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September 30, 2006

Bob Miller gets starred

Bob Miller, the L.A. Kings' venerable play-by-play announcer and, with Vin and Chick, part of the Big Mic Trio, gets his well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday at 11:30 a.m. The Daily News' Tom Hoffarth, whose sports-media column and "Off the Wall" blog are always must-reads, had an excellent retrospective column about Miller on Friday, complete with Miller's filmography (is there anyone else who can claim to have been in both Rollerball and The Mighty Ducks?) and a list of locations of other sports broadcasters' Walk of Fame stars.

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Sportswriters for Freedom of the Press is a newly-formed organization that backs Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the intrepid San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke the BALCO case, wrote a much-praised national bestseller (Game of Shadows), and, in an unbelievably distressing twist, face jail for refusing to name their sources. The Sportswriters for Freedom group now has a web-site, with pertinent information about the reporters, the case (the pair's deadline to file an appeal is Oct. 25) and all of the legal issues involved.

The latest edition of "SportsLetter," the online newsletter published by the Amateur Athletic Foundation, contains the usual hi-jinks, as well as interviews with authors of two very different books. The first Q&A is with New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden about his controversial polemic Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. The second interview is with local journalist and TV producer Randy Williams, who's written a lively, comprehensive guide to sports and the movies in Sports Cinema: The Best of Hollywood's Athletic Winners, Losers, Myths, and Misfits (due in November). (Full disclosure: I contribute content to SL.)

September 29, 2006

Kings trade

As mentioned below, the Kings will begin their season next month with no immediate pressure to do well. They aren't really expected to make the playoffs, and should be resigned to the fact that for the first time there is a hockey powerhouse in SoCal — and it isn't them. (A sports Grand Jury should be convened to investigate that embarrassing fact, but that's a different story.) So the new regime at Staples Center can begin strategizing how to knock off the Ducks some year in the future. They began that new era today by trading a couple of veterans, Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason, to the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes for Jack Johnson, the third player taken in the 2005 draft. He will play this season for the University of Michigan but is regarded as one of the top defense prospects in the game. The Kings also got a journeyman defenseman and former Duck, Oleg Tverdosky.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi said that he couldn't pass up the chance to get a blue chip prospect like Johnson, even at the cost of Gleason, who is still developing and might turn into a stud on defense himself for the defending champs. In the coverage in Canada, Johnson is the lede. Prominent columnist Bob McKenzie just posted a lengthy piece saying that the deal makes sense for both teams.

How close is the NFL?

In this week's Sports Illustrated, NFL writer Peter King spritzes some chilly water on the optimism about a team coming to Los Angeles anytime soon. He cites "influential owners" as saying the league so far "doesn’t like either of the proposed venues for an expansion team" in the L.A. area: the Memorial Coliseum or a new stadium in Anaheim. One owner said, "We could be five or six years away from a team in L.A., not two or three."

Picking the Ducks: SI's annual National Hockey League preview predicts there will be a Stanley Cup parade in Anaheim at the end of this season. The Kings? Out of the playoffs.

September 27, 2006

Ticket sales; Muscle Beach

Some good news and not-so-good news regarding ticket sales for local teams. In the heat of the pennant race, the Dodgers set a home attendance record with 3,758,545, breaking the old mark of 3,608,881 from 1982. Of course, they can add to that total if (when?) they make it to the post-season. It should be noted that, these days, MLB attendance figures are determined by the number of tickets sold to fans; previously, the number was determined by how many fans actually passed through the turnstiles.

With the NBA season fast approaching, the Clippers have followed up last year's impressive playoff run with strong ticket sales. According to the SportsBusiness Journal's John Lombardo, the team “sold out all 8,000 of their lower-bowl seats in the Staples Center. Last season, the team sold just 2,200 lower-bowl seats. The Clippers also have a 94% full-season-ticket renewal rate, among the highest in the league while giving the team more than 12,000 full-season-ticket holders, up more than 35% from last year. The team has also sold 44 new center courtside season tickets worth $1.2[M] in new revenue and struck a lucrative new radio deal, helping push team revenue to unprecedented levels.”

Meanwhile, it appears that the Galaxy will miss the playoffs for the first time in MLS history. But the real headache, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune's Mark Zeigler, is that the attendance figures reported by the league (long controlled by Galaxy owner and local magnate Phil Anschutz) have been generously padded by complimentary tickets. Zeigler obtained a confidential league document entitled "Game Attendance Summary" from the 2005 season. The Galaxy –- by far the MLS' attendance leader -- reported their average official attendance for 2005 games at Home Depot at 24,329 per game. According to Zeigler, the average paid attendance was 19,940. For Chivas USA, then playing its inaugural season in MLS, the numbers were 17,080 ("official") and 12,121 ("paid").

Writes Zeigler: "On average, nearly one in four tickets for regular-season matches last season was complimentary, or free, according to an internal attendance report obtained by the Union-Tribune. The average paid attendance for the 2005 season was 10,746 per match, or 29 percent less than the 15,108 'official attendance' reported by the league."

* * *

If you haven't noticed, the first generation of modern-day fitness pioneers – the men and women who put the muscle into Muscle Beach – are fast disappearing. The Times recently ran obituaries on Deforrest "Moe" Most (the "unofficial ringmaster" at Muscle Beach, according to the Times) and Mickey Hargitay (the former Mr. Universe who famously married Jayne Mansfield). This past June, Abbye "Pudgy" Stockton, whose svelte figure graced countless fitness magazine covers, passed away, two years after her husband Les.

Their deaths follow those of Harold Zinkin (the first Mr. California and the inventor of the Universal machines); Joe Gold (Zinkin's classmate at Roosevelt High and the founder of Gold's Gym and, later, World Gym); "Gorgeous George" Eiferman (a former Mr. America and Mr. Universe); Russ Saunders (a longtime Hollywood stunt double); and awesome Steve Reeves (star of sword-and-sandal epics and the jaw-dropping inspiration of Arnold, Sly, and countless others).

Thankfully, the original crew ain't all gone: Terry Robinson, Paula Boelsems, and Glenn Sundby are going strong. And, of course, Jack LaLanne is going to outlive us all.

A few years ago, Zinkin (with Bonnie Hearn) wrote a book called Remembering Muscle Beach (published by Angel City Press, which -- full disclosure –- published the L.A. sports photography book that I did). It's an excellent read, with magnificent photographs, and recalls the era before sleek, air-conditioned fitness clubs supplanted the beach and before steroids engulfed body-building. Also, Boelsems has recently donated vintage film, slides, and audio recordings from Muscle Beach (bequeathed to her by Saunders, according to this press release) to USC's Specialized Library. A real cache.

September 22, 2006

Ron Fairly hangs up his mike

The former Dodgers outfielder-1B has been a color color man on the Seattle Mariners TV and radio team since 1993. He got his start on the air with the Angels and also worked for the Giants. He'll retire after this season at age 68. As a player, Fairly signed out of the USC with the Dodgers in 1958 — their first season in Los Angeles — and got into fifteen games. He became a regular in '62 and a couple of times reached 14 homers before going to the Montreal Expos in '69 in the mid-year trade that brought Maury Wills back to the Dodgers along with Manny Mota. The Angels acquired him from Toronto for a final season in 1978, when he was the oldest player in the American League. Fairly had a solid journeyman career: he hit .266, clubbed 215 home runs and OPS'd .768 over 2,442 games. He made two All-Star games and with the Dodgers hit .300 in four World Series (good for three championship rings.)

September 21, 2006

Oaks Christian-St. Bonaventure, Fight Night News

From Jackie Robinson to Jimmy Clausen, southern California's high school football programs have long produced top talent. Now, the sport is getting its national close-up: this fall, Alabama's Hoover High team turned an unprecedented pop-culture trick, simultaneously appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and as the subject of an MTV reality show. Buzz Bissinger's classic book about Texas gridiron, "Friday Night Lights," is an NBC primetime show. Web sites like calhisports.rivals.com profile the top prospects and chronicle their college recruiting adventures; ESPN and FSN Prime Ticket pay for the rights to broadcast key games.

On Friday, Prime Ticket FSN West will broadcast the long-awaited game between Oaks Christian and St. Bonaventure. It's probably the biggest match-up in the state since Long Beach Poly took on De La Salle (from Concord in northern Cal) for the nation's number-one ranking. (You can read about that game and those programs in Don Wallace's One Great Game, now available in paperback from Atria Press.) Friday night's game will help determine whether Clausen and Oaks Christian's 33-game winning streak is the real deal, or whether the Lions have padded their record with weak opponents.

Interestingly, in the pre-season polls, Sports Illustrated ranked Oaks Christian third in the nation; the Times ranked the Lions sixth in the region (with St. Bonaventure tied for second).

* * *
My buddy Bruce Bebb, with whom I collaborated at the L.A. Weekly several lifetimes ago, is back in the ring. Earlier this year, Bruce lost his longtime column when the publication he wrote for shuttered. But when Mike Marley (who survived a stint working for Don King) recently started a new boxing web-site, fightnightnews.com, Bruce found another outlet. He'll file from all across SoCal -- and surely keep Oscar De La Hoya on his toes.

September 20, 2006

Reverse flow

As many as 3,000-5,000 early-departing fans turned around and tried to re-enter Dodger Stadium when the home runs started flying in the ninth inning of Monday night's gem of a game, according to the team. Lon Rosenberg, vice president of Dodger Stadium operations, talked to ESPN.com's Mary Buckheit about making the call to let them back in.

Were you working for the Dodgers in 1988? Yes I was. I was here for Gibson's homer and I knew last night was something.

When did the brake lights start going on this time?
I think it was after two [home runs]. It was strange because we noticed people walking up the aisles and standing in the hallways and all of a sudden they all stopped and went back towards their seats. About the same time that folks in the stadium were changing their minds, I got a call over the radio from our parking supervisor telling me that cars were turning around and trying to come back into the parking lot and he was wondering what to do, if he should let them back in. While that was happening our command post called and said people who had walked out were running back to the gates wanting to come back into the game, what should we do?

So I said yes, go ahead and let 'em back in the ballpark, and let them back in the gates. They came in and jumped in the first seats they could find where they could see what was going on.

You didn't even think twice?
Nope. We just knew that this was too big. What was happening was a really big deal. It was too special, we had to let them back in. Normally, no re-entry, you've got to sign out if you step outside the door to smoke, but uh, you've got to make some decisions and exceptions sometimes.

Where you were stationed and with your walkie blowing up, did you get to see the action?

Yeah, you know, it's funny, since we're usually moving around the park you come to know the different roars. You know if it's a single or a double from the crowd, and of course when the strokes go off we'll know it's a home run, but the thing about last night was that the crowd never stopped yelling after the second home run. It was unbelievable, everybody was up on their feet yelling from that moment on.

It took a while to make the call, according to ticket-takers "Tony" and "Ringo":

You're standing next to these big doors that say No Re-Entry. Until you got word from your boss that you could let people back in, what was it like over here?

We couldn't let them in at first, then command post came over the walkie-talkies and told us we could let them back. Before that, they were just hovering around the doors, trying to see in. There were two home runs and we could see people kind of stop and wonder what should we do, should we go back? I think it was the third homer and then there were really a ton of people here at the doors but we couldn't let them back because I still don't think we got the call yet. They were begging us, "Please, please, c'mon!" More and more people coming back, pounding on the gates acting like madmen! Then we finally got the call to open the doors and it was great, everybody went charging in. I'd say 50-75 people came back in through this door alone. It was just crazy. Pandemonium. It was amazing. And when Nomar hit that last one everybody was just dancing and laughing.

September 19, 2006

Gammons back to work

GammonsESPN baseball commentator Peter Gammons popped up on the network's website tonight for the first time since suffering a near-fatal brain aneurysm on Cape Cod in June. He is scheduled to return to the air from Fenway Park on the 3 pm Wednesday edition of "SportsCenter" and the 4 pm edition of "Baseball Tonight." He will only work part-time for the foreseeable future. He spreads around a lot of thanks, including for notes from President Bush and John Kerry and daily calls from White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. The Angels' Darin Erstad comes up too.

See it again

Someone at YouTube edited together Vin Scully's home run calls from the the ninth and tenth innings last night at Dodger Stadium. Five blasts to come back from 9-5 to beat the Padres in what many — including former general manager Fred Claire — are calling a game for the ages.

Also, let's give credit to Lee Jenkins for his lede in the New York Times (which smartly had the game covered:)

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 18 – The first one slipped over the center-field wall. The second one almost struck the right-field roof. The third one settled into the left-field stands.

The fourth one flew straight into history.

For the Los Angeles Dodgers, those four home runs will be framed forever in franchise lore, right alongside Jackie Robinson, Kirk Gibson and Fernando-mania.

September 18, 2006

The Greatest Comeback Ever

This isn't journalism. This isn't a normal LA Observed blog entry by even the loosest of definitions. This is simply one fan happy to have a place to voice his elation.

I just witnessed the greatest comeback I've ever seen in any sport. To paraphrase the great Red Barber, I can't believe what I just saw.

The Dodgers, down 9-5 to the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the 9th, hit four consecutive home runs to tie the game.

Four. Home. Runs. In a row.

No team had hit four consecutive home runs in 42 years. Only three other teams had ever done it. I'm guessing that the other three probably didn't do it in such dramatic fashion.

And then, to top it all off, with LA trailing 10-9 in the bottom of the 10th, Nomar Garciaparra hit a two-run walk off homer that sent the crowd at Chavez Ravine into ecstasy. Every person in the stadium was jumping around like an eight-year old boy, just like I was at home.

And to top that all off, the win put the Dodgers back ahead of the Padres for the divisional lead -- by half a game.

God, Allah, Buddha, Great Spirit, incomprehensible powers that be in the universe, thank you for letting me witness this. It more than makes up for being a Cubs fan this season.

September 14, 2006

One that got away

Former Dodgers senior VP for communications Derrick Hall fled the stadium six weeks into the McCourt era and hasn't looked back. Respected by the media and apparently popular with staffers, he quickly landed another baseball job with the rival Arizona Diamondbacks. Just wanted to note that last week, Hall was elevated to president of the Diamondbacks. From the Arizona release:

Hall spent parts of 12 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, joining the organization's Single-A Florida State League affiliate in Vero Beach, Fla., in 1992 and departing as the club's Senior Vice President, Communications in 2004. In between, he was considered an industry-wide specialist in strategic communications as well as serving key roles during three ownership changes with the Dodgers. Hall twice stepped outside of baseball for employment, first as a member of the media when he hosted a three-hour morning talk show on the Dodgers' flagship station (XTRA 1150 AM) during the 1999 season while also stepping in front of the camera as a fill-in sports anchor at KNBC-TV Channel 4 in Los Angeles. He also served as Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications at KB Home, a Fortune 500 company based in Westwood, Calif. In a short time, Hall was credited for increasing brand awareness for the nation's fifth-largest homebuilder after successfully overhauling the company's communications processes.

Hall received a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University in broadcasting and journalism and a master's degree from Ohio University in sports administration. In 2002, Hall was inducted into the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications Alumni Hall of Fame and was awarded the ASU Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2003. Earlier this year, Ohio University's Sports Administration Program awarded Hall as the 25th recipient of the Charles R. Higgins Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Also around the Dodgers, Rick Monday talks with Times blogger Andrew Kamenetzky about his new book, Rick Monday's Tales From The Dodgers Dugout, written with MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. Turns out it was all ex-Times staffer Ross Newhan's idea.

Rick Monday: Ross gave me a call. We've known one another for a long time. And Ross says, "I'm going to retire, but we have this book commitment." And I said, "Ross, I've known you for too long and I respect you way too much. You've earned the right to retire. If your wife and you want to do something, don't worry about this book." So he recommended Ken Gurnick. And Kenny was around in '81 covering the ball club. Kenny and I have known one another for a long time, so we got together and they changed editors on it. All told, it took about a year to get things on paper to the point where we liked it.

AK: What prompted you to write it?

RM: Well, I was approached by Ross.

Part 2 of the interview is here.

Invincible, NFL Films

Leave it to Disney to make a feel-good film about a special-teams player who lasts all of three seasons in the NFL. Based on the brief career of the Eagles' Vince Papale, the heavily marketed Invincible is a slight film with a groovy soundtrack. It's the NFL's answer to Rudy – and that's pretty darn pathetic.

Hollywood long ignored football in favor of making baseball and boxing movies. Now, football is a popular genre. Why? The usual reason anything gets done in Hollywood -- $$$ -- especially after 1996's Jerry Maguire ($154 million domestic), 1999's Any Given Sunday ($75 million domestic) and 2000's Remember the Titans ($115.6 domestic) broke through. Other recent football movies -- The Replacements (2000), Radio (2003), Friday Night Lights (2004), and the Longest Yard remake (2005) – led to, inevitably, Invincible, which ranked number one at the box office in its first two weeks of release. (It's grossed about $45 million so far.) Another football film, Gridiron Gang, comes this weekend; the star of that film, The Rock, will star in yet another football film coming in '07.

The Movie Times website – which provided the above b.o. figures -- reveals that the three highest grossing sports films of all-time are about . . . football: The Waterboy (1998), at $161.5 million (domestic), followed by the Longest Yard remake, at $158.1 million, and Maguire. What it says about football that Adam Sandler starred in two of these three films is beyond my feeble imagination.

While I'm on the subject, a belated happy birthday to Ed Sabol (now 90). Sabol was the original mastermind behind NFL Films, producing documentary-like features that helped craft the image of the league in the 1960s and 1970s. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle (the Compton High grad who became the Rams p.r. man) sagely allowed Sabol unprecedented access on the sidelines and in the lockerrooms; Sabol sagely used the dulcet baritone of announcer John "Voice of God" Facenda to underscore his brilliant images. Here's a birthday tribute to the elder Sabol (his son, Steve, now runs NFL Films) from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

September 13, 2006

Now that's ugly

The Dodgers had the worst-place Cubs down 7-0 with Derek Lowe pitching. The Cubs committed six errors. The Dodgers still lost. Cesar Izturis even drove in the winning run for Chicago. Luckily for L.A. the Padres also lost so the Dodgers still lead by 1½ games. Carnage observed in the Times, Daily News, MLB

Also: Jerry Crowe in today's LAT tells the story of the Dons, L.A.'s first major pro sports team. They and the All-America Football Conference beat the defending NFL champion Rams into town by two weeks in 1946. (The Rams fled from Cleveland.) The first game was played on a Friday night at the Coliseum. The Dons beat the Brooklyn Dodgers, 20-14, in front of 18,995. The Dons' ownership included Louis B. Mayer, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Don Ameche and in 1948 they outdrew every team in the rival National Football League. But after 1949 the league faded away, with the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts joining the NFL.

September 11, 2006

AEG in K.C. and Roger Federer

Reporters who cover Anschutz Entertainment Group know that the privately-held company is, well, private. The boss himself, Phil Anschutz, hasn't granted a one-on-one media interview since the Nixon administration – and he declined to sit down with the L.A. Times' Glenn Bunting before the paper published a long feature about him in July.

Anschutz also didn't bother to speak with reporter Justin Kendall of The Pitch, Kansas City's alternative newsweekly, about AEG's deal to construct a $276 million sports arena in downtown K.C. Scheduled to open in 13 months, the arena is being built on spec: no NHL or NBA team has yet agreed to be a tenant, and Kendall notes that at least seven franchises (including the team formerly known as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks) sniffed at K.C. before ultimately passing.

In the article, entitled "We're Pucked," Kendall wrote:

The responsibility for finding a team belongs to AEG. The city struck a deal with AEG in July 2004 and hailed it as risk-free to taxpayers. AEG would cover construction cost overruns and operating costs. The city reportedly had an in with AEG; Herb Kohn, a senior partner at Bryan Cave, the law firm that helped the city secure its contract with AEG, is a friend of the Leiweke family.


The man offering more promises than anyone else, however, has been AEG's [Tim] Leiweke. Leiweke is a familiar face on the Kansas City sports scene. In the '80s, he was general manager and later president of the Kansas City Comets, an indoor soccer franchise that began with promise and kept crowds flowing into Kemper Arena. Leiweke left the team in 1988 to work for the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA franchise; three years later, the Comets fizzled out.
Leiweke talked about a major tenant for the Sprint Center even before voters in August 2004 approved a hike in car-rental and hotel and motel fees to pay for the new arena.

Early on, Leiweke said the only question would be whether the Sprint Center's tenant would be a hockey team or a basketball team, according to the Star. He continued his optimism in July 2004. "If you build a world-class facility and create the economic streams for the franchise to thrive, you're going to get an NBA and an NHL team here," he told the Star.

More than a year after those initial comments, Leiweke said in September 2005 that either an NHL or an NBA team would be in the Sprint Center "when you open the doors," the Star reported. In November 2005, he played up the Penguins as a possible tenant. "The Pittsburgh Penguins can be the Kansas City Penguins," he told the Star, "no question about it."


American City Business Journals, the parent company of the Kansas City Business Journal, analyzed 179 markets earlier this year to see if residents had enough income to support pro sports teams. The study found that Kansas Citians can't even support the teams already here [the NFL Chiefs and the MLB Royals]. To support a hockey or a basketball team, Kansas City would need another $100 billion in personal income. "There's a new arena going up in Kansas City, inspiring brave talk about pursuing a franchise in the NBA or NHL," according to the report. "But the hard truth is that the city has already lost teams in both of those leagues."


AEG faces no consequences if it fails to bring a team to Kansas City. The arena management company won't default on its contract with the city — as long as the city continues to believe that AEG is doing a good job looking.
AEG invested $50 million in the Sprint Center's construction and signed a 35-year management agreement to operate the arena. The contract calls for AEG to "use all reasonable efforts" to lure a team to Kansas City within three years "at no cost to the city."

In fact, if AEG does find a tenant, it may lose money. AEG gets all of the revenue from the Sprint Center's 72 luxury boxes and club seats at events such as circuses and college basketball tournaments. If it finds a tenant, AEG would likely have to give up some or all of that revenue.

Every luxury suite has already sold out, at an average price of $110,000. In a remarkable show of blind faith, corporations and wealthy Kansas Citians have opened their pocketbooks for the suites, even though they have no idea what events they'll be attending. AEG will collect more than $7.5 million a year.

The Pitch recently requested interviews with AEG representatives to detail what efforts they've made to bring a team to Kansas City. Michael Roth, AEG vice president of media relations, responded in a conference call with Sprint Center General Manager Brenda Tinnen. At times, they seemed optimistic that a team would come. Other times, they hinted that it wouldn't happen as promised by next fall.

AEG won't reveal which teams are in discussions with Kansas City. Roth said during the conference call that the secrecy is "out of respect for the cities where they already play and out of our agreement that we have with the leagues." But Roth assured the Pitch that "numerous discussions" have taken place between AEG and prospective NBA and NHL owners about relocating to Kansas City. "There has not been a single franchise that would ultimately be sold or moved that hasn't had discussions with representatives of Sprint Center," Roth said. "And furthermore, with the NBA and NHL clearly being aware of the Sprint Center, they are playing a role in properly positioning the building to teams that are realistically looking to move."

* * *

Roger Federer did more than win his third straight U.S. Open and 9th Grand Slam title this past weekend. He also snapped the cover jinx at Play magazine. The New York Times' sports quarterly has published three editions in its first year of existence, with cover photos of skier Bode Miller (before the 2006 Winter Olympics), Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho (before the 2006 World Cup), and Federer (before the 2006 U.S. Open). Miller bombed in Torino, and Brazil didn't get past the quarters. But Federer defeated Andy Roddick in the finals of the Open, giving Play editors a breather before the next issue appears in Oct.

Prep blog at LAT

The Times is throwing five writers into Extra Points, "the inside scoop on Southland football:" Staffers Eric Sondheimer, Mike Terry, Martin Henderson and Dan Arritt plus correspondent Eric Maddy.

September 10, 2006

Jet lag 1, beat writer 0 (* updated)

Jackson zzz's
Dodgers manager Grady Little chats with MLB.com's Ken Gurnick in the dugout at Shea Stadium, while off to the right the road trip to New York catches up to Tony Jackson, the Dodgers' beat writer for the L.A. Daily News. Jackson's nap made it on to the Dodgers' PR blog, where presumably Josh Rawitch posts, "It was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time and had to share it with all of you. The strange thing is, this was on our first day in town, so we can't blame New York. Though I have to admit, I feel this morning like Tony looks in the photo."

The Dodgers pulled out two of four from the Mets this weekend, getting improbable wins from major league-debut starters Hong-Chih Kuo and Eric Stults while losing the games pitched by veterans Greg Maddux and Brad Penny. The latter pitcher's struggles, in particular, pose a problem for the Dodgers' playoff hopes. Penny hasn't pitched well since starting for the National League in the All Star game. The Dodgers now head to Chicago leading the West by two games pending the Padres game at San Francisco Sunday evening. Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts analyzes the split and the Dodgers' future of Nomar Garciaparra, who has been hitting more like Cesar Izturis than a first baseman since the All Star break.

* Monday update: The photo has been taken down from the Dodgers' blog, without explanation.

Who needs the NFL?

It's pretty evident that Angelenos in general don't care whether or not the National Football League puts a team here. In his Sunday column, Bill Plaschke makes the case that even football fans like it the way it is — with more NFL games on television than in any official football city. That mythical lost generation of fans? Pshaw — even Matt Leinart never saw an NFL game live until he was in one this summer. Plaschke writes:

This morning, the first Sunday of the NFL season, there may be people throughout this region who are bemoaning our 11th season without an NFL team.

I'm not one of them. And I'm not alone.

During the last 11 years, I bet Angelenos have watched more pro football than anyone who lives in a town with a team.

I bet Angelenos have cheered as loudly, and argued as vociferously, and bet as much on the NFL as anyone who lives in a town with a team.

We just don't have to pay high prices for lousy seats to do it.

We know what fans in NFL towns everywhere know, but are afraid to admit.

It's the one major sport that is more fun to watch at home.

Week One games air on television here today at 10 am (Broncos at Rams and Saints at Browns), 1:15 pm (Cowboys at Jaguars) and 5:15 pm (Colts at Giants.) Four other games can be heard on local radio. More than enough for me.

September 7, 2006

Abrahamson flips to NBC

The Times has prided itself on coverage of the politics and behind-the-scenes manuevers in the Olympics movement since Ken Reich started on the beat before the 1984 Games here. Reporter Alan Abrahamson re-defined the beat in recent years, flying all around the world to break stories. If you wondered, then, why the Chicago Tribune's Phil Hersh had the best recent update on the prospects for Los Angeles getting the Games again in 2016 — as David Davis points out down below — it's because Abrahamson has taken his act to NBC. This week's flurry of publicity about network coverage of the National Football League finds Abrahamson integral to the team at NBCSports.com:

Alan Abrahamson – Columnist Abrahamson was a longtime and award-winning Olympics reporter and investigative sports journalist for the Los Angeles Times. He also served as a reporter for NBC's 2004 and 2006 Olympic coverage. Abrahamson began his career as a news journalist. He covered the Menendez brothers murder trial in Los Angeles and the Betty Broderick murder trial in San Diego for the Los Angeles Times. In the midst of the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial he wrote "Mistrial of the Century" with Tracy and Judy Kennedy.

In 2001, Abrahamson won the Associated Press Sports Editors award for enterprise reporting for his role in a seven-part series covering the workings of the Olympic movement and various groups associated with the Olympic Games. In 2004, he was the sole U.S. winner of the International Olympic Committee's Sport and Media Award and was named the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California "Sports Journalist of the Year."

Even while at the Times, Abrahamson helped out on NBC's Olympics coverage. The network will broadcast the 2008 Games from Beijing so expect him to be in the thick of that.

Also of note: Pioneering baseball blogger Aaron Gleeman, a founder of The Hardball Times, is also part of the ramping up at NBCSports.com. He blogs about the process of getting hired.

Marion Jones and the NFL in L.A.

Bill Plaschke, the Times' "A" columnist, must have choked on his morning coffee when he read this headline in today's sports section: "Jones Is Cleared After Second Test."

That would be track star Marion Jones, whose "B" urine sample came up clean. That means Jones has been cleared (for now) of a drug violation. And that means that it's time for Plaschke to deliver.

Here's what Plaschke wrote in his column on Aug. 19, after Jones' "A" sample came back positive: "Jones has tested positive for the banned performance-enhancer EPO, and if her "B" urine sample later says otherwise, I'll give [Tour de France cyclist and alleged doper] Floyd Landis a ride down the Harbor Freeway on my handlebars."

The question is: Will Plaschke shave his legs or just go natural?

* * *

As the NFL prepares to kick off the 2006 season tonight, the Washington Post's Les Carpenter weighs in on the conundrum that is professional football in Los Angeles. Or, as the Post's headline puts it, "The NFL's Search for El Dorado."

It's a comprehensive guide to the situation. Carpenter interviewed many of the usual suspects (Pat Lynch, Zev Yaroslavsky, Mark Ridley-Thomas); he writes that the Coliseum and Anaheim are still perceived as the top contenders for stadium sites – but that Dodger Stadium still lurks. Carpenter notes that the league has lost a generation of fans – but finds that some fans here appreciate the extra dollop of televised action on weekends. Phil Anschutz, Larry Ellison, and Casey Wasserman are mentioned as potential owners, with the Chargers, Saints, and Bills mentioned as possible relocated teams. The estimated cost for a new stadium and franchise: approaching $2 billion.

Carpenter asked sports-business expert David Carter about "what harms the NFL's return to Los Angeles." The four-pronged answer: the "political factionalism of the region, a sense that the NFL is disingenuous in its dealings with the region's various cities, fan apathy, [and] a soft corporate base that has already spread its money around six other professional sports teams and two major colleges and might not be willing to spend big on luxury suites and season tickets for a football team.

The understatement of the piece comes from, natch, the NFL: "As Neil Glat, the league's vice president for strategic planning and its point man on Los Angeles, says: 'The reality is when you are dealing with a project of this scale you have to wade through a lot of complications. I think we're at a point where we understand how difficult it is' to build a stadium in Southern California."

Really? It took you 11 years to get this? Yeesh.

Carpenter's conclusion: "The NFL remains unsure what it wants to do."

September 6, 2006

L.A.'s 2016 Olympic bid

Curious about Los Angeles' chances to host the 2016 Olympics? I sure am, and so I turned to the source – the Chicago Tribune's Phil Hersh, whose recent column revealed details of L.A.'s bid for the first time. (L.A. is competing against Chicago and San Francisco to get the nod of the United States Olympic Committee in 2007; the selected city will then compete against cities from around the world to get final approval from the International Olympic Committee.)

Hersh interviewed Barry Sanders, the chair of Southern California's bid committee (and executive counsel at Latham & Watkins, NOT the former Detroit Lions running back), and notes that the Coliseum will again be part of the mix (assuming that a track will be reinstalled).

Hersh also writes:

"The 2016 L.A. plan calls for one primary Olympic Village, on the campus of either USC or UCLA, rather than the two of 1984; venues in two counties rather than four; and many venues on or near the rail transit system built after 1984.

Soccer preliminaries will be the only events beyond Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Rowing and canoe-kayak, held 90 miles away at Lake Casitas in 1984, would take place at Long Beach in 2016. Bren Center at the UC Irvine campus, to be used for badminton, is 40 miles from downtown L.A. and is the most far-flung non-soccer venue in the current plan."


"Many arenas built since 1984 figure prominently in the 2016 plan. They include the Staples Center (gymnastics) and Nokia Theater (weightlifting), both in downtown L.A.; Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim (basketball); the Galen Center at USC (boxing); the Pyramid at Long Beach State (team handball); and the Home Depot Center, 18 miles from downtown, which has the velodrome, a tennis center that can seat 13,000 and a 27,000-seat soccer stadium.

The swimming pools would be temporary facilities in Long Beach, similar to the arrangement at the 2004 Olympic trials. The diving pool is likely to be at a new, permanent UCLA aquatics facility.

All this, Sanders said, can be done for $150 million in permanent and temporary construction costs, less than one-fourth Chicago's projection."

Hersh concludes that L.A.'s past success at hosting the Olympics is a "mixed blessing." On the one hand, L.A. has proven it can do the job. Then again, the USOC may be reluctant to choose L.A. for the third time. Stay tuned.

September 5, 2006

The Green in Dodger Blue

Been busy as of late, but I had a chance to head up to Chavez Ravine this past week to write a Dodgers feature for the Washington Post. It's about the talented youngsters who have put the Blue into first place (at least for the time being).

An excerpt:

LOS ANGELES -- The names appear one after another on Hollywood stars the size of automobiles, filling the screen of the DiamondVision in a pregame hype-fest: Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, the luminaries of the franchise.

After all, this is Chavez Ravine, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and this year's squad, front-runners in the National League West (73-63), boasts memorable names of its own: Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

But over the course of a miraculous August in which Los Angeles won 21 games, tying the team's all-time record for the month, the difference makers have been a group of young players, most of them rookies, whom almost no one has heard of.

"I don't know their names," said Gary Tustin, a middle-aged, life-long Dodgers fan from Moorpark, Calif. "But I think it's great. I'm happy to see it."

Remember them: left fielder Andre Ethier, catcher Russell Martin, reliever Jonathan Broxton and pitcher Chad Billingsley. They're not just the talented future of Los Angeles; they're making themselves known in the present.