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June 28, 2007

The Dodgers approach their 50th anniversary in L.A.

This October marks the 50th anniversary of Walter O'Malley's momentous announcement that he was relocating the Brooklyn Dodgers to L.A. The juxtaposition of Brooklyn's angst and Los Angeles' joy continues to make for good theater: Just in time to mark the 50th is a two-part HBO Sports documentary entitled "The Ghosts of Flatbush" that focuses on the team's glory years of 1947-1957. (The first segment premieres July 11.)

Here in L.A., Brent Shyer and his crew at the thoroughly engrossing website walteromalley.com have released a cache of letters and documents that chronicle O'Malley's decision to move to the West Coast. Included are an early letter, dated Sept. 1, 1955, sent by City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman to O'Malley regarding L.A.'s interest in obtaining a Major League team; photographs of O'Malley's fateful helicopter ride over Chavez Ravine that convinced him of the site's viability for a stadium; and the memo notifying the National League of the Dodgers' intent to play in L.A. in 1958.

In a sense, the documents are an attempt to rehabilitate O'Malley's enduring image as the cold-hearted ogre who uprooted Brooklyn's prized franchise for mere lucre. These papers offer a more nuanced view: that O'Malley tried for years to get a stadium deal in the New York area, but was rebuffed by (among others) Robert Moses, and that he was wooed for years by L.A.'s politicos. In the end, these papers suggest that O'Malley did what every good businessman does: he took the best available deal –- in this case, L.A.'s give-away-the-store offer of 300-plus acres of prime real estate. In so doing, he helped to revolutionize the sport. (See Michael Shapiro's book, The Last Good Season, for more on this topic.)

Finally, Triumph Books has recently published Through a Blue Lens, a coffee-table book of black-and-white photographs taken by New York Post staff photographer Barney Stein. From 1937-1957, Stein also served as the Brooklyn Dodgers' team photographer, and this book lovingly captures nearly every aspect of the Dodgers' experience during this era, including the entire cast of the Boys of Summer; the ascendancy of Jackie Robinson; the heartbreak of 1951 and the joy of 1955; the brief coaching career of Babe Ruth; and the Ebbets Field faithful. (Stein died in 1993.)

The book is co-authored by Bonnie Crosby, one of Stein's daughters, and Dennis D'Agostino, a former A.P. reporter and p.r. whiz. (He is also married to L.A. Times columnist Helene Elliott.) Born and raised in Brooklyn, D'Agostino now lives in Orange County. I spoke with D'Agostino by phone about Barney Stein and the Dodgers.

LA Observed: What did the Dodgers mean to Brooklyn?

Dennis D'Agostino: I was born in Brooklyn midway through the last season [1957], so I missed out on seeing the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field. But if you were born in Brooklyn -- even if you were like me, who came along a little too late for it -- you heard all the stories. You had that institutionalized knowledge of the team and the players that was bred into you. You couldn't escape it.

LAO: You now live in Southern California: have you forgiven Walter O'Malley for moving the franchise west?

DD: [Laughs] Well, I'll turn it around. Growing up, I became a huge Mets fan and went on to work for them. So, I look at it the other way: if the Dodgers and the Giants hadn't moved, there would have been no New York Mets.

LAO: Does Walter O'Malley deserve to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

DD: It may be blasphemous for somebody from Brooklyn to say this, but absolutely Walter deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as an executive. If you look at the body of work – if you look at the fact that he was the one who stretched the borders of the game from coast to coast – he deserves it.

By the way, how ironic is it that, in a couple of years, the New Jersey Nets are going to have a new arena in Brooklyn. And, where's the location of that arena? Virtually the same location where Walter O'Malley wanted to put his baseball stadium.

LAO: In the introduction of the book, you wrote that you were inspired to do Through a Blue Lens because of a book entitled The Rhubarb Patch, an old book about the Dodgers that included many of Barney Stein's photographs. What was it about that book that resonated so much?

DD: I bought that book in maybe 1980 or 1981 at an early baseball card show. I saw this wonderful little green paperback with these wonderful pictures of the Brooklyn Dodgers. You saw what a marvelous photographer Barney Stein was and the incredible access he had with the Dodgers, both on and off the field. The book always just stuck in the back of my head. I thought, "Boy, if we could bring this stuff back to life, it could tell the story of the Dodgers in a way that had never been told before."

That's what we tried to do: tell the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers in a new way. When we showed these photos to a Carl Erskine or a Don Newcombe or a Vin Scully, we weren't asking them, "What happened in the '55 World Series?" We know that story. It was, "Tell me about this picture?"What were you thinking at this moment?"

The funny thing is, I bought the [Rhubarb] book for, like, $5. A few months ago, I went to a card show at Hollywood Park and saw it. I asked the guy how much he wanted for it, and he said, "$75."

LAO: When you first decided to track down Bonnie Crosby -– Barney Stein's daughter -– did you know what had happened to her father's photographs?

DD: Yes and no. Before I moved out here in 1999, I had been in New York with the Mets and the Knicks, and I had started to ask around about Barney among my photo contacts in New York. There were some photos circulating around and that were in other books: Bums No More [by Stewart Wolpin] –- about the '55 team –- had a few Barney Stein photos in it, and Roger Kahn's Boys of Summer has a couple of Barney's photos. I learned through those books that Bonnie Crosby had become the caretaker of Barney's photos upon his death in 1993, and then I discovered that Bonnie had started a website as a tribute to her father's photography. So, I finally was able to make contact with Bonnie about three years ago.

LAO: How would you describe Barney Stein's work as a photographer for the Dodgers?

DD: Incredibly evocative. One thing that I keep coming back to with Barney was the access that he had. As the official photographer for the team -– as the photographer who shot for the yearbooks, the game programs, and for publicity purposes –- he had access to the Dodgers that no other photographer had. On the field, off the field, in the lockerroom. So many players told me that Barney would come to their houses and shoot the birthday parties of their kids.

I'm not sure if a Barney Stein could exist today in having that close, close relationship with the players. He was completely trusted. He was a low-key individual, always respectful of the players and what we would now call "their space."

The most famous photo that Barney took was the one of Ralph Branca slumped on the clubhouse steps after giving up the Bobby Thomson homer. Well, 17 days later, when Ralph Branca got married, the photographer on duty was Barney Stein.

LAO: What was Branca's reaction to the post-homer photograph?

DD: I asked Ralph about the Thomson photo, and he said, "I knew Barney was in the clubhouse, I knew he was taking the picture, and I knew the picture was going to be on the back page of The Post. I never held it against him because it was Barney and he was just doing his job."

It's an amazing shot because it showed the despair not only of a team, but of an entire borough. There were plenty of photographers at the game, but they were all in the Giants' lockerroom. From what I've read, Barney was the first and, for a while, the only photographer allowed in the Dodger clubhouse right after that happened.

LAO: Did Barney also shoot Thomson's homer?

DD: No. He was in the bleachers [at the Polo Grounds]. He had gone out there in the 8th or 9th inning, when it became apparent that the Dodgers were going to win the game. Or, so everybody thought.

LAO: The most famous action image in the book is of Jackie Robinson stealing home during the 1955 World Series. Did Barney shoot a lot of action?

DD: Yes, he did. Barney's action photos can be divided into two categories: the early stuff, when he was actually allowed on the field. For instance, we had the one photo of Dolph Camilli sliding into Walker Cooper in 1941. Sometime in the early 1940s, there was a play at third base, and the throw hit one of the photographers behind the third base bag. Larry MacPhail, the president of the Dodgers, ordered all the photographers off the field and built two overhanging boxes over first and third. That's where Barney took the majority of his action shots -- from high first or high third.

LAO: Did Stein shoot any of the amazing moments involving the Dodgers playing the World Series at Yankee Stadium: the Don Larsen no-hitter or the famous catches made by Al Gionfriddo and Sandy Amoros?

DD: Not that I'm aware of. If he did, we don’t have it.

LAO: Were there images of players or people that you couldn't find?

DD: We wanted to have as good a representation of the key people as we could, but we did miss out on some stuff. For instance, we have a picture in the book of General Douglas MacArthur paying a visit to Ebbets Field in 1951 and being introduced to Red Barber. One of the reasons that photo is in the book is that it's the only photo that Bonnie had catalogued of Red Barber. Which is amazing when you think about Red's legacy.

I think it played into who Barney's favorites were. I learned early on that Barney's favorite player was Jackie Robinson. There's so many images of Jackie –- and so many images of Barney with Jackie. You could tell that Gil Hodges was a favorite. I mean, Barney documented the growth of the Hodges family. Carl Erskine, who was a magnificent help to us on this book, was also a favorite.

On the other hand, there wasn't as much Billy Cox as we'd hoped and there wasn't as much Roy Campanella or Carl Furillo. With Sandy Koufax, you have to understand that he was only there at the tail end.

LAO: Is it possible to estimate how many images remain from the total number that Stein shot?

DD: Just speaking of the Dodger images, I would estimate Bonnie saved close to 1,000. In the book, we have about 185-190 images. The fact is, that number is a mere fraction of what Barney took.

LAO: Who else possesses his images –- and did they lend any of them for the book?

DD: What's in the private collections of some of the Dodgers and their families is way beyond what we have in the book and way beyond what Bonnie had saved. Everybody was helpful. When I called Ralph Branca, he said, "I have a drawer full of Barney's photographs that I've never done anything with." Buzzie Bavasi had a photo album that Barney had made for him -– and all the Dodger executives -– after the '55 World Series win. Buzzy told me, "It originally had about 100 prints in it. Now it's down to 60 because I kept lending them to people and no one ever gave them back to me."

Also, Peter O'Malley and Brent Shyer were gracious enough to provide about a half dozen photos that Bonnie did not have.

LAO: Stein stayed in Brooklyn after the Dodgers moved West. Why didn't he come to L.A.?

DD: Barney had his fulltime gig at the Post, he had a wife and two daughters, and he was not in position to leave New York. But the relationship between the Steins and the O'Malleys remained very close and very cordial for decades after the Dodgers left.

LAO: Did Stein shoot other sports after 1957?

DD: I'm sure he did, but I haven't seen much evidence of it. The sports images that Bonnie preserved are almost exclusively Dodgers. I think there's some New York Mets and some wrestling.

Actually, some of the most evocative photos that Bonnie saved were some color shots that Barney took in the early 1970s. One of the things that he started documenting was the building of the World Trade Center. It's incredibly haunting stuff.

June 25, 2007

Who's got the inside track to buy Tribune Co.'s Cubs?

Already, there's been much speculation about the future owner of the Chicago Cubs in the post-Tribune Co. era. Mark Cuban? Tom Begel? The Colangelo family?

Now, Fortune Magazine posits that John Canning, the CEO of private-equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, might be the Cubs' next owner. Beside his immense personal fortune, Canning enjoys one big advantage: he's buddies with Bud: MLB commissioner Bud Selig.

Fortune reports that Tribune has hired J.P. Morgan "to advise on the sale" and estimates that the franchise (as well as the Wrigley Field property and a 25 percent share of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago) could fetch upwards of $1 billion. (Credit to Deadspin for the initial post.)

June 19, 2007

Kobe Bryant Is Going Nowhere -- Just Ask Phil Jackson

It’s the SARS of sports stories, a tempest in a media-stirred teapot that will turn out, in the end, to be nothing more than a diversion that kept us all preoccupied during the most boring NBA Finals of all time. (And maybe through the summer baseball doldrums.)

The Los Angeles Lakers are not going to trade Kobe Bryant.

I know this not because of my expert anonymous sources, but rather, because the people who run the Lakers have not completely lost their minds yet.

Kobe to the Bulls for a bunch of good players, or to Washington in a three-way for Gilbert Arenas? Or to the Knicks for Scrubfest 2007?

Would you trade a Ferrari for a BMW, a Nissan Altima, and a Honda Accord? For a Boxster with a sometimes malfunctioning CPU? For an armada of Hyundais?

I understand that this is great fuel for television, sports talk radio, and the Internet, but enough already.

This is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about.

Whatever your criticisms of Kobe might be, he’s the most talented player in the NBA -- not just according to fans, but to coaches, scouts, and the vast majority of players. (He scored 81 points in a single game, remember?) And with the game on the line, he’s as cold-blooded as a Komodo dragon.

On top of all of that, Kobe wants to win more than any other basketball player – perhaps any athlete – on the planet. That isn't hyperbole. What anyone is to Hannibal Lecter, what a roomful of 21 year-old Swedish models are to any married man, what air is to the rest of us, the W column is to No. 24.

If it meant winning another NBA championship next season, you get the feeling that Kobe might make good on Mike Tyson’s threat to eat your children.

He wants it that badly. Really.

Unless you’re getting another superstar – and by superstar, I mean LeBron James or Dwayne Wade, both of whom aren’t going anywhere – you do not trade that guy.

You cannot trade that guy. You make him happy.

Besides, Kobe doesn’t really sound like he wants to be traded, despite his recent outbursts on radio and online. Anyone who listened to him the day that he made his demand heard his tone and sentiments change by day’s end. He sounded frustrated, but never really angry. Angry is when you scream, “Pay me my money!” in Jerry Buss’ face. That has yet to happen.

At the end of the day, Kobe doesn’t want to be king of the gutted Bulls or the Keystone Knicks. He wants to win.

So do the Lakers. This isn't the first time that Dr. Buss has dealt with an angry superstar. In the rosy-colored championship days of yesteryear, Magic and Kareem both demanded trades, and both never went anywhere, either. (True, Shaq got dealt, but only because Los Angeles was between a rock - Kobe - and a hard place - the Big Aristotle.)

The Lakers will make a move or two, get Kobe the name talent he needs to compete, and move on.

As Phil Jackson told the Los Angeles Times on Monday night, “It's my unshakeable feeling that Kobe will be a Laker next October … when training camp opens.”

Mine, too.

June 18, 2007

Last days for the Los Angeles County Raceway?

The Los Angeles County Raceway (previously known as the Palmdale International Raceway and King's Antelope Valley Raceway) has been in operation since 1965. The drag strip is busiest on Fridays, when the track welcomes all comers at its "Test & Tune" nights.

But the end may be near for LACR. The gravel under the track is worth major bucks, and Granite Construction, which owns the property, plans to demolish the track to mine the gravel. Track supporters hope to save LACR, perhaps by building a new facility at a later date, but the track is scheduled to close at the end of July.

On Wednesday night, the Palmdale City Council will meet to determine the track's future. According to the savelacr.org website, "If the City of Palmdale doesn't step in and stop the digging by Granite Construction the mining of LACR will start again on July 30th. If Granite Construction is allowed to take the next 300 feet like they plan to, LACR Is FINISHED.

"If LACR closes it will put more racers back on the streets, causing more deaths more causalities and loss of property. It will take away another drag strip from the racing community that wants to have a safe and legal place to race. It will impact local community resources by having more Sheriffs answering calls regarding street racing, when they could be handling more serious crime."

June 14, 2007

Avengers turn eight

I have never seen an Arena Football League game and probably never will, but I appreciate that the Los Angeles Avengers have managed to survive for eight years. I also like this list the team included in its anniversary press release, noting all the Los Angeles-area pro football teams through history. How many do you know? And did you realize the Avengers rank third in longevity?

  • Los Angeles Rams, NFL -- 1946-1994 (1980-1994 in Anaheim)
  • Los Angeles Raiders, NFL -- 1982-1994
  • Los Angeles Avengers, Arena Football League -- 2000-present
  • Los Angeles Bulldogs, PCPFL (Pacific Coast Professional Football League) -- 1940-1945
  • Hollywood Bears/Wolves, PCPFL -- 1940-1942, 1944-1945
  • Los Angeles Dons, AAFC (All-America Football Conference) -- 1946-1949
  • Los Angeles Express, USFL -- 1983-1985
  • Southern California Sun, WFL -- 1974-1975 (32 games)
  • Anaheim Piranhas, Arena Football League -- 1996-1997 (28 games)
  • Orange County Ramblers, ConFL (Continental Football League) -- 1967-1968 (24 games)
  • Los Angeles Mustangs, PCPFL -- 1943-44 (18 games)
  • Los Angeles Chargers, AFL -- 1960 (15 games, 14 in regular season)
  • Los Angeles Wildcats, AFL -- 1926 (14 games)
  • Los Angeles Cobras, Arena Football League -- 1988 (13 games, 12 in regular season)
  • Los Angeles Xtreme, XFL -- 2001 (12 games, 10 in regular season)
  • Hollywood Rangers, PCPFL -- 1944 (11 games)
  • Los Angeles Buccaneers, NFL -- 1926 (10 games, road games only)
  • Los Angeles Bulldogs, AFL -- 1937 (8 games)
  • Los Angeles Wildcats, PCPFL -- 1944 (8 games)
  • Long Beach Admirals, ConFL -- 1967 (1 game)

The Avengers will host the Las Vegas Gladiators at Staples Center on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. If they win, the Avengers clinch a playoff berth. The regular season ends with a game against the Utah Blaze on Saturday, June 23.

An interview with Larry Merchant

HBO Sports' longtime boxing analyst Larry Merchant began his career in print journalism, first as sports columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News and the New York Post, then as a general columnist with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. MerchantRecently, with Merchant's HBO contract about to expire, published reports speculated that the network was poised to replace Merchant, who has been with HBO for 29 years, with Max Kellerman (who worked HBO's "Boxing After Dark" series). That angered many writers, including Bob Raissman, the New York Daily News' sports media critic, who wrote that swapping Merchant with Kellerman "would be like replacing Picasso with the guy who sells the Velvet Elvises outside of Graceland."

On the eve of last weekend's Miguel Cotto-Zab Judah pay-per-view fight, HBO signed the 76-year-old Merchant to a two-year extension (though his on-air presence will be reduced). I spoke with Merchant, a longtime Southern California resident and a member of Los Angeles' World Boxing Hall of Fame, about this and other local boxing issues.

LA Observed: What was your opinion about the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight?

Larry Merchant: It was an extraordinary event but an ordinary fight. I think that the fight had resonated, particularly in Southern California, since it was first announced, and it built to a tremendous climax, which was evidenced by the record-breaking pay-per-view and gate numbers. Along with that came expectations that you're going to have some explosive drama. Given all the buildup, it's understandable that many fans were expecting something more than a high-level boxing match. Everybody wanted it to be a great fight as well as a great event. It's very rare that those kind of expectations are met: Ali-Frazier I and Hagler-Hearns are once-in-a-decade events.

Within the boxing world, it was not a surprise, even if it might have been a disappointment. As I said before the fight, everybody recognized that, by all that is holy in boxing – and not much is -- Mayweather was supposed to win a boxing contest. He's in his prime, he's an outstanding boxer. Given that, Oscar performed better than many people expected him to. A great boxer is like a great pitcher – he doesn't let the great hitters hit – and Mayweather didn't let De La Hoya hit. So, there was no shock.

LAO: What will De La Hoya's legacy be, in and out of the ring?

LM: I think he's an extraordinary personality and force within the boxing world and an outstanding fighter. He was at his best as a welterweight. He disappointed some people who were hoping, given the liftoff he had coming out of the [1992] Olympics and his early successes, that he would become the Latino version of Sugar Ray Leonard. It turned out he wasn't quite that good. But he was very, very good, and he fought everybody.

As important, he's the face of the Hispanic take-over of boxing. Various ethnic groups have been dominant in boxing over time, and Hispanics have become more and more dominant over the last 15 years. Oscar became the face of that and became a huge attraction. That's a significant contribution he's made to the sport.

LAO: Do you think he should continue fighting?

LM: If he fought as well he did to lose a close decision to the guy recognized as the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound, he's still very capable of fighting. He loves doing it. He loves being on the stage. He's never really been hurt. He's kind of an executive fighter, in that he can afford to fight once a year and that he runs his own promotion company. Lastly, but hardly leastly, he generates so many dollars. Who could blame him for not wanting to fight?

Eventually, the marketplace will determine whether it's worth his while to keep fighting. Right now, in my estimation, the biggest event that could be made in boxing would be De La Hoya against Cotto. It would be a huge event, not like the one we just saw [with Mayweather], but very, very big. He would make a substantial amount of money. It's like Muhammad Ali once said: "How come they don't ask David Rockefeller to stop making money?"

LAO: You just signed a two-year extension with HBO after published reports alleged that the network was pushing you out of the analyst position in favor of Max Kellerman. Why do you think the network want to make a change?

LM: They weren't pushing me out. They were replacing me on the big fights, and they wanted me to take over "Boxing After Dark." I rejected that.

You know, 29 years with one show is amazing in a business with a short attention span. I'm an old guy now, and it's amazing that something like this hasn't happened before. People come in and have their own ideas of what shows they want to do and who they think should be on the shows. And, every network has sensitivity to demographics: who's watching? And so, they decided that 29 years was enough and that they would ease me out. I understand that, and I was cool with that. There are other things out there for me -- I could go back to writing -- but they changed their minds. So, now I'll be doing roughly two-thirds of the work I've been doing. That’s good for me because now, at the end of my career, I can go into new media [of the Internet]. I'm having discussions with people about that.

LAO: What do you think about Max Kellerman, who is being groomed to take your place/

LM: Max is different. Look, nobody is going to be like me in the sense that I come from a newspaper background, a reporting background. Today, there are fewer and fewer people who come from writing and go into television. They're people who've been trained and have ambitions to be in television before they had ambitions to write. It's a different breed of person in the business today. I would say that Max is young and enthusiastic. And, he's a big boxing fan.

LAO: What fights are you most looking forward to this year?

LM: The Jermain Taylor-Kelly Pavlic fight for the middleweight championship [scheduled for September]. Pavlic is a very aggressive kid from Ohio, and both fighters are undefeated. I would love to see [Manny] Pacquiao fight [Marco Antonio] Barrera or [Juan Manuel] Marquez again – both are very worthy opponents. I would hope to see some kind of a heavyweight unification, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that. Then, I would like to see [Shane] Mosley fight Mayweather or Cotto.

LAO: What's your view of mixed martial arts?

LM: It's a car-crash movie. It's what I call "honest wrestling," as opposed to staged wrestling, for normal-sized white guys. They have very good hype and marketing. We'll see whether it's the next evolution of hand-to-hand combat or whether it's a fad that will go.

LAO: You've written several books, including And Every Day You Take a Bite and Ringside Seat at the Circus. Will you ever sit down and write your memoirs?

LM: Yes, I have a title and chapter headings. All of this came about during the long negotiations with HBO. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, it'll come out.

June 8, 2007

Kobe in Colorado, fictionalized

First, there was the controversy over Peter Golenbock's 7: The Mickey Mantle Novel, a so-called "inventive memoir" published this spring that imagined the Yankee slugger recounting his sexploits to sportswriter Leonard Shecter (who helped Jim Bouton with Ball Four).

Now comes James Boice's MVP: A Novel (Scribner paperback), which imagines a Kobe Bryant-like phenom who gets entangled in rape and murder charges. Born in California and now living in Boston, Boice has written for Esquire and McSweeney's. Here's the plot synopsis of MVP from Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Labrecque (who gave the novel an A- grade): "Basketball star Gilbert Marcus, the refined son of an ex-jock, enters the pros straight from high school, gets a rival teammate traded after three straight titles, and is accused of a violent crime while committing adultery. Sound familiar? James Boice's MVP is a brutally incisive roman à clef. Boice may not be an insider, but he seems to have opinions about Kobe Bryant. His jarring stream-of-consciousness prose clicks once you realize he's given his narcissistic protagonist the deranged neuroses of a Bret Easton Ellis character. His portrait of Marcus is a frightening trip through the misogynistic, homophobic mind of a professional athlete."

June 7, 2007

Does Lamar Odom for Jermaine O'Neal Make Sense?

I want to get a few things out of the way in the interest of full disclosure -- while I am a freelance sportswriter, I also run a web development company for pro athletes, and Lamar Odom is one of my clients. That said, it really has no impact on me whether or not he stays a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, though it is nice having him here in town.

Ever since Kobe demanded that Los Angeles make some changes to the roster, one trade possibility has surfaced in the media, reported first by Peter Vescey in the New York Post: the Lakers are rumored to want the Indiana Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal in exchange for Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, with perhaps some other pieces thrown into the mix. These rumors were lent more credence today when Marc Stein of ESPN discussed Odom's reaction to the possibility of being sent to Indiana.

My question is simply this: Why is this a good trade?

If you look past O'Neal's reputation, which was built primarily on the earlier part of his career, and just compare more recent statistics, trading Odom for O'Neal straight up seems like a bad idea.

Consider O’Neal and Odom’s stats per game for the past three seasons, courtesy of Basketball Reference.com:

2004-05 26 IND NBA 44 34.8 8.8 19.4 0.0 0.1 6.7 8.9 1.9 6.9 8.8 1.9 0.6 2.0 3.0 3.9 24.3
2005-06 27 IND NBA 51 35.3 7.5 15.8 0.1 0.2 5.1 7.2 2.0 7.3 9.3 2.6 0.5 2.3 3.0 3.5 20.1
2006-07 28 IND NBA 69 35.6 7.2 16.5 0.0 0.1 5.0 6.5 2.2 7.4 9.6 2.4 0.7 2.6 2.9 3.4 19.4

2004-05 25 LAL NBA 64 36.3 5.7 12.1 0.6 1.8 3.2 4.7 2.1 8.1 10.2 3.7 0.7 1.0 2.5 3.3 15.2
2005-06 26 LAL NBA 80 40.3 5.6 11.6 1.0 2.7 2.7 3.9 2.3 7.0 9.2 5.5 0.9 0.8 2.7 3.2 14.8
2006-07 27 LAL NBA 56 39.3 5.7 12.2 1.0 3.3 3.5 5.1 1.8 7.9 9.8 4.8 0.9 0.6 2.9 3.3 15.9

For the past three years, O’Neal has averaged:

54.6 games
21.26 ppg
9.23 rpg
2.3 apg
2.3 bpg
2.96 tos per game

For the same period, Odom has averaged:

66.66 games
15.3 ppg
9.73 rpg
4.67 apg
0.8 bpg
2.7 tos per game

Obviously, O’Neal is a tremendous defensive presence (i.e. the blocks), and you've got to defend him down low, which in theory takes pressure off of Kobe.

But - and this a pretty significant but - O'Neal has been out 12 games MORE than Odom per year, on average, over the past three seasons. Aside from the scoring differential – and if Odom remains with the Lakers next year, I have a feeling he will be scoring more, given how this season ended – Odom has better stats in the remaining categories. He’s also a year younger, and costs the Lakers $6 million less next season. Finally - and I know I sound like a homer here - there are all the intangibles that Odom brings: his wide-ranging skill set, his ability to co-exist with Kobe, and his resilience/heart, which was on full display in the first round of the playoffs against the Phoenix Suns.

The other telling fact about O'Neal: If Larry Bird is willing to part with him, he clearly believes that O'Neal's best years are behind him.

Aside from just making a move to placate Kobe, this seems like a lateral step at best, particularly when you throw in Andrew Bynum, who’s got a long career ahead of him. At worst, Los Angeles trades away a player who has really shown over the past few seasons that he may be coming into his own for an even more injury-plagued seven footer who may be on his way downhill.

Los Angeles needs to make changes: I'm just not convinced this is the one they should be making.

June 6, 2007

An NHL franchise in Las Vegas?

With the Anaheim Ducks one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, the SportsBusiness Journal reports that the NHL "has been in discussions" with film-TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pirates of the Caribbean") about owning an expansion franchise in Las Vegas. According to SBJ reporters Liz Mullen and Don Muret, Bruckheimer has spoken with Anschutz Entertainment Group about "potentially building and/or operating an NHL arena" in downtown Vegas. SBJ also reports that, if the NHL decides to expand to 32 teams, the other new franchise would be located in Kansas City, where AEG has developed the city-owned Sprint Center.

June 1, 2007

Mark Harris, 1922-2007

Author Mark Harris, who passed away this week, is best known for "Bang the Drum Slowly," a moving novel about baseball and dying young. (The equally moving film starred Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro.) But it was the prequel to "Bang" –- "The Southpaw," which introduced readers to pitcher Henry Wiggen (the character played by Moriarty) -– that was Harris' baseball masterpiece. Coming on the heels of Bernard Malamud's "The Natural" (1952), "The Southpaw" (1953) helped introduce the national pastime into serious literature.

Here's Daniel Okrent, author of (among many others) "The Ultimate Baseball Book," on Harris's stylings: "Harris's ballplayers are real people, with real concerns and fears, and they are memorable because Harris's ear for the sound of the clubhouse is simply better than anyone else's -- anyone since [Ring] Lardner, that is. ''The Southpaw,'' in which Henry Wiggen dreams of major-league glory and, by George, earns it in his rookie year, is the best of these books; ''Bang the Drum Slowly,'' about the slow death of a third-string catcher, is nearly as good."