Manny, Manny Thanks…..Manny!

I’m really not one to criticize any professional athlete about his/her on-field work because there’s no way in “H-E-Double Hockey Sticks” I can come close to doing what they do. I’m a sportscaster because I wish I could only do what they do. I found that I can talk about what they do better than my attempting to duplicate what they do. Plus, trying to duplicate what they do requires too much exercise. You “feel me?”

Brings me to Manny Ramirez. Waived by the Dodgers earlier this week, and claimed by the Chicago White Sox, many Dodger fans were glad to see him leave. Sure, he wasn’t able to help the Dodgers get to a World Series. He did help the young core of Dodgers learn how to win at the major league level. I’m talking about guys like Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Andre Ethier. The latter becoming a feared hitter among National League pitchers.

In his two years with the Dodgers, Ramirez brought some excitement back to Chavez Ravine. Since Rupert Murdoch bought the franchise from the O’Malley family in the early 1990s, let’s face it, if you wanted to find a nice place to take a nap in L.A., Dodger Stadium was the choice.

Manny’s first game with Los Angeles was against the Arizona Diamondbacks the first day of August in 2008. It helped that it was Dodger Cooler Night with all fans getting one. But you could feel the electricity in the air for the first time in quite a Dodger Blue while.

Come on. “MannyWood” in left field. Dreadlock “Manny Wigs” becoming the hottest item for every L.A. kid at the stadium. His presence and what it did for Dodgers baseball can’t be denied.

He played 53 games for Los Angeles after his trade from the Boston Red Sox that Summer of ’08 becoming the most popular athlete to wear number 99 in L.A. since Wayne Gretzky came to the Kings in the 80s.

Check out Manny’s numbers in those 53 games because Manny put the Blue Crew on his back and led them to the N.L. Western Division Title. Manny’s line read 74 hits in 187 at-bats. He tagged 17 homeruns, scored 36 runs, had 53 rbi with a .396 batting average. With those numbers and his leading the Dodgers to the Western Division Title, he was third in the N.L. Most Valuable Player award voting. Those 53 games cost the McCourts $7 million. A good investment.

Rewarded with a two-year, $45 million contract, Manny helped take the Dodgers to a second consecutive Division Crown. During the run is when the wheels began to fall off the wagon. Last season, Manny was suspended 50 games for taking female hormones that, somehow, count as performance enhancing drugs.

Who knew Manny was trying to become a mom!

Anyway, it was never the same after that but the excitement was still there. Let’s remember. Since the Dodgers World Series win over Oakland in 1988, Los Angeles won just ONE playoff game in those 19 years and nine months prior to Manny’s acquisition. Manny was with the Dodgers 760 days. During that time, Los Angeles won eight playoff games getting to the League Championship Series twice.

So here’s where I’m going with this. I want to thank Manny for the shot of adrenaline he gave Los Angeles Dodgers baseball. I could’ve lived without that shot of female hormones but that’s another story. Ramirez made it fun to go to the ballpark again. After all, it’s entertainment and I, along with all those Dodger fans who went to the stadium from August 2008 until this past week, were certainly entertained.

If you still doubt what Manny’s impact is on a team, the White Sox are buying the left-over “Manny Dreadlock Wigs” the Dodgers have in stock because Chicago doesn’t have much time to produce them for the stretch run.

Have fun in the Windy City, Manny. Now, if only you could’ve taken the McCourts with you as well.

That’s another story.

(photographs by Eric Geller)

RIP George Steinbrenner.

"The Boss"

Last week’s passing of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner the morning of the All-Star Game, at 80 of a massive heart attack, marked the end of an era.

Being a Los Angeles Dodgers fan as a kid, I viewed Steinbrenner like the Darth Vader of major league baseball, especially in 1977 and 1978, when my Dodgers were beaten in both World Series’ by his Yankees. I did get a measure of revenge when my Dodgers/Jedi’s returned beating the “evil empire” in the 1981 series. But ‘77 and ’78 will always hurt.

I’ve got to give it to “The Boss.” He was a winner, demanded excellence and was a good guy off the diamond donating so much to so many. You’ve, also, got to love a guy who worked comedy in Miller Lite Commercials (see above video), Saturday Night Live and loved his depiction in Seinfeld.

Although Steinbrenner paid plenty for his teams prompting owners and fans of other teams to cry “monopoly“, he was quite influential in the business of baseball and every pro sport today.

When the Dodgers sold this season’s three-game inter-league series against the Yankees separately, to profit from the rivalry and the Yankee/Steinbrenner brand, from the rest of their home ticket packages, was proof you can’t deny what Steinbrenner meant to the business of baseball in every major league city.

That’s really all I can come up with when it comes to “The Boss.“

My very good friend and trans-planted New Yorker, Stan Schneider, was quite eloquent in a note after I posted “RIP George Steinbrenner” on my Facebook page. Thought I’d share that note with you:

The best owner in baseball is gone.

For all his faults, he was one of the most soft hearted and generous of people, often to a fault. He believed in loyalty and lots of second chances (See: Steve Howe). Even if he fired you he was never mad at you (See: Billy Martin, Bob Lemon, Dick Howser, Joe Torre, Lou Piniella) and the doors were always open … See More waiting for you to come back.

He bought the Yankees when CBS ran them aground after Topping & Webb left the ship foundering and brought them back to glory.  In the 80s he lost his sense of direction with the club, but regained it and started rebuilding it from within with Mariano, Andy, Bernie, Jorge, and Derek.

He created the first all baseball network (YES) and partnered with the Jets and Nets to form a huge sports media corporation.

Some say he spent his money foolishly and sometimes he did. But more often than not, there were wise moves that paid off in championships. He was quick to cut his losses and move on to improve the club year after year.

Those who hate the Yankees are merely jealous and envious of their success and only wish their owners and teams were like that.

I’ve been a Yankee fan for as long as I can remember because I like the feeling of winning. They played the game smarter and better than anyone else. I’ve seen Joltin’ Joe, Henrich, Keller, The Super-Chief, Scooter, Flash, Yogi, Whitey, Mick, Maris, Moose, Catfish, Graig, Reggie, Goose, Donny Baseball, Winnie, A-Rod, Mariano and Derek and believe me when I say no team, no where has had as many great players and great seasons as the Yankees. With the exception of Scully, no team has had better broadcasters than Mel, Red, and now Michael Kay.

No team has the history, the lore and the tradition. Steinbrenner, to his credit, understood all of it, faced his detractors and critics and produced in his final complete season, what he always strove for, a championship.

So long, Boss. Thanks for everything.

Thanks Stan.

"The Voice of God"

Just two days prior to Steinbrenner’s passing, Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard, known as the “Voice of God“, who was at the Stadium mic for more than half a century, died just a few months short of his 100th birthday.

His voice was truly something to experience.  Watching any Yankees game, especially if they were playing your team, Sheppard’s voice in the background introducing the players, most of the time spelled doom for you.

Like Steinbrenner, Sheppard will be missed by the baseball world as well.

Thanks Bob.

NCAA Men’s Hoops Final: A Celebration of “Hoosiers”

Truly a classic men’s college championship basketball game in Indianapolis Monday night with top-seed Duke hanging on to beat five-seed Butler, 61-59. Came down to the final second as Butler’s Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave for the win bounced off the rim. Oh, so close!

Ratings for this Final Four, and the entire tournament in general, were the highest in five years easily topping last year’s Final Four which saw North Carolina beat Michigan State in Detroit for the championship. Why? Plenty of upsets by underdogs over favorites like Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse making the tournament wide open.

According to the blog Sports Media Watch, Monday’s game was up 31% in ratings and 36% in viewership (24 million to last year’s 18 million)from last year. SMW goes on to say Butler/Duke drew a higher rating than every Major League Baseball game since ‘04 and every NBA game since ‘02. Excluding the NFL and the Olympics mind you, the game ranks as the third-most viewed sports telecast of 2010, behind only the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Texas and the Rose Bowl game between Ohio State and Oregon.

The game interest obviously had plenty to do with Mid-Major Butler. Certainly not a Cinderella when you consider entering the title game, the Horizon League Champion Bulldogs were riding a 25-game winning streak and had resided in the national top 25 for most of the year. Butler was certainly the underdog against mighty ACC Champion Duke and justifiably so considering the tradition of Blue Devils Basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

What the ratings and viewership numbers for this game tell me is, to be cliché, America always roots for the underdog. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It helps that Butler’s campus is less than eight miles away from this year’s Final Four site, Lucas Oil Stadium. You can’t script this but, also, the Bulldogs home-gym is Hinkle Fieldhouse, the gym where the state high school championship game in the move “Hoosiers” was filmed. OH, COME ON! How fun is that!

So, for the life of me, I don’t understand why some sports radio hosts believed if Butler were to win the national championship, it would set the game back 50 years and that having a mid-major like Butler just playing in the title game would sound the death knell for CBS and its ratings.

I take it back. I know why these guys would publicize this. For exactly that. Publicity. So, here you go guys.

ESPN radio’s Colin Cowherd, host of the show The Herd, and, also, co-host of ESPN TV’s Sports Nation, said Butler winning the national title was bad for men’s college basketball and would set it back 50 years.

Meanwhile, FOX Sports Radio host and FOX Sports Nets Rumors Reporter, Ben Maller, said if Butler made it to the title game, ratings would be at an all time low for CBS. Now, I’m not bashing Big Ben because he’s my boy. We both have worked together on radio and TV and we’re pals. But, COME ON, BEN! Turns out my buddy was, obviously, wrong.

For Cowherd, it’s inconceivable to believe Butler winning the national title would be bad for college basketball. Of course, the Bulldogs came up just short in their quest. But, they proved they belonged with the big boys extending Duke to the final second.

For Cowherd to say Butler winning the national title would be bad for college basketball is similar to saying Texas-Western beating Kentucky for the 1966 national Championship with TW coach Don Haskins starting five African-American players, for the first time in the history of the game, against Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats was bad for the game. Haskins’ starting those five African-American players was exactly what the game needed at that particular time in our history.

Butler’s performance the other night against Duke is exactly what the game needed at this particular time in the sports history. It says those mid-major programs belong with the so-called “Big Six” programs. That alone peaks the interest of the vast majority of American Society who want to see the underdog have his day against the big boy.

Hence the big television numbers, Big Ben!

Congratulations to the Butler Bulldogs for showing the mid-majors belong and playing a terrific game. Much congratulations to Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils for another national title and playing a terrific game. Thanks to both schools for putting on a tremendous show for us to enjoy.

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