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Sports Update: Padres, Chargers Off-Season, World Cup


Are the Padres a legit World Series contender in the National League? Will the Chargers' off-season issues carry over into the regular season? And, what has America learned from the 2010 World Cup? We speak to local sports talk show host Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. It's beginning to look like the San Diego Padres are actually winners. The team is in first place in the National League West, despite a stumble yesterday at Petco against the Rockies. We'll talk about which players are All-Star material, and about whether the Padres have what it takes to take them to October. But the Chargers face some salary standoffs, and the U.S. World Cup team comes home beaten but not defeated. Here to give us an update on sports is my guest, Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton, sports talk show host on XX-1090, and a sports columnist for Lee, welcome.

LEE “HACKSAW” HAMILTON (Sports Talk Show Host): Good morning. How are you, Maureen?

CAVANAUGH: I’m doing fine. Thank you so much. Well, these Padres, as you said in one of your columns, look for real, Hacksaw. Many people were skeptical of the Padres’ chances this year. What surprised you about this team?

HAMILTON: Their ability to get the kind of play on a day-to-day basis. They are just grinding. There’s not a lot of all-stars in this every day batting order. But they manufacture runs, they play great defense, they’re tremendously aggressive, and they’re really getting very, very good pitching. I had projected on opening day when they came out of the Cactus League, I thought they might go 81 and 81 and finish third, which would be an accomplishment compared to where they’ve been recent years. But if you had told me opening day they would lose their number one starting pitcher, they would not have one of their young sluggers for much of the year with injuries, they’d lose their shortstop a couple of times with injuries, if you’d told me that opening day, I don’t think I could’ve projected 81 and 81. Instead, you know, they’re on a track to win 85 games right now. Now the big question, you know, do they have enough offense, and most people are of the opinion they don’t.


HAMILTON: I think the other big question, do they need to make a deal to get either another bat or another arm? Of course, there’s still half a schedule to be played once we get beyond the All-Star break, and I think the answer to that question is, yes, they do have to make a deal. But I’m pleased, I’m surprised. A little bit disappointed in the community, which is not supporting the team right now.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Because despite this early success, attendance remains low at Petco. Where are the Padres fans?

HAMILTON: Well, I’ve kind of asked that question in a lot of different forms on our sports talk show on Double X and I get a whole myriad of responses. And some say, obviously, Lee, this is the by product of a really bad economy, and I agree. Some say, though, that the ticket prices are just way too high but the flip side of that is ownership has cut parking prices, food prices, sports merchandising prices. They’re offering kind of unique ticket deals on discounts, significant discounts if you buy off their website. So, I mean, I think they’ve – aside from the fact they can’t give the tickets away free, I think they’ve really tried to have been proactive there. And one of the really strange things that’s happened and this has only happened in the last four weeks on our talk show, I’m getting more and more phone calls from fans of the opinion stadium location is the reason why attendance is down. It is such a hassle to get to…


HAMILTON: …Petco Park from the north county. There’s a lot of population up in the north county, that it’s such a hassle in drive time to get downtown to Petco as compared to the old Qualcomm site that that may have an indirect reason, too.

CAVANAUGH: That might have implications for the future as well. Well, you know, a lot of people are asking about how the Padres can keep winning with this team batting average hovering around .240.

HAMILTON: Well, I don’t know that they can because if you look over their shoulder, you still got the Dodgers who have lots of bats even though they don’t have pitching. You’ve got a very good Giants pitching staff with some hitters. And you’ve got a Colorado team that’s been chewed up by injuries but, you know, they still have half a season to play and they’re getting their injured guys back. So, I mean, this is a dogfight. The Padres may have a four-plus game lead right now…


HAMILTON: …but four games can evaporate within a week’s time. I really believe that they need to be proactive and go make a trade to try to get a bat. They’ve got some bargaining chips. They are very deep in the bullpen and relief pitching. I think you can go to one of these pennant contenders and get a bat and trade a relief pitcher. Now, it’s not going to be a $10 million player, it’s not going to be a superstar, but if you can get a role player that fits the way they play in the dimensions of Petco Park, a guy that hits .275, .280 and he’s on the bases all the time and can run and catch balls, I think they have to make a deal.

CAVANAUGH: So basically you think it’s up to the front office now.

HAMILTON: I think it’s up to Jeff Moorad and, you know, one of the other rational reasons as to why I think people have stayed away is not just the economy or stadium location or just prices, I think there’s a lingering bad feeling about the waning days of the ownership of John Moores and whether or not the new owner, Jeff Moorad, really has the resources to do this, to have more than a $38 million payroll. They have the second lowest payroll in all of major league baseball and yet they’re still in first place. But like I say, it’s a 162 game schedule. So this is going to be interesting to see what happens in the next three weeks because the trading deadline is July 31st.

CAVANAUGH: What, overall, I know that you foresee pretty good things for the Padres, you know, keeping your fingers crossed, what do you think the team’s chances are of holding onto first and winning the National League West this season?

HAMILTON: Well, injuries change the chemistry of your team so quickly. I mean, if the Dodgers lose their frontline pitcher, if something suddenly happens to one of San Francisco’s aces, your season can be turned upside down. You know, conversely, if, you know, the Padres have to stay healthy. They can ill afford anything to happen to their slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. I think that the thing that enthralls me is this team, across the board, has not hit yet. And these guys have hit in the past, the Tony Gwynn Juniors and the Scott Hairstons, the Will Venables. I’m just curious to see how good they can be if some of these other guys who are all hitting in the .230s start to hit and they continue to get the very good pitching.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s move on to the drama that’s happening for the Chargers this off season. What can you tell us about the contract situation for wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill? I hear there’s a chance both players might sit out until sometime in November?

HAMILTON: Well, it’s a very complicated puzzle. I’ll try to simplify it…


HAMILTON: …for the KPBS listeners.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you.

HAMILTON: The collective bargaining agreement has expired. Under the old deal with the players union, if you played four years in the league you could be an unrestricted free agent after the fourth year. And if you were a star, you’d get a multi-year deal and you’d get a big signing bonus. Well, the union agreement expired and as part of the expiration, during this dead period, all players who were in their fourth or fifth year, could not become free agents. Their rights were kicked back to the club. And as the rights for Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson were kicked back to San Diego and they did not go on the open market, San Diego then could either sign them to a multi-year contract with a big signing bonus or just tender them a one-year offer with a specific dollar value and no signing bonus. Well, the Chargers elected to do that, they did not elect to give them multi-year contracts. The players have refused to sign a one-year deal. The feeling amongst Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson is we are stars, we are Pro Bowl players, we have proven ourselves, we deserve multi-year contracts with a signing bonus. And that’s what the NFL is all about…


HAMILTON: …is the signing bonus money because that protects the player. If you go out and get hurt on opening day and you’re done for the year, you have no leverage down road. And all stars get significant amounts of money once they prove themselves in the league, and the Chargers have taken the stance we don’t have to do this, we’re not going to do it. Now the players have retaliated. The players have said we’re not coming to camp. The players legally, under the current deal, can hold out for 10 weeks. They don’t have to be here until week 11, and they would then get service time towards free agency if they came in in week 11. But if they hold out for 10 weeks without your star left tackle, without your relief wide receiver, the Chargers’ offense is a pedestrian football team all of a sudden and I think it’d be catastrophic to the team.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I know we’re going to be talking about the Chargers a lot more as the year progresses, so let me go to the World Cup for a couple of closing questions, Lee. What would you say about the U.S. national soccer team?

HAMILTON: I was very positive. Even though it’s disappointing and they’re on their way home right now from South Africa, I’m very positive. I mean, this is not our sport. I mean…


HAMILTON: …futbol, soccer is South America’s sport. It’s Europe’s sport. And for Team USA to get into the second round, the knockout round and almost win the game, I think speaks volumes about the growth of American soccer. Is it disappointing they did not win against Ghana? Yeah, it really is. Might there be a coaching change? There might because that’s historically the way soccer works. If you don’t do well in the world tournament, you normally lose your job. But Bob Bradley’s done a pretty good job developing young players and they just need to continue to grow their young players. I think the fascinating aspect to all this is the TV viewership. San Diego leads the nation in watching World Cup games.

CAVANAUGH: That’s amazing.

HAMILTON: The highest Nielsen TV ratings in the country, that includes New York, LA, etcetera. So, I mean, it’s really spectacular what has happened here, and I think it was just a feel good situation to see them come from behind three different times to win in their group and then get to go on and almost come from behind and beat Ghana in the knockout games.

CAVANAUGH: Now, part of that huge viewership in San Diego had to do with the Mexican team, El Tri. What were your thoughts on their performance in the tournament?

HAMILTON: Oh, they’re growing. Now they should be a global power. They have not been a global power recently, but they hired a coach by the name of Javier Aguirre. He’s done a fabulous job molding the personality of the team. They’ve got a lot of young players. You know, they got to the knockout round and they got knocked out, too, on a very controversial goal. They got beat by the best in the world, Argentina, and they really struggled once they fell behind. But I think there’s greater up side in Mexico with their World Cup team because I think there’s a lot of really good young players. We’ve got good players, some of them are older, some of them are younger. We still need to add more players here in the U.S. By the way, that rating I quoted you, I think the rating was a 20 in San Diego. That was for American network TV, that did not include Univision…


HAMILTON: …and everybody that, you know, might be listening, watching, viewing the Spanish broadcast, the numbers – the numbers in San Diego County were just staggering.

CAVANAUGH: You think it’s time to put away the old saw that Americans don’t like soccer?

HAMILTON: I think this put us over the top…


HAMILTON: …I really believe. We’ve been growing towards it, you know, we’ve had a couple of past great World Cup teams where they got competitive and they won a game or two and one time they got into the group of sixteen before they got knocked out. And maybe the media’s got something to do with it. We all love big events. You and I talked about viewership for the winter Olympics…


HAMILTON: …and who the heck is watching tobogganing? Well, people on the west coast in the sunshine were. I think, Maureen, America loves big events and I think TV has helped make the World Cup a big event, and then we got pretty good in the process of playing somebody else’s game, soccer. So, yeah, I think this – what has just happened has now, I think, put soccer over the top here and I think it’ll be much more globally accepted.

CAVANAUGH: We’ve got to end it there. Lee, thank you so much once again.

HAMILTON: Maureen, we’ll talk to you again. My pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton hosts “Sportswatch” on XX-1090 weekdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. You can go online, and comment on this segment or anything you hear on the show. Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

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