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.

August 18, 2008 9:19 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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