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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Singing The Dodger Blues...

The Next Biggest Loser could be one of the most historic franchises in Major League Baseball history if something isn’t done soon.  The Los Angeles Dodgers are destined for a takeover by Major League Baseball’s front office, and then put on the market like million dollar mansions whose owners couldn’t afford the mortgage payments. 

This has to be a concern for Commissioner Bud Selig and the rest of Major League Baseball owners.  We are not talking about the Montreal Expos, who were controlled by Major League Baseball from 2001 to 2005 until the franchise was moved to Washington DC and sold.  Or the Texas Rangers, when in 2009, Major League Baseball stepped in when the Rangers entered bankruptcy, and helped run the front office until they were sold in 2010.  This time, we are talking about one of the storied franchises in baseball history.  Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider – this is the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of five World Series Championships.  One would think that a sports franchise with a history deeply rooted in the fabric of the sport, in one of the most popular cities in the country, would be run better than a hot dog stand on a busy street corner.  Where did it all go wrong in LALA Land?   

The Dodgers behind the McCourt ownership are boasting a $420 million dollar debt.  That’s right, the team that once was known for FernandoMania, Kirk Gibson pumping his fists as he hobbled around the base paths, and Orel Hershiser shutting out opponents as if he was throwing a wiffle ball to opposing batters, is now on the street corner holding up a sign stating… “Going Through A Nasty Divorce, Attendance Is Down…Can You Spare Some Change? God Bless You!”  And Major League Baseball didn’t see this coming?  

Until recently, the Dodgers drama was limited to Manny Ramirez and his usual selfish play.  In fact, behind manager Joe Torre, the Dodgers made the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 and showcased some of the upcoming talent in the National League with outfielders Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and lefty starter, Clayton Kershaw.  But the ownership’s ability to use the Dodgers as their own personal bank to fund their lifestyle has left the club with a debt the size of what they bought the team for 4 years ago - in 2004, Frank McCourt purchased the Dodgers from FOX for an estimated $430 million.  Supposedly FOX was so eager to dump the Dodger franchise that they gave McCourt a $145 million dollar loan to help with the purchase.  And the commissioner’s office didn’t see a problem with this transaction!  

How out of control has the McCourt ownership been in running the Dodger Blue into the RED…it has been noted that from 2004 to 2008, the McCourt Family took $108 million in personal distributions from the team for personal mortgages and real estate acquisitions.   The couple owns seven properties, employed an astrologer with a SIX FIGURE SALARY, and paid a hair stylist $150,000 a year.  All this as the team payroll dropped!  Yes, Los Angeles is home to fans who come to games in the 5th inning but after a while even the Hollywood Glitz and Glamour community have seen enough. 

Add in the ugly divorce between Mr. and soon to be ex-Mrs. McCourt, and the unfortunate beating of the San Francisco Giants fan in the parking lot after a game, and you can see that the team once owned by the O’Malley family for over 47 years, has had their uniform soiled, losing more than just games, but fan support as well.    This latest incident involving the brutal beating of a Giants fan and the admission of owner McCourt that inadequate security in the stadium parking lot was part of the issue that led to the beating, has left fans angry and away from Dodger home games.  Attendance is down 13.2% compared to home games in April 2010.

Through it all, the Dodgers are holding their own on the field, where they are currently in 3rd place in a weak National League West with 11 wins and 10 losses.  But Major League Baseball has to step in now before Dodger “Blues” becomes the longest running show in Hollywood.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jordan and Bird vs. LeBron and Howard – No Contest In This Game of H.O.R.S.E.

Sometimes, you shouldn’t mess with a good thing – no matter how much you try.  I recently saw the new McDonalds’ H-O-R-S-E commercial starring Miami Heat superstar, LeBron James and Superman, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic.  And while I understand our culture’s love for “remaking classics” from music to movies, I thought the commercial missed the mark. 

Who can forget the original H-O-R-S-E commercial with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird… “Through The Window, Off The Wall, Nothin’ But Net!”  It is a classic commercial – one that everybody can recall without hesitation.  Ask anyone to name their most memorable commercial starring an athlete, and I’ll bet you my Big Mac that the Jordan vs Bird McDonald’s H-O-R-S-E commercial is Top Five.  Which is why I thought the latest version was such a mistake.  (Hey, would you remake the Big Mac?  Maybe add bacon to it?)  

In the original H-O-R-S-E commercial there was a playful air about Jordan and Bird.  Everyone knew about the rivalry between these two players on the court, so it was entertaining to see them in a commercial together that poked fun at their competitiveness.  (In my opinion, Bird and Jordan were two of the most competitive players I have ever seen.)    The commercial made you feel like they were competitors who came together at the gym.  I actually could see them playing a game of H-O-R-S-E against each other.  In the recent version, it all seemed staged as if there was no chemistry between the two superstars.   

Still, there were moments in the recent commercial that were amusing...while Bird and Jordan shot from "way, way downtown,"  LeBron and Howard took to dunking. 

Maybe I am just stuck in my old ways, but I prefer to leave the Classics just where they belong…and I don’t need my meal Super Sized!    

Friday, April 15, 2011

Here Comes Timber Joey...A Real Man's Mascot!

Okay, I am not a huge soccer fan – I admit, when the World Cup comes to the “pitch” I’ll watch the games, but that really is the extent of it.  One time as a favor to a close friend, I went to RFK Stadium to watch two teams from Italy (Juventos against AC Milan) go toe to toe during a hot and humid summer day, but that was the only “in-game” experience of my life.

What I am a huge fan of, though, is the enthusiasm that the fans bring to the game and I’m not talking about the fans that are "over the top" and make Philadelphia Sports Fans look like attendees at the opera!  There is something about soccer fans that adds to the excitement of the game.  The non stop chatting, the constant buzz, the waving of the flags – whatever it is, they add a certain amount of energy to what is a happening down on the field.  The energy is contagious. 

Which brings me to the main point of this rant…I recently came across a commercial for the Portland Timbers, a new franchise in Major League Soccer, starring Joey Webber, or should I say, TIMBER JOEY.  It’s been a long standing Timbers tradition, dating back to when they competed in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s, that the Timbers have an authentic lumberman as the club’s mascot.  That’s right…we’re not talking about a big footed, cartoon character look a like with a gigantic head.  This is a true outdoorsman right down to the chain saw he carries around with him on JELD-WEN field, home of the Portland Timbers.  Timber Joey was born and raised in the timber town of Philomath, Oregon where he attended the School of Forestry.  He competed in state forestry, timber competitions, and ranked in several events including pole climbing, axe throwing, log rolling and hot saw operation.  And look where it got him!  Makes me wonder... what kind of background does it take to be a mascot in Major League Baseball?  Do you need a license in driving a three wheeled scooter, and a degree in shooting hot dogs into the stands?

Timber Joey stars in this video promoting the Timbers’ home opener vs the Chicago Fire.  And while you may not be a soccer fan, you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.  The amazing part of the commercial…there is not one shot of the game, a player, a goal, a diving stop by the goal keeper – just Timber Joey, his chainsaw, and the Timbers’ fans.  In soccer, what else do you need? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Manny Being Manny...At Least He Is Consistent!

I recently read an article that quoted Tampa Bay Rays outfielder, Johnny Damon, that he was surprised by the recent escapades of now retired teammate, Manny Ramirez.  "I can't believe it," Damon was quoted. "I thought if you got busted one time, you definitely don't get busted again. Maybe I'm wrong.  Believe me, it shocked us all.”  Isn’t it funny, how we always seemed “shocked” by the antics of Manny Ramirez.  

For all his home runs, (Ramirez finished with 555), game winning rbi’s, and All Star Appearances, (11 times an American League All Star) Manny Ramirez has always shown…it’s all about Manny.  How else would you explain the fact that after failing one drug test and being suspended for 50 games, you would comeback two years later, and get caught again.  (Not to mention Ramirez’s name did surface as one of the players who failed the 2003 drug test when Major League Baseball was trying to figure out whether baseball needed a mandatory drug test.)  Was it ignorance? (I didn’t know they were steroids) Was it denial? (It can’t happen to me again) Or was it selfishness?   

Throughout his career, Manny has shown he cares about one thing…Manny.  With the exception of Cleveland, every town Manny has laid his hat, (and his dreadlocks), he has caused a scene, and left with his bat (and a suitcase full of money) in hand.  You’ll find a mysterious injury that cannot be explained but land Manny on the bench for a few games.  You’ll see him jog down the first base line instead of running out a ground ball.  You’ll catch him taking a bathroom break in the middle of a pitching change, and rushing onto the field right before play resumes.  You’ll hear about him throwing a well respected traveling secretary to the floor because he didn’t get the number of tickets he requested.  You’ll see him stage a One Man Strike and refuse not play, or better yet, hold up sign in the dugout begging to be traded.  

And this last act, to a “play” that has worn out its welcome, is the final episode in a career built on incredible talent and just as incredible selfishness…Manny chooses to retire after failing another drug test, instead of facing the music, and the punishment, leaving his new teammates in Tampa, not to mention the fans, high and dry.   I remember when Manny Ramirez was introduced at a Tampa Bay Rays press conference when he signed with the team back in February.  Manny announced, "I'm here because I love the game, I love to compete. It doesn't matter how much you make. All you want is a chance to prove to people that you still could do it." 

Well, Manny, you were right about that…you once again proved to people that you could still do it – Manny being Manny, and thinking about one thing…Manny Ramirez!  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

CLANG!!! UConn - Butler Misses The Mark On Monday Night

Am I the only one that felt the 2011 Men’s Basketball Final was a dud?  Better yet, allow me to quote Kenny Smith, one of the talking heads on CBS during the Halftime Show, “This is the worse half of basketball I have ever seen in a Men’s Basketball Final Game!”    

Maybe it was just an overload of coverage with CBS, TBS, TNT and RealTV covering every game…perhaps it was the all upsets starting with Morehead State a 13th seed defeating Rick Pitino’s Cardinals of Louisville seeded #4 (Quickly, where is Morehead State located?  I still don’t know!), or maybe there was just too much Charles Barkley!   Whatever it was, I just wasn’t feeling it. 

I know I’m probably alone in this feeling, afterall, even though Butler left their jump shot in the locker room, their 3-point shot in the bus, and their layup back at the hotel,  shooting a pathetic 18% from the field (an NCAA Final record for shooting futility),  there were actually three NCAA Final games in the last 13 years that had lower television ratings – the 2006 Florida vs UCLA title game, the 2004 Connecticut – Georgia Tech final, and the 2009 North Carolina vs. Michigan State title game. 

Sure, you could blame the poor shooting on the fact that game was played in Houston Texans’ Reliant Stadium, and therefore, the lack of a backdrop caused the Butler team to shoot blanks all night long – Butler made only THREE 2 point baskets all night long.  Or maybe you want to give credit to the UConn  defense that blocked 10 shots and had a hand in the face of the Butler offense…okay, hold it…lets face facts, the Butler offense was horrible.  It wasn’t the lighting or the backdrop; it wasn’t the UConn team was more athletic and active on defense – the Butler offense was simply BAD!

Lets look at the Butler offense.  Senior Matt Howard was 1 for 13.  Guard Shelvin Mack, Butler’s best offensive weapon was 4 for 15.  Center Andrew Smith was 2 for 9, and those 9 shots came within 5 feet of the basket!  Guard Shawn Vanzant was 2 for 10.  The bench didn’t make a single field goal. They were 12 of 64 from the field.  Heck, former UCLA legend Bill Walton once scored 44 points in a Championship Game – Team Walton would have beaten Butler by THREE on Monday night.  

I’ll admit I was a little burnt out at the end of the NCAA Tournament this year and the Final Game just didn’t hold my attention.  It maybe easy to blame it on the poor play of both teams – UConn only shot 34.5% from field – but whatever it was, the game just didn’t do it for me this year.   Maybe next year, they shouldn’t put it up against “Dancing With The Stars.”