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December 30, 2006

Remembering Larry Sherry

Larry Sherry was a pretty big name on the early L.A. Dodgers, winning or saving all four of the team's victories in the 1959 World Series. The next year his brother Norm came up as a catcher and they formed a battery of Sherry and Sherry in several games. The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles delivers an obituary on Larry, who died at age 71 of cancer. He was living in Orange County, where both Sherrys also played later for the Angels, but the Sherry boys grew up on Orange Grove Avenue a block from Fairfax High, their alma mater. Their baseball nicknames were "Rude Jew" (that's Larry, who would knock down hitters with inside pitches) and Jolly Jew. Sandy Koufax was known then as Super Jew.

Speaking of Koufax: Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts reviews Jerry Crowe's piece in the Times on the emergence of the only known audio recording of Sandy's first no-hitter. It was June 30, 1962 against the first-year New York Mets at the new Dodger Stadium, with Casey Stengel managing and Gil Hodges on the bench in the first-base dugout. You can hear Vin Scully call the 9th inning at Dodgers.com (followed on the tape, but not online, by Jerry Doggett's post-game interview of Koufax.) Sandy walked five in the game; John Roseboro was the catcher, and the lineup included Maury Wills, Jim Gilliam, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis and Frank Howard.

December 29, 2006

Another convert for Blyleven

BlylevenRich Lederer of The Baseball Analysts blog is the most eloquent non-player advocate for the belief that former Angels pitcher Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame. He's been carrying the torch for several years and has added an influential ally: Denver baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby. A former baseball scribe at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, where Lederer's late father also had the beat many years ago, Ringolsby has a plaque in the writer's wing of the hall. He has left Blyleven off his ballot in the past, but before Christmas he emailed Lederer that he has seen the light.

Between the information you provided and the constant conversations I have had with Blyleven's contemporaries, I became convinced that I had slighted him in the past. He is the first guy I can remember that I have ever failed to vote for on the first time and then added later.

Earlier this month, longtime anti-Blyleven partisan Bil Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News also switched his vote.

Lederer talks to Blyleven on the site every so often and annually makes the case in a fresh way. In sum, here are his points:

Since 1900, Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins.
Only eight pitchers in history rank in the top 20 in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts. All are in the Hall. Only Nolan Ryan ranks above Blyleven in all three categories.
On better teams he would have crashed through the magic 300-win level. As it is, he fell just 13 short. His 287 wins are more than Marichal, Drysdale, Gibson, Jenkins, Hunter, Roberts, Feller or Koufax won. He won more 1-0 games than everybody but Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.
He finished in the top ten for the Cy Young Award more times than Drysdale and Marichal and the same number as Gibson and Hunter.
He won Rookie of the Year as a 19-year-old and pitched 22 seasons.
"Ask any ballplayer from the 1970s and 1980s who had the best curveball and, almost to a man, they will tell you 'Bert Blyleven.'"
He pitched 242 complete games. Clemens (118) and Maddux (108) are the only active pitchers even in triple digits.

Blyleven belongs just on the company he keeps alone. When the debate is whether he ranks before or after guys like Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson, you know you are talking about one of the sport's all-time greats. "Based on career value, one could easily make the case that he is one of the top 20 most productive pitchers in the history of modern baseball," Lederer wrote in this month's Blyleven treatise.

Readers of his site have come to look forward to Lederer's tightly argued annual article on behalf of the pitcher. Says one in the comments under this year's post: "Man, while I really want to see Blyleven inducted, it'd mean that I'd no longer to have these excellent articles to anticipate."

December 28, 2006

The Crenshaw connection

Brown is in centerThe Times' Mike DiGiovanna and Miguel Bustillo do a nice job with the mysterious death of former Crenshaw High baseball star Chris Brown. He was close friends with Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, who had much better major league careers, and they talk about their friend who died Tuesday in a Texas hospital after being burned in a house fire. Brown apparently told relatives he had been kidnapped by robbers, tied up and left to die in the house when it was set afire. Police, though, seem to be investigating the incident as arson. Brown was in the midst of a messy divorce and had until recently been working as a truck driver in Iraq for Halliburton.

"It's just crazy; it doesn't make any sense," said Darryl Strawberry, an eight-time big league All-Star who played with Brown at Crenshaw. "Nobody really knows what happened. It doesn't sound right. He was not a violent person. He didn't have a history of trouble."

Brown, along with Strawberry and Eric Davis, another childhood friend, was part of an exceptionally gifted generation of young ballplayers that rose from South Central Los Angeles in the 1970s to the big leagues. The three formed such a close bond that John Moseley, their youth league coach, said they were "bound together by some magnetic force."

But while Strawberry and Davis, a Fremont High graduate, enjoyed distinguished 17-year major league careers — Strawberry grappling with drug and alcohol addiction along the way — Brown fizzled after six seasons with San Francisco, San Diego and Detroit. A string of injuries, some of which made teammates and coaches question his toughness, and underachievement ended a career in which he batted .269 with 38 home runs and 184 runs batted in from 1984 to 1989.

Afterward, Brown worked at various construction jobs in California and Houston. In 2003, he began driving fuel trucks between Iraq and Kuwait for Halliburton Co., the construction and oil-field company that holds many of the contracts to rebuild Iraq.

When Brown returned in June from his third one-year stint in Iraq, his life began to unravel. First, he lost his job. Then he lost his wife, Lisa, who moved out of their house with the couple's 9-year-old daughter, Paris.

At 1:26 a.m. on Nov. 30, the Sugar Land Fire Department responded to a call in a residential neighborhood.

"When we made it to the location, the house was fully engulfed," said Doug Adolph, fire department spokesman. "The house was vacant when our firefighters arrived. There was no one there, and we confirmed with neighbors that the house had been vacant for some time."

It was not until hours later that morning that Sugar Land authorities learned from a hospital official that Brown had been inside.


Davis found it difficult to reconcile the story of the fire with the person he knew.

"He's not the type of guy to even think like that," Davis said. "It's almost preposterous to think he'd consider setting his house, or himself, on fire. But you can never say never about anything."

Brown's reputation in baseball as a malingerer and a difficult teammate gets an airing in the piece.

Photo of Strawberry, Brown and Davis: Los Angeles Times

December 27, 2006

Hockey's surfer dude

CheliosChris Chelios is the oldest player in the National Hockey League and one of the sport's most accomplished Americans. He spent part of his youth in San Diego, summers now in Malibu and pals around with actor John Cusack, Kid Rock and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Chelios' path to the NHL began as a 16-year-old playing in beer and pizza leagues around Southern California, but he tells ESPN.com that these days it's surfing in Malibu that keeps him fit enough to play. He turns 45 on January 25.

Q: At age 44, what is your offseason training like?

A: At my age, I can't run the way I used to, so I started mountain biking, surfing and other water sports. I train with guys in California.

Q: Surfing?

A: Yeah, but I don't get into the crazy stuff. I don't surf the 30-foot waves. I do get a good workout with Laird Hamilton, a buddy of mine who is the big surfing guru. We work out every day, we do a thing called stand-up paddling. It's like sprinting on surf boards and you catch waves as you paddle into waves with an oar. It's the love of my life in the offseason. You're out in the ocean and it's a great exercise and it's becoming a fad out there. It's a blast.

For his day with the Stanley Cup after the Detroit Red Wings won in 2002, Chelios chartered a helicopter to pick up the trophy at Disneyland and fly it to Malibu. The Cup's handler, Walt Neubrand, describes the scene: "When I landed, the party began at the beach and Chris had all these Hollywood friends with him....Naturally, we ended up at a Greek restaurant."

Before Chelios picked up the Cup it toured Los Angeles on a bus rented by Luc Robitaille, then a Red Wing but a past and future L.A. King. Robitaille's family and friends came along and wore T-shirts made for the occasion. "We took the Cup to the Mann's Chinese Theatre, Universal Studios, the Kodak Theatre, a Dodgers game, and my favorite, the Hollywood sign," Neubrand told NHL.com. "[Luc] made a lot of people happy that day."

Photo: LegendsofHockey.net


Contributor David Neiman has a piece on Lamar Odom in the current issue of Lakers magazine. David also blogs about sports at The Outside Score.

December 20, 2006

De La Hoya-Mayweather goes to Vegas, not Staples

According to Golden Boy Promotions, Las Vegas' MGM Grand will host next year's super-bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. Tickets for the Cinco de Mayo showdown will be priced at $2,000, $1,500, $1,000, $750 and $350; the fight is expected to attract a record pay-per-view audience.

December 19, 2006

A lecture in sportsmanship (*updated)

Kobe Bryant, A Man With a ConscienceI'm a pro-Kobe guy.

His personal adventures in Colorado aside, I like the way he's evolved. Back in the days when he shared the court with Shaq, he didn't seem like he had any sense of himself as a player. It was MJ impressions, 24-7, with a recurring side of petulance.

When Shaq headed East, a buddy of mine -- who hates KB -- and I debated Bryant's future. He thought Kobe would basically disappear into NBA history as an egomaniac who was a nice scorer, and had the benefit of playing with the Diesel. I predicted a few years of pain ahead, during which KB would do his best Allen Iverson impression before realizing that, like AI, he was just a great player on a mediocre team.

But ultimately, I thought that Kobe would see the light -- the sort of light you only get gleaming off the NBA championship trophy. Kobe, if nothing else, is the ultimate competitor; he hates losing the way a meat lover hates tofu. He can't stomach it. When it came to choosing between a scoring title and winning more championships, I believed that Bryant would do whatever it took, even if it meant -- picture KB in full body cringe -- becoming a good teammate, a leader, etc.

Looking at the big persona improvement picture, I have to say, I think I'm right. Which is why it makes incidents like Kobe's post-game diss of Gilbert Arenas this past Sunday all the more disappointing, to put it one of many possible ways.

If you didn't hear it, it's unsurprising. Kobe's comments were only partially quoted in the Times. [See update below.] And with everything else that's happened in the NBA this week (Allen Iverson to the Nuggets, and the Great Madison Square Garden Fisticuffs Hodown), Bryant on Arenas faded into the background.

Here's the setup. The Wizards beat the Lakers Sunday in overtime, led by 60 points for Washington's star, Gilberto (who hails from Van Nuys). I'll let the Washington Post take it from there.

No one stood ahead of Arenas on Sunday night, not even Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who was coming off a 53-point performance in a win over Houston on Friday night and is responsible for the king of all scoring binges in recent NBA history: an 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors last season.

After Arenas scored 29 points through three quarters and helped the Wizards build a 17-point lead in the fourth, Bryant dropped into a defensive stance, licked his lips, clapped his hands together and tried to stop Arenas himself.

He couldn't.

Arenas scored 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter, including a play in which Arenas curled around a screen and made a difficult jumper over Bryant while drawing a foul on the incredulous Lakers star -- whose 45-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound performance was overshadowed.

After Arenas missed a potential game-winning jumper over Bryant at the end of regulation, he set an NBA record by scoring 16 points in overtime. The frustration of watching Arenas have his way with the Lakers poured out of Bryant during the game as he repeatedly pleaded with the referees.

Afterward, his assessment of Arenas's performance was less than magnanimous. "You tip your hat and say: 'See you next time,' " Bryant said. "First of all, he shot 27 free throws. We as a team shot 30. Think about that. But him individually, it's funny. He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. I really don't think he does. Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those shots and they're just terrible shots.

"You make them and they're unbelievable shots. I don't get a chance to play him much, so I haven't gotten used to that mentality of just chucking it up there. He made some big ones, but I'll be ready next time."

Arenas idolized Bryant as a high school player. He has a DVD of Bryant's 81-point game and nearly wore it out in the days following the performance last season, and his comments about Bryant always laced with a respect bordering on reverence.

When a few Wizards sat around the locker room holding an informal discussion earlier this season, Arenas ranked Bryant as the best player in the league.

The two had no communication during Sunday's game.

"I'm not a trash talker and he really doesn't talk trash," Arenas said. "He just goes out there and plays. A guy who comes off an injury and to do what he does, it's unbelievable."

Two steps forward, one step back.

* Update: Oops. After reading through several articles written by Times sportswriters, I followed a link to a story entitled, “Arenas Torches Lakers for 60 Points,” assuming that it had been written by someone with the Times. Had I looked more carefully, however, I would have realized that I had, in fact, gone to an game story posted by the AP on the Times’ site. The Lakers story by the Times beat reporter, Mike Bresnahan -- “This 60 is Over the Lakers Limit” -- posted Bryant’s quotes in full.

I wasn’t looking to criticize the Times’ beat reporting, which is quite good; I was simply surprised that the article I was reading only had a shortened version of Bryant’s remarks. Now I know why.

December 16, 2006

United Nations of hockey

FukufujiKings games in the afternoon often attract a bunch of fans in shorts and t-shirts, but I only spotted one pair of bare legs down near the ice today at Staples Center. The Kings lost 4-3 in a shootout after leading the Dallas Stars for awhile in the third period. By taking some shots in the pre-game warmups and watching the loss from the end of the bench, Yutaka Fukufuji became the answer to a trivia question: who was the first Japanese player to suit up in the National Hockey League? Fukufuji began the season in Reading, PA and moved up to Manchester, NH, where he's the backup goalie and has yet to play a game. He's unlikely to play for L.A. either — he's here as an emergency call-up for injured goalie Dan Cloutier. Fukufuji's arrival brings the number of nations represented in the Los Angeles locker room to nine: Canada, U.S., Japan, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine and Latvia (home of enforcer Raitis Ivanans.)

Sunday update: The Kings, who don't play again until Tuesday, stashed Fukufuji on the roster of the Long Beach Ice Dogs for now.

Photo: AP/Mark Avery via Yahoo

December 15, 2006

Vin Scully v. Sylvester Stallone

When they were neighbors in Pacific Palisades back in 1993, Vinnie sued Sly over excess runoff.

December 14, 2006

LAO investigates: Report from the baseline

The Clipset dropped another one last night and their record now stands at 10 wins, 11 losses. It is the first time in over a year that the Clips have been under the .500 mark.

Citizens of Clipper Nation know that something isn't right. Yesterday I headed to Staples to try and figure out what is going on. LAO talked exclusively with the #1 authority on the Clippers, "Clipper" Darrell Bailey. Watch the video to find out who he is, then read about why he's currently in the Clippers MVP spotlight:

LAO contributors unite: New LAT Clippers blogger and my fellow LAO contributor Bob Baker was at the game. Here's his take from what he calls desolation row, AND some bonus footage of our pregame chat:

Love comes to town

Kevin Love, UCLA's top basketball recruit, is coming to town Friday night with his Lake Oswego High School team, for a game against Compton Centennial at Pauley Pavilion. Bruin Nation has gone ga-ga over Love, while sneaker guru Sonny Vaccaro is so juiced about the big man that he could barely speak during his appearance on the "Loose Cannons." (Love returns for a Feb. game against Mater Dei.)

Next fall, with Love at UCLA and O.J. Mayo headed to USC, L.A.'s college hoops scene will get major national attention. I'll be curious to watch how the L.A. Times covers their careers. In yesterday's paper, under the very late '80s-sounding headline "UCLA-bound Love is already rocking the house," Eric Sondheimer gushed that, "Kevin Love is like a rock star headlining a cross-country tour, except it's what he can do with the basketball and not a guitar that has fans shrieking in envy."

And this: "There's so much to admire about Love, who doesn't have a posse following him around, doesn't have an entourage of advisors other than his parents, doesn't have tattoos and doesn't worry about where he'll end up in the legacy of UCLA centers."

That's in sharp contrast to what former sports editor-turned-columnist Bill Dwyre wrote this summer. When Love made headlines after he orally committed to UCLA in July, Dwyre glowered that, "Many of the people who have been bringing you the news of a young basketball player named Kevin Love ought to be ashamed of themselves.

That includes websites, radio, TV and newspapers. A pox on their houses.

Love just finished his junior year of high school in Oregon. By all accounts, he is a wonderful player. He is several months away from the start of his senior season, but he had a news conference Tuesday to announce that he would play at UCLA.

That won't begin until the winter of 2007. His announcement is known as a 'non-binding oral commitment.'

In other words, until he signs a sheet of paper in November, he is bound to nothing and by nothing. Yet, by the reaction in many news outlets, it was time for UCLA to put another deck on Pauley Pavilion.

One newspaper even made it a top headline on the front of sports. And it was by no means the only practitioner of misguided excess. Websites waggled, broadcasts cackled and journalistic judgment gave way to lost perspective.

Yes, this was news. Yes, UCLA fans, and college basketball fans in general, had a right to know. And no, it was not worth more than the three paragraphs this paper gave it."

And this: "The media's agenda should be different. It should be to help their audiences determine relevance and perspective.

Instead, all too often, we get mindless, unfiltered typing on the Internet, air-filling babble on broadcasts and oversized headlines that incorrectly puff up importance.

It is not the fault of fans who get overly excited about news on their teams. It is the fault of us, the media."

Covering young, talented athletes is difficult business. Dwyre is correct in noting that the media (myself included) devotes too much attention to that demographic –- some of whom are (or turn into) spoiled, entitled, one-dimensional brats and some of whom never fulfill their –- wait for it -- "potential." On the other hand, given our voracious sports media –- is it ESPN11 or ESPN12?? –- and given how the spotlight now reaches deep into the youth ranks, there are legitimate stories about top-flight athletes at the high school level, from tennis to volleyball to figure skating to football.

So, what's appropriate? It's about balance – and that can be found somewhere between "rock star" and "three paragraphs."

December 13, 2006

Hear Bob Miller tell tales

The Kings announcer will talk about his book, Tales from the Los Angeles Kings, with Larry Mantle on KPCC's "Airtalk" at 11:30 am. My favorite parts of the book are when Miller finally gets to honestly dish on some of the strange and incompetent owners and executives the hockey team has been stuck with through the years. Jack Kent Cooke — who built the Forum — comes across like a real jerk, incredibly cheap and always ordering Miller to slant his play-by-play to get in mention of an advertiser or avoid criticism of the woeful team on the ice. (Miller would find a way not to comply.)

George Maguire, Cooke's general manager in parts of the 1970s and 80s, was the worst. Miller recounts that Maguire once came to his office and informed him he should not mention the name of Bob Murdoch, a defenseman who was struggling, in that night's game.

Miller asked if Murdoch wasn't playing. No, he's playing, Maguire told him.

Miller was stunned. "What am I supposed to say on the air, 'Folks, I know who has the puck, but I can't tell you?'"

Maguire's responded, "I don't know, but I'll tell you one thing: this honesty bullshit has got to stop."

Relations between Miller and Maguire got so bad that the general manager — of the Kings! — refused to appear on his own team's telecasts unless he was paid in merchandise from Zenith like the players. So Miller and his partner would interview the GMs from rival teams.

December 12, 2006

Slate.com attacks John Wooden

Slate.com's Tommy Craggs played Scrooge last week, writing perhaps the only known hit-job on UCLA's legendary coach John Wooden. "It's time we retire this notion of Wooden as basketball's wise old man and see his legacy for what it is," Craggs writes, "a triumph of rigidity, bureaucracy, paternalism, and anal retentiveness."

I don't disagree that Wooden's beyond-saintly reputation sometimes exasperates those of us in the non-Bruin demographic. And, I don't disagree with Craggs that college basketball coaches, in general, are shameless control-freaks whose blood pressure goes through the roof when "the kids" do their own thing.

But Craggs wants to blame Wooden – and his opinions and teachings – for events that he has no control over. Craggs writes that, "Wooden, and our beatification of the man, has had its toxic effect on the game." How so? "It's certainly there in the NBA," writes Craggs, "which . . . stood idly by while Chicago Bulls coach Scott Skiles benched Ben Wallace, one of the hardest-working players in the game, for wearing a headband."

Sorry, but that makes no sense. Wooden may indeed be an ultra-conservative when it comes to hoops. (Or, as Deadspin.com put it, "if [Wooden] embraces the whiter aspects of basketball above others, then he's certainly not the only one.") But, if anything, the veneration of Wooden (as espoused by people like Bill Walton) comes precisely because his old-timey ways and aphorisms lost out not long after he retired from UCLA in the mid-1970s. I'd wager that most of today's NBA execs would answer "John who?" if asked about Wooden and his coaching philosophy.

Look, Wooden doesn't need defenders; he's got all of Bruin nation behind him (as well as a cottage industry of books and tapes). But the veneration of Wooden, outside of Westwood, has long been removed from what happened on the court. It's about the man and the values he espouses -- loyalty, humbleness, respect. Yes, that may sound damn (er, darn) Midwest hokey, but they're not about conservative or liberal. They're about life and how we choose to live it.

Here's one of Wooden's quotes that Craggs will probably hate: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

December 1, 2006

L.A. United?

According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, AEG and Malcolm Glazer, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner who bought fabled Manchester United some 18 months ago, are negotiating the sale of all or part of the L.A. Galaxy. The Journal notes that Red Issue, a ManU fanzine, has reported that the two sides are in negotiations –- talks that might include a state-side move by David Beckham (whose soccer academy has an LA presence at AEG's Home Depot) and the "re-branding" of the Galaxy name.

No comment from AEG (natch) or from the Glazer family (Malcolm Glazer suffered a stroke not long ago), so it's difficult to judge if this is yet another breathless rumor from ManU die-hards (most of whom opposed Glazer's purchase). Beckham has long been rumored to be coming to the States as his career winds down -- especially now that MLS has adopted its "designated player" rule. Beckham, of course, became a star with ManU; he currently plays for Real Madrid, tho his contract concludes at the end of the season.