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October 31, 2006

Front and Center

bynum.jpgA lot of notable facts about the Lakers' opening night 114-106 win over the Phoenix Suns -- Kobe didn't play (how bad is that knee?), and Lamar Odom went off, putting up a career-high tying 34 points, pulling down 13 boards, and dishing out six assists.

But the real highlight was the play of second-year, 19 year-old center Andrew Bynum, who got his first start as a pro. I remember standing on the sideline of a practice a few weeks back, and spotting Bynum for the first time since last year. He's put on some serious, bounce-you-out-of-the-block muscle -- at least compared to the Gumby-like stick figure he was cutting as a rookie. It showed up in tonight's line: 18 points, nine boards, and five assists, and all against a Suns front-line that included Shawn Marion, Kurt Thomas, and Boris Diaw, none of whom are afraid to body up in the paint.

It's only one game, but if the Lakers could actually develop a real center this season: Look out.


A shout out to the Kamenetzky Bros., who run the Lakers blog for the Times. If you really want to get the inside scoop on the purple and gold, these guys should be your guys.

October 30, 2006

Doctor Buss gets a star

When Jerry Buss gets his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (say what?), Johnny Grant has company. The honorary mayor of Hollywood was joined today by the real mayor of Hollywood, Antonio Villaraigosa, and by police chief Bill Bratton and former Laker Girl Paula Abdul. The morning Times advanced it and the desk sent Steve Springer to cover Monday's anointing. The Lakers are gold for the Times' website traffic, so the paper even posted an online photo gallery that opens with Paris Hilton. Springer:

His is the 2,323rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And while his illustrious predecessors all earned their place on the world-famous boulevard with glitz and glamour of their own, none arrived in quite the manner that Lakers owner Jerry Buss did Monday.

He came down the street in a parade, preceded by the USC marching band.

Emerging from a car in a gold shirt and purple sweater, he walked a gauntlet of Laker Girls to reach his spot of honor.

And in his moment of tribute, Buss was surrounded by an eclectic mix of celebrities. His family and Lakers executives, coaches and current players were there. So were big names from the team's past: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, James Worthy, Norm Nixon, Jamaal Wilkes and A.C. Green.

The blogger known as The Hollywood Liberal dropped by for a peek:

A huge crowd of rabid Laker fans was also on hand. They are getting revved up for the new Laker season which starts tomorrow night at the Staples Center downtown. The H.L. is a big Laker fan. I was there on June 19, 2000 along with Buss, Jackson, Kobe, and the late Chick Hearn, when the Lakers won their first of three consecutive championships, so there was no way I could miss this day (especially since the H.L. headquarters is right around the corner from the walk of fame) Congratulations to Dr. Jerry Buss.

October 27, 2006

Remembering Bo Belinsky

Los Angeles magazine senior writer Steve Oney's article from July, "Fallen Angel," is included in the new Best American Sports Writing 2006 from Houghton Mifflin. It follows the rise and fall of Robert "Bo" Belinsky, who won ten games with the then-Los Angeles Angels in 1962 and never again cracked double-digits. Belinsky threw the Angels' first no-hitter but was more famous for dating movie stars like Ann-Margret and Connie Stevens. The long Hollywood nights finally ruined his career, and alcohol and cocaine did in his life. He landed in Las Vegas and had gotten his act together when he died Nov. 23, 2001 at age 64.

John Force and the drags

Sometimes it feels like rooting for John Force is like rooting for the New York Yankees. Force is the king of drag racing, a larger-than-life personality who spews caffeinated non sequiturs (including on his A&E reality show, "Driving Force") and has the track record (he's won 13 NHRA funny car titles in 16 years) to back up his big mouth.

Here's a typical slice from Force, who went to high school in Bell Gardens and now lives in the O.C., talking about the difference between drag racing and stock car racing: "It's not like NASCAR. You don't have to drive for three hours. I always said if I was in NASCAR, they'd have to put in some rest stops. But in drag racing, you just have to focus for five seconds. As long as I've got my health and as long as I've got my vision, I can do this. It's what I love."

But the 57-year-old Force remains utterly real: he's a blue-collar hero for many throwback fans of the Drags (those who fondly recall the famous quarter-mile at the Lions Strip in Long Beach). Last year, Force held the points lead going into the final two races (at Las Vegas and Pomona), but couldn't hold on. (Gary Scelzi won the title.) This season, he again has a slim lead (over Ron Capps and teammate Robert Hight) with two competitions left, this weekend in Vegas and the traditional season-ender at Pomona. The smart money's on Force, but it's likely that the title won't be determined until they all duel on the historic Pomona strip Nov 9-12.

Just down the street from the Pomona strip, on the edge of the L.A. County Fairplex, is the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum (named for the 93-year-old founder – and still active board member -- of the NHRA). The Museum houses an amazing collection of cars, but the real treat these days is a photo exhibit entitled "Faster: 1960s Photographs of Pomona Drag Racing," featuring a series of black-and-white images from the library of National Dragster magazine. Curated by photographer Douglas McCulloh, the show "examines the parallel growth of two technologies that helped shape the Southern California psyche: cars and cameras.

"Before auto focus lenses and high-speed motor drive cameras simplified taking pictures of speeding objects, photographers, using still-photo cameras, chronicled the gritty origins of the planet’s fastest cars in the 1960s. These photographers . . . also battled smoke, flying rubber, loud engines and unpredictable aerodynamics to capture the birth of professional drag racing in Pomona – all while working just feet from the action."

The exhibit debuted last year at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography (with support from the NHRA and the Auto Club); it'll be on display in Pomona through August of next year, so there's no need to, um, race over.

October 25, 2006

On the scene at South Bend

I've heard from a surprising number of LA Observed readers who traveled to Indiana to watch UCLA almost beat Notre Dame last weekend. At The Griddle, Bob Timmermann takes time off from blogging about the World Series and the Japan Series (he also watched games there this month) to report from the stadium:

Not counting trips to the Coliseum to see USC games, I've only seen UCLA play on the road four times. Once against BYU at the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, twice at Berkeley, and once at Stanford. In general, UCLA fans don't travel anywhere. They don't like to travel to Pasadena for home games. But UCLA sold out its full allotment of 5,000 tickets and there were likely a few more thousand than that squeezed into the 80,000 or so people at Notre Dame Stadium. It was quite a sight. Even the band made the trip.

Cameron has Leinart's baby

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart left the team to return to California for the birth of his child with USC basketball player Brynn Cameron. The baby boy Cole was born last night. Leinart is headed back to Phoenix later tonight, say the wires. Cameron's father confirmed the pregnancy in August, setting off a small storm of media punditry (including here at LA Observed.) Cameron is skipping the Trojans season.

New sports player in town

The Sports Examiner is both website and 12-15 minute daily radio show inspired by the late Jim Healy. Editor-in-chief Rich Perelman was chief of press operations at age 27 for the 1984 Olympic Games, later wrote Unforgettable: The 100 Greatest Moments in Los Angeles Sports History in 1995 and is the official statistician for UCLA football and the Rose Bowl game. Producer Bruce Tenen was a longtime correspondent for the Associated Press in Los Angeles. Senior writer Jon Rapoport has worked on "Sports Center" on EPSN and "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" on Fox.

Observations, intelligence and commentary on the world of sports . . . in a style you won’t believe!

A stylistic train wreck between the Jazz Age gossip columnist and radio personality Walter Winchell and the revolutionary 1960s “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” comedy show, The Sports Examiner offers stories you won’t find in your daily newspaper, or anywhere for that matter!

You’ll find a daily report, Monday through Friday, of news, rumors and notes that you’ll enjoy, along with our daily radio program offering about 12 minutes of fast-paced insanity. You can listen to the program daily for free; access to archives for older programs or downloads to your .mp3 player are also free.

This site is produced by Perelman, Pioneer & Company of Los Angeles, California, with Rich Perelman as editor-in-chief and Bruce Tenen and Jon Rapoport as producer and senior writer, respectively.

Los Angeles-area residents will note our style is intentionally similar to the high-successful “Jim Healy Show,” which dominated weekday afternoon sports radio in Southern California from the early 1960s through 1994.

October 24, 2006

Mancow out, Simers' and Roggin in

KLAC 570 is replacing Chicago shockjock Mancow Muller in the morning slot with the team of NBC 4's Fred Roggin, wise-ass Times columnist T.J. Simers and T.J.'s daughter, Tracy. Starting Monday, "Roggin and Simers Squared" will air weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Lakers coach Phil Jackson is scheduled for next week's debut. L.A. Radio.com had the news this morning and quotes Roggin saying they have a year to make the show work.

“If it wasn’t for someone as crazy as Don Martin, none of this would have happened,” said T.J. from a local golf course yesterday afternoon. “I had to find someone really nuts.”

“Don Martin has been very supportive and very encouraging,” said Fred Roggin, when reached before his sportscast at Channel 4. “He’s really throwing everything at this. It’s an incredible opportunity and that’s actually why I’m doing it.”

Blogger Michael Schneider at Franklin Avenue talked with station GM Don Martin about the move.

October 21, 2006

Selig comes to town

David Carter is a very familiar name when it comes to the business of sports. A consultant to teams and sports marketing types, he's been quoted a zillion times, has written three books and comments about sports on "Marketplace." As of late, Carter has headed USC's Sports Business Institute, part of the Marshall School and a central source for all kinds of information about sports business. On Nov. 9, right after the World Series, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will launch the institute's Commissioners' Series, followed on Feb. 27 with NASCAR Chairman Brian France. The Selig event is at USC's Davidson Conference Center and tickets are still available.

Cross-posted from LA Biz Observed

Jose Feliciano and the '68 World Series

The last time the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cards met in the World Series, back in 1968, the stars were Mickey Lolich, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. On the field, that is. The true hero was singer Jose Feliciano, who performed the National Anthem before Game 5 at Tiger Stadium, dressed in a maroon suit, his guide-dog Trudy by his side.

Today, it’s become routine – even mandatory -- for entertainers to sing idiosyncratic versions of the Anthem at sporting events. We celebrate the successful ones: Whitney Houston soaring Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl comes to mind, as does Marvin Gaye’s sultry “Banner” at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. And, we remember the, um, ill-conceived ones: crotch-grabbing Roseanne Barr at a San Diego Padres game.

Few remember that Feliciano was the first to publicly improvise on the song’s melody. Months before Jimi Hendrix tore up the Anthem at Woodstock, Feliciano gave the world the first "alternative" version of the Anthem. His "Banner," a stirring lament that represented a radical departure from the past, still resonates with soul nearly 40 years later.

At the time, however, it was met with disdain. The next day's headline in the Detroit Free Press read, “Storm Rages over Series Anthem.” In a letter to the editor, one fan screamed: “What screwball gave permission to have the National Anthem desecrated by singing it in the jazzy, hippy manner that it was sung? It was disgraceful and I sincerely hope such a travesty will never be permitted again.”

Tigers' Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, himself a songwriter, had selected the Anthem singers. He immediately defended Feliciano, claiming that many people misinterpreted the singer’s intent. “My feeling was, Jose sang it from the heart,” Harwell told me a few years ago. “He treated the flag and the Anthem with respect. He just put his own stamp on it – and he was the first to do it.”

When I interviewed Feliciano, he told me, “I did the Anthem with feeling and with soul, and people at that time hadn’t experienced anything like that. I wasn’t being disrespectful to the flag – I’m proud to be a Puerto Rican American. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had in my life.”

With nearly 40 years of perspective, he described the Series experience as “bittersweet.” He’s proud that he was, as he put it, “the first one to have the courage to change the Anthem,” and he believes that his version “beats all of the others.”

But he's convinced that the flap hurt his career. Feliciano thought that he was on his way to becoming the first Hispanic artist since Ritchie (“La Bamba”) Valens to cross-over to super-stardom. The controversy, he says, halted that momentum.

“Some people wanted me deported -– as if you can be deported to Puerto Rico,” he told me. “All I know is, from 1968 until the 1970s [when he recorded the theme song to the TV show “Chico and the Man”], the radio stations stopped playing my records. It wasn’t the fans – the fans were with me. But the program directors didn’t play my songs. I don’t think I deserved that.”

Actually, he did score one minor hit: the ’68 Anthem. After the Series, RCA Records took the live feed from Tiger Stadium and released the song as a single. It peaked at No. 50. Many years before Whitney Houston's version at the Super Bowl, it was the first “Banner” to ever hit the charts.

You can listen to Jose Feliciano’s Anthem from the ’68 Series at his web-site: www.josefeliciano.com.

October 19, 2006

KMPC fires everybody

All employees involved in local programming at the Santa Monica sports talk station (AM 1540) got the axe, including general manager Roger Nadel. Future programming will come from the national Sporting News Radio network. Now as it happens, network shows hosted by Tony Bruno and Mark Willard, Dave Smith, Arnie Spanier and David Stein originate at the Santa Monica studios so their people will stick around. Coverage in the Times, Sports by Brooks.

October 17, 2006

The Lakers: Ramping Up

I spent the last couple weeks working on a feature about Lamar Odom for the soon-to-be released Lakers Magazine, which will be the team's official publication. The great thing for me -- aside from being with Lamar, which was fascinating -- was getting to spend some quality time at practices and with players.

A few thoughts on the upcoming season:

Kobe Bryant, for the first time in his career, is starting to sound like his own person. There is nothing specific that I can quote that really points to this; it was more a general observation about him and his demeanor. For the first part of his career, he seemed to be channeling Michael Jordan down to the tongue-wagging. In press conferences, he always felt like he was trying to say something that sounded like what MJ might say. Maybe after Colorado, he lost the compulsion to live up to the expectations of the rest of the basketball world since his shiny, all-American varnish was gone. Or maybe it's having finally stepped out of the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal, allowing him to actually take a good look at himself. Or maybe it was that first season being alone, and realizing that he couldn't get it all done without help. Or maybe it's just growing up.

Odom is going to have a breakout year. It wasn't really well-documented when it happened, especially since he wasn't up to speaking with the media, but it has been published locally now: His seven-month old son died over the summer. The months between then and now, as one might imagine (or be unable to imagine, really), have been rough ones for him; there were times when he didn't think he'd set foot on a court again. But ever since the preseason started, he's been extraordinarily focused, and is looking much more like a vocal leader on the floor. There won't be the deferring to Kobe that marked his first season and a half here.

The Lakers, in general, have the feel of a team that knows where it's going. They're still a young team, and it remains to be seen what version of Kwame Brown decides to show up. But they did well last year, particularly in the second half of the season, and there's no reason why they shouldn't pick up right where they left off. And adding an outside shooter in Vladimir Radmanovic is going to be a huge addition to the arsenal.

October 16, 2006

Chivas USA on the move?

Chivas USA is playing in just its second season in MLS, but already the team is working to extend its influence. According to an article by Fred Robledo in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Chivas USA "has approached Cal Poly Pomona about building a satellite center near the campus, a project that would bring Major League Soccer a step closer to the San Gabriel Valley and the Inland Empire."

The proposal has led to speculation that the club, the sister team to Mexico's beloved Club Deportivo Guadalajera [sic], might one day build a stadium south of the school on land once occupied by the Spadra landfill.

Currently, Chivas USA plays in Carson at the Home Depot Center, owned and operated by Anschutz Entertainment Group. AEG also owns the L.A. Galaxy, an MLS rival of Chivas USA.

In Robledo's story, Antonio Cue, the president of Chivas USA, denied that the team is looking to move now. But the concept is intriguing. First, it gets Chivas USA out from under AEG's lease and the Galaxy's home. (Imagine how Chivas USA owner Jorge Vergara must cringe every time he sees the signage at Home Depot for Herbalife, a business competitor to his own Omnilife.) Second, it positions the team to better reach Latinos in the Inland Empire.

For now, Robledo notes, "Chivas USA's proposal to Cal Poly Pomona includes player clinics, having player appearances, and many other projects -- all in hopes of luring fans and identifying the next generation of Latino players."

This Sunday, Chivas USA will make its first appearance in the MLS playoffs, hosting the Houston Dynamo at . . . Home Depot.

Milton grows up

They love Milton Bradley in Oakland. He had a much more enjoyable time with the A's this year than he ever did alongside Jeff Kent in the Dodgers clubhouse. Dodger fans would probably be surprised to learn that after the A's playoff loss to the Tigers this weekend, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins singled out Bradley as Oakland's leader in guts and clubhouse class.

One of baseball's toughest men was moved to tears. Sitting at his locker, a towel draped over his head, Milton Bradley had been crying. His eyes were blood-red as he finally turned to face the media. He handled a most difficult interview session the way he handled the American League Championship Series -- intensely, professionally, without fear.

We all have memories of spectacular postseason performances in defeat. Such names as Henry Aaron, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson come to mind. So many others. I can't recall many more inspirational than Bradley's this postseason, and Saturday's Game 4 in particular.

As much as he tried, Frank Thomas could not carry Oakland through this series. In a sea of futility, on a team coming to life only in the final, desperate moments, Bradley took the responsibility upon himself. Along the way, he became more of a man. He found his most pleasurable experiences, by far, in a baseball uniform. To have all that, and to have given his best in defeat, moved the man to tears....

"I just feel I was made for this," Bradley said through those reddened eyes. "The pressure. Giving it all you have. It was such a great ride. Most fun I've ever had in baseball. Best team I've ever been with. Maybe someday I'll smile, and be happy, over having played well. Right now, it hurts."

The Dodgers should be kicking themselves for not finding a way to help Bradley take this step forward here in his hometown.

October 13, 2006

Ollie Matson update

A few years ago, during the run-up to the Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots, the Times' Bill Plaschke wrote a memorable column about how the Rams had snubbed fullback Ollie Matson and his contributions to the team. In 1959, L.A. Rams' general manager Pete Rozelle had acquired Matson, a future Hall of Famer, in a blockbuster nine-for-one trade (a trade that, by the numbers, didn't work out for either party). After his playing career, Matson and his family settled in L.A.

At the time of the article (in 2002), Plaschke noted that Matson's memory was fading. Now comes word, via the Houston Chronicle, that Matson (now in his 70s) is in a nursing home in L.A. and suffering from dementia and other ailments.

The Chronicle's article is not just about Matson. It details the outrage that many pre-1977 players feel about the NFL's pension and insurance benefits for such players. In protest, former Rams' defensive end Deacon Jones and other Hall of Famers now snub the annual HoF ceremonies in Canton.

From the article:

At the heart of the loosely organized Hall of Fame boycott is the NFL's subpar pension plan for players who began their careers before 1977, when federal courts ruled the league was violating anti-trust laws.


Many players consider it hypocritical to support the NFL's annual [Hal of Fame] tribute to the past. In their minds, it is more style than substance. The NFL, many former players believe, has forgotten the past and the players who lifted the game to unprecedented heights.

"Until this (stuff) gets right, I can't do that. I can't go there and smile," Deacon Jones said. "My conscience beats me to death.

"It hurts. I'm in the Hall of Fame. My recognition will go on forever, and I've done all right (financially). But there are a lot of guys who put a lot into this game, and it seems like the league just rolled on past them, doing nothing for them."

And, from a related article:

"We've been (left out) on every hand," said Deacon Jones, an eight-time Pro Bowl player in 14 NFL seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins. "I don't know why we are the victims all the time. We didn't do anything but play hard, play hurt and do whatever was asked of us.

"Every event I go to, I see some guys' bodies fading away. By the time something's done, these guys will be gone. It's like they're waiting for our generation to die out, so they don't have to answer these questions anymore."

The NFL built its $6 billion a year industry on the likes of Ollie Matson, Dick Butkus, Ted Hendricks and some 1,400 other pre-1977 players whose heroics are featured in grainy NFL Films productions. It was 1977 when the NFL was found to be violating antitrust laws, and benefits improved.


Matson, perhaps the league's first true superstar tailback and a Hall of Famer, has lived in a full-time nursing facility in Los Angeles the past two years, suffering from symptoms of dementia and other ailments. He receives $1,200 a month from the NFL pension plan, although Matson's investments post-NFL have kept the family from financial straits.

"These were the guys who put the NFL on the map and made it the game it is today," said Bruce Matson, Ollie's son and a Houston dentist and cosmetic surgeon. "What dad gets from the NFL, you couldn't even buy groceries with in L.A."

Where's Roy Firestone?

The longtime sportscaster for Channel 2 and ESPN is now doing his "Face to Face with Roy Firestone" interviews for Mark Cuban's HDNet. He's also raking in the bucks appearing on the corporate event circuit and performs a one-man show where he sings, tells jokes and shows sports bloopers. On Monday, Oct. 16 he will interview Henry Aaron at the Omni Hotel downtown for the West Coast Sports Associates Roy Firestone Award Dinner. The Studio City Sun has an interview with Firestone.

October 12, 2006

Soft launch for Galen Center

Galen Center
USC's new arena at Figueroa and Jefferson — just a few blocks from the old Sports Arena — receives its first crowd tonight for a volleyball match beteween the Trojans women and Stanford. It isn't actually done: only half the 22 luxury suites are ready, there are no coaches' offices and the match will be played on a basketball court. But at least it's something. The Galen Center is named for donor Louis Galen, who helped found Lynwood Savings, and his wife Helene. It will seat 10,258 (with 1,930 set aside for students) and accomodate the USC basketball teams as well as men's volleyball. There will be an adjoining practice facility large enough for all the teams to work out at the same time. The men's baseketball squad plays its first league game at Galen on Nov. 16. Before then, an Al Green concert is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Photo: USC

October 10, 2006

Operation Bullpen

Two years ago, Bay Area-based writer Kevin Nelson published The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball (Heyday Books). The book was (and is) an excellent source on a little-mined subject, detailing events from the 19th Century (the first publication of Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat," in William Randolph Hearst's Examiner) to Jackie Robinson's career at Pasadena Junior College to the final years of the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.

Nelson is back with his latest work, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History (Southampton Books). The book is a raucous romp inside the operations of the so-called "flip-flop mafia" – a crew of autograph forgers and counterfeit sports memorabilia dealers based in Southern California who, as the big money rolled in, became ever bolder with their scams. How's about a baseball signed by Mother Teresa? Presto. Autographed boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali? Easy. How about selling millions of dollars worth of fake stuff on one of those television shopping networks? You got it.

The FBI spent three years investigating the operation before the big bust went down in 1999. Writes Nelson: "In all, say government investigators, the Bullpen ring ripped off American consumers for more than $100 million." (In an interesting twist, they received help from slugger Mark McGwire, now living in baseball exile because of his alleged steroid use.) The book is due out any day; you can read an excerpt –- including the section describing how the crew manufactured a Babe Ruth "autographed" ball worth thousands –- on the web-site for the book. No word yet as to author appearances and/or book signings (with Nelson's authentic signature, we presume) in SoCal.

Petros out at 1540

Sports talker Petros Papadakis resigned today from 1540 AM, according to Daily News Inside USC blogger Scott Wolf. "Papadakis is going to pursue other interests because the future of the radio station remains up in the air since it was recently sold and is no longer the flagship station of USC football," says Wolf.

October 9, 2006

Blackie Schwamb in photos

Eric Stone's biography of Ralph "Blackie" Schwamb, "the greatest prison ballplayer of all time," came out last year. Photos that didn't get in the book will be on display at the Burbank Public Library tonight at 7 pm. Stone will be there talking about the book and Schwamb.

A pitcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1948, invited back after spring training in Burbank in 1949; in the off-season Schwamb was a gangster in Los Angeles. In October 1949 he murdered a man while collecting a debt for a bookie. Sentenced to life, Schwamb had his greatest baseball career in San Quentin and Folsom prisons, playing against teams brought in from the outside. Paroled in 1960, he almost made a comeback. He was signed by the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders.

The Baseball Reliquary also has an exhibition at the library called Sultans, Spacemen and Strangegloves: Baseball Player Nicknames.

October 5, 2006

You can go home again

Vin Scully is so synonymous with Los Angeles that you can forget that he broadcast games for the Dodgers for seven seasons before they came west. Some oldtimers still remember him fondly in Brooklyn, and Vin is enjoying his visit back home this week. He grew up in the Bronx and Washington Heights and played ball for Fordham, also starting in broadcasting there. He gets some nice attention as a local boy who made good in today's New York Times.

Scully left behind more than his legacy of calling Brooklyn games and succeeding his mentor, Red Barber, as the lead announcer. He has existed as the ultimate, even unattainable measuring stick for succeeding generations of student sportscasters at WFUV, the Fordham University radio station.

“There was almost a mystical aura about him when I was there,” said Michael Kay, class of 1982, and the play-by-play announcer for the Yankees on the YES Network. “You spoke of him in reverential terms.”


Scully has not been to New York in three years, as his contract relieves him of traveling farther east than Denver. He’s two months from 79, and that’s fine by him, even though he has to spend time away from his wife, Sandy, and his family, which is awaiting its 17th grandchild. He is signed through 2008.

“After that, God knows,” he said. “If you want to make God smile, tell him your plans.”

He said he cannot comprehend retirement, except by illness.

“After 57 years, this is my life,” he said. “A man really determines himself by what he does. I wonder how a man feels when he isn’t defined.”

As much as he has defined baseball in Los Angeles, he seems to miss — at least a little — what he left behind 59 years ago. On Tuesday, he walked from his hotel with his old Dodgers’ pal, Billy DeLury, to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a prayer (not for a Dodgers’ win, he insisted), then to the Lamb’s Theater on 44th Street where, in its earlier incarnation as a fraternal club for actors, Scully had his bachelor party before his first marriage.

His hotel is not far from the offices of The New York Times, where he was a telegraph office boy, ripping wire copy, in the summer of 1944.

At the time, Scully said, he considered being a writer, but his later experience on WFUV cured him of that aspiration. The decision looks like the apt one, given how a number of his calls, literate because of his education and pungent for his dramatic and musical delivery, are among the best in sports.

Photo: Andrew Gombert for The New York Times

You know it's time to take a break when...

Bob Timmermann blogged all baseball season for The Griddle and won't spend much time this week at the computer — or watching games on TV.

I need a little respite as I think I've watched too much baseball. I have had a recurring dream where I get phone calls from Ron Fairly telling me to tell particular Seattle Mariner players that he thought they were good players. Really. I have had that dream. That can't be good.

But Bob's a gamer. He leaves Oct. 9 for Japan where he plans to take in the Pacific League Championship Series.

October 3, 2006

Pitcher's attorney says LAT wrong

The lawyer for steroid-using pitcher Jason Grimsley goes further than prosecutors in challenging the accuracy of an L.A. Times story that reported Roger Clemens was named as a user of performance-enhancing chemicals. The Times had reported, based on unnamed sources, that Grimsley had fingered Clemens and four other players in an affidavit. But his attorney says, "Jason told them [the federal agents] he had no knowledge of Clemens and Pettitte using any illegal drugs and told them that never in a million years would either of them use." Yesterday the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco said that the Times story contained inaccuracies, but he wouldn't elaborate.

October 2, 2006

Perfect storm of sports

Take a look at the schedule of live events that will be in town this Saturday, courtesy of Bob Timmermann at The Griddle. Washington vs. USC at the Coliseum at 12:30 pm, Arizona visits UCLA at the Rose Bowl at 4, the Kings open their home season at Staples Center against the St. Louis Blues at 7:30 and the Dodgers bring the National League playoffs to the stadium at a time to be determined. Timmermann estimates a total crowd of about 225,000 for the day's games. There's also racing at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos if you count that. The soccer teams are out of town.

October 1, 2006

Moving day

Today is the end of the road for a lot of familiar baseball names. Tim Salmon finishes with 299 homers after fourteen seasons in Anaheim. Looks like Frank Robinson is coming home after a halfway decent career: Hall of Fame as a player and top 50 in wins as a manager, as well as being the first black manager. I empathized with Vin Scully on the Dodgers broadcast as he hoped — tried to will, even — the San Francisco fans to stand and applaud their manager Felipe Alou in the ninth inning. "Oh, come on," Vinny complained as the crowd sat quietly. When Alou got to the dugout after his last pitching change for the Giants, Vinnie didn't hide his disappointment. "I mean, that would have been nice."

Indeed. Felipe predates Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal in Giants lore, and the Alous should be recognized as the first family of baseball's infusion of players from the Dominican Republic. Felipe came up with the Giants in 1958, and someone from the clan has been part of the game almost ever since. Brother Matty came up to the Giants in 1960; Jesus got there in 1963. On Sept. 22, the Alous started across the outfield and batted one after another. That generation went on to play in 5,129 major league games. Moises, Felipe's son, came up with the Pirates in 1990 and has played in 1840 games so far. He had a decent year this year at age 40 and could keep going if he wants. But Felipe is probably heading home to Santo Domingo after managing 2,054 games and winning more than half of them.

Tim Salmon finishes as the Angels all-time home run leader, and Vin Scully tries to will Giants fans to give Felipe Alou an ovation.