Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Sad State of Sports

More and more people are tired of living in California. Folks don’t want to live in a broke state full of high prices, foreclosures and layoffs. And sports fans in the formerly Golden State are also a disgruntled bunch, because the teams we’re watching are mostly terrible.

I should say first that the L.A. Lakers, the San Diego Chargers, the Anaheim Ducks, the San Jose Sharks and the S.F. Giants probably don’t belong in this discussion…for now. The Lakers are the reigning NBA Champs and could repeat this year. The team has an incredible track record and the organization has always been a class act. The Chargers are in the playoffs almost every year, although they’ve never won the Super Bowl. The Ducks are former NHL champs and feature a competitive squad each season. The Sharks are consistently at the top of the hockey standings every year. They have some marquee players and play in a great arena. But, they’re starting to establish a reputation for choking in the playoffs. The team has never even made it into the Stanley Finals, so that’s their immediate goal. If the Sharks fold in the first or second round of the playoffs yet again this year, you’ll start to hear more and more boos and see more empty seats. The Giants built an incredible stadium ten years ago (AT&T Park) and the team has gradually gotten better over the last several years. Of course, they’ve never won the World Series and the Barry Bonds steroids affair has tainted his records and the team. But, when compared to the other dysfunctional professional teams in California, this group looks respectable.

After that, the state’s pro sports scene is full of wannabes, once-wasses and never beens. First, both the S.D. Padres and the L.A. Dodgers are being destroyed by the Big “D”—divorce. Both team owners are going through nasty divorces and it’s affected the overall attitude and approach of both franchises. These teams won’t spend any significant cash on much-needed free agents, until their ex-wives and the judges involved figure out how much they’ll have left. It’s a sad situation when team owners can’t keep their marriages together, because in the end, the fans pay too.

The San Francisco 49ers used to be the very best with a plethora of Super Bowl victories featuring some of the finest players in the history of the game. But now, after their former owner getting busted for bribery, the new owners are more like cardboard cut-outs in suits rather than people who truly understand how to build and field a competitive football team. And don’t even mention Monster Park (formerly Candledick)—another ugly, smelly, poorly run facility. The stadium is painted in green and white. Oh wait a minute—that’s not white paint; it’s seagull poo!

The Oakland Raiders are probably the biggest disappointment of the bunch. They play in a sub-standard facility and they have a senile owner who can barely eat his fruit compote without having three Raiders cheerleaders standing by to clean up the 80% that doesn’t make it to his mouth. They are the joke of the NFL and no coach with any ability won’t put up with the idiocy that surrounds this team. This team will not win--until the owner dies.

The Sacramento Kings play in a warehouse and they’ve never done anything significant. They’re a forgettable squad and the only reason anyone who lives out there supports this team is because they aren’t any professional sports anywhere nearby.

And don’t mention the San Jose Earthquakes in the same breath with pro sports. Soccer will never draw in this state on a consistent basis. If you want to find the Earthquakes’ scores in your local newspaper, you’ll have to look way back on the last page, next to the high school and Div. II college sports scores. Name three players on the Earthquakes and then get a life.

Then, we have three other chronically poor teams that are bad for different reasons—the Warriors, the A’s and L.A. Clippers. The Golden State Warriors haven’t won a championship since I was in high school and I’m old. The team has gotten accustomed to living at the bottom of the NBA standings after a series of general managers who have made an unending series of bad decisions. The Clippers are in the same boat. They’re the Lakers annoying little sister. Mediocrity would be a huge jump up for either of these sad story organizations.

The A’s have a crappy stadium and they’re constantly crying that they don’t have enough money to field a decent team. Thanks to a very astute general manager, the team has used a methodology that helps them draft good players to stock their farm system. But, once these players make it to the majors, they realize where they’re playing, and they run for greener pastures as fast as they can; which means that the A’s have to re-stock their team once again. The A’s had a potentially nice deal building a new stadium down the street in Fremont, but they blew that and now they’re stuck in a stadium that would function better as a prison (just put a dome on it). It is surely one of the worst stadiums in any sport!

And one last thing--why isn't there an NFL team in the Los Angeles area? Why does the third or fourth largest TV market in the nation not field a pro football team? It was amusing for a couple years after the Rams fled to St. Louis, but not it's becoming "that thing"

So, that’s the state address of so-called “professional” sports in California right now. In most cases, I’d rather watch college or high school sports than this stuff. It sucks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Great Game in Cuba

Well, my baseball Web site ( made it to Cuba on a trip by the Society of American Baseball Research ( to study baseball in this amazing country. The kid on the right is wearing a cap from, the History of Baseball Online. That child will grow into that hat and hopefully one day we'll see him in the major leagues!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chasing Old Heroes

One of my great joys in life is interviewing retired baseball players. Last week, I added numbers 61 and 62 to my list. I am now locating players via the oldest living players list. Last week, I talked to Mike Sandlock (#11 on the oldest list). He is now 94. Mike played 195 games in his MLB career, with the Boston Braves, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. Then, I interviewed 92 year-old Virgil "Fire" Trucks (#26 on the list). Virgil played in 517 games as a pitcher, primarily for the Detroit Tigers, although he also played for the St. Louis Browns, New York Yankees and the Kansas City Athletics. Trucks pitched two no-hitters and a one-hitter in the same season.
Top photo: Virgil "Fire" Trucks today, living in Alabama.
Middle: Trucks with the Tigers after one of his no-hitters
Bottom pic: Mike Sandlock

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lefty O'Doul: A San Francisco Legend!

I sat down at Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant in San Francisco the other day, ordered an O’Doul’s and sat down to interview Tom O’Doul, Lefty’s cousin. Is that triple déjà vu or what?

This week would have been Lefty’s 113th birthday. So, hoist a brew in Lefty’s name, because somewhere up in heaven he’s hitting in the high .300’s and having a great time.

Benefits of a famous cousin: “I didn’t really know who Lefty O’Doul was until I started playing baseball in Little League. Until then, he was just my cousin. When I started playing ball, he started coming around more. One story I love to relate is that Lefty always came to my opening days when I was playing Little League. In 1954, opening day was approaching and my dad told me, “Cousin Frank’s coming to your opener.” And I thought, that’s cool. It was an opportunity for me to walk around and be proud for my cousin, a former major leaguer. So he shows up in a Cadillac with Joe DiMaggio. I’ll never forget the moment, because everyone’s mouth just dropped and stay opened. There was a buzz in the air. But, they were gone five minutes later. I lived off that moment for the next five years, at least.”

Why Lefty loved Japanese baseball so much: “Probably because the way they played the game. I think he liked the purity of it. He appreciated their dedication to the game. They’re very humble people; they’re very polite and I believe he respected that. He was a teacher and a great coach above all, and the Japanese were starved for coaching and knowledge about how to play the game. He actually brought Japanese coaches here to the United States to teach them. And they were extremely pleased to learn from the “Great American”. Lefty was the one who brought Babe Ruth to Japan. They were dying to see Babe and he brought them on his first tour there in 1934. He did three tours to Japan total—in ’31, ’34 and ’49. He’s influenced baseball in Japan in so many ways. In fact, the Tokyo Giants are named the Giants because of their connection with my cousin, who of course played with the NY Giants. In 2002, Lefty was chosen to be in the Japanese Baseball of Fame. He was elected by a special committee. I know Lefty would be so proud and happy to see all of the great Japanese players in the majors right now, like Ichiro and all the others. Lefty envisioned an international game. I hope people remember what Lefty did for that country and its baseball. I believe it ‘s his legacy.”

Lefty’s early days: “He never made it past the 7th grade and he would always push me to finish school, he said. ‘At least graduate from high school,’ he said. He had to drop out of school to go to work as a butcher. His father, his grandfather and his uncles were all butchers. If he hadn’t made it as a baseball player, he would have been a butcher his whole life. People could see right away that Lefty had baseball talent. He had the hand coordination, the great vision and the instincts you need to make it to be a good player. He could play any position he wanted to. In ’37, he was the MVP in the Pacific Coast League as a pitcher. They said he hurt his arm after that year for throwing too hard, but I believe he injured it lifting one too many beers. There was nothing he couldn’t do in the game.”

His relationships with other great players: “O’Doul got along with everyone, including Ty Cobb, which wasn’t easy from what I heard. He loved Babe Ruth and they spent a lot of time together. They both had that great sense of humor, so that’s probably why they got along so well. He was one of those guys who didn’t have a lot of enemies. He wasn’t enamored with most of the umpires and he had no problem telling them if he thought they blew a call. He got threw out of his share of games. But, back then they rode the umps a lot more than they do today.”

The world famous Lefty O’ Doul’s Bloody Mary: “It’s from an original O’Doul family recipe and they’ve served it there since day one. We’re a drinking family and we’ve always been a bunch of drinkers. The O’Doul’s drug of choice is alcohol. Lefty drank bourbon and water and beer. I remember sitting in our yard with my father and my uncle and he was drinking beer. But he liked his bourbon, I remember that. He drank Acme beer in the 1950’s. It was a San Francisco beer and he preferred it. My uncle loved being in bars and talking to people in bars, so opening his own restaurant/bar in his hometown was a logical progression. He loved being a restaurateur and he was very good at it.”