast tried for but lost out on.

- Former Trojan Junior Seau is expected to retire from the NFL today after sixteen years with the Chargers and Dolphins.

Photo: AP/Jeff Lewis

August 10, 2006

Dodgers addiction

Newly arrived Angeleno Neal Pollack writes today at Slate about what happens to your life when you move to your favorite team's hometown. The author had been a long-distance Dodgers fan until relocating to L.A. in January. Recently he got a call from a friend offering four box seats behind the home dugout. He had plans that night; they were broken.

Anyone who's ever taken two 3-year-olds to a baseball game will agree that it's hardly the ideal circumstance. I ended up, as I knew I would, spending the fifth and sixth innings with the kids running around the concession area, roaring, while I pretended to be a bear. But come on! Who cares? It's the Dodgers!

The Dodgers were my team growing up in suburban Phoenix. Those years, 1977 to 1988, were comfortable ones in Dodgerland. We almost always fielded a winning team, went to the playoffs more often than not, and enjoyed Fernandomania. I'd just headed off to college when Kirk Gibson hit his miracle shot to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. That homer felt like the ultimate return on a long boyhood of bleeding blue.


In addition to the occasional bonus tickets from my friend, I split a 25-game package with a paralegal named Craig who I met on the Dodger Thoughts bulletin board. My seats are in the infield reserve, pretty high up, but they're Section 1, right on home plate, the best that a regular guy can afford more than twice a year.

A few days before the game, I'll contact one lucky friend, telling him or her that I'll cover the ticket and parking if they pay for refreshments. Also, they have to drive, because I like to get stoned before the game. I tell them that they need to pick me up at least 45 minutes before the opening pitch, because unlike many Dodger fans, I refuse to arrive late. And I never miss anything, because I rented my house based on its proximity to Dodger Stadium. It's a 10-minute straight shot down the 2, the breeziest freeway in town.

Pollack writes that he has tickets to tonight's game but won't go stoned because he is taking his son, Elijah. Pollack blogs, mostly about Ejijah, at The Maelstrom. His memoir, Alternadad, will be published in January.

J.A. Adande hits the beach

Pretty funny column in the Times about Adande trying to survive a private workout with Holly McPeak's athletic trainer, then stand in against McPeak and friends on the beach volleyball court without getting his nose broken or his ego smashed.

There are five fit, tan, bikini-clad women expecting my arrival at the beach, and I'm not looking forward to this at all....

Holly McPeak, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist and the winningest woman in the history of the AVP tour, invited me to practice with her as she prepares for this weekend's AVP event in Manhattan Beach. But first she insisted I go through a session with her trainer, to get a better sense for what really goes into becoming an elite athlete in this sport.

I couldn't join McPeak for her training session at Hermosa Beach's VERT gym Wednesday morning with Meredith Miller (I was busy doing journalistic things such as, um, eating an ice cream cone on a TV show.) But I have my own private session with the woman whose clients call her "Meredeath."

"I love Holly," Miller tells me. "And I love to yell at Holly."


"The sand is hot today," McPeak cautions.

One of the occupational hazards of the job I never thought about. But it's something to consider when you're playing barefoot. McPeak also tells me that, unlike most sports, it's actually advantageous to be facing the wind, because it allows you to serve harder without worrying about the ball taking off on you.

I haven't played volleyball regularly since high school, when I took beach volleyball for PE. (Best class ever. We hopped a bus down to the courts by the Santa Monica Pier, played some volleyball, grabbed a cherry lemonade at Hot Dog on a Stick, headed back to school and got credit for this)....

I've never had a pitcher throw a 99-mile-an-hour fastball, a heavyweight fighter swing at my head or a hockey player wind up for a slapshot while I'm in goal, but at the moment none of that seems more intimidating. It's never easy to have a professional launch anything at you. Fortunately none of the women bounces a ball off my grill this day. But I do wind up with several facefulls of sand while diving.

At first I struggle just to get to the ball. I always feel a second behind. Moving in sand is like one of those dreams when you try to run but it's in slow motion.

When I do manage to get to the ball and hit it in the air, the women all shout encouragement. I feel like the scrawny Little League kid who gets cheered whenever he manages to hit the ball in play, even if it's just a weak grounder to the pitcher.

Adande has written before that the school he attended in Santa Monica was Crossroads.

It's the schedule

Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus makes the point that the Dodgers' extremely poor run after the All-Star break came against the National League's best teams (minus the Mets), and the winning streak that stopped at 11 last night came against the poorer teams.

The Dodgers weren’t as bad as they looked coming out of the break, and they’re not as good as they look right now.

Also yesterday, Dodgers on Demand had its official unveiling as a 24/7 channel on the Time Warner digital cable lineup.

August 9, 2006

L.A.'s Own Stanley Silver

Dave Davis has already featured a number of great blog entries about sports artwork and memorabilia. Not to be outdone, it's time for one of my own. If I do say so myself, it's a great one -- or at least, the subject of the entry is.

Stanley Silver is one of the most talented sports-oriented artists working in Los Angeles today. Sure, you can take my word for it, but why settle for bacon when you can get Sizzle Lean, right? Just ask Hank Aaron, Jerry West or any of the many other patrons (which include every major sports league) who have worked with him, or own his paintings.

Silver and I met through our wives, and as I've come to know him a little, I've really enjoyed talking with him about his work. What I love about his paintings, which he does in both watercolors and oils, are their grittiness. Somehow, he finds a way to capture the visceral power of sports while still communicating a sense of majesty. The results are truly spectacular.

I interviewed Silver, a native Angeleno, via e-mail yesterday about how he got started painting, and how his unique style has evolved.

Q: How did you begin painting athletes?

A: Throughout my childhood I played competitive sports and drew on the side. By the time I reached college I started to take my art more seriously. In my junior year I began to combine my two passions -- art and sports. It didn't take long before I got my first commission work and the rest is history.

Q: Many of your pictures use a dark palette and achieve a very distinctive look. How do you decide on what aesthetic is best for a given athlete?

A: I try to study the athlete first and figure out a way to capture his personality along with the intensity and raw emotion of the sport. Once I accomplish that it dictates what the overall look of the piece is going to be. For a more dramatic and timeless feel I use a limited palette.

Q: What are some of your most recently completed projects?

A: Recent works include a painting I just completed for a limited partner of the Chicago White Sox to celebrate their World Series Championship, as well as a piece for the owner of a soccer team in England, The Tottenham Hotspurs. I was also commissioned by the New York Rangers to create a painting that was presented to Mark Messier the night his number was retired.

Q: If you could do work for any particular athlete, who would it be?

A: Michael Jordan.

Q: Who are your clients?

A: I have worked with athletes, leagues, teams, galleries, corporations, and the general public. I do not discriminate.

Q: Your painting of Muhammad Ali is based on a famous photograph of his fight against Sonny Liston. Yet it has a feel to it that is very different, in some ways, from the photo it's based on. What do you think makes one of your paintings different from the source materials you use?

A: I take poetic license when creating a piece. Even though my work is representational, I try to play with color and light to achieve a sophisticated, stylized look.

Q: Did you play any sports yourself?

A: I played all of the sports growing up, but I was most competitive in baseball and soccer.

Q: You've done a number of paintings of Hollywood luminaries. How did you decide to paint them?

A: I thought it was a natural progression to evolve from painting sport icons to entertainment icons. I wanted to diversify and expand my subject matter, and what better way than to take it from popular culture in my own backyard.

Q: Which of your paintings do you like the most?

A: What a tough question. There are aspects of of each painting that I love without enjoying the entire piece. I am a tough critic. I always feel that I could have done an area better in some way. One particular piece that comes to mind is a painting of Jackie Robinson called "Stealing Home." I don't say this very often, but there is little I would change in this piece. I used multiple reference materials, and a little poetic license, to come up with the perfect way to capture the essence of Jackie Robinson. It was so technical and difficult to do, I don't think I could ever duplicate it. I had to start over several times before I achieved the look I was going for. Watercolor is so unforgiving and difficult to control, but when executed properly the results are that much more gratifying.

Q: What's the strangest request you've received?

A: My wife's mother told me to paint a nude of her daughter not long after we first started dating.

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be?

A: Jackie Robinson. After all of my research, and meeting his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Sharon, and knowing the huge role he had in history both on and off the field, he is someone I would have loved to have met.

Q: If someone wants to see, purchase or commission your work, how can they do that?

A: The best way to see my work and contact me is to visit my website at www.stanleysilver.com. My contact information is also available in the CONTACT US section on the website.

Dilbeck tries to recoup

T.J. Simers has foisted his share of clunker conclusions on his readers — enough that some of them wonder if he knows much about sports, especially baseball. (We know he's clueless about hockey and soccer.) Still, that didn't stop the Times' most college newspaper-ish scribe from devoting his column on Tuesday to making fun of Steve Dilbeck, the Daily News columnist who made an unfortunate leap a few weeks back. Dilbeck declared the Dodgers dead before they went on the winning streak that reached eleven games last night. Simers made fun of Dilbeck's looks, name and paper — "I showed the newspaper to Grady Little and Colletti because I figured they've never seen a Daily News."

In a column today, Dilbeck eats his hat — and in a show of class doesn't mention Simers:

Enough, already. I'm actually embarrassed. Feeling all flushed. Come on now, please, stop it.

Cease the congratulatory letters, the flattering e-mails. Do need to free the cell phone for professional use. And if the back gets patted one more time, it'll become my chest.

Yes, it's become clear to everyone by now I single-handedly turned the Dodgers' season around.

They were a bunch of sad mopes, bent on self-destruction and plenty of unsightly baseball when I last visited our Boys in Blue. They had lost eight consecutive games and 13 of 14. They were fighting in the dugout, silent in the clubhouse and shrinking in the standings.

So I cleverly wrote them off. Said they were done. Dead team walking. That they not only lacked life, but simple spark.

And look at them now!

They've haven't lost since. They've become world beaters. They eat opposing teams for lunch. They hit, they pitch, they field. Bullets bounce off their chests. They're the Super Dodgers.

Game stories: Times, Daily News, MLB.com

August 8, 2006

Press box interns, have faith

Roger Goodell began with the National Football League as a public relations intern. Today he was named the next commissioner, succeeding Paul Tagliabue. That makes him a crucial player in the coming decision on where and when to place a football team in Southern California.

Secret out on Sand Dune Park

Sand Dune's hillManhattan Beach has long been the pro athletes ghetto of Los Angeles. For Lakers and Kings it's close to their El Segundo training facility and their buddies. For Dodgers like Nomar Garciparra (and wife Mia Hamm) and itinerant pros like Maria Sharapova, Michelle Kwan and Holly McPeak, it's close to LAX and offers the beach strand and views that athletes prefer. One of the lesser-known attractions has also been the impressive slope at Sand Dune Park, on Bell Avenue in the city's Sand Section, where many athletes and coaches like to work out. In today's Los Angeles Times, sports writer Jerry Crowe totes up some of the names who frequent the killer hill of sand.

In recent weeks, for instance, a visitor to the dune might have encountered Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andrew Bynum of the Lakers or former UCLA defensive back Kirk Alexander, a phenomenally fit personal trainer who spends so much time there that he is known as "King of the Dune."

Kobe Bryant has trained at Sand Dune Park, as have several of his Lakers teammates, past and present. Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics, Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs and any number of NHL players, USC and UCLA football players, volleyball players, boxers, fighters, sprinters and WNBA players also have taken on the dune, sharing the sand with a steady stream of weekend warriors....

"If you can master it, you're ready for anything," said Alexander, whose client roster has included Polamalu and former Lakers forward Cedric Ceballos. "You tend to be faster, fitter."

In the early 1990s, when Loyola Marymount's basketball teams ran tirelessly up and down the floor while setting numerous NCAA scoring records, coach Paul Westhead brought them to Sand Dune Park for early-season training.

"It's a serious endurance game," personal trainer Joe Charles said of the dune, which is about 100 yards long, 50 yards wide and steeped at about a 45-degree angle. "Most people, when they get up there that first time, they're like, 'Oh … my … God!' and they hesitate about doing it again. You'll find that a lot of your professional athletes conquer it and then want to come back and conquer it again and again because it's challenging — very, very challenging."

Photo: JohnnyJet.com

Feds sue Sterling for bias

SterlingWe've all seen Clippers owner Donald Sterling's ads for his high-rise apartment buildings along the Wilshire corridor and in Koreatown. Well, the U.S. Justice Department filed a discrimination suit Monday that accuses Sterling of favoring Koreans and trying to keep out African American renters and families with children. From today's Los Angeles Times:

The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, charged Sterling with violating the Fair Housing Act, a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, by engaging in "discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and familial status." It also named Sterling's wife, Rochelle, and three Sterling companies and trusts.

Sterling owns about 100 apartment buildings with thousands of rental units in the county. In a prepared statement, Sterling's lawyer, Greg Garbacz, called the charges baseless...Sterling and his companies "are committed to equal housing opportunities for all," Garbacz said, and have "tenants of all races, religions, national origins, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, as well as families."

In the seven-page complaint, Justice Department lawyers said Sterling's agents at various times have refused to rent to non-Koreans at their buildings in Koreatown, and have been guilty of "creating, maintaining, and perpetuating an environment that is hostile" to existing non-Korean tenants. According to the lawsuit, the Sterling companies also have refused to rent to African Americans at properties in Beverly Hills, and have misrepresented the availability of units to blacks and families with children.

Prosecutors are seeking a court order that would bar future acts of discrimination, along with monetary damages for alleged victims, none of whom was identified.

"Here in Los Angeles, where housing is already at a premium, it is imperative that no one be denied housing simply because of their skin color, ethnic background or because they have children," said Debra Wong Yang, U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

Last year a jury rejected claims by a former apartment supervisor, Sumner Davenport, that Sterling had fired her for refusing his sexual advances.

Soccer matters

Those of us rooting for soccer to make it in the States have had a mixed year. Obviously, the US National Team did nothing to impress the sport's nay-sayers at the World Cup in Germany. Not only did the team fail to advance past the first round, but its feeble, chaotic demise signaled the end of the Bruce Arena era. Meanwhile, Hollywood's attempt to launch a soccer-film franchise, with the release of Goal! The Dream Begins, flopped big-time, with Goal! (the first in a trilogy) grossing a paltry $4.2 million.

Positive signs included the election of hard-working, experienced Sunil Gulati as president of the US Soccer Federation, as well as the release of Once in a Lifetime, an excellent documentary about the New York Cosmos of the old NASL, this country's first serious attempt at a professional league. (Full disclosure: My uncle, journalist Antonio Cirino, covered the Cosmos in those years.)

And then came this last weekend. At the Los Angeles Coliseum, some 92,650 fans watched FC Barcelona take on Chivas Guadalajara (and Chivas USA take on the Revolution) in a double-header that set an attendance record. (Too bad the Coliseum's pitch was in such shoddy shape.) At the MLS All-Star Game, the All-Stars defeated visiting Chelsea from across the Pond. And, in another milestone, MLS signed an eight-year agreement with ESPN – the first-ever rights-fee agreement for MLS, according to Sports Business Daily – in a deal worth $7-$8 million annually. Surely, the suits at Anschutz Entertainment Group are feeling a little better about their massive investment (gamble?) in soccer.

Soccer will never be among the Big Three sports – at least, not in my lifetime. And, MLS has a long way to go – both on and off the field – before it becomes truly major league. But a close alliance with ESPN is, in this era, mandatory. Look what happened when the network dropped the NHL last year: the sport virtually disappeared from "SportsCenter" and other ESPN-related entities.

We'll leave it to ESPN's John Skipper to sum up the network's confidence (arrogance?) in how they can grow soccer: "I'm the latest knucklehead who thinks soccer is going to work in the United States," Skipper told the Daily Herald. "Through the mind-numbing litany of ESPN products, it is almost impossible for me to believe that we can't move this [game] forward."

August 6, 2006

Barca is mes que en club

BarcaLocal futbol fans get a treat tonight at the Coliseum. FC Barcelona, one of the storied European soccer clubs, is in town to play Chivas de Guadalajara in a non-league match. Chivas USA and New England square off first in a Major League Soccer contest, but it's the appeal of the visitors that sold out more than 92,000 seats. Barcelona is on a pre-season U.S. tour that begins amid chatter about the play of its Brazilian star Ronaldinho, whose performance in the World Cup disappointed. He figures to play no more than a half, if that, at the Coliseum, says the Daily News' Scott French, who also sets up the reason Barcelona is here.

But Barcelona is, as says its catchphrase, "mes que en club" ("more than a club"). Its image, what it stands for - its position through history, especially during Franco's regime, and on to today - has romanticized Barca in ways most foreign to sport....

Barca [is] the world's sixth-richest club (with revenues of $247.48 million, according to the Deloitte accounting firm), which has come to North America to cement marketing agreements (with merchandising rights going to Warner Bros.), connect with American and Mexican soccer officials (with an eye on investing in clubs on both sides of the border) and proclaim its brand in a growing market that is growing savvier with each season.

The club (a wide-ranging social club with nearly 150,000 members that sponsors professional teams in four sports) expects to reap $4.8 million from its four-game tour, which wraps up with games later this week in Houston and New Jersey. The real profit comes later, if Barca makes the most of its opportunity.

It hopes to benefit from the club's history, its image as a bastion of liberalism, as chief vessel of Catalan nationalism, of its fierce - and at times costly - opposition to the 40-year Franco regime, a position that pit it head to head against Real Madrid, Franco's favored club and, with nine European titles, the continent's most successful club.

FC Barcelona's latest decision, to surrender lucrative jersey sponsorship rights to fund a UNICEF program to aid orphaned children, makes it as the club with a heart.

The MLS match is at 4 pm, the main event at 6:30. No local radio or TV unless you get the Fox Soccer Channel. More advancers in the Los Angeles Times, at CBS Sportsline and in Spanish at La Opinión.

Hockey hotbed?

Helene Elliott, the Times' new columnist, returned to a familiar subject for a Saturday column on the emergence of Southern California-bred hockey players with NHL teams. The Ducks' signing of Brian Salcido is the peg. Salcido grew up playing on the Junior Kings team (his father Frank, a Beverly Hills police captain, coached) before going off to play high school hockey at Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota then at Colorado College.

Salcido joins what was a trickle and is now a stream of local kids playing at elite levels.

The Kings last month signed Buena Park native Gabe Gauthier from Denver University. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Los Angeles native Robbie Earl soon after he led Wisconsin to the NCAA title. Salcido's teammate, Brett Sterling of Pasadena, recently signed with Atlanta. Ray Macias of Long Beach, who played in the Western Hockey League last season, may sign with Colorado before next season. Rhett Rakhshani of Huntington Beach, a member of the U.S. under-18 team, was chosen by the New York Islanders in the fourth round of the June entry draft. Cameron Cepek of Huntington Beach was picked in the seventh round by Montreal after playing for Portland of the Western Hockey League.

They all hope to follow Los Angeles-raised Richard Park, who played for Vancouver last season, and Noah Clarke of La Verne, also a product of Shattuck and Colorado College and the first Southern California product to play for the Kings.

"Everybody thinks about hockey and think Minnesota and Michigan and Canada," Brian said. "California is known for basketball and football, and a lot of kids from California, when we'd go to tournaments, we'd get a lot of people asking about our tans.

"I think we're getting a little more respect and credit now."

Several National Hockey League veterans also live here, among them Chris Chelios of the Detroit Red Wings and Rob Blake, now back with the Kings after a few years in Colorado. Pickup games of local players are common at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, especially now as they are starting to get in shape for training camps that open next month. Hockey fans might want to put this on their calendars: from Sept. 8-12 at TSC the Kings will host a tournament for rookies on the three California NHL teams and the Phoenix Coyotes.

August 5, 2006

Landis' second test bad too

Floyd Landis was dropped Saturday by his Swiss racing team, and Tour de France officials said they no longer consider him the winner, after a second test confirmed evidence of synthetic testosterone in his system. If the International Cycling Union formally strips Landis of the yellow jersey, Oscar Pereiro will likely be declared the winner. That process could take months. Landis, meanwhile, continues to deny taking nay banned substances and says he intends to fight the charges.

August 4, 2006

Reaching for the stars

Northridge City Little League's team of 11- and 12-year-old boys has rolled through three post-season tournaments to become the Southern California champions. They are now one round away from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. They begin play in the Western Region tournament against a team from Utah this afternoon in San Bernardino. "It's exciting for the players and the coaches, too," manager Kevin Shaw told the Daily News. "It's like we've just arrived at Disneyland. I don't know who's out here, but if we play the same way we've been playing, I like our chances."

Update: Northridge won its first game 9-1 in front of 1,400 fans. The Daily News has a photo gallery online.

Western Region games coverage
KPCC audio report
San Bernardino Sun special web report

August 2, 2006


That headline could refer to any number of things here in the Southland, but for today, it pertains to Floyd Landis, the Tour de France champion -- at least for the present -- who returned to his home in SoCal this week. Since he's one of our own, his much chronicled dilemma merits a brief comment.

The situation is this: Landis won this year's Tour de France with a miraculous comeback. Soon after his victory, he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Translation: He may have cheated. The punishment: Landis would a) forfeit his Tour title and b) be suspended from racing for two years.

Landis claims innocence, contending that his body simply creates more testosterone than the average bear's. This argument might hold some water if not for these facts:

1. His alleged substance abuse came, coincidentally, right after his best stage of the tour.
2. His first tested sample purportedly contains synthetic testosterone, which, being synthetic, would have to have come from someplace outside of his body. To date, Landis has not produced an explanation for this.

I get no pleasure in watching athletes fail or be shamed, particularly when they've got a story like Landis's. He's the son of Mennonites, a hard-working rider who's spent most of his career in the shadow of heralded cyclists like Lance Armstrong. All of that said, the case against him seems fairly compelling. As the NY Times reported today:

“It’s powerful evidence that’s pretty definitive,” said David Cowan, a professor at King’s College London and the director of the Drug Control Center in London, which is accredited by WADA. “That in itself is enough to pursue a case.”

There are other factors as well. Landis has a hip condition, and is scheduled for an upcoming surgery that might ultimately leave him unable to continue his cycling career. In addition, he was all but out of the Tour only days before Stage 17, the epic turn of the race that catapulted him back into contention. Point being: This might have been Landis's one and only legimitate shot at winning the Tour de France. If he got caught cheating -- well, given the stakes, perhaps it was worth the risk.

All of that said, the results of a second sample still have to be revealed, and if those fail to confirm the findings of the first, this will all have been a tempest in a demitasse.

August 1, 2006

Bit of a leap, yet...

Daily News columnist Kevin Modesti takes a provocative stand on the Dodgers' acquisition of Greg Maddux. When he makes his first start, the right-hander with 327 wins on his bubble-gum card will be, in Modesti's words, "the greatest baseball player ever to wear an L.A. uniform."

The greatest L.A. Dodger ever.

All four Hall of Fame indexes at Baseball-Reference.com rank Maddux's statistical accomplishments above those of Sandy Koufax, whose flame burned brighter but briefer, and Don Drysdale and Don Sutton, and cameo Dodgers Pedro Martinez, Juan Marichal and Hoyt Wilhelm.

You take a deep breath before doing this, but you also have to put Maddux ahead of all of the greatest hitters to pass through Dodger Stadium's third-base dugout, everyone from Tommy Davis to Mike Piazza, from Frank Robinson to Eddie Murray.

Not many columnists (or Davis himself, I suspect) would have the chutzpah to include Tommy Davis in that company, but I guess it's Modesti's column. So how does he persuade us that Maddux is a more historically accomplished baseball player than Robinson or Murray were? All he offers is Maddux's stat highlight: seventeen consecutive seasons of fifteen or more wins, and four Cy Young awards. Not enough to gather me into his tent just now, but it's worth pondering if Maddux shows he has something left.

Keen observation: Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts notices that "Frank McCourt and Jim Tracy are in last place while Paul DePodesta's new employer is in first place." He also recounts a personal appreciation of current hitting star Chase Utley.

Brandon Ting tested positive for 'roids

USC safety Brandon Ting and his twin brother Ryan quit the Trojans football team last week, saying they would concentrate on going to medical school. Now the Daily News' Scott Wolf reports on the paper's website that Brandon Ting tested positive for steroids and would have been ineligible to play this fall. Their father, Dr. Arthur Ting, is a prominent Bay Area physician who treated Barry Bonds last year and according to the San Francisco Chronicle was subpoenaed by the federal grand jury investigating Bonds. The story will be in tomorrow's Daily News.