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September 30, 2007

Sports Week

It's a been a busy week for sports in LA...

--The Kings and Ducks opened up the NHL season in London of all places. The SoCal teams helped promote the game in Europe, and each won a game at a sold-out AEG-owned O2 Arena. The Kings have been real globetrotters lately, winning the 4-team Red Bull Salute Invitational in Salzburg, Austria before heading to the UK. But the real story for the Kings was the play of 19-year old goalie Jonathan Bernier, who held the defending champion Ducks to just one goal on 27 shots in LA's 4-1 opening night victory.

--Lakers training camp opens on Monday, and it appears that Kobe Bryant will report. There's been rumors swirling around LA and the talk radio waves about a potential Laker trade for Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion. ESPN's J.A. Adande spoke to the disgruntled forward, and we learned that Marion would love to be a Laker and that Kobe has "embraced" the idea.

Don't count on it happening soon though. The Lakers would need to give up Lamar Odom to make such a deal work. And while an Odom-for-Marion trade does sound awfully good for both teams on paper, there are a few hang-ups. For one, division rivals rarely make trades with each other. And second, the Suns probably want to see how Odom bounces back from shoulder surgery before giving up one of their best players for him. Also, deals of this magnitude seldom happen this close to the start of the season. That said, Marion is unhappy that he doesn't have a contract extension, so we'll see if he exerts any additional pressure on the Suns to leave.

--There have also been rumors on talk radio about Utah Jazz forward Andre Kirilenko coming to the Lakers. In fact, I heard one host say that Kirilenko's availability meant that Mitch Kupchak "should get on the phone." Having worked in professional sports, I've always been amused by such comments. I don't know Kupchak personally, but trust me when I say this: Mitch Kupchak has no doubt thought through every possible angle of an Andre Kirilenko deal and made every necessary phone call. He's also well-aware that Kirilenko is making $63 million through 2011. Jerry Buss isn't cheap, but there's a salary cap in the NBA. Using roughly 30-percent of your cap space on a player who averaged 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a game last year is a very dangerous gamble.

Andrei Kirilenko is a terrific all-around player when he's healthy and in the right state of mind. But do the Lakers want to give up on Lamar Odom to find out if Kirlenko is both of those things? In the meantime, Kupchak has a supporter in Bill Plaschke, who reported that the Laker GM is often awake at 3 AM, trying to think up deals. The life of a GM is not one that I envy.

--USC and UCLA both won, but the real story in the Pac-10 was Cal beating Oregon. The Golden Bears established themselves as the top challenger to USC in the conference, and are now ranked No. 3 in the AP poll. Should LSU stumble in the next few weeks, it's possible that the USC-Cal game will represent No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the country. Of course, the Trojans will need to play a lot better than they did against Washington yesterday. USC fell to No. 2 in the AP poll after their 3-point victory.

--The Dodgers season came to a close today, and owner Frank McCourt announced that both Ned Colletti and Grady Little would return for the 2008 season. Hall-of-Fame sportswriter Ross Newhan weighed in on the veterans vs. kids debate that dominated team news for the last two weeks of the season. Newhan notes that the kids carried the Dodgers for much of the season, and he criticizes Jeff Kent and several of his veteran teammates.

--The Angels won the AL West and will open a playoff series in Boston on Wednesday. John Lackey will go against Josh Beckett in Game 1 at Fenway Park, while Kelvim Escobar is scheduled to duel Curt Schilling in Game 2 on Friday. Game 3 on Sunday in Anaheim will likely feature Jered Weaver and Daisuke Matsuzaka. It should be an interesting series as the Angels look to avenge their 2004 playoff defeat. Remember, all ALDS games are broadcast this year on TBS.

--Finally, some tough news for the USC basketball team. Point guard Daniel Hackett will be sidelined for six weeks with a broken jaw. Hackett sustained the injury when he was struck by the elbow of highly-touted recruit OJ Mayo in a pickup game at the Galen Center. Hopefully, the two will kiss and make up and play great on the court together. I imagine that Mayo will be more careful next time.

September 27, 2007

Roggin and Simers No More

Listening to KLAC 570 this morning, I was sad to learn that Roggin and Simers Squared will be going off the air. Beginning Monday, the trio will be replaced by Dan Patrick's new radio show.

Personally, I had enjoyed listening to Fred Roggin, TJ Simers, and his daughter Tracy Simers for the past few months in the morning. They really seemed to coming into their own. It was fun listening to the dichotomy between Roggin and TJ, two very different LA sports personalities, while Tracy acted as the voice of reason in the crew. They discussed more than just sports, and they made my slow morning crawl across the 101 just a bit easier.

Still, putting them in the morning time slot might have been a bit too much. It probably wasn't easy for Roggin to do the 11 PM news on NBC 4 followed by the KLAC show at 6 AM. Likewise, TJ had his own difficulties balancing his LA Times and KLAC responsibilities. This morning he admitted:

"I made it very clear to management that this was killing me. I'm an old man. This was a tall order we took on. It was bigger than I thought. As recently as a couple of weeks ago I told them I couldn't do it every day. So I think it was pretty much understood that we were not going to continue in the same format," Simers said.

Hopefully this isn't the last of TJ, Tracy, and Fred on the radio. TJ and Tracy did co-host a weekend show before joining Roggin in the morning drive time slot. Roggin did say on the air that all three have been offered other opportunities within the station.

In the meantime, this leaves Los Angeles without any local sports talk shows before noon. (Jim Rome's show starts at 9 AM and originates from Southern California, but it is geared toward a nation-wide audience.) It's been speculated that local morning sports talk can't succeed in LA. But I'm not so sure. Steve Mason and John Ireland used to host an entertaining morning sports show on the old XTRA 690 before parting ways and eventually reuniting to do an afternoon drive time show on KSPN 710. With the right host getting the right amount of sleep, there's no reason why local sports talk radio can't work here.

September 25, 2007

Longest vacation ever

After a hiatus of thirteen years, Steve Harvey's The Bottom Ten has returned to the Times sports pages. He singles out the Crummy Game of the Week and the Rout of the Week, and of course ranks the losers in college football and the pros. From today's entry:

Seven of the Bottom Ten teams won over the weekend, a catastrophe that would ruin the credibility of most rankings of losers. Luckily, the BT never had any credibility. to begin with.

Bucking the disturbing victory trend, the Fighting Rash of Notre Dame fell to 0-4, despite a pre-game pep talk by alum Regis Philbin, who once roomed with Knute Rockne.

Stumbling newcomers included No. 9 Louisville, which somehow lost to 37-point underdog Syracuse, and the No. 7 SMUs (1-3), who next must face the deadly University of Texas at El Intercepted Paso (2-2). No. 5 Penn and No. 19 Dartmouth face off in a must-lose game for both.

In real life Harvey is the Only in L.A. columnist for the Times' California section.

September 23, 2007


Give Karl Dorrell some credit. Just one week after the most humiliating loss of his coaching career, UCLA bounced back to defeat Pac-10 up-and-comer Washington 44-31. Guided by their 2nd and 3rd string QBs, the Bruins ran all over the Huskies, and made golden-boy QB Jake Locker look like the freshman that he is.

Still, all is not well in Bruin-land. No matter how you slice it, losing 44-6 to an injury-riddled Utah team is unacceptable for any UCLA team. In the fifth year of the Dorrell-era, the Bruins have little margin for error to save a coach who has already suffered embarrassing losses to Wyoming, Fresno State, Arizona, Florida State, and others while somehow beating USC last year. UCLA clearly has the talent to be an upper-tier Pac-10 team, but they don't always play like it. In the meantime, the Bruins have serious questions at quarterback, as both Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan are questionable heading into next weekend's game at Oregon State.

And by the way... who says Los Angeles doesn't love football? USC's 5 PM game against Washington State drew over 86,000 fans to the Coliseum, while UCLA's 7 PM game against Washington saw over 72,000 people in attendance at the Rose Bowl. Over 150,000 people attended a football game in LA yesterday evening.

September 21, 2007

Kent Complains

Umpires deal with Jeff Kent's wrath after every called third strike. Today, it's his Dodger teammates who feel it. After four straight losses in Colorado all but eliminated the Dodgers from playoff contention, second baseman Jeff Kent criticized the team's young players.

"I don't know what it is, especially when you have a lot" of young players, said Kent, whose double Thursday raised his average to .298 to go along with a team-high 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in. "It's hard to influence a big group. We've got some good kids on the team. Don't get me wrong, please don't misinterpret my impressions. [But] it's hard to translate experience.

"I don't know why they don't get it."

Asked what they don't get, Kent said: "A lot of things. Professionalism. How to manufacture a run. How to keep your emotions in it. There's just a lot of things that go on with playing 162 games.

"But I think experience can help more than inexperience. And it's hard to give a young kid experience."

Kent also made a few slightly slightly veiled critiques of manager Grady Little, and indicated that he might retire after this season instead of making $9 million.

It's an interesting take from Kent, considering that some view the youth movement has been the best thing about the 2007 Dodgers season. As Bill Plaschke wrote today:

Although they won't say it publicly, neither Kent nor Luis Gonzalez nor Nomar Garciaparra is thrilled that they have lost playing time to the kids, even though most of the kids were outplaying them.

It's true. The veteran players should take some blame for the Dodgers record. Garciaparra has been a major disappointment. Gonzalez has not hit well since the All-Star break. Juan Pierre is second in the majors in outs and is often criticized for his defense. Rafael Furcal has been playing hurt for much of the season and his numbers are below his career averages. Kent is a future Hall-of-Famer, and his offensive numbers continue to be strong, but he has limited range at second base.

In the meantime, Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Chad Billingsley have played well for much of the season and helped keep the team in contention. Any look at the Dodger message boards will show fans bashing Little for not playing the kids enough. Still, if they are being unprofessional off-the-field, in their preparation, or elsewhere (as Kent suggests), then that needs to change. Young players do take time to learn certain things. But Kent probably should have let Little and Ned Colletti handle those issues internally instead of criticizing the kids in the media. I'm not sure if Kent has tried reaching out to the young players in any way. Maybe he has and he feels they haven't listened, so this is his recourse. It doesn't come across well though.

Meanwhile, across the Colorado River, the Arizona Diamondbacks have led the NL West for weeks, boasting a team that is much younger and less experienced than the Dodgers. In the middle of a pennant race, the Diamondbacks are regularly starting "kids" such as Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Chris Young, Chris Snyder, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Quentin, and Micah Owings. While the D'Backs do have a relatively experienced pitching staff, the only real veteran in their offensive lineup right now is Eric Byrnes as Arizona has dealt with its own spate of injuries to Orlando Hudson, Chad Tracy, and Randy Johnson. They also made no major moves at the trade deadline. So while some blame the Dodgers struggles on youth and inexperience, the Diamondbacks are winning with it.

And what about Grady Little? Jon Weisman has an interesting column about the Dodgers manager on SI.com, breaking down some of his recent strategic decisions and lineup cards. Managers will always be criticized for tactical moves made when they have more information than the general public. But unfortunately for Little, he's still labeled as the guy who left Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Weisman writes:

If Grady Little hasn't worn out his welcome in Los Angeles yet, he has worn it down. Thanks to the development of sassily talented young players such as James Loney, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley, there's plenty of hope for the Dodgers in 2008. But after a honeymoon in 2006 that saw Los Angeles reach the playoffs, there's also plenty of doubt as to whether Little is the right manager for the job.

The Dodgers will likely miss the playoffs, but they remain one of the most talented teams in the National League. It will be interesting see how they handle the fall-out from this year's disappointment.

September 14, 2007

Here's Charley

Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News reports today that the Dodgers will renew the contract for announcer Charley Steiner. I still miss the days when Steiner did SportsCenter on ESPN, but he's one of the better play-by-play men in baseball and it's good to know that he'll continue to back up Vin Scully.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see which station will be the Dodgers radio affiliate next season. KFWB 980 is reportedly bidding to keep Dodger games, but KABC 790 is rumored to have put their hat in the ring. KABC broadcast Dodger games for 23 years, from 1974 to 1997, and most LA fans have fond memories of tuning to that station on the dial. KSPN 710 is another possibility, as it appears they will lose Angel games.

September 13, 2007

Road-tripping with Jim Murray

In January of 1979, as he prepared to cover Super Bowl XIII for the Los Angeles Times, columnist Jim Murray lost his vision. He underwent emergency surgery for a detached retina, but that procedure –- as well as follow-up operations –- was unsuccessful. His left eye was useless.

Meanwhile, Murray had developed a cataract in his right eye. Doctors didn't want to operate immediately, for fear of permanently damaging that retina. At age 59, as the vision in his "good" eye deteriorated, Murray faced the possibility of permanent blindness.

As Murray waited for the right moment to have his cataract surgery, sports editor Bill Shirley assigned John Scheibe, a night desk assistant, to assist his section's most prominent voice: to drive Murray to games and interviews, to read him the box-scores, and to travel with him to the press box and the locker-room. It turned out to be an eventful time: The Angels won the American League West, while the Rams, in their final year playing in the Coliseum, reached the 1980 Super Bowl. Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley passed away, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson joined the Lakers.

Scheibe has written an account of this period, entitled "On the Road With Jim Murray." The self-published book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online outlets; you can also check out Scheibe's website. Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. After cataract surgery, Murray regained vision in his right eye. He was able to resume fulltime writing duties (although Scheibe played chauffeur for a while). Murray also hadn't lost his sense of humor: "Scheibe," he deadpanned when he first encountered his assistant after cataract surgery, "you're a white man."

Murray went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990. He passed away in 1998.

I recently spoke with Scheibe, who still works at the Times, about the book.

LA Observed: When you worked with Jim Murray, did he ever complain about his condition?

John Scheibe: I didn't hear him complain very much. I remember once we went to an Angels game. They were going to play the Yankees, and we had just pulled into the parking lot. It was one of his first trips to a ballgame after he came back to work. He said something like, "The way things are, it's not easy being funny."

I think going to the ballpark cheered him up, seeing all his colleagues and all the players. The atmosphere was a good thing for him. And, he always had hope that the cataract would be taken care of. He had the best doctors at Jules Stein at UCLA.

LAO: In his condition, how did he go about writing his column?

JS: It went several ways. If he was at home and, say, had talked to Maury Wills, he'd pre-write it in his head and dictate the column into his tape recorder. Then, he'd play the tape to the transcription department at the Times.

Another way was, he'd write it in longhand on scratch paper, in giant letters. It would take him, like, ten pages for a column. I'd retype it on regular paper and send it to the paper. Anytime he was covering something live, he'd write it in longhand.

LAO: Did he ever talk about the difference between typing out his column and tape recording his column?

JS: He and some of the editors noticed that the columns he tape recorded tended to go longer in length. He couldn't see what he was writing, and it kind of got away from him sometimes.

LAO: Did his condition change the way he approached his column?

JS: Not being able to see who he was talking to obviously didn't help. So, I think he tended to write about people he knew. He knew Tommy Lasorda and Reggie Jackson –- he knew what they looked like.

He'd ask me -– like, if the Cardinals were coming into town -– he'd say, "Who's playing well on the Cardinals?" I'd say, "Keith Hernandez." If he knew that player –- if it was somebody that he'd interviewed before -- he'd lean toward writing about them than writing about somebody he didn't know or hadn't seen before.

LAO: What did you learn about reporting and writing from hanging around Murray?

JS: It was a good situation for me because I got a chance to see what it was like to cover ordinary ballgames and then what it was like to cover the playoffs and the World Series. It gave me the chance to go into locker-room and get quotes for him. He told me what he wanted, what he was going to write about, and then I'd go and listen for something or ask questions that would help him with his column.

LAO: You quote from columns that he produced during this time. How do they compare with other Murray columns?

JS: I couldn't really tell any difference. They were the same Jim Murray columns, whether he was writing about Lasorda or about Nolan Ryan coming close to a no-hitter. I thought that the column he wrote the night the Pirates won the seventh game of the World Series, with Scott McGregor giving up the home run to Willie Stargell, was one of his best columns. I mean, he was writing it on deadline.

LAO: Why did you wait until now to publish this book?

JS: I didn’t feel comfortable writing this while he was alive. Also, I couldn't take time off from work to do it. A few years ago, a couple of people at the Times suggested that it might be a good time to write the book. Gradually, I got more comfortable thinking about it. In 2003, I spent the summer writing most of it. Then, I spent a year trying to find an agent and a publisher and got no takers. Finally, I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about a writer who had self-published a book about baseball statistics. I did some research and signed with Arbor Books. And, here it is.

September 7, 2007

Sports Bits

There's a new voice of the Los Angeles Clippers, as Brian Sieman was named the team's new radio announcer. Sieman had previously been the play-by-play radio voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Interestingly, Larry Stewart of the LA Times reports that former Lakers broadcaster Paul Sunderland was an applicant.

The Houston Astros asked for permission to speak with Dodgers assistant GM Logan White for their vacant GM job. White is as responsible as anyone for the Dodgers' recent success. He's generally regarded as one of the best in the game at scouting and drafting talent.

And finally, the Lakers soap opera continues, as Phil Jackson had some choice words for the organization. Expect more of these media events as training camp approaches.

September 6, 2007

Los Angeles Jaguars?

Ever since Roger Goodell became NFL Commissioner, it's been fairly quiet on the Los Angeles-NFL team front. Obviously the stadium situation in LA needs to change in order for pro football to come back. It remains to be seen whether that will be in the form of a renovated Coliseum, a new stadium in Anaheim, or a new facility elsewhere in the region. But with the NFL showing little impetus to expand and mess with its perfect 32-team 8-division format, Los Angeles will likely need an existing team to relocate in order to realize its NFL dreams.

We've heard rumors in the past about the Chargers, Saints, Raiders, Vikings, and other teams, but there's one situation that Los Angeles might want to keep its eye on. Today, in both the Florida Times-Union and the Orlando Sentinel, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver was peppered with questions about the future of his club. Weaver denied speculation that the Jaguars are for sale, but he spoke openly about his team's difficulties in selling tickets and his recent cost-cutting moves which downsized the front office. The Jaguars may face a local TV blackout for their season-opener this Sunday against Vince Young's Tennessee Titans.

"Jacksonville is a good football market. That [ticket-selling problem] has more to do with being a small market and some of it is the economy right now. The market has a large blue-collar work force," Weaver said.

ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports that at the Jaguars have seen at least 25-percent of its season ticket holders decline to renew in each of the past two seasons. He adds that the team is carrying a $110 million service debt.

With all of the problems facing Jacksonville, one can't help but wonder when the Jaguars will start considering Los Angeles. It's obviously a much bigger market that offers significantly greater revenue possibilities. And with a head coach who went to USC and a terrific young running back who went to UCLA, the Jaguars have some built-in LA ties. Los Angeles Jaguars? It's not being publicly discussed, but it does make some sense.

And then there were two

AEG has sold the Chicago Fire, leaving the company with two MLS franchises, the L.A. Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo. During the startup phase of MLS, when the league comprised ten teams, AEG owned six clubs. Recently, AEG sold the operating rights to D.C. United for a reported $33 million.

The Fire's new owner is Andell Holdings, an LA-based private investment group. Its CEO is Andrew Hauptman, a producer whose next film is "Lions for Lambs," a political thriller starring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise (and directed by Redford). The company also has plans to produce (along with the NFL) a biopic about Vince Lombardi that will be based partly on the classic book "Instant Replay," by Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap.

September 3, 2007

Stealing Esteban

It didn't get as much publicity as the David Wells signing, but the Dodgers' acquisition last week of Esteban Loaiza gives them a big boost in their drive for a playoff spot. In his first start for the Dodgers today, Loaiza pitched 7 innings, gave up just 3 runs, and walked only one batter in the team's 11-3 victory over the Cubs.

Part of what made the acquisition key for the Dodgers was the cost. While Loaiza has had his share of inconsistencies, getting a veteran pitcher with his resume off waivers for just over $7 million qualifies as a bargain in today's baseball world. Not only do the Dodgers have an extra horse for the stretch drive, but they have him locked up through next year, allowing the team to relax a bit during this offseason's inevitable free agent pitching spending spree.

Loaiza may or may not be enough to get the Dodgers into the postseason. But he sure will help.