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August 31, 2007

Bent Out of Shape

LA Galaxy star David Beckham is reportedly out for six weeks with a sprained knee, effectively ending his 2007 season. There's plenty of blame to go around for this injury. After all, Beckham played a full season of games for Real Madrid, winning the La Liga title. He then played several Euro 2008 qualifiers England, and sprained his ankle against Estonia.

He came to LA at less than 100-percent, joining the Galaxy just as they went through the most demanding part of their schedule. In the middle of a spate of games that included Super Liga matches and cross-country MLS contests, Beckham traveled to England for friendly against Germany at Wembley Stadium.

Jeff Carlisle of ESPNSoccernet called the Galaxy's handling of Beckham "downright negligent," while Galaxy president Alexi Lalas blasted the MLS schedule in an interview with Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports.

"We sure as hell are not going to put up with having another season like this," Lalas said

"We have bent over backwards to help everybody but the Galaxy," Lalas added. "A lot of people have made a tremendous amount of money on the back of what the Galaxy has brought to their markets this year and I hope that they remember that going forwards.

"Have we played well? No. But this ridiculous schedule that we have been saddled with in an effort to appease absolutely everybody, on and off the field, has taken its toll."

The Galaxy and David Beckham did have an extremely demanding schedule, but given the star power Beckham brought to the table and the uniqueness of the situation, it was justified. Unfortunately, Beckham got hurt against Estonia, and he just wasn't able to heal quickly enough to satisfy everyone. Injuries happen.

That said, Beckham has already had a dramatic impact on the Galaxy. According to the LA Times, soccer merchandise sales in the US have increased by 300% league-wide and by 700% for the Galaxy alone since Beckham arrived. And if there's any good that will come out of this injury, it's that Beckham will finally get the rest that his body sorely needs, allowing him to come back at full strength next year. The Galaxy signed Beckham to a five-year contract, so there's still plenty of time for him to create lasting soccer memories in LA.

August 29, 2007

The latest edition of LA84 Foundation's "SportsLetter"

The LA84 Foundation (formerly known as the Amateur Athletic Foundation) has just published the latest edition of "SportsLetter". The bi-monthly, online newsletter features my interviews with director Michael Apted ("The Power of the Game") and with historian Jeff Wiltse, author of "Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America."

August 28, 2007

Let the bidding begin

Online bidding for Barry Bonds' record-tying and –breaking home-run balls begins today, as Sotheby's and SoCal-based SCP Auctions ramp up for the mid-September sale. I don't happen to have an extra half million dollars lying around to bid on the #756 ball, but there's no shortage of amazing stuff to be found in the lavishly-illustrated catalogue (viewable online here). Like, the Lakers' 1986-87 championship banner that once hung in the Fabulous Forum (minimum bid: $5,000) and the retired #22 jersey of Elgin Baylor that also hung in the Forum (minimum bid: $3,000). Proceeds from the sale of these two items will benefit the Lakers Youth Foundation. Of course, you can also buy a pair of Phil Jackson's game-worn shorts from the 1970s, when he was playing for the Knicks (minimum bid: $100). And, boy, those were some short shorts.

SCP Auctions has emerged as one of the top companies in the ultra competitive sports-memorabilia field. The president of SCP, David Kohler, is himself a major collector; at his Orange County home, he's amassed what many consider to be the greatest individual collection of Lakers memorabilia. Last February, he and a partner bought, for a cool $2.35 million, the famous T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card.

August 22, 2007

Wes Parker is golden

The lone Dodger (Brooklyn or L.A.) on the just-released all-time Gold Glove team? That would be first baseman Wes Parker, who played for L.A. from 1964-1972 (or, between Hodges and Garvey) and won six GGs during his career. Parker outpolled Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez, Vic Powers, Bill White, and J.T. Snow for the honor. Other than Parker and, arguably, Joe Morgan at second, the all-time team has no real surprises: Mays, Clemente, Griffey Jr., Bench, Ozzie, Brooks, Greg Maddux. (This year marks the 50th anniversary of the GG award.)

Earlier today, Parker took part in an ESPN online chat. In answer to a question about the condition of the Dodger Stadium infield during his career, Parker said, "Dodger Stadium, believe it or not, was the worst. It has crushed brick mixed with dirt that turned into clay clumps on hot days. I was always smoothing the dirt in front of me to avoid bad hops. I also disliked playing on artificial surfaces, because you'd get a lot of spin and bad hops. The infield at Dodger Stadium today is one of the best in baseball."

Parker, who played his collegiate ball at Claremont McKenna, made just 45 errors at first base during his career. He's also known for his memorable acting debut in. . . "The Brady Bunch."

August 18, 2007

A Whole New Galaxy

Another David Beckham game, another thriller for the LA Galaxy. When Beckham is healthy, he's definitely worth watching. Today, more than 66,000 fans in Giants Stadium watched the New York Red Bulls nip the Galaxy in a 5-4 shootout. Beckham had two assists in the high-scoring MLS affair.

On Wednesday, in his first Galaxy start, Beckham scored a goal and assisted Landon Donovan for another in the team's 2-0 SuperLiga win over D.C. United. It's clear that Beckham is making an immediate impact on a struggling Galaxy team that stands at 3-7-5, 10 points out of a playoff spot.

We don't know if Beckham will be able to guide the Galaxy into the playoffs this season. People forget that the great Pele joined the New York Cosmos midway through the 1975 season, and the team fell just short of the NASL playoffs. By 1977, the Cosmos were Soccer Bowl champions. Perhaps Beckham will follow a similar path. But regardless of what you think about Beckham's new career with the Galaxy, you have to admit, this sure is fun.

August 17, 2007

Elvis at Chavez Ravine

The always entertaining and informative website walteromalley.com pays homage to the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death with a post about the filming of "Spinout." Scenes from the 1966 film, in which Presley plays a race-car driver named Mike McCoy, belts out a few tunes and, natch, woos a trio of beauties, were filmed in the stadium's parking lot.

Writes Brent Shyer: "It is hard to know that it was the Dodger Stadium Parking Lot [in the film] with one minor exception: the Dodger Parking Lot signage was identified by numbers on colored globes with baseball stitching on them. In the movie, during the finish line sequence, the Parking Lot 38 sign is visible (now known as Lot 7). This was the lot near the hillside behind Lot 26 back of the Right Field Pavilion."

Shyer also points out that "a young girl named Rita Wilson was included in the film. Of course, actress Wilson later went on to garner her own stardom and married actor Tom Hanks."

The musical history of Dodger Stadium includes concerts by U2 and the Rolling Stones, as well as the second-to-last concert of The Beatles, also in 1966. (Their final show was at Candlestick Park in S.F.) Here's the link to the post about The Beatles' appearance.

One other musical footnote. In 1963, one year after Dodger Stadium opened, promoter Aileen Eaton (of Olympic Auditorium fame) staged the first –- and only –- boxing card at Dodger Stadium. The triple-header of championship bouts featured Davey Moore vs. "Sugar" Ramos for the featherweight title; Emile Griffith vs. Luis Rodriguez for the welterweight championship; and Battling Torres vs. Roberto Cruz for the junior welterweight title.

In the 10th round of the Moore-Ramos bout, Ramos knocked down the champ, whose head ricocheted off the bottom rope. Moore's handlers stopped the bout after the round. Moore gave post-fight interviews before slipping into a coma. He died a few days later. His death inspired both Bob Dylan ("Who Killed Davey Moore?") and Phil Ochs ("Davey Moore") to write songs about the incident. (A longtime boxing fan, Dylan also wrote "Hurricane," about the travails of middleweight contender Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.) A few years back, the Daily News' Kevin Modesti wrote a fine feature about the triple-header and Moore's death. I couldn't find the link to that article on the DN's website, but here's the link to Modesti's article from the San Francisco Chronicle archives.

August 16, 2007

Bad Moody

You knew it was only a matter of time before it happened. When you have 10 tailbacks on your roster -- all of whom are spectacularly talented -- then someone is going to want to leave at some point. There's only one football. Well, Emmanuel Moody has become the first USC tailback to depart, as he reportedly plans to transfer.

Last year, the Trojans went with the triumvirate of Moody, C.J. Gable, and Chauncey Washington at tailback, and won a Rose Bowl. All three are on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. This year, USC has added the top-two running back recruits in the country in Joe McKnight and Marc Tyler, as well as highly-regarded recruit Broderick Green. They also have two extremely talented athletes in Allen Bradford and Desmond Reed at tailback. Stafon Johnson, one of last year's highly-touted tailback recruits, is reportedly impressing people during training camp (he had three carries for 51 yards in a scrimmage this past weekend). And everyone at USC knows how good 6th-year senior Hershel Dennis can be when he's healthy.

I'm not sure if any team in the history of college football has ever had this great depth of talent at the tailback position. It's simple stunning that USC could put this group together. Virtually all of these guys could be a star single feature back for most college programs. So it's not really surprising that one of them would leave, rather than split time with nine equally skilled peers. Emmanuel Moody looked great in the four games he started last year, and he'll no doubt be successful at another school. He'll just need to wait until 2008 to do it.

Next stop, Glendale

According to an article in the Arizona Republic, the state's Sports and Tourism Authority has voted to contribute $54 million of the funding to build the spring training ballpark for the Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. The $80.7 million ballpark, which will have 12,000 permanent seats and 3,000 lawn seats, is scheduled to open in time for spring training in 2009.

According to Republic reporter Carrie Watters, one board member, Rod Williams, voted against the project "because he wanted a written guarantee that the community, such as Little League and college teams, would have access to the ballpark.

"'I can't understand why $80 million is going to these fields and yet we can't get six of those fields (for community use),' Williams said."

According to Watters, Dodgers vice president Howard Sunkin pledged that the team would be "good community stewards."

"'You have our pledge to continue to be a community asset,'" Sunkin said."

The approval of the sports authority is a major milestone, but deal still must be approved by the Phoenix City Council.

The stadium will be built on land in the city of Glendale, in west Phoenix. Glendale has opened two other major facilities in the past five years: the University of Phoenix stadium for the Arizona Cardinals and the Jobing.com Arena for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Since the late 1940s, the Dodgers had used Vero Beach, in Florida, as their spring-training site.

August 15, 2007

J.A. Adande joins ESPN.com

As expected, former L.A. Times sports columnist J.A. Adande has landed at the Mothership: The "Around the Horn" regular has joined ESPN as an NBA columnist for ESPN.com.

Adande, who took the recent buyout from Tribune, writes in today's column that, "I write about sports because they somehow manage to incorporate every aspect of our world: life, death, hope, disappointment, victories, losses, politics, rules, crimes, fair play, cheating, health, drugs, love, hate. I write about sports because you never know how the story will end (unless Tiger Woods holds the lead on Sunday). I write about sports because, for better or worse, that's where most of the country gets its look at African-Americans and I want to do my part to keep the lens clear."

As for his predictions: "The Patriots will win the Super Bowl. The Tigers will get things together, get their full complement of pitchers back in the bullpen and win the World Series. USC won't stay at the top of the rankings the entire season, but will be No. 1 in the final college football poll. The San Antonio Spurs will repeat as NBA champions.

August 13, 2007

All aboard the Riptide bandwagon

AEG's teams in L.A. -– the Kings and the Galaxy -- haven't been impressive on the ice or the pitch. The Kings finished 27-41 last season (and second to last in the Pacific), and then had to watch as the Anaheim Ducks became SoCal's first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. The Galaxy did sign David Beckham, of course, but after yesterday's loss to the Revolution, their record is 3-7-5. Beckham's ankle is still wobbly, and the Galaxy have been relegated to page five in the L.A. Times' sports section. (At least their new uniforms are spiffy.)

But there's hope in AEG-land. This past weekend, their own L.A. Riptide, of Major League Lacrosse, clinched the Western Conference title with a 9-3 record. In just their second year of existence, the Riptide advanced to MLL's championship weekend in Rochester, N.Y., on Aug. 25-27. They'll have to get by the Rochester Rattlers, which'll have home-field advantage in lax-crazy upstate New York, in one semi-final; if the Riptide can prevail, they'll play the winner of the Philadelphia Barrage-Denver Outlaws semi-final.

August 7, 2007

Countdown to 8/8/08

The one-year countdown has begun: it's 365 days until the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The opening ceremonies will kick off the Games on 8/8/08 –- at 8:08 p.m.

The Games are on track to be a financial blockbuster -– an article in yesterday's Wall St. Journal noted that the sponsorship tally "was roughly $1.5 billion so far" -– but the Olympics have also focused attention on issues that plague China, including human rights violations, environmental concerns (including the horrendous air quality in Beijing), unfettered media access (see Mitchell Landsberg's article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times), Tibet, and its role in Sudan (including, of course, concern over China's role in the Darfur crisis).

Actress Mia Farrow's activist group, Olympic Dream for Darfur, is scheduled to launch a torch relay to call attention to China's role in the Darfur crisis. The publicity that Farrow has generated has caused director Steven Spielberg to re-think his position as an artistic advisor to the Games. He's expected to announce his plans soon.

Closer to home, Pasadena Weekly reporter Joe Piasecki recently examined this conundrum: in light of China's human-rights record, should Pasadena's Tournament of Roses re-consider the entry of a Rose Bowl float that celebrates the 2008 Olympics?

The Olympic-themed float, co-sponsored by the Avery Dennison Corp. and the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American organizations, fits neatly into the theme of next year's parade, “Passport to the World's Celebrations."

According to Piasecki, the Los Angeles Friends of Tibet, Reporters Without Borders, and Amnesty International (among others) have called on Tournament of Roses and Pasadena officials to " officially advocate for improved conditions in China."


"Los Angeles Friends of Tibet President Tseten Phanucharas, whose birthplace has been subject to widely publicized human rights abuses and cultural oppression under Chinese occupation, told council members Monday that she felt the Olympic-themed float is making a mockery not only of Olympic ideals, but also of Pasadena.

“'It seems to me a city like Pasadena would not like the Rose Parade, their symbol of pride and joy, to be used as a propaganda tool for the communist government in Beijing,' she said."

Rodents in the Outfield

Arte Moreno has done a fantastic job of creating a family-friendly atmosphere at Angel Stadium, but we're guessing that he didn't have this in mind. On Sunday, the Orange County Register reported that the ballpark has been cited 118 times for vermin violations since 2005, which included 33 "major" citations.

The problem stems partially from the Angels' practice of leaving trash in the stands until cleaning crews arrive early in the morning after games. The article also reports that the cooking staff leaves dirty pots and dishes in the stadium kitchens, waiting to be cleaned the next day. Such violations are rather surprising. It's industry standard to remove trash from the stands immediately after games. You may have people in the ballpark at 3 AM, but at least the stadium is clean and there are no rodents running around. The Register reports that the Dodgers, Padres, and Ducks do just that, and have dramatically fewer vermin violations.

August 6, 2007

A new O'Neal in LA?

No, it's not Shaquille O'Neal. But Jermaine O'Neal is a pretty darn good player himself. The Indiana Pacers forward/center told reporters yesterday that he'd welcome a trade to the Lakers.

"It's time for me to move on," O'Neal said Sunday at Baron Davis' and Paul Pierce's annual L.A. Stars charity basketball game at USC's Galen Center. "And the Lakers are the team I want Indiana to trade me to."

O'Neal told SI.com's Arash Markazi that he's healthy for the first time in three years after undergoing knee surgery in April. He also said that he's been talking to Kobe Bryant in the offseason and criticized Pacers president Larry Bird for his rebuilding philosophy and trade negotiation tactics. O'Neal expressed additional interest in a trade to New Jersey.

O'Neal is an excellent consistent front-court player who would figure to complement Kobe Bryant fairly well. Any deal for him would require the Lakers to give up Lamar Odom. Then, if rumors and reports are true, Bird and Mitch Kupchak would need to cross an impasse. It's well-known that the Lakers are reluctant to give up Andrew Bynum, while earlier this summer it was reported that Bird wanted the Lakers to take on Troy Murphy's hefty contract.

An O'Neal-to-the-Lakers deal is certainly workable under the cap, and it can make sense for both teams. Kobe has stated that he wants to win now, and O'Neal has indicated that he may opt out of his deal next year. But in order for this deal to become a reality, both teams will need to compromise.

August 4, 2007

West vs. South

The USA Today Coaches Poll came out yesterday, and predictably, USC was ranked No. 1. Some say preseason polls don't matter, but it's definitely an advantage to start the season No. 1 in case there are more than two undefeated teams. Such was the case in 2004, when USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn were all undefeated, and USC stayed No. 1 throughout the entire season.

Interestingly, the coaches gave LSU the No. 2 ranking, adding fuel to a rivalry that only seems to exist in Louisiana. Tigers fans, who are still upset that they had to share their 2003 National Title with USC, had their flames fanned even before the rankings came out by Head Coach Les Miles.

"I would like nothing better than to play USC for the [national] title," Miles reportedly said in a speech to a heavily pro-LSU gathering in New Orleans. "I can tell you this, that they have a much easier road to travel. They're going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford -- some real juggernauts -- and they're going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they'll end up in the title [game].

"I would like that path for us. I think the SEC provides much stiffer competition."

Last week in the LA Times, Chris Dufresne helped break down the myth that the SEC is the only conference that matters. Also, the dirty little secret in the SEC has always been its teams' soft nonconference schedules. While USC scheduled road games at Nebraska and Notre Dame, LSU gets to play Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, and Tulane. LSU does have a rare tough nonconference home game against Virginia Tech, but the Tigers' road schedule features just one somewhat difficult opponent in Alabama. Meanwhile, the Trojans have a stretch with four of five road games, at Notre Dame, at Oregon, at Cal, and at Arizona State (now coached by Dennis Erickson).

LSU has a great team, and they undeniably have some difficult games this year. But if I were Les Miles, I'd be careful what I wished for. USC's "road to travel" to the BCS title game in New Orleans is not appreciably easier. I'm not sure if that's a path Les Miles would really want.

Achilles' heel

It's a tough day to be a Clipper fan. At a time when the Lakers are dealing with Kobe chaos, it seemed possible that the Clippers could score some brownie points on their crosstown rivals this season. But the Clippers will be hard-pressed to recapture their 2005-06 magic, after the devastating news that Elton Brand has ruptured his Achilles' tendon and will miss at least the first two months of the season. Brand is a consummate professional, an unheralded star player, and he just produced a terrific film. We wish him the best in his recovery.

The news comes at the same time that the Clippers answered their point guard need with a nifty signing in Brevin Knight. A good teammate and a great passer, Knight will now have to do his best to set up Tim Thomas and Aaron Williams at the power forward position.

August 3, 2007

We're number five?

The Sporting News has published its annual ranking of the "Best Sports Cities" for 2007, and Los Angeles ranks, ahem, fifth. L.A., which won the honors in 2003 (teamed with Anaheim), was ranked behind 1) Detroit, 2) New York, 3) Dallas-Fort Worth, and 4) Chicago.

Anaheim (13), Oakland (17), San Diego (18), San Jose (25), San Francisco (42) , Sacramento (52), and Las Vegas (95) were also in the Top 99.

The Sporting News arrived at its rankings by taking "a 12-month snapshot, roughly July to July, of each city's sports, putting a heavy premium on regular-season won-lost records (from the most recently completed season); playoff berths, bowl appearances and tournament bids; championships; applicable power ratings; quality of competition; overall fan fervor as measured in part by attendance as percentage of venue capacity; abundance of teams, though we reward quality over quantity; stadium and arena quality; ticket availability and prices; franchise ownership; and marquee appeal of athletes."

August 2, 2007

First Clausen, then Crist

Last year, University of Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis landed Jimmy Clausen, the number-one ranked prep QB from Oaks Christian High (Westlake Village). This year, as Clausen prepares for his freshman season, Weis has landed yet another highly-touted SoCal QB from under Pete Carroll's nose: Dayne Crist, from Notre Dame High (Sherman Oaks Canoga Park*), who signed with the Irish in the spring. Amid reports that Clausen is still recovering his arm strength after off-season surgery, ESPN's Bruce Feldman catches up with Crist about his decision to bypass USC for Notre Dame.

Of course, Carroll's recruiting record remains unparalleled; after all, he did land the three top-ranked high schoolers last season as well as another highly-ranked local QB: Aaron Corp from Lutheran High (Orange).

*My bad.