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August 28, 2008

Sports Beat, 8-28-08

--USC's football season begins this Saturday at Virginia, and I will be broadcasting the game on KSCR 1540 AM and KSCR.org. Mark Sanchez is apparently healthy and ready to go for the Trojans against a Cavaliers squad that is seeing a lot of turnover. Virginia hasn't even named a starting quarterback yet. Not many coaches are willing to send their teams on the road across the country to play against a major conference school, so give Pete Carroll credit.

In a bit of a surprise, Aaron Corp is now the No. 2 QB on the depth chart for USC, ahead of Mitch Mustain. I guess Mustain just isn't a great fit for the USC offense, and if I were him, and I was the No. 1 QB recruit in the country a few years ago and now I'm the 3rd-string quarterback on my team, then I would transfer.

--After losing to the Nationals last night, the Dodgers have lost six in a row, and are falling apart at a crucial juncture of the season. They're still just 3 games back, but they haven't exactly inspired hope in their fans.

The performances show that just "making a move" or getting "a bat" isn't exactly a panacea. Team performance goes beyond one simple quick fix. Teams win or lose based on adhering to a strong organization philosophy and vision. The Dodgers have tried to do too many different things in recent years, and the team lacks an identity. Also, right now their bullpen is sort of a random collection of rag-tag pitchers and their veteran players are really really old and not nearly as productive as they used to be.

When people long for the old "Dodger Way", they long for a time when the organization reflected continuity and built through the farm. Manny Ramirez does make the Dodgers a better team, but if they want to sustain success, then they have to be patient and let themselves build from within.

August 18, 2008

Sports Beat, 8-18-08

After a bit of a hiatus, it's time to return for the Sports Beat:

--If you haven't checked out the LA Times' Olympic coverage yet, then you should. Their Ticket to Beijing blog is one of the most comprehensive sites I've seen yet on the Olympics. It seems like the Times sent half their staff to Beijing, and they have some high-quality results to show for it.

--The Times also broke news that the Dodgers have traded for Greg Maddux. Given Brad Penny's recent injury, the Dodgers could certainly use another pitcher. Greg Maddux is a shell of his former self, but he's better than Eric Stults and more reliable than Chan Ho Park. Rob Neyer points out that Maddux has been a league-average pitcher for most of the past few years, but the Dodgers got a taste of his value two years ago. Not only was Maddux phenomenal in his two months in LA in 2006, but he was a valuable teacher and mentor for every pitcher on the Dodgers staff. Perhaps he can help with the development of Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley -- who have been doing great so far -- just as much as he'll help on the mound.

--Jeff Kent is an absolute disgrace. In TJ Simers' column yesterday, Kent bashed Vin Scully, and said he was insulted by those who claim he's hitting better recently because he's batting ahead of Manny Ramirez in the lineup. Kent claimed that Scully "talks too much," referred to him as "some guy," and added: "I've been here four years and I have never seen Vin Scully down here in the clubhouse...How does Vin Scully know me? How does Vin Scully know Derek Lowe?"

No idea how Derek Lowe got thrown in there, and apparently neither does Lowe, who disavowed any involvement in this.

For nearly 60 years Scully has diligently called Dodger games and he means everything to Los Angeles baseball. The Dodgers are as popular as they are today because of the job Vin Scully has done behind the microphone, spanning generations of local baseball fans, and educating us all on the game. He is the greatest announcer in the history of sports, and there is virtually no debate about that. No one else is even close. He is LA's local treasure, he's the classiest man alive, and I feel incredibly fortunate that I still get to listen to his voice every time I watch a Dodger game.

This past week I was in Cooperstown, NY, and I made a point of finding Scully's picture in the broadcaster's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. There's a decent chance that Kent will one day be enshrined in Cooperstown as well, but I think the Hall should establish a "Jerk's Wing" as well, starting with Ty Cobb, Eddie Murray, and Jeff Kent as charter members.

In the previous bullet point, I noted how great Greg Maddux has been in working with young players, and how he has been a terrific mentor for his teammates. On a young Dodger team, I've never once heard that the veteran Kent has done a thing to help his teammates develop and grow. Instead he called out Matt Kemp and others last year, he argues and whines with umpires more than anyone I've ever seen in the game, and his own performance has declined for the past few years.

As for Kent's actual comments about his recent improvement (he's hitting .500 while ahead of Ramirez in the lineup), there has actually been a great deal of statistical work that has shown that lineup order and hitting in front of an RBI man doesn't necessarily correlate to improved performance. That being said, there are a tiny handful of extraordinary power hitters who are so great that they do alter the way a pitcher approaches a lineup. A pitcher is more likely to throw strikes to a guy batting in front of a super slugger than he is to most other players. Manny Ramirez is in that exclusive group. So is Barry Bonds, and Kent had some rather dramatic splits hitting in front of him when the two played in San Francisco... like in 2002 when the Giants made the World Seires.

No less an authority than Joe Torre, a future Hall of Fame manager, agreed with Scully's points.

"I think it's helped [Kent]," Torre said in the column. "Jeff is a good enough hitter in his own right, and being a good hitter he has the patience to take advantage of a pitcher who doesn't want to walk the guy who bats ahead of Manny."

Jeff Kent should be ashamed of himself for saying anything negative about Vin Scully. If he's smart, then he'll apologize before tomorrow night's game.

--Much has been written about the buzz Manny Ramirez has generated in Los Angeles, and how much he has helped the Dodger brand. I was very high on the move when it was made almost three weeks ago. I do want to dispel one misconception about Ramirez's value that I hear mentioned on sports talk radio periodically. Ramirez may help Dodger merchandise sales, but that doesn't really matter. All Major League Baseball teams share revenue on MLB-licensed products. If you were to go to Foot Locker or Champs Sporting Goods tomorrow, and buy a No. 99 Ramirez jersey or t-shirt, then the Dodgers would collect just as much money on that purchase as the Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, or Boston Red Sox.

The only place where the Dodgers would keep all of the money from a merchandise sale is at Dodger Stadium or at a team-owned store, like the one at Universal Citywalk. Home ballparks and team-owned stores are the only locations where an MLB club collects all of the revenue off a merchandise purchase. So while Ramirez may be helping the Dodgers bottom line with improved attendance, the extra jerseys he sells only makes a tiny dent.

--The Los Angeles Galaxy today announced the Bruce Arena would take over as GM and Head Coach of the team. Apparently the Ruud Gullit experiment didn't work out, and Alexi Lalas never assembled any quality depth on the roster after the handful of superstars that AEG helped bring in for him, like David Beckham and Landon Donovan. There's no question that the Galaxy are better off now than they were before.

Bruce Arena is the greatest American soccer coach ever, having won 5 NCAA titles at Virginia, 2 MLS Cups with DC United, and took the US to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. I once read an article that called Bruce Arena "the Bill Parcells of soccer", and he's the type of coach who knows how to build a winning atmosphere in a locker room. This is a move that Galaxy fans should be excited about.

--UCLA Football named Kevin Craft as its starting quarterback today. He only got the job after both Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson got injured. Honestly, I'd be very surprised if Craft played the whole season, as redshirt freshman Chris Forcier offers some potential at the position. Craft is a former San Diego State and Mt. Sac QB, and I've heard mixed reviews about his training camp performance. He sort of got the job by default. I like Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow, but this is going to be a transition year for the Bruins. I wouldn't expect too much from UCLA in the new coaching staff's first season.

--In the meantime, everyone wants to know who will be USC's starting QB at Virginia on August 30. There's a possibility it will be Mark Sanchez, who is healing quickly from his knee injury. I'm a little surprised that Mitch Mustain hasn't had a better training camp, or even separated himself from Aaron Corp in the competition for No. 2 on the depth chart. Mustain did go 8-0 as a starter at Arkansas, but perhaps USC's offense isn't suited to his strengths.

He didn't just do that, did he?

Yes, Kurt Streeter of the L.A. Times compared Maury Wills favorably to Ernie Banks, Rod Carew, Pee Wee Reese and Luis Aparicio. Too bad — it undercuts Streeter's argument that Wills is a Hall of Fame shortstop.

Rob McMillin at 6-4-2 blogs that Wills is defensible for his achivements as a player, but not for what happened after. it makes him suspicious not just of Streeter, but of the Times.

August 1, 2008

More on Manny Ramirez

Some things I didn't mention before on the Manny Ramirez trade:

--If the Dodgers fail to sign Ramirez to a long-term contract, then they will likely receive two draft picks as compensation for losing him, assuming he's offered arbitration. If the team that signs Manny Ramirez drafts outside the top-15, then they receive that team's pick, and a supplemental pick between the first and second round. If that team drafts in the top-15, then the Dodgers receive their second round pick and still keeps the supplemental pick. I hope that's clear.

--The Dodgers took advantage of the Red Sox apparent desperation to get rid of Manny Ramirez. The Red Sox have been desperate to get rid of his act before, exposing him to waivers in 2004, nearly trading him for A-Rod at one point, nearly sending him to the Mets at another point, and he's been dangled many times before. But they always held onto him, and he helped Boston win two World Series. This time however, Manny's antics were too much to bear for the Red Sox, and they were insistent on getting rid of him, that they gave up two decent prospects and agreed to pay his salary. In order to succeed in baseball, organizations must be opportunistic. The Dodgers took advantage of a unique opportunity in this case.

--As Kevin Roderick points out, there has been some serious concern about the "baggage" that Ramirez brings to LA. I haven't been in the Red Sox clubhouse, so I have no idea how much of a problem he's really been. Evidently, he was problematic enough that the Red Sox upped the ante to trade him. But I'm not as pessimistic about Ramirez being an organizational cancer as some others.

The fact is, Manny is now a certain free agent after this season. He reportedly wants a 4-year $100 million contract. I find it hard to believe anyone will pay that much for his services through his 40th birthday. But if Manny really wants to have any chance at that salary, then he has to perform at his best in the next 2 months. I think he recognizes that. I also believe that Ramirez will be motivated to prove the Red Sox nation wrong, and a motivated Manny is an effective Manny.

Since he'll only be here for two months, I'd be shocked if his act will wear thin. He already has the "Manny being Manny" mantra, and teammates will likely expect the bizarre from him and possibly embrace it.

--It's true that Ramirez weakens the Dodgers defenisvely. In fact, the Dodgers may have one of the worst defensive teams in baseball on days in which Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Juan Pierre, Casey Blake, and Ramirez are all in the lineup. The presence of Ramirez in the outfield practically mandates that Kemp and Ethier start, just to mitigate that effect. I don't believe that Blake's as bad defensively as some have suggested, but his range isn't great, and it's compounded if Nomar is playing shortstop.

At the end of the day though, I agree with TJ Simers' and Keith Law's takes as the trade was a no-brainer for LA because of what was involved, and that it will make the Dodgers the favorites in the West.