This is an awful time to be a Los Angeles-area sports fan. It has been mostly dreary since I left the region to live and work in Abu Dhabi, in 2009, but it seems to be bottoming out, the past four or five months.
Aside from hockey, which has no significant hold on Southern California sports fans, things are dire. Very dire.
Let’s run down the list.
1. Lakers and Clippers. It can be argued that Los Angeles is now a basketball town. The exit of the NFL, the quarter century since the Dodgers won a World Series, the ties between hoops and Hollywood … So, where are we? The Clippers won a record 56 games during the regular season, then melted down in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers, the team that matters, had a particularly difficult season, one that ended with Kobe Bryant in a cast over his repaired Achilles tendon, and the team in tatters, swept by San Antonio. The future is not bright for the Lakers, even if Bryant makes it back, as I have predicted … because of their salary-cap issues. The Clippers? Until they do something in the playoffs, they are still the Clippers, and all the burden of failure that comes with it.
2. The Dodgers. The team that can sell 3 million tickets despite itself. A loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks last night (another fine outing by Clayton Kershaw, wasted) was their seventh straight defeat, leading them at 13-20 and in last place in the National League West. Remember, this is the team spending $220 million or more on salaries this year. The only thing worse than a bad team is a shockingly overpaid bad team, and that is what the new Dodgers ownership has now. The departure of the evil Frank McCourt was a great thing, but the new guys have proven nothing other than that they can blow enormous sums of cash on guys who can’t play. (They also have neglected to find a competent/healthy shortstop or third baseman for two years running.)
3. The Angels. A team in full meltdown. Paying stupid money (not quite insane money, like the Dodgers) for a bad team. They are 11-22, one of the worst teams in baseball, and would be last in the American League West if not for the Astros, who have beaten them the past two nights. Signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract will soon be seen to be a mistake of Todd Helton-ion proportions (he’s been useless most of his 10-year deal), and the pitching staff has melted down. Mike Scioscia probably will be ditched any minute now, and it’s hard to make a case for him staying on. The typically overachieving teams from the early years of his tenure have not been seen for a while now. The current club is sort of the flip side of the 2002 World Series team, resourceful and mentally tough. These guys may not be quite as brutal to watch as the Dodgers (see: Mike Trout), but it has to be close.
5. USC. Pete Carroll, come home! All is forgiven! The all-conquering and more than a little dirty Trojans of Pete’s era have been overrun by the Oregon Ducks, and Stanford, for about four years now. Yes. Oregon and Stanford. USC started the 2012 season ranked No. 1 in the country last fall and finished 7-6, a disaster for those who expected USC to return to elite status.
6. UCLA basketball. The Bruins are to college hoops what USC is to college football. Or, at least, they used to be. Since the three consecutive Final Four appearances, in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the Bruins have lost at least nine games five consecutive seasons, including 10 last year (with a team thought to be competent) and the shocking 18 of 2009-10. Once upon a time, Ben Howland was seen as a great coach with modest talent (which lost its currency when so many guys off those Final Four teams had fine NBA careers), and then he came to be seen as a guy who couldn’t recruit and/or couldn’t coach the handful of good recruits he landed. Steve Alford now in charge, and good luck with that.
Those are the Big Six sports entities in the Los Angeles market. It helps, a little, that the Galaxy has won consecutive Major League Soccer championships, and that the Kings won the Stanley Cup last year, and that both they and the Ducks are pretty good right this minute … but L.A. is not Detroit or Toronto. Hockey success does not make up for baseball and basketball failure.
I’m not sorry to be missing this on a daily, up-close-and-on-TV basis.My condolences, to all of you trapped in that sinecure of losing. Like Cleveland, with nicer weather.