To be clear and fair, by “worst,” I mean the most disappointing, considering cities like Atlanta, Miami, Tampa and Charlotte have abysmal pro sports fans, and there are many places (New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, et al.) totally uninterested in collegiate sports. But what city currently has more disappointing sports teams, despite high payrolls and lofty expectations, than my erstwhile hometown?
The Lakers and Clippers boasted stacked rosters, huge hype and large egos when the NBA season began, yet both bowed out quickly in the first round of an NBA playoffs where more than half the league is granted entry.
On the diamond, the Dodgers and Angels were picked by many to meet in the 2012 World Series. The clubs had immense talent and made key additions (All-Stars like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Trout and C.J. Wilson, among others) yet neither qualified for the postseason.
Bolstered by two of the game’s largest payrolls in 2013, and the Angels signing baseball’s most-coveted free agent in December, the stage was set for an even better season in L.A., yet the Dodgers sit in last place — still behind the Padres — while the Angels, with the aging Hamilton and Pujols struggling, are well below .500. In fact, Los Angeles is fighting the lowly Astros — who recently swept four games in Anaheim – and the Mariners for the cellar, sitting well behind the Rangers and small-market Athletics, whose payroll is less than half that of the Angels.
Somehow, neither the Dodgers nor Angels seem interested in holding their managers responsible for underachieving. Perhaps this is because, despite the losing, baseball is so popular in Southern California that both sit near the top of MLB in attendance. (Or maybe “Puigsanity” is the last hope at Chavez Ravine?)
The Los Angeles Kings, who I’ve always claimed have roughly 75,000 passionate fans – most of whom attend their games — and the rest jumped on the bandwagon last spring, followed their Stanley Cup Championship season with a decent lockout-shortened campaign, yet were recently knocked out of the playoffs by Chicago.
There has not been professional football in the Southland for nearly two decades, mainly because the profligate city and state cannot fund a new facility in America’s second largest locale.
On the college front, USC Football was ranked No. 1 in the 2012 preseason, but had a disastrous year, becoming the first school in nearly 50 years to go from top ranked in August to unranked at season’s end.
UCLA Football finished with five losses last season, including a defeat in a meaningless bowl game. The Bruins have just four winning seasons the past decade.
Eighteen-loss USC Basketball has been a total failure since opening the Galen Center in 2006. The most recent terrible season resulted in the dismissal of their coach.
UCLA Basketball, after three consecutive Final Four appearances from 2006-08, has not made the Sweet 16 the past five seasons and missed the tournament outright twice during that span. The Bruins fired Coach Ben Howland after a first round exit in March.
USC Baseball, possibly the most dominant program in college baseball history, with 12 national championships — more than doubling the next school — has inexplicably missed the NCAA Tournament Field of 64 eight straight seasons. The Trojans are arguably not even one of the top 10 baseball schools in Southern California right now.
To add one more inferior team, Cal State Northridge Basketball, which technically plays in the enormous City of Los Angeles, fired long-time coach Bobby Braswell, after a team with high expectations, finished ninth out of 10 in the Big West conference. The Matadors have made March Madness just once the past 13 seasons.
That leaves UCLA Baseball to carry the city’s torch, and this is an ongoing success story. The Bruins, long living in the shadow of USC baseball, have made the NCAA Tournament eight of the past 10 years. More impressively, after two consecutive wins at No. 5 national seed Cal State Fullerton last weekend, UCLA advanced to the College World Series for the third time in the past four seasons.
Unfortunately, while I know two Bruins Baseball fans and personally love college baseball, like hockey, I confess it’s a niche sport.
Much as Indiana University Baseball’s remarkable achievements in 2013 don’t elicit interest from the same fans who obsess over every second of hoops each winter, there are probably fewer than 5,000 true UCLA baseball fans in America — so how much effect it has on the city is questionable.
California was deemed a “failed state” recently, and Los Angeles sports can claim similar dubious distinctions.