Tuesday, June 17, 2014

That Strange Dodger Vacuum


       The Dodgers continue to play in this strange vacuum---leading the major leagues in attendance while 70% of Southern California homes fail to get their games on television.

        It's now long past a point where people I talk to about the TV blackout care any more--and if they do it's only from the standpoint of fearing they might be missing Vin Scully's last or next to last season in the booth.

        There has certainly been plenty more to talk about and care about: Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Kings, and now World Cup Soccer at a time when the NHL and NBA seasons are over and the Dodgers should be on Page 1 of the sports sections instead of Page 4 or 5 ignominy.

         I'm not saying the Dodgers have completely disappeared, out of sight and out of mind. In the wake of their 2013 playoff return they sold a club record number of season tickets, and the sale of single game tickets    is still relatively brisk. They have a world record payroll, and the internal friction that was inevitable while attempting to rotate four top dollar, ego oriented outfielders keeps restoring the club to a degree of morning conversation amid TV deprived fans as Don Mattingly talks about the need to pull on the same end of a frayed rope.

          What I AM saying, however, is that the lingering blackout keeps driving people away, and it is impossible to believe that smart guys like Mark Walter, Todd Boehly and Stan Kasten didn't foresee the possibility of this when they created their own channel and sold multi-decade rights to Time-Warner for $8.35 billion. I mean, business is business, and the cable giant was going to try and start recouping that investment as soon as it could, the reported result being the demand that the other carriers would have to pay $5 per subscriber to buy the Dodger channel and that there would be no pay as you watch plan.

            At a time when all subscribers have seen their monthly bills escalate (for a host of channel packages that are never watched), DirectTV and the other large carriers have simply balked at accepting the Time-Warner demand. Thus, only about 30% of a sprawling market is getting Dodger telecasts, and there seems to be no indication of a compromise by Time-Warner and, worse, no ongoing public statements by the club's brass that they are sorry about all of this and offering some sort of plan to get it resolved.

            Also among the missing has been Bud Selig. The Commissioner's power may be limited as far as direct involvement, but he should be continually outfront in support of the fan base in the nation's No. 2 media market, insisting this needs to be resolved and resolved quickly---although the Dodgers and Time-Warner are long past the point of quickly and Selig is long past the point of making a supportive statement.

            So, on a lovely Tuesday morning in the vast Los Angeles market, most fans are likely sad over the death at 54 of Tony Gwynn, worried about the hamstring injury of U.S. striker Jozy Altidore and arguing in the aftermath of the Kings victory parade what the Stanley Cup champions should do about their key free agents.

            The Dodgers? Did anyone see last night's game? Anyone?    



Monday, June 16, 2014

Remembering a Singular Hitter and Personality

                   By ROSS NEWHAN

                   Every time I gaze at a major league infield I see the 5.5 hole that Tony Gwynn patent.

                   Every time I think back to the cramped San Diego clubhouse at Qualcomm Stadium I see Gwynn at his corner locker in non-stop conversation with one reporter or, perhaps, twenty reporters. The number didn't matter nor the subject.

                    Throw out a question and Gwynn took it and ran--as much a singular personality as he was a singular hitter.

                     As much San Diego as Derek Jeter is New York.

                      His parents talked loyalty and Gwynn listened---20 years with the Padres when, on more than    one occasion, he could have left and earned more.

                       As a baseball writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times I watched Gwynn from the press box, visited him in the clubhouse, during all of those 20 years and never tired of his inventiveness from the batter's box, his joy talking about it.

                      I am not now at the keyboard to break news. Tony Gwynn died Monday at 54.
                     His weakening condition from the cancer was well known. Yet, there is no way to prepare.

                     Gwynn dead at 54? Bob Welch at 57?

                     How fortunate I feel to have covered them both, known them both. The one, Welch, a laconic pro. The other, Gwynn, more gregarious, sometimes annoying a teammate or two with that non-stop talking or the sense that there were more runs to be batted in if he was willing to yield in his approach..

                     My son, David, was a teammate, sharing a lineup card on occasion in his first season in the big leagues.

                     "I wouldn't say he took me under his wing," David said after hearing of Gwynn's death, "but he treated me fine, and it was definitely an experience watching him hit.

                     "My biggest memory is watching him go seven for eight one day in St. Louis and seeing those great fans there give him a standing ovation. I mean, it was more than 5.5. It was foul line to foul line. Pretty remarkable."

                     Gwynn had 3,141 hits, a career average of .338.

                     If his body wasn't that of a svelte athlete, he stole 319 bases, won five Gold Gloves, and he helped pioneer the use of video---but only watching his positive performances and never the negative.

                    Of course, how many negatives are there in any Hall of Fame career?

                    And how does anyone compare hitters over more than a hundred years of the sport?

                    I only know what I saw, and Gwynn belonged among the best--and not strictly in the style of a Boggs or Ichiro.

                   I will miss him, have missed him, both on and off the field.