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.

Henry Bibby Remembers “His Father”

Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man given. Be grateful. Conceit is self given. Be careful. John Robert Wooden (1910-2010)

John Robert Wooden was a man who came from humble beginnings never forgetting, in his 99 years on this Earth, where he came from.

Wooden was taught humility by his father, Joshua, who he called the wisest man he’s ever known. In turn, he passed his father’s wisdom on to the two children he and his beloved wife and true love, Nell, had together.

That wisdom was passed down to seven grand-children and 13 great grand-children.

But, it didn’t stop there.

Wooden passed what his father taught him down to the hundreds of student-athletes he coached from Dayton High School in Kentucky, to South Bend Central High School in Indiana, to Indiana State University, to UCLA.

How fortunate they all are.

Friend. Caring. Honest. Grateful. The most humble person you‘ll ever know. Father figure. The best coach.

That’s how former UCLA point guard Henry Bibby described Wooden just a few hours before the legendary Bruins coach passed away from natural causes. Wooden had been at Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA in grave condition for 10 days.

I saw him last weekend. Bibby said. He said to me, ‘Henry, I love you.’ I told him, I love you too, coach.

From 1970 to 1972, Bibby honed basketball skills Wooden taught as the starting point guard for three of UCLA’s 10 National Championship teams under Wooden.

Coach was always so humble. With all our success, he never took the credit. For him it was all about the players who were part of the team.

And like all of Coach Wooden’s players, he learned more than basketball skills, Bibby learned life skills.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re honest with others. Treat people the same and live by your word.

A native of North Carolina, Bibby was being recruited by Norm Sloan at North Carolina State and UCLA. Wooden paid him a recruiting visit along with Kenny Washington, a guard on the Bruins first two National Champions under Coach Wooden.

Of course, the rest is Bruins history and the beginning of an incredible relationship for Bibby.

From learning the proper way of putting on socks and lacing sneakers to avoid blisters, to absorbing philosophies like failing to prepare is preparing to fail or be quick, but don’t hurry to learning a Pyramid of Success for life on and off the court, Bibby learned well.

He educated me and continued to be ’my father’ throughout my entire career.

Bibby went on to have a successful nine-year career in the NBA playing for four different teams including winning a World Championship in his rookie season with the New York Knickerbockers.*

All the while, almost daily conversations with Coach Wooden for advice.

After his playing days were over, Bibby began a successful head coaching career in the Continental Basketball Association culminating with nine years at the University of Southern California, UCLA’s arch and cross-town rival. Bibby led the Trojans to three tournament appearances including an Elite Eight appearance in 2001.

All the while, almost daily conversations with Coach Wooden for advice.

Upon his hiring by USC in 1996, Bibby recalled a conversation he had with Coach Wooden.

I told him I’d have a limo pick him up at his house and drive him to and from the Sports Arena if he would come to some games. He laughed and said, ‘Henry, You WON’T get me to a USC game.’

Bibby’s coached the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks and has been an assistant coach for a number of NBA teams including his current position with Lionel Hollins and the Memphis Grizzlies.

All the while, almost daily conversations with Coach Wooden for advice.

Often sharing the lessons Coach Wooden taught him as a teenager way back in the 70s to players he’s coached through the years, Bibby said simply,

I owe my entire career to coach Wooden. I’m so grateful to have him in my life. He‘ll always be with me.

Coach Wooden will be with all of us, always. For proof, seek out his players or read the words of a current UCLA student whose parents probably never saw Wooden coach.

Wooden was a coach to all of us. He just used basketball as his vehicle to teach us.

*Bibby’s one of only four players to win an NCAA Title and NBA Title in back-to-back years. The other three are Bill Russell, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Billy Thompson.

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