Monday, August 20, 2007

Rats gone wild; HBO falls flat; Dodgers have a Little problem; Scioscia to move up

Now that my bet — that Mike Vick will shed his leash in time for the 2008 NFL season — looks shaky, let’s leave football alone.

Batter up.

Rats: Three weeks into this scummy revelation, and the Los Angeles Angels still have a stomach turner worse than their phantom power hitting. This nausea involves vermin.

Yes, rats are running around Angel Stadium faster than Chone Figgins. Particularly amid the snack bars. A yummy thought for fans in line for hot dogs.

How to deal with it? Turn it into a rallying cry. Kill the creatures and wag Rally Rats. Time to toss those kiddie Rally Monkeys and root on the home team with home cookin’.

You can see the stadium’s megascreen already: Angels losing in the eighth. Up pops the Rally Rat. No more pet show. This rodent is sure to take a bite out of the enemy’s lead.

Brooklyn bore: Finally saw “The Ghosts of Flatbush.” You know, the documentary fans are talking about. All two of them, since it’s on HBO.

The show focuses on the Dodgers’ flight from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. Oh, the tragedy. Right. A team in a rotting borough should have dodged the ticket to utopia: palm trees, beaches and multimillion attendance figures.

Brooklynites, wake up: OF COURSE the Dodgers made the right move westward. Los Angeles loves them — to the tune of 47,000 fans per game this year. And New York fans love their replacement — the Mets, drawing 46,000 a game.

The only people obsessed as much as HBO are old New York sportswriters. Message to them: It’s been half a century. Get over it.

This Dodger desertion creation is simply a fabrication.

Are St. Louis fans still ment over their Browns' move to Baltimore in 1954? Are Kansas Citians still bummed that their A's escaped to Oakland in ’68? No.

Somehow HBO missed those stories.

Little Trouble: The way the Dodgers are sinking, not to mention stinking, maybe L.A. should ship them back to Brooklyn after all.

When I caught their act in June, they messed up my Mets and looked like World Series champions waiting to happen. I predicted a reversal of 1916, with the Dodgers this time beating Boston.

Speaking of reversal, the Dodgers are headed for the depths of the National League West. The big reason is their hitting. Or missing. To cure that slump, the team brilliantly traded young power hitter Wilson Betemit to the Yankees. What did L.A. receive? A reliever it didn’t need.

I still see the Dodgers awakening in time to make the playoffs. If they don’t, goodbye Grady Little.

Scioscia To Soar: When Little leaves, the Dodgers will bring back the man they should have hired in 1999: Mike Scioscia. He’ll be available when his Angels don’t reach the World Series — Rally Rat or no.

Scioscia has been terrific since he landed in Anaheim in 2000. With him providing the fiber, the Angels are producing the finest era in team history.

Still, Scioscia stands for Dodgers. He caught for them from 1980 to 1992, helping them to two world titles. He coached their minor league catchers two seasons, then in 1998 and ’99 was their bench coach at Dodger Stadium — near where he lives today.

And like the Dodgers, the Angels don’t have the lumber to make it far enough. As popular as Scioscia is in Anaheim, fans will let him feel their frustration of failing to win the world title, which he did in 2002.

So get ready for Iron Mike moving his office up the highway and making the Dodgers win at once in 2008.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nixon's Grand Stage

For Richard Nixon fans, just-past Aug. 8 stands tall in our hero’s history.

On that night in 1968, he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Miami Beach with grandeur.

“We do not seek domination over any other country,” he said above the din. “We believe deeply in our ideas, but we believe they should travel on their own power and not on the power of our arms. We shall never be belligerent. But we shall be as firm in defending our system as they are in expanding theirs.”

On that date in 1974, he resigned the presidency with crystal-clear foresight.

“In the Middle East, 100 million people in the Arab countries, many of whom have considered us their enemy for nearly 20 years, now look on us as their friends,” he said from the White House. “We must continue to build on that friendship so that peace can settle at last over the Middle East and so that the cradle of civilization will not become its grave.”

The six years between those speeches gave us Nixon’s big-win presidency — so consistent with giants in the White House.

America keeps rising because we have always played for high stakes. Thomas Jefferson put serious chips on the Louisiana Purchase. Abe Lincoln bet hundreds of thousands of lives on preserving the Union. FDR gambled on D-Day. They all hit the jackpot.

Then there was the greatest card player to reach America’s highest office: Nixon. The man who cleaned up playing poker in the Pacific during World War II played for huge pots as president and collected.

Let’s count President Nixon’s winnings for America:

China. This was Nixon’s ace. He saw the world’s biggest population in darkness and drew open the curtain. Since his 1972 drama, the Chinese have been performing an economic boom on the world stage. Amid all that buying and selling of our goods, watch for another act that comforts America: China rejecting communism.

Vietnam. Nixon had a winning hand in January 1973. He ended America’s longest war. South Vietnam looked like it would stay free the way South Korea did. Only when Congress pressured the president to resign the next year and surrendered in Southeast Asia did that hand fold.

Air and water. Nixon started flushing the grime from America’s skies and rivers by opening the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

Voting age. Nixon shuffled the law to let 18-year-olds vote. His signature on the bill in 1970 lowered the age limit from 21 in federal elections. The next year the 26th Amendment to the Constitution made the age change for all elections.

Israel. Nixon proved to be a stud at what he called nut-cuttin’ time. He saw the Jews losing steam amid the Yom Kippur War in 1973, so he stepped on the gas. He shipped every aircraft in sight to Israel’s defense. It turned out to be a bigger airlift than the Berlin version of 1948-49 — and saved our ally in the desert.

Desegregation. Nixon faced a weak hand when the Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that schools had to bus children to achieve racial balance. He displayed bluff and brilliance, somehow steering the buses past livid parents and through a Southern Strategy that turned those states his way in the 1972 landslide.

Killing the draft. After China, this is Nixon’s lasting chip. He pledged in his 1968 campaign to end the draft, and he came through on July 1, 1973. Thus started the all-volunteer Army. With soldiers who want to fight for America and earn the good money that comes with service, the Nixon-born military has grown into the most muscular in history.

The moon. Nixon oversaw all six manned lunar landings from 1969 to ’72.

Think big. Act big. That was Nixon.

Take those moon landings. Each one came while America was in the heat of the Vietnam War. Did Nixon wring his hands as liberals did over dealing a lousy 4% of Social Security taxes into private accounts? No. The president stared at the cards he was dealt and raised the stakes.

“We must now ensure that the one-quarter of the world's people who live in the People's Republic of China will be and remain not our enemies but our friends,” Nixon said on his last night in the Oval Office.

Then he was out the door, with his ideals forever staying put.

Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Sport of It

Let others wallow in game fixing, dog killing, biker doping and bastard babies.

I prefer relaxing this summer to sportsmanship. It exists. Promise. Baseball’s Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken had it on display recently, tennis’ James Blake and Paul Goldstein the week before.

Let’s go to the tape:

Cooperstown. This all-American town in upstate New York houses the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now the museum is home to Gwynn and Ripken, two of the purest players in history.

Both played two decades for the same teams. Both battered the ball, Gold-Gloved it, shone as All-Stars, reached the World Series.

On Sunday, both inhaled fresh fan happiness. A stadium’s worth hit Cooperstown to celebrate the Gwynn-Ripken joy of sports and Hall induction.

Gwynn had an amazing career while playing the outfield from 1982 to 2001. He won eight batting titles. He hit .338 lifetime. He amassed 3,141 hits.

Those are the cold numbers. In warm San Diego, Tony Gwynn’s smile seemed to be part of his uniform while Mr. Padre helped the team to two pennants.

I discovered this native Southern Californian’s sunny demeanor while interviewing him at the 1984 World Series. He was coming off a .351 regular season and .368 blitz in the playoffs. The way he talked, he loved the game.

No wonder that 15 years later he won the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award for combining sportsmanship and community service with excellence on the field. Also in 1999, he drew the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for showing the character and leadership of that old Yankee first baseman on and off the field.

Speaking of Gehrig, Ripken broke his streak and stretched it to 2,632 straight games. The Iron Man did it all with the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he played from 1981 to 2001. Early came his championship moment, when he caught the last out of the World Series in 1983, the last time Baltimore won it.

Now the great shortstop tosses his attitude to kids. “We want them to learn how to play the game and learn sportsmanship,” Ripken told Philanthropy magazine.

The Babe Ruth League is so into that attitude, it named its loop for younger children the Cal Ripken Division. Now that’s a catch.

Ripken practiced that sportsmanship while swatting 3,184 hits and 431 homers. Take this from “Get in the Game,” his recent book:

“I can’t stand the hidden-ball trick. That runner on base trusts you to a point. But when you get him out like that, you embarrass him in front of everybody else. Then he’ll never trust you again about anything. And just like misleading a base runner during a key moment in a game, you can only do it once.”

No wonder that like Gwynn, Ripken won the Clemente and Gehrig awards for sportsmanship.

Los Angeles. At the pro tennis tourney at UCLA’s stadium, Blake and Goldstein played like pals.

That’s because they are, real e-mail buds. That didn’t mean they text-messaged in the match. They pounded the balls. They hustled for every shot. They challenged close calls.

And the packed fans went nuts — just like they were watching ornery, ref-ripping McEnroe and Connors.

Only Blake and Goldstein don’t wear gloom. They wear delight. When Blake was through winning the third set, he lauded the guy he calls a top friend. Goldstein answered by waiting throughout Blake’s on-court interview and walking off together.

In the pressroom, Goldstein bounced infant daughter Sadie on his lap. He laughed about his cool style of bouncing tennis balls between his legs before serves. He praised Blake for his gutsy comeback from a near paralyzing tennis accident three years ago.

Exit Stanford’s Goldstein. Enter Harvard’s Blake. He applauded his chum’s bounce-back on this night and giant effort with his slight body.

Did Blake ever lose confidence during the match? The top 10 player laughed: “Come on. I’m a pro athlete.”
No, he knows he’s good. So does Kevin Garnett. The NBA star watched and gave him an oral high five for the effort.

Said Blake: “That means so much to me.”

It also means sportsmanship.

You can visit Bucky Fox's website at