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In L.A. Sports, Only Best Will Do, and Most Often It Does

Say what you will about Los Angeles, in all the world of sport, this city has the very best:

--Left-handed pitcher. Fernando hasn’t missed a turn in the rotation since he pitched for the family team in Etchohuaquila. Great screwball. Tough as John Wayne in pressure situations. Fun guy to have around. He even speaks English now. What more could you ask?

--Basketball arena. The Forum is almost 20 years old and it’s still as Fabulous as the day Jack Kent Cooke opened the doors. The seating is comfortable, and now, with the new no-smoking rule, you can even see the game, and live to tell about it.

--Quarterback controversy. Every football team has a quarterback controversy, but the Rams’ quarterback controversy is the oldest and the best. It is backed by pride and tradition and a kind of cosmic sense of humor. By the way, is Vince Ferragamo a free agent this year?

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--Car race. The Long Beach Grand Prix is a good--no, a grand-- driving show. It’s a wild, crazy idea that worked. Technically, the city of Long Beach isn’t Los Angeles, but the race still goes on this list because it meets an important criterion--you can hear it from Los Angeles.

--Running back. If the Rams ever get a quarterback, this kid Eric Dickerson might run for 4,000 yards. But they probably won’t, so he’ll have to settle for 2,000-yard seasons.

--Football player. Who does more for his team than Marcus Allen?

--Baseball park. Maybe Dodger Stadium is actually only the third best in all the world, behind Wrigley and Fenway, but you could work up a good debate on the subject. Interested, Ted Koppel?

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In baseball, you want an aesthetically pleasing setting, and the Dodgers give you that. For opening day Monday, the outfield fences were freshly painted, the grandstand floors were polished like diamonds and all the trees and shrubs on the grounds were trimmed with surgical precision.

Real grass, real bleachers, real scenery. So what if the fans are plastic? Just kidding, fans.

--Announcers. Vinnie and Chickie are classics. Don’t take them for granted. Listen to them and appreciate them now. They’ll only be around for another 20, 30 years.

--Basketball center. Kareem doesn’t rebound, and he’s going bald, and he’s almost as old as Chick Hearn, but check out that skyhook. And you just know that, for at least one more set of playoffs, the old-timer can suck it up and outplay any of the kids they throw at him.

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--Football owner. No, not you, Georgia, although hiring John Robinson was a stroke of genius. Who else but Al Davis could serve as owner, general manager, assistant coach and creator and defender of the team mystique? And win Super Bowls, and still have time left over to lift weights and beat the NFL out of a billion dollars?

--Horse race track. No horse race setting is prettier than Santa Anita, or so the experts tell me. Great horses, great jocks, great mountains. In more ways than one, you can’t beat this track.

--Wrestling arena. Unfortunately, the sport has outgrown the Olympic Auditorium.

--Center fielder. Nobody chases the ball and catches it with more style and flair than Gary Pettis. The Angels don’t play in L.A., technically speaking, but they’re close enough, and they don’t really have a city, only a state. Official ruling: Pettis belongs to greater Los Angeles.

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--Ballgame seats. The tiny section of dugout box seats at Dodger Stadium is the Rodeo Drive of ballpark seats. I don’t know what they cost, but it doesn’t matter because I have a hunch you can’t buy them. Those folks even have their own little exclusive concession stand. How snooty can you get?

--Olympic Games. We only do it about every 50 years, but there’s no argument: Los Angeles throws the best Olympics.

--Hard loser. He hasn’t tossed spareribs and barbecue sauce on the players’ street clothes in years, but nobody goes into a postgame funk better than Gene Mauch. On opening night, he was already slamming the door on reporters. You never have to wonder if Gene Mauch really cares.

--Dancing girls. Seriously, even though they sometimes try too hard to appeal to the prurient interests of some fans, the Laker Girls really can dance.

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--Backup basketball center. Wilt Chamberlain could give some NBA team a great 15 minutes a game. Unfortunately, even though he’s only 49 years old, Wilt Chamberlain refuses to come out and play.

--Peanut man. Roger the Dodger peanut vendor may not throw the bomb as often as he did in his youth, but Roger can still chuck that bag. If Magic Johnson sold peanuts, he would study Roger’s technique.


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