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November 30, 2006

Bisheff hangs 'em up

Register columnist Steve Bisheff announced his retirement from the paper in today's column. Bisheff goes back to the Herald Examiner days and used his last column to conclude that sportswriting is a pretty decent gig.

creditI was there for all of it. I covered Wooden and Auerbach. Koufax and Gibson. Ali and Frazier. Unitas and Montana.

From the best seat in the house, I watched Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bush. Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Gary Beban and Matt Leinart. Bruce Jenner and Greg Louganis. Affirmed and Barbaro.

There have been too many great moments to count. From Kirk Gibson's limp-off home run to Montana's clutch drive in the Super Bowl. From Wooden's final-game, national title victory to the Angels' seventh-game World Series triumph. From Kareem's 88-2 college run to Magic over Bird in the NCAA Finals.

For all the athletes who were jerks, who grew to be mindless megliomaniacs [sic], there was also a core of good guys such as Jim Abbott and Ronnie Lott, Tony Gwynn and Jack Snow, Elton Brand and Tim Salmon, Tom Watson and Steve Young, just to name a few.

My job wasn't to immortalize them. It was to tell the truth about them, to dig past the score and try to find more to the story.

There was a segment of my sportswriting colleagues who used to turn their noses up at fans, believing they were above them. Some of the more self-absorbed considered themselves too literate for the sports page.

They were wrong. I always felt my mission was to be the fan's conduit, having access to clubhouses and locker rooms they couldn't visit. It was my job to ask the questions they'd want to ask, to probe the issues they were talking and thinking about.

Trying to write for the fans didn't mean you weren't trying to write well. On the contrary, the best people in this profession are those who have managed to do both. And I'm happy to report there are still plenty of those around. But it's not easy. You have to constantly work at it.

As the years have gone by for me, the deadlines and travel burdens have become tiresome and tedious. But how can you grouse when you've felt the electricity in Yankee Stadium, the drama at old Boston Garden, the thrill of a fourth quarter in the Rose Bowl, the excitement at the finish line of the Kentucky Derby?

Hat tip: Fishbowl LA

Photo: Orange County Register

Jason Schmidt to the Chicago Cubs?

The Tribune, er, Chicago Cubs just keep on spending. So far this off-season, the Cubs have dropped a staggering $239 million on free agents (including $10 million on Lou Pinella, their new manager), according to published reports.

Now, Sports Illustrated reports that the Cubs have bid about $45 million (over three years) for San Francisco Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt. The Cubs have confirmed that they're interested in Schmidt, but they deny that they've offered him that amount. (The Dodgers are also reportedly interested in Schmidt.)

Still, if the published reports are true –- and if Schmidt indeed signs for that amount with the Cubs -- we're talking about a $285 million spending spree by Tribune.

It's as if Tribune has chosen home runs and stolen bases over reporters and editors. And, it makes you wonder: just how many bureau chiefs and staff writers/editors/photographers could the L.A. Times hire/retain for $285 million?

Just to rub it in, the Associated Press reports that the $136 million contract that Alfonso Soriano signed with the Cubs includes a clause that guarantees Soriano a hotel suite on all road trips and six premium tickets for all home games during spring training, the regular season, and the post-season. As if he couldn't afford to buy the damn tickets himself….

November 29, 2006

Juan Pierre takes the Clippers

Today, for the first time since 2004, the names of Dodger players graced the back of the team's jersey. Randy Wolf and Juan Pierre showed off their new gear at a Dodger Stadium press conference this afternoon, and I headed up there with my brother (behind the camera) to check it out.

Readers of this blog already know about Pierre's OBP and Wolf's decision to take less dough to play here, so I decided to ask the newest Dodgers harder-hitting questions - ones that had nothing to do with baseball.

Why to watch the video again: It's not quite TMZ material, but there's exclusive LAO footage there of Pierre taking a look at his new home field for the first time.

November 28, 2006

Hometown discount

Sources tells Jayson Stark of ESPN and Steve Henson of the L.A. Times that Randy Wolf has taken less than other teams offered to sign with the Dodgers. The lefthander from El Camino High in Woodland Hills and Pepperdine is said to be getting either $7.5 million (LAT) or $8 million (ESPN) for one season. The Phillies, his old team, opted instead for three years of Adam Eaton. So what are the Dodgers getting?

Wolf had Tommy John ligament surgery on July 1, 2005, missed a year and started twelve games in late summer for the Phillies. He posted his highest ERA ever, 5.56, though scouts apparently saw some bite return to his curve. If he has recovered his old stuff, Wolf looks to be a #3 or 4 starter. In eight seasons covering 194 major league starts, Wolf has won more than 11 games once (he went 16-10 in 2003) and his ERA has not been under 4.23 since 2002. He strikes out just over seven per nine innings, a bit better than Brad Penny and way more than any other Dodger starter except Hong-Chih Kuo. The Times says the Cubs and Cardinals made offers of three years in the range of $21 million to $24 million.

Wolf is another major league alum of the West Hills Pony League and was actually drafted by the Dodgers out of high school, but chose to attend Pepperdine. His signing probably means the Greg Maddux era at Dodger Stadium lasted just a too-brief two months, but you know what, it was memorable while it lasted. Never watched a 300-game winner in a Dodger uniform before.

Earlier today: Tim Brown, the national baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times, jumps to Yahoo! Sports.

November 22, 2006

Where Pierre ranks

Although seamheads have developed several exotic statistical measures that would show Juan Pierre's offense near the bottom of major league center fielders and lead-off men, it only takes a simple old-school stat — on-base percentage — to make the case. Pierre led the league in hits, as the Dodgers stress, but the goal of a lead-off guy isn't to rack up hits but to get on base. Among leadoff hitters who batted first at least 300 times last season, the Dodgers' new CF ranked #24 in on-base percentage. The Dodgers ex-leadoff hitter, Rafael Furcal, ranked #7. (Shocker: Julio Lugo ranked #5 while hitting in the top spot, mostly in Tampa Bay.)

RK PLAYER TEAM OBP (while hitting leadoff)
1 Reed Johnson Tor .391
2 Kevin Youkilis Bos .385
3 Grady Sizemore Cle .374
4 Jason Kendall Oak .373
5 Julio Lugo TB-LA .373
6 Jamey Carroll Col .372
7 Rafael Furcal LA .372
8 Gary Matthews Jr. Tex .372 now with Angels
9 Ichiro Suzuki Sea .370
10 Alfonso Soriano Was .368
11 David DeJesus KC .366
12 Rickie Weeks Mil .360
13 Ryan Freel Cin .359
14 Dave Roberts .359
15 Luis Castillo Min .358
16 Johnny Damon NYY .358
17 Hanley Ramirez Fla .358
18 Jose Reyes NYM .354
19 David Eckstein StL .347
20 Brian Roberts Bal .347
21 Curtis Granderson Det .344
22 Jimmy Rollins Phi .338
23 Marcus Giles Atl .334
24 Juan Pierre ChC .333
25 Scott Podsednik CWS .327
26 Craig Counsell Ari .327
27 Willy Taveras Hou .326
28 Randy Winn SF .325
29 Chris Duffy Pit .323
30 Chone Figgins LAA .321
31 Craig Biggio Hou .310

This surprised me: Pierre moves up to #22 when the sort is on slugging percentage. With his 32 doubles and 13 triples, he jumps ahead of punchless lead-off guys like Marcus Giles and Jason Kendall. Noted: Figgins' overall OBP is .336, a little better than Pierre's .330.

Stats are from ESPN.com

Pierre now a Dodger, expect many outs

PierreJuan Pierre is now the Dodgers' center fielder, for better or worse. Team spokesman Josh Rawitch pulled together all the positive spins on Pierre he could find for a blog item at Inside the Dodgers, yet still felt he had to lead today's post with a plea that "I sure you hope you will all give him a chance to win you over" and a promise that more moves are coming. The rap on Pierre isn't that he's a bad player — he's not. He's exciting in that he bunts for hits, steals bases and races out triples. It's just that he's somewhere between not all that special and below average at the things he is supposedly great at -- leading off, base stealing and playing center.

What's the disconnect? Mostly it's the old schism between students of the game who believe that batting average and counting stats like hits, runs, and RBI are the true indicators of a hitter's worth (we'll call that the Old Wave) and those who prefer rates and more in-depth stats to judge how a player compares to others (call them the New Wave.) It shouldn't come into play so much on Pierre, since he's probably destined to lead off. Both waves can probably agree that the primary skill at the top of the lineup is ability to get on base. There's some major league spin coming from the Dodgers on that, though. General manager Ned Colletti said today that Pierre is a great addition in part because "he gets on base a lot," and Rawitch's post extols that Pierre led the NL in hits last year. True — enough — but Pierre also regularly leads in outs and last year was tops in times thrown out stealing. The reason he leads in any category is because he plays more innings than almost everybody — a great thing when the object is durability.

When the object is getting on base, not so much. Using stats from last season (which was actually a comeback year for Pierre), every Dodger regular except Betemit was a better bet to get on base. Given the same number of chances, every Dodger would have racked up more times on base (in theory — Kenny Lofton would have died if you played him any more, but his seconds all got on base at a better clip than Pierre too.) The New Wave considers Pierre almost the poster boy for the concept of empty batting average: he might hit close to .300, but with his dearth of walks, doubles and home runs and his sub-par record stealing bases he's about the softest, least valuable .300 hitter — per at-bat — in the majors. You don't need a lineup of RBI guys, of course, but adding one of the least successful lead-off men in the league is still a downgrade for the Dodgers at any price, not an upgrade.

Rawitch makes a good point about Pierre's five-year deal not really blocking Matt Kemp — he has played more right field in the minor leagues and if he proves he can hit in the big leagues, Kemp could play a corner. Rich Lederer, one of the most thoughtful baseball bloggers around, also makes a good point that has to hurt for Dodger fans: "With Pierre now in the fold, the Dodgers don't have to worry about a center fielder or a lead-off hitter for five years. ...Wait a minute....this signing means the Dodgers do have to worry about center field and the man at the top of their lineup for five years."

November 20, 2006

Dodgers blink

After saying goodbye to J.D. Drew and losing out on the few good free agent hitters, the Dodgers just made a desperation move. ESPN says they are about to sign below-average center fielder Juan Pierre, and not just for a year while slugger Matt Kemp gets more minor league seasoning. They locked up center field for Pierre for five years, at $9 million per. His strengths are that he plays every game, doesn't strike out and runs fast, and with a .303 career average and 50 stolen bases a year he kind of resembles a lead-off hitter. But his on-base average of under .330 the last two seasons is not really good enough to help a contending team at the top of the lineup. Put another way, Kenny Lofton bettered Pierre in every rate stat last year — Pierre just plays more often. Of the Dodgers who finished last season with the team, Pierre bested only Wilson Betemit and Julio Lugo in on-base average. Remember how Angels fans fretted about Chone Figgins? He got on base more often than Pierre, who also brings no power to the discussion. Offensively, it's a downgrade from the combo of Lofton-Repko-Kemp and whoever else the Dodgers put out there last season. Pierre gives the Dodgers one of the weakest center fielder bats in either league.

OK, how about in the field? Well, he's got no arm, so he won't throw out runners or scare them into not taking the extra base. But he is fast enough to catch a lot of balls. Does he? Nothing special, either in the fielding stats or by reputation. There might be a reason that the Cubs castoff goes into his age 29 season with his fourth team. He's so close to replacement level that if his performance slips much, he becomes a liability in the lineup. But hey, he'll only be here through 2011.

For what it's worth, Dodgers GM Colletti says the deal is not done yet — but adds that Pierre is a good clubhouse presence. Some reactions:

Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts: "With one reported contract offer, the Dodger general manager validated the worst fears of anyone who suspected he was too enamored of pointless statistics - yes, statistics - to make sensible decisions....It is a depressing, disturbing allotment of resources."

Commenter Zak, Dodger Thoughts: "I shudder. This would easily be the worse Dodger contract since [Kevin] Brown."

Rich Lederer, The Baseball Analysts (before Pierre's name was linked to the Dodgers): "The bottom line is that Pierre is one of the most overrated players in the game."

November 19, 2006

Baseball or journalism?

According to published reports, the Chicago Cubs -- owned by Tribune Co. -- have reached agreement with prized free agent Alfonso Soriano on an eight-year contract worth approximately $136 million. The proposed deal comes on the heels of the Cubs' re-signing of third baseman Aramis Ramirez for $73 million over five years. Or, a total outlay of $210 million for two ballplayers.

Let's see: baseball or journalism? Well, at least we know the answer to that question.

November 17, 2006

Pancho Gonzalez

"Voces," the 13-part documentary series that highlights Latino culture on PBS, next features "Pancho Gonzalez: Warrior of the Court." The doc premieres on KOCE on Nov. 21 @ 10 pm, while KCET will air it sometime in 2007. Considering that Gonzalez was born and raised in L.A., it's a major coup that the OC station will beat the LA station to the punch.

Gonzalez learned how to play on public courts at Exposition Park before quitting high school and crashing the almost exclusively white sport (including the clothes the players wore). He won the U.S Open twice, then turned pro at a time when the amateur game reigned. The prime of his career was spent criss-crossing the country, dueling the likes of Jack Kramer, Tony Trabert, and Ken Rosewall. His last hurrah came at Wimbledon, as tennis began the open era, when Gonzalez, then 41, outlasted Charlie Pasarell 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9. The classic match eventually led to the tie-breaker rule.

Gonzalez never got true recognition for his greatness, in part because of his prickly personality. His serve, wrote Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price in a fascinating profile published a couple years back, "falling as straight and deadly as an executioner's blade – was so clean that other players beheld it with wonder." Price also quoted Gussy Moran, she of lace panties fame, who said that to watch Gonzalez was to see "a god patrolling his personal heaven."

The doc came about because of the perseverance of Pancho's late brother, Ralph, and director and co-producer Danny Haro. It originally aired on Spike TV in 2005. For the PBS version, they've added about ten more minutes. You can read Q&As with Haro, who lives in Sierra Madre and runs Higher Ground Entertainment, in the Oct.-Nov. issue of Tu Ciudad (being an Emmis publication, newsprint only) and the Nov. issue of Hispanic Magazine.

* * *

Those of you who didn't get a chance to see the Baseball Reliquary's exhibit, "Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues," at Cal State LA earlier this year have another chance. The exhibit is currently on view through Dec. 15 at the Library & Learning Resource Center of the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. The exhibition is the subject of Jay Berman's recent article in the Downtown News.

Cal prepares for USC

The Berkeley public affairs office, realizing that USC stands between the Bears and the Rose Bowl, compares each school's worthy alums. They admit "this isn't about fairness. It's about revenge." Sample:

USC is best-known for two things, one of which is football. Its greatest gridiron star was O.J. Simpson, a running back who ran into trouble with the law after finding a seam into show biz. Berkeley has burnished its reputation with 20 (count 'em) Nobel laureates, including former Chancellor Glenn Seaborg, whose last name is an anagram of "Go Bears." (USC's first president, Marion M. Bovard, yields the anagram "Bravo dim Roman.")

USC is equally renowned for its movie-star alums, the most famous of whom was Marion Morrison, who as John Wayne became a fervent cheerleader for the war in Vietnam. Gregory Peck, who graduated from Berkeley in 1939 and played the peg-legged captain in Hollywood's version of Moby Dick, was a vocal Vietnam critic. ...

Famous writers, USC: Leo Buscaglia, Michael Landon, George Lucas. Famous writers, Berkeley: Robert Penn Warren, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Pauline Kael, Greil Marcus.

Most famous law-school graduate, USC: Joseph Wapner, judge of The People's Court, 1981-93. Most famous law-school graduate, Berkeley: Earl Warren, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1953-69.

Famous writers, USC: Leo Buscaglia, Michael Landon, George Lucas. Famous writers, Berkeley: Robert Penn Warren, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Pauline Kael, Greil Marcus.

You get the idea. Here's the whole thing.

November 15, 2006

De La Hoya vs. Mayweather

Let the bidding begin. The blockbuster fight of 2007 figures to be Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr., scheduled for next Cinco de Mayo. De La Hoya's Golden Boy Productions will handle the promotion chores, with De La Hoya reportedly to receive $25 million and Mayweather about $12 million.

In an article in today's Las Vegas Review-Journal, Kevin Iole writes that "The bout, signed on Monday, has the potential to be the largest-grossing fight in history. Richard Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, said the goal is for it to become the first bout ever to sell 2 million pay-per-view units."

Schaefer says that he "already has deals in place with Tecate Beer, Bacardi and Southwest Airlines, and he said those companies will produce unprecedented fight-related marketing. In addition, he said he hopes to close sponsorship deals with Cingular, Sony, Rock Star Energy Drinks and Coca-Cola."

Is this the usual mega-hype surrounding De La Hoya's fights? Absolutely, but with boxing being eclipsed by Ultimate Fighting events and with boxing's heavyweight champs toiling in anonymity, De La Hoya-Mayweather provides a compelling match-up between two excellent fighters. At least on paper.

One key question remains: where will the fight take place? L.A.'s Staples Center and Las Vegas' MGM Grand are the two sites mentioned in published media reports, with most boxing pundits betting on the Vegas casino to carry the day with an enormous site fee.

The Cinco de Mayo bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will be a blockbuster.

Steve Garvey and other newsblips

  • Former Dodgers star Steve Garvey has sold a new book, Bat Boy Days: Lessons I Learned from the Boys of Summer — anecdotal vignettes of the keys to life and baseball, which he learned from being a bat boy — to Scribner. Don't forget, he really needs the money.
  • In the Fray is a sports culture blog by local freelance journalist Gary Andrew Poole. He is also working on a book about Red Grange for Houghton Mifflin.
  • Don Levin, owner of the Chicago Wolves minor league hockey team, tells Tribune columnist Mike Downey that he's serious about wanting to buy the Cubs.

November 10, 2006

What about the Cubbies?

As Tribune Co. mulls a sale of its assets (including, obviously, the L.A. Times), it goes without saying that the Chicago Cubs may be in play. In an article in today's Chicago Sun-Times, business reporter Mary Wisniewski notes that analysts estimate the value of the Cubs "between $500 million and $650 million." Tribune bought the team in 1981 for $20.5 million; Wisniewski calls the purchase "one of the best investments the company ever made." (Or, as the headline states: "Despite embarrassing 98-year drought, Cubs field financial winner.")

Potential purchasers of the Cubbies? Wisniewski writes that former Cubs star Ernie "Let's Play Two" Banks approached Tribune about buying the team earlier this year, but was turned down. Wisniewski also notes that Donald Trump and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have expressed interest. Recent sales of sports teams owned by corporations –- News Corp. unloading the Dodgers, Disney unloading the Angels and the (Mighty) Ducks –- indicate that an individual (or a group of partners) might emerge as the buyer.

November 9, 2006

Dodgers get lucky on Drew

Just when it looked like the Dodgers would be stuck with three more years of right fielder J.D. Drew at $11 million per, the lackadaisical one has decided to try his luck in the free agent market. He exercised the opt-out clause written into his deal two years ago and became a free agent. The Dodgers don't have a ready replacement for right field, but I suspect they aren't weeping. Drew had a good year, OPSing 891 and managing to play in a career-best 146 games, but he's not the difference maker that some expected. His 31-homer season in Atlanta in 2004 looks more and more like a fluke. He's only broken 20 one other time. He also was maddeningly unaggressive and, by most accounts, unwilling to play hurt. At 31 he didn't figure to get better. Use the $33 million and the positional flexibility to get a gamer or two who bring more stick to the plate.

Add Drew: Josh Rawitch posts that he and most of the Dodgers front office were surprised, especially since Drew told the Register's Bill Plunkett in September that he had no intention of leaving.

"Ultimately it’s my decision, and we’re happy where we’re at. We love our house in Pasadena. My wife is happy. She’s made a lot of friends in our neighborhood and with the other players’ wives. That’s really the thing that was nerve-wracking about it (free agency) for me.

“At some point, you make those commitments and you stick to them.”

Ken Gurnick reports at MLB.com that Drew's agent, Scott Boras, now wants to negotiate with the Dodgers. But GM Ned Colletti, "clearly annoyed," said it's time to turn the page. "He moved on and we'll move on. We'll find a player who wants to stay here."

Quip of the day: "I know J.D. is a spiritual guy and a man of his word. I guess he changed his word." — Colletti

2016 Olympic bid

Representatives from the three U.S. cities vying for the right to bid for the 2016 Olympics have been meeting this week with USOC chair Peter Ueberroth in Costa Mesa. But this morning's news out of S.F. –- that the 49ers are abandoning their negotiations with the city to construct a new stadium at Candlestick Point and are considering a move to Santa Clara –- means that the Olympic race has effectively narrowed to L.A. and Chicago.

Here's what Phil Matier and Andrew Ross wrote in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

"The announcement also apparently ends a possible bid by San Francisco to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, which would have been tied to the construction of a new stadium in San Francisco.

The timing of the 49ers' news means that even should some reconciliation between the city and the football team be reached, it might be too late to help the Olympic bid. San Francisco 2016 must submit its bid document, some 250-300 pages, by Jan. 22. The certainty of a bid's plans is one criterion the USOC will use in assessing it."

So, any U.S. Olympic bid for 2016 will come down to L.A. vs. Chicago. Hm, now that sounds familiar.

November 8, 2006

The California Sports Hall of Fame

Christian Okoye, the "Nigerian Nightmare" who first made his mark as a bruising running back with Azusa Pacific University, enjoyed an excellent career with the Kansas City Chiefs. After his retirement, Okoye returned to live in Southern California; he owns a nutritional supplements business and operates the Christian Okoye Foundation for underprivileged youth.

Now, Okoye is launching the California Sports Hall of Fame, with a kickoff ceremony scheduled for January 28 in Anaheim. (Tickets are $500 for individual "sponsorship investment;" the "Hall of Fame sponsorship investment" is, gulp, $250,000. Okoye hopes to persuade the folks planning the Great Park in O.C. (former home of the El Toro Air Station) to allow space for a permanent home for the Hall.

"I got the idea because I saw that other states have halls of fames and California doesn't," Okoye told me by phone from his home in Rancho Cucamonga. "I felt that we should put together a California hall of fame because the state has produced so many great athletes and coaches over the years."

This sounds like a decent idea -- especially if, as Okoye claims, money raised in the name of the non-profit goes to help those whom he describes as "struggling young athletes who are poorly financed." Okoye envisions clinics, sports camps and tutoring services.

The Hall's first class of 20 inductees is impressive: Magic Johnson, Bill Walsh, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Jackson, Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen, Kellen Winslow, John Wooden, Tom Flores, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Jackie Robinson, Jerry West, Rafer Johnson, David "Deacon" Jones, Elgin Baylor, Chick Hearn, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Mathias, Tommy Lasorda and Jim Plunkett.

But the selection process has some kinks. Several of these inductees also serve on the Hall's board of directors, raising questions about conflict of interest. Was Flores, the former Raiders coach, selected because he's on the board? And, how did he get selected over the likes of John McKay and Rod Dedeaux? In addition, it's downright disrespectful that the organization chose only one woman in its first class. No Ann Myers or Cheryl Miller? No Billie Jean King or Janet Evans or Lisa Fernandez? Finally, the Hall honors only two athletes who competed before the 1950s (Robinson and Mathias). What about Walter Johnson? What about James Jeffries and Jimmy McLarnin?

November 6, 2006

Lyons in talks with Red Sox

Dodgers part-time color commentator Steve Lyons may have a way to fill in some of the free time and lost income he got after being dumped by Fox over a joke about Lou Piniella and wallets. Lyons is a candidate to join the Boston Red Sox broadcast booth, today's Boston Herald reports in a gossip item. If he gets an offer, Lyons said he would only do it if his Dodgers schedule allowed.

The biggest obstacle in a move to the East Coast is Lyons’ 8-year-old daughter, Allie, who lives with Lyons part time.

“That’s a tough call,” he said. “If I move to Boston, it’s not that she won’t get to spend time with me, I won’t get to spend time with her.”

Then there’s the Dodgers gig to consider.

“It was a big thing for them not to fire me after Fox did,” said Psycho. “Tagg Romney (eldest son of Gov. Mitt) is actually my boss. He said the easy thing for them to do was fire me. But the right thing was for them to keep me. How could I ever leave an organization like that? The Dodgers stood by me.”

Lyons said if he could work around his schedule with Frank McCourt’s baseball team in La-La, he would “seriously look at” a job with the Sox.

"I do appreciate my name being connected with this,” he said. “Just to be considered for the job is an honor.”

November 5, 2006

Q-and-A with David Carter

David Carter, 42, has written three books on the business of sports and appears as an expert on "Today" and public radio's “Marketplace Report.” His Sports Business Group consults for teams and stadiums and since 1994 he has taught sports at USC. He started the Sports Business Institute in the Marshall School of Business there and more recently co-launched Sports Business Ventures, a private equity group. LA Observed contributor David Davis interviews him in this week's Los Angeles Business Journal (subscribers only) and learned that he gets up at 4 am to start reading newspapers and the Internet and watching “SportsCenter” on ESPN.

"I have to make sure that I’m fluent in all breaking sports news because you never know when an existing or potential client or the media will call, " Carter says. "There’s an old saying that you have to read the sports pages twice. Once, from back to front, because the back is where all the transactions and trades and signings are found. Then, if you’re a fan, you read it front to back." More excerpts:

Q: Do you watch a lot of sports on television? A: It’s actually minimal. It probably turns out to out to be a few hours a week. During the course of the year it’s largely checking in on big events to see how they are being presented, trying to understand what the advertisers are thinking and so forth. I am watching them but not necessarily as a fan is watching them.

Q: But don’t you have any favorite sport?
A: College football. It still has some sense of amateurism and unpredictability. And I just say that having got back from Corvalis, Ore., where USC lost (to Oregon State).


Q: What is the key issue in sports business today?
A: In the1990s, it was a lot about the public financing of stadiums. This decade, it’s about accessing global markets and figuring out how to take advantage of technology. That’s no different than what every other industry is going through.

Q: How about this market?
A: With every passing day, we’re becoming a more diverse community – ethnically, education levels, in terms of where people are living. It suggests that if you’re running a sports organization, you had better make sure you don’t have a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. The other part of it is customer service, and how do you balance the ability of a family of four to go to a game with the business demands of fielding a team and generating revenue.

Q: Wouldn’t losing that family of four at games be short-sighted on the part of the owners?
A: Yes and no. It’s acceptable business practice to move fans out of the stadium and onto America’s couches. As long as they’re consuming sports, it’s not the end of the world. Long-term, however, leagues have an interest in their teams in perpetuity.

Q: L.A. hasn’t had an NFL team since 1995. What’s the problem?
A: With California it always boils down to real estate values and the tax environment – that is, whether the public sector and the taxpayers are willing to support football. As real estate prices continue to escalate, clearly the cost of doing stadiums anywhere in our region has gone up dramatically. The margins that an NFL owner might make out of this market might be pretty slim. If bringing an NFL franchise to L.A. were such a financial slam-dunk, private money would be flowing into that project.

Q: How about that recent report estimating the cost of an NFL stadium in L.A. at $1 billion?
A: I think it’s an incredibly sobering number. Whether or not that number is accurate in terms of construction and other costs, it accurately depicts the cost of doing sports business in this market.

He lives in Redondo Beach, coached his daughter's soccer team to a winless season and calls Don Klosterman (the late football executive) his greatest influence.

November 4, 2006

Sports films and sports talk radio in LA

Nearly 20 years after its publication, Harvey Marc Zucker and Lawrence Babich's Sports Films: A Complete Reference (McFarland) remains a landmark book. Filmmakers have long embraced sports as a topic – one of Thomas Edison's first cinematic experiments at his Black Maria studios involved boxing – but with the exception of Sports Films (and such niche titles as Boxing Filmography: American Features, 1920-2003, also from McFarland), the genre has remained under-examined.

Finally, Zucker and Babich have some company. Local journalist Randy Williams has just written Sports Cinema: The Best of Hollywood's Athletic Heroes, Losers, Myths, and Misfits (Limelight Editions). Williams doesn't attempt to be as exhaustive as Sports Films; he doesn't write Maltin-like grafs about every sports film ever made. Instead, by narrowing the topic to a select 100 films, Williams gets to analyze themes, filmmaking technique, and acting prowess.

As the title suggests, this book is meant to provoke argument: not every cineaste or sports fan will agree with Williams' top ten picks: counting down from the tenth choice, Slap Shot, Requiem for a Heavyweight (the theatrical release starring Anthony Quinn, not the Playhouse 90 version with Jack Palance), Breaking Away, Rocky, Olympia, Raging Bull, Chariots of Fire, This Sporting Life, Bull Durham, and The Hustler.

I found Williams' Top 10 list refreshingly intriguing –- that is, ranking a film about pool number one and an obscure rugby movie from Britain third is atypical. Personally, I wouldn't include Sporting Life or Chariots in my Top 10; I'd have to make room for Fat City, When We Were Kings, North Dallas Forty, Caddyshack, Dogtown and Z Boys, Kingpin – well, you get the idea.

Meanwhile, ESPN and Wal-Mart (now that's a scary combination) are teaming up with a promotion asking fans to vote for their favorite sports films. Problem is, the choices are so vanilla as to be insulting. Forget Leni Riefenstahl and Olympia, forget Hoop Dreams: no documentaries make the list. And, some really bad films (like the remake of Bad News Bears) are on the list. As of now, the fans' Top Ten choices are (counting down from number ten): Brian's Song, Bull Durham, The Natural, Major League, Rudy, Rocky, Remember the Titans, Caddyshack, Hoosiers, Field of Dreams. Go figure.

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And then there were two. Long Beach Press Telegram sportswriter Bob Keisser used his column to dissect the local sports talk radio scene –- these days, primarily KLAC (570 AM) and KSPN (710 AM) -- and proclaims: "the competition is getting good.

"Perhaps the best this town has heard, in fact, since sports talk became a 24/7 enterprise more than a decade ago."

Keisser notes that KLAC's daily lineup trends local, with such personalities as Jim Rome, Steve Hartman, Vic "The Brick" Jacobs, Fred Roggin, and Joe McDonnell. By contrast, writes Keisser, "KSPN has just two shows that are based in L.A. One is very good, "The Big Show" with Steve Mason and John Ireland; the other, "West Coast Bias" from 1-to-3 p.m., is tepid. It has one superb national show hosted by Dan Patrick, and one that's above-average hosted by Colin Cowherd."

Updating a Trojan bust

WilliamsEven with the snapping of USC’s long victory streak, former Trojan wide receiver Mike Williams may still miss that collegiate locker room. Or at least the accolades he received as an All-American player on a glamorous, top-ranked football team.

As a first-round draft choice for Detroit, Williams earns a lot of big bucks but his NFL career remains on such a downward slide that even the hapless Lions apparently regret his selection.

The Detroit Free Press underscored Williams’ woeful standing with this note in its “The Whole Nine Yards” segment on Friday:

“Mike Williams isn’t just a waste of a No. 10 pick and millions of dollars, he’s a waste of a roster spot. Because they have to keep him around for salary-cap reasons, they are forced to play with a 52-man roster instead of a 53-man roster.”