Tagged: Dodgers

The Real Magician.

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Apparently, I’m not as excited as most Dodger fans regarding the landmark McCourt sale to Earvin Johnson & the Kasten-Guggenheim Group.
While I do feel that this change in ownership is necessary, and I certainly believe that this is the right ‘team’ to lead the organization for the next decade+, I’m a bit offput at both the $2 BILLION price tag. As of yesterday, the projected sale price was a robust $1.5 billion, though perhaps Time Magazine was a bit more optimistic, calling the $1.5 billion projection a ‘bargain.’ That latter conjecture turned out to be true, and while the Guggenheim team has $125 billion in assets, I don’t see how you outbid somebody by half a billion dollars. . .

That’s not my main gripe, however. The fact that McCourt still is a partner in a “land venture” in the surrounding Chavez Ravine area. Though he won’t be an organizational decision-maker so that should be sufficient reason to back the Dodger news whole-heartedly, but my enthusiasm is definitely dampened. The main reason I cut back on tickets & attendance (personally) for the past two years was due to McCourt personally. The fallout from the divorce & proceedings led to a subpar experience at Dodger Stadium and Frank-ly, the team was inferior due to the shoestring budget of ownership.

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New ownership – especially by one of L.A.’s most beloved icons – is definitely an enticement to head back to ballgames & the Stadium, but as Vin Scully’s years wane, the pull to stay home and “get back to this one” on the TV may outweigh the fact that McCourt will still be getting my money. Furthermore, the unplanned-as-of-yet land venture will undoubtedly be a profit machine, adding to McCourts magical coffers. . .with my hard-earned money. I’m dubious.

Though it is definitely a ‘fresh start’ and celebratory moment at the Ravine, I’ll feel better if Magic can really occur, and somehow Earvin Johnson can make McCourt disappear for good.

Until then, it’s TIME for Dodger baseball. . .

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Just so you Know the Facts (Matt Kemp, Triple Crown)

After an inspirational 4-for-5 last night (3 doubles, one mammoth HR and a damn inspirational, “next year, we’re definitely going to make the playoffs” quote, Matt Kemp is putting together one of the greatest seasons in L.A. Dodgers history:

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS AVG
Totals 576 109 188 31 4 36 118 74 152 40 11 .403 .582 .985 .326

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. . .and within THREE points and ONE homerun of the Triple Crown with six games to play. Outlandish? Of course, but the man is simply a force, and in an ironic, paradoxical finish to an otherwise toxic season in Chavez Ravine, he might join Clayton Kershaw as dual Dodger award winners come November.
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Check out the leaderboard (thank you ESPN):

NL BATTING AVERAGE AVG
1. Ryan Braun, MIL .330
2. Jose Reyes, NYM .329

3. Matt Kemp, LAD

.326

4. Joey Votto, CIN .313
5. Hunter Pence, HOU/PHI .313
Complete Leaders
NL HOME RUNS HR
1. Albert Pujols, STL 37

2. Matt Kemp, LAD

36

3. Dan Uggla, ATL 35
4. Prince Fielder, MIL 34
5. Mike Stanton, FLA 34
Complete Leaders
NL RUNS BATTED IN RBI

1. Matt Kemp, LAD

118

2. Ryan Howard, PHI 113
3. Prince Fielder, MIL 112
4. Troy Tulowitzki, COL 105
5. Ryan Braun, MIL 104
Complete Leaders

FernandoMania Runs Deep

Thanks to Tom Hoffarth of the L.A. Daily News yet again for putting us on to TUESDAY’s documentary/ESPN/30 for 30 feature.

Really good article, see the link here or copy below. Can’t wait to see this – not just as a Dodger fan, but as a spouse of a Mexican who’s family immigrated from Mexico, this will have a double importance – note the emphasis on the Mexican families being evicted from Chavez Ravine to make room for the Stadium; a particularly juicy irony for those that celebrated FernandoMania.

Why we’re all still part of ‘Fernando Nation’

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The working title that Cruz Angeles had for his quickly-recruited ESPN “30 for 30″ project was “The Bull and the Sleeping Giant.”

Fernando Valenzuela was the former. Fernando, “El Toro.” The other was the Mexican-American population of L.A.

SMMZ23841_Fernando_Nation_smile.jpgBut that hardly conveyed what he wanted to do: Tell the story of Valenzuela, but also revisit and rejoice in “Fernandomania” one more time, in the way he brought a somewhat fragmented city under one magical umbrella.

Angeles, a Brooklyn-based movie maker who grew up in South Central L.A. continues to stress a bit even today that his documentary, “Fernando National,” which debuts Tuesday at 5 p.m. on ESPN (it repeats at 8 pm. on ESPN2 and at 9 p.m. on ESPN Classic), could have had more about how Valenzuela was taught the screwball (from teammate Bobby Castillo, after it was originally suggested by scout Mike Brito that he learn the split-finger fastball). Or why Fernando looked to the sky before delivering his pitch (“he said it was because he was in kind of a trance for a second, visualizing his target,” said Angeles).

Those can be seen as major exclusions. So is the fact that, after a 50-day player strike, baseball needed so much to get in the fans’ good graces that when it started the second half of the season with the postponed All-Star game, Fernando, still just a rookie, was named the National League’s starting pitcher. Think of how Stephen Strasburg might have fit into that scenario.

fernando_valenzuela.jpgBut in the grand scheme of things — trying to document how Valenzuela made an impact on a culture and a city upon his arrival with a flury in 1981 — Angeles need not worry that Los Angeles will forget that part of it. We get enough screwball comedies on TV enough every season.

Starting and ending with Valenzuela’s connection to the controversial Mexican-American family displacements around Chavez Ravine between 1952 and ’58, the stuff in between will make your goosebumps rise again. Angeles was able to achieve both his goals.

Fernando’s story isn’t that tough to mess up, actually. The key is getting him to cooperate, which he did. And to speak on camera. In both Spanish and, for the first time many may hear it, in English.

“We only had five months,” said Angeles, who estimates they shot about 30 hours of material, and had another 60 hours of archived material to go through to cut down to about 50 minutes. Thank goodness most of the ESPN “30 for 30″ projects end up for sale on DVD with the director’s additional cuts.

Angeles was approached by ESPN for any ideas he might have for this documentary project, and he had already done some initial legwork in getting Valenzuela to agree to do something about his life. So he pitched it. And they’re weren’t initially sold.

“In a way, Fernando’s story has already been told through baseball history — it’s what Joe DiMaggio did for the Italians, or Sandy Koufax for the Jewish community … aside from what Jackie Robinson did,” said Angeles. “But there was much more context to put Fernando’s story into.

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That would be the history of the 170-acre land under Dodger Stadium, which bulldozed three communities of 300 families, most of whom had already moved away by the time the city council of L.A. and the county board of supervisors had given Walter O’Malley the spot to build the park. Those who remained had to be forcibly taken away, with the TV cameras rolling and the photographers snapping pictures.

That Valenzuela arrived in L.A., Angeles found out, wasn’t so much by accident. O’Malley wanted a “Mexican Sandy Koufax” to bring back the local Mexican-American fans to the stadium, even though many boycotted the Dodgers, blaming them for what happened.

A key clip in the documentary is from then-general manager Al Campanis – infamously fired in 1987 when he made racial-heavy comments about African-Americans lacking “the necessities” of becoming a big-league manager.

“Mr. O’Malley, he would say, ‘Al, do you think it’s possible that we might get a good Mexican player? there are a lot of Hispanic-speaking people here and it would be a help to have somebody of their own playing on our ballclub.”

Yes, “Hispanic-speaking” was the term he used. It reminds us of how then-Dodgers broadcaster Jerry Doggett would refer to the “Latin-speaking” fans who jammed Dodger Stadium during the 1981 season to see Fernando pitch.

Angeles taps into people like United Farm Workers of America co-founder Dolores Huerta, author and poet Luis Rodriguez, former boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya, former L.A. Opinion managing editor J. Gerardo Lopez , former ABC producer Estella Lopez and actor Ray Lara to provide the Chicano context. Interestingly, Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, who was Fernando’s main translator at the time, wasn’t interviewed.

Several people identified only as “Dodger fans” are also on camera — it turns out that Paul Haddad was used because of his vast collection of Vin Scully audio tape — and a lot from Dodgers team historian Mark Langill also move the story along. Accounts from discovering scout and former reliever Castillo are among the most humorous, as well as from Valenzuela’s agent, Dick Moss, who came up the need for a $1 million contract when Valenzuela (who made $32,500 his first year and $350,000 his second) reached arbitration because it was a nice round number.

0708_large.jpgThe numbers we are reminded of with Fernando’s arrival in ’81 are still mind-blowing, starting with that 8-0 start (“and who’s to say when it will end!” says Vin Scully after he records that eighth win). Then over his career — seasons where he had 20 complete games and 21 wins, a no-hitter, the consecutive strike-out record in the ’86 All Star game. Why the Dodgers released him in such a undignified manner in spring of ’91 is still a mystery.

“But you can’t put into words what he meant — no one else will wear No. 34 as a Dodger,” says Langill.

Think of that as you see Steve Garvey’s No. 6 (even if it was to Joe Torre) or Mike Piazza’s No. 31 recently reissued.

“We need long-term heroes for our culture,” said Angeles. “This is a city founded by 44 Mexicans, and still today, we are treated like illegal immigrants. It’s a long history that we need to take ownership of.

“Fernando is the most American story you can find. We love the underdog. And with him, he represents how hard work and a Protestant ethic can achieve the American dream. He was very modest. He didn’t want to be in the limelight. But everyone has an emotional attachment to his story, and it still brings an emotional reaction. The people living in L.A. need that context.”

Manny Would. . .

So Manny has officially left the building, joining the All-Dodger outfield in Chicago with Juan Pierre & Andruw Jones. While some local media are wishing Manny good riddance, YKI has no animosity toward Manny Ramirez.

Dodger fans were the benefactors of the most exciting second half (season?) in recent Dodger history, on the back of Manny(wood) and his dreadlocks – consistently providing power & excitement that YKI doesn’t recall seeing at the Stadium. Of course the 2009 Fertility Drug fiasco put a damper on the ‘legacy’ of Ramirez, but he still put up good numbers in the games he played (.290/16/63), an effect that continued this year despite copious injuries. Was he worth $45mm? Probably – he put asses in the seats and balls into the Pavilion. And guess what? The Dodgers were the focus of the baseball word for reasons other than the heinous McCourt divorce for the greater part of his tenure.

Lastly, we know this was coming – we’re fortunate to have been part of the resurrection of Chavez Ravine, and there was a definitive expiration date on his viability. That was exceeded, and Colletti dumped the salary and furthered his reputation as the best damn penny pinching big market GM in the game. Good work, and good luck to Manny. Thanks for the Memories.

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Wild.

YKI is trying hard not to get excited about the potential for a Wild Card (Dodgers are 5.5 games back as of today). . .but thus is baseball, with hope springing eternal, the fat lady not quite singing yet and there still being a sliver of hope until you’re officially mathematically eliminated.
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Billingsley: Ace?

YKI was discussing the 2010 Laissez-faire Dodgers with The Count last night during Billingsley’s workmanlike shutout of the Giants. In this outlandishly lackluster season, the annual topic of Is Chad Billingsley an Ace Yet arose. . .and while it was pleasing to see the final result, Chad’s quotes after the game displayed yet again why his talent belies the fact that he really never can be a genuine Ace. The always reticient Bills, when asked if he changed anything mechanically, replied, “Same mentality.”

Nothing wrong with a consistent approach, but an Ace needs to have fire, an Ace needs to say something like “the bullpen is tired. I knew I was going to need to give seven, eight, or all nine. I wanted to compete and give these guys a night off. I haven’t been pitching like I should, and it’s time to step it up.”

As YKI has noted consistently, it’s the lack of a killer instinct that keeps Billingsley from really dominating hitters game after game after game. . .
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That said, maybe this is the game Chad needed to figure it out. Maybe this pitcher that relies so much on confidence has a performance he can recollect when he’s grinding in August. Maybe he’s going to rediscover the fact that his stuff makes him an Ace, and he needs the mentality to match.

Or maybe we’ll just keep having this conversation. . .

McCourts, Dodgers had 71-year old Russian Psychic on Payroll

Thank you Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times, excerpts from the article on the Dodgers (McCourt Ownership) hiring a 71-year old Russian psychic from Boston to HELP OBSERVE AND EVALUATE THE DODGERS AND OPPOSING TEAMS. WOW.

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Frank and Jamie McCourt quietly hired a Russian emigre who calls himself a scientist and healer to ‘think blue’ and channel his thoughts toward the team’s success as he watched them play on TV.

The most curious figure to emerge in the Dodgers’ drama answers the door with a kindly smile and a hearty handshake. He motions toward the living room, where his wife has put out a spread of chocolate and fruit, coffee and tea.

Vladimir Shpunt, 71, lived most of his life in Russia. He has three degrees in physics and a letter of reference from a Nobel Prize winner.

He knows next to nothing about baseball.

Yet the Dodgers hired him to, well, think blue.

Frank and Jamie McCourt paid him to help the team win by sending positive energy over great distances.

In the five years he worked for the Dodgers, he attended just one game. Instead, he watched them on television in his home more than 3,000 miles from Dodger Stadium, channeling his thoughts toward the team’s success.

Shpunt’s work was one of the best-kept secrets of the McCourt era. The couple kept it hidden even from the team’s top executives. But from e-mails and interviews, a picture emerges of how the emigre physicist tried to use his long-distance energy to give the Dodgers an edge.

Shpunt could not transform a bad team into a good one, Cohen said, but his energy could increase the chance of winning by 10% to 15%.

But Bert Fields, an attorney for Jamie, said the Dodgers paid Shpunt a stipend, plus a bonus of “certainly six figures and even higher” depending on whether the Dodgers won the National League West title and how far the team advanced in the playoffs.

On Sept. 26, 2008 — one day after the Dodgers clinched the National League West championship and their third playoff berth in five years of McCourt ownership — Frank was jubilant.

“Congratulations and thanks to you and vlad,” Frank e-mailed Cohen. “Also, pls pass along a special ‘thank you’ to vlad for all of his hard work…. This organization and this community will benefit a long time from our continued success. Thanks again.”

At one point, Shpunt also tried to heal a player. In 2005, Jamie referred outfielder Jayson Werth to him for treatment of a wrist injury, after Werth had told her of his interest in alternative medicine, according to Cohen and representatives for Frank and Jamie.

More recently, Werth appeared startled when asked whether he had worked with a healer named Vladimir while with the Dodgers.

“Where’d you hear about that?” Werth said. He declined to talk about it.

***

On Oct. 2, 2004, Steve Finley capped the first season of McCourt ownership by hitting a walk-off grand slam, clinching the Dodgers’ first playoff spot in eight years.

“The miracle finish … was the result of V energy,” Cohen wrote in an e-mail to Jamie. “Frank was privileged to actually feel the energy.”

Cohen also wrote that Shpunt had “diagnosed the disconnects” among Manager Jim Tracy, General Manager Paul DePodesta and the team’s pitchers and catchers.

“Your general manager destroyed last year’s team,” the e-mail read, “and put together a group of players that could not be a team and could not win.”

Cohen further conveyed Shpunt’s critical assessments of outfielders Milton Bradley and J.D. Drew and said Shpunt had identified Tracy as the “final reason for failure.”

Grossman said Shpunt had been “introduced to the Dodger organization as someone who had the ability to observe the team, observe opposing teams and provide evaluations of performance of areas and strength and weakness.”

McCourt fired DePodesta after the season, three weeks after publicly backing him when Tracy and the Dodgers parted ways. Grossman said Shpunt’s evaluations did not persuade McCourt to fire DePodesta or to cut ties with Tracy or any player.

The relationship between Shpunt and the Dodgers lasted through the ’08 season, after which Jamie asked him for help with matters separate from the team, Cohen said.

For the full story, please read Bill Shaikin at the L.A. Times.

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