Weekly media column version 01.20.12

It’s on the blog post right below this — a feature story on Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket reporter Patrick O’Neal, leading into the second week of the four-part best and worst of the L.A. sports media list (linked here).

What’s not in the story: How Patrick’s first name almost became “Rocky,” thanks to his dad’s love of boxing.

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Here’s the explanation on the website of Patrick’s mother, Leigh Taylor-Young (www.lty.com) and how Patrick’s birth certificate actually lists his first name as “Young”:

September 14, 1967 was the day my son was born. I was convinced throughout my pregnancy that I would have a girl. I believe I felt that way because I was, at that time, very “soft” internally, extremely sensitive and vulnerable, and I had reached my level of tolerance for “changes.”
In the year prior to his birth, I had my first love affair, with Ryan, and had become a major television star where my anonymity and privacy had gone forever. … I had worked on Peyton Place until my fifth month of pregnancy. They wrote my character, Rachel Welles out of the show, by having her lose her mind and be sent to a sanitarium.
I was now free to enjoy my pregnancy without worrying if my stomach showed or if I would be able to make it to the rest room in time, between shots, to throw up. Ryan and I had married in my third month. I adored Ryan. Actually, it was more of an infatuation, as I had married someone quickly who I barely know as a person. We rented a beautiful house in Benedict Canyon that had been the home of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It was the perfect place to have an enchanted pregnancy. There was a pool under trees, deer, roses everywhere and a lovely tennis court.
Ryan did me a great favor, he worked me out every day of my pregnancy. Sometimes he would have me run against a time clock, or simply have me run up and down the long driveway of our home. I started tennis lessons in my fourth month and was playing the day Patrick was born.
The night Patrick was born, Ryan was watching “Thursday Night At The Fights”, a television boxing extravaganza that was ritual TV fare in Los Angeles in 1967. A boxer, Young McCormick, was fighting that night and Ryan favored him. I was almost three weeks overdue. It was a hot September night and I was cooking dinner. I felt my first contraction while cooking, and two minutes later there was another. I served Ryan his dinner, sat down, said nothing and waited to see what would happen next. My contractions remained two minutes apart. We raced to the hospital. Patrick’s birth came quickly. I had only one hour of labor. …
Because I had been so sure I would only have a girl, I had chosen no names for a boy. Ryan became intent on naming the baby “Rocky O’Neal”. I suggested the name Patrick, as a compromise, as that was Ryan’s real first name. Ryan agreed, but wanted to add the name Young to Patrick O’Neal in deference to the Irish boxer who had been fighting that night. So Young Patrick O’Neal made his entrance, and blessed my life
.

More photos of Patrick O’Neal as a little kid (linked here)

COMING UP:The 20th annual Top 10/Bottom 5 best and worst polls of:
=Jan. 27: Radio and TV game analysts
=Feb. 3: Radio and TV game play-by-play
This follows the first installment on the best/worst L.A. sports-talk hosts on Feb. 13.
And a followup: 20 years later, what ever happened to some of those who made the lists over the years?

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How TV sports became the main event for Patrick O’Neal, with his dad Ryan’s influence

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Daily News Staff photo by Michael Owen Baker

It’s not an act when Patrick O’Neal describes his role these days as the primary host for Dodgers, Lakers and Kings telecasts on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket.

“It’s a dream job,” he said the other morning, sitting at an eatery at the Grove complex near Farmer’s Market. “I am lucky, no question. I appreciate what everyone does to make it all work — the producers, the guys in truck, editing video.

“I get to work with Bob Miller, take bus rides to games with Vin Scully. I give a fist pump to the Chick Hearn statue every day I go to work at Staples Center.

“It’s so cool. Seriously, I want to stay on this wave as long as possible.”

O’Neal may have an even greater appreciation for his role because of the road he took to find his passion, years after he discovered he didn’t have the nerve to pursue his first career – acting.

That Hollywood track would have seemed far more likely, considering his lineage.

Although it was a subject he didn’t really want to broach much during the earlier years of his sportscasting career, O’Neal is much more candid now about being one of four who call Academy Award-nominated actor Ryan O’Neal his dad. Patrick spent regular weekends and lived fulltime as a teenager with him at his Malibu house, including when Farrah Fawcett was there.

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Patrick’s mother, Emmy-Award winning actress Leigh Taylor-Young, met Ryan on the Fox lot set of the TV series “Peyton Place” more than 40 years ago before they married. That’s the same place where Patrick got his first sports broadcasting job years later.

(Photo, left, of Patrick O’Neal with his parents, from www.lty.com)

The O’Neal family tree, of course, includes his older half-sister and Academy Award-winner Tatum, once married to former tennis star John McEnroe. Patrick is also the father of two daughters, 14-year-old Sophia and 10-year-old Veronica from his relationship with actress Rebecca De Mornay.

As much as there often seems to be O’Neals in the news — Ryan and Tatum did a reality-TV show last summer on the Oprah Winfrey Network that focused on them patching up their relationship – Patrick is the one cultivating the sports news on a nightly basis.

“My passion was always sports, and I owe a lot of that to my dad,” said Patrick of Ryan, who grew up as a Golden Gloves boxer and once co-managed the career of prizefighter Hedgemon Lewis in the 1970s. “We’d watch thousands of games together. There was never any bedtime. Stay up and watch the Kings, Lakers, whatever was on.

“Our bond was always sports. Without that, there’s no way I’m able to do this.”

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Aside from being “very proud” of his son’s career, Ryan O’Neal said the one thing that impresses him most about Patrick’s TV work is that “he’s iron. You never see his nerves. He’s never caught short. He looks like he’s been doing this all his life. I’m very impressed, really.”

Ryan says “Patrick just shrugs” when asked at how he’s able to know so much information about all the sports teams in town.

“It’s just easy for him,” said Ryan. “He sure makes it look easy.”

Patrick credits his professional work ethic to his father, who, despite just turning 70 and having two knee replacements, often calls him for a paddle-tennis challenge.

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“I just read the Jerry Kramer book, ‘Instant Replay,’ where he talks about how it might have been difficult to play for Vince Lombardi (with the Green Bay Packers), but he loved the guy like a father and all they did was win championships,” said Patrick. “My dad always pushed me athletically. We’d work out non-stop. Sometimes it might be hard, but he always wanted to win.

“I never got caught up in (any kind of Hollywood-type lifestyle). I loved sports and I love my dad. He’s totally my hero.”

The 44-year-old Patrick calls his upbringing “awesome,” a stable childhood shared with divorced parents who always had celebrity friends in their midst, especially for Monday Night Football parties.

After attending high school in Pebble Beach, where he was intrigued by working at a 50,000-watt student-run radio station, Patrick had enough of an interest in communications that he studied it for two years at the University of La Verne, with intentions of transferring to USC. But wanting to give acting a try, he was diverted, and landed movie and TV parts on “Beverly Hills 90210,” “China Beach” and “Die Hard II.”

But after a time, the grind of it all wore him down.

“My batting average as an actor is .025,” laughed O’Neal. ” I always knew I wasn’t getting the job when I saw Brad Pitt (at the casting call), and I’d talk myself out of a lot of rolls that way.”

His last audition was in the late 1990s for the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg HBO movie “Band Of Brothers,” a spot he thought was a sure thing.

It wasn’t.

“Now I’ll see Tom Hanks at a Laker game and thank him for not giving me the part,” said O’Neal.

Within six months of that last rejection, O’Neal gladly took a midnight-to-5 a.m. update anchor shift at the Fox Sports Radio studios in Sherman Oaks. That evolved into a talk show. Which got him more local TV anchor work at FSW.

Some 12 years later, he hasn’t had to look back.

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Daily News Staff Photo by Michael Owen Baker
Patrick O’Neal, left, works with Norm Nixon and Kiki Vandeweghe before a recent Lakers telecast for FSW.

“Having roots here and growing up as a diehard L.A. sports fan, Patrick is incredibly well versed on the teams we cover and has cultivated longstanding relationships amongst those organizations, said Tom Feuer, the executive producer of FSW/Prime Ticket. “He continues to work hard at his craft and his preparation for each and every event is unsurpassed.”

Kings analyst Jim Fox has been impressed how O’Neal has come a long way to where, “in all honesty, he’s the smoothest guy on the broadcast.

“From my perspective, I can’t thank him enough. He’s got a lot of information, but he often takes a back seat to feature the analyst. He sees the big picture of the broadcast. I like to defer to him now. He’s more than just a set-up guy. I trust him a lot. He’s really part of the team.”

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O’Neal said he doesn’t think “most people even know or care” about his family’s background, as long as he remains a credible, reliable reporter on the games they’re watching.

The irony would be if some casting director now wanted to hire him to play the role of a TV sports reporter.

“I’ll bet you that doesn’t happen,” O’Neal said, laughing. “I know I could do it. But I’m not your typical looking sportscaster, the guy with the perfect hair, standing there. They won’t even hire me for that.”

UPDATED FRIDAY:The list of the Top 10/Bottom 5 Los Angeles TV sports anchor/reporters:
http://www.dailynews.com/sportscolumnists/ci_19780654

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Q and A: The hope, and challenge, that Bob Hope’s legacy continues in the PGA’s Humana Challenge

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Getty Images
Bob Hope, second from left, is flanked by former presidents Gerald Ford, left, and George H.W. Bush, far right, as well as standing president Bill Clinton, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and PGA Tour golfer Scott Hoch during the 1995 Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Linda Hope has a vested interest in the success of the PGA Tour’s Humana Challenge, far beyond what takes place this weekend at La Quinta Country Club.

Her father, Bob Hope, invested more than just his name to the event the previous 44 years, before the title changes were the first noticeable alteration for the event.

Since the legendary entertainer’s passing at age 100 in 2003, the golf tournament has struggled to keep its identity in the desert. Former President Bill Clinton’s involvement with his foundation have kept it from disappearing all together.

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It’s the hope now of Linda Hope that her father’s legacy will continue to be an underlying thread to connect the past to the future. Still a TV producer living in Toluca Lake, she discussed how she saw that happening while she was at the tournament, including the unveiling of the new winner’s trophy today in her father’s honor.

Q: Does it feel to you as if the transition from what was known as the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic to the Humana Challenge is moving along the right way?

A: Very much so. Dad would be excited to see all this. He was a real showman and first one to realize it was getting not as exciting as had been in early days. And this really brings back a new energy to the game, and the tournament and to the desert charities.

Q: Could you dad see the day coming when the event would eventually change, even while he was involved?

A: He’d always talked about the fact that Chrysler was a longtime sponsor, one of Dad’s sponsors, and he was concerned, and voiced it, on what would happen when Chrysler and he was no longer with the event. Chrysler had the ongoing commitment, but then the way the market reacted and circumstances made it impossible to have that level of corporate sponsorship. Dad would be the first to recognize it and also be thrilled that Humana stepped in with an eight-year commitment.

Q: He would have OK with, for example, having it condensed from five rounds to four?

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A: I think he would have. It makes more economic sense, and I think he’d still feel it was a good challenge for the player. That had been a problem, not being able to get a lot of the top players who told him it was just too big of a commitment to make. And truthfully, the desert elements sometimes worked against the tournament, with the winds and sometimes the rain. It’s a beautiful setting, but when there were arduous conditions, it made it even tougher.
You know, my dad’s career was based on change, recording it and reacting to it, with his topical sense of humor. I don’t think he’d be adverse to say this was a good move.

Q: The emphasis of the Humana Challenge is all about getting more exercise. How did that fit into your dad’s work schedule?

A: It was an integral part. Every single night of his life, he’d take a walk after dinner before going to bed, at least a mile at a brisk pace. I know, because sometimes I’d be with him. He’d get his golf club, which he always walked with – maybe for protection but he was secure with it – and frankly, he’d go for walks around the downtown areas of some of the cities that may have been a little scary. But somehow he had an angel on his shoulder and never had any problems with that. I think of stars today with their huge entourages and security. Dad never had that. People stopped him all the time to talk to him.
He was also a big believer in massages – he’d have one almost every day for the last 40 years or so, and that was really important for circulating and his well-being.

Q: He was good with his diet as well?

A: Pretty good. Mother made a point to have balanced meals and green vegetables and fish and starch foods. But that was when he was home. When he was away, I’m sure with hotel food and banquet dinners, it wasn’t as good. But he was always conscious of his weight, and my mother would always warn him about putting on extra pounds. Although he loved his lemon meringue pies.

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Q: In 1995, Bill Clinton played in the Bob Hope event as a sitting president. How gratifying would have been to your dad to have President Clinton involved in keeping it moving?

A: He’s been absolutely wonderful. He and dad had a special relationship and Dad adored him. It turned out they were friends for many years. Dad first met him at the University of Arkansas when he was doing a show and the President, who was then governor, came up afterwards and met Dad, and he felt he had such an amazing amount of charisma and would go very far, which proved to be true. Many years later, when he was president, there was a knock at the door when my parents were staying at the Waldorf Towers in New York. Mother was in her bathrobe and getting ready to have supper and she opens the door, and there’s President Clinton, no body guards to be seen, and she invited him in and they had a wonderful visit. He was charming and captivating.

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He has taken that affection for my dad and insisted that dad be a part of this event. They’ve named the pro-am after Dad, and created a very stunning trophy in his name for the winner.

Q: So physically you can see the changes, but emotionally does it feel the same?

A: It really does. One of the things I found interesting, we were just out the other morning at a place called The Living Desert, a habitat for animals and desert plants and all that. The man guiding the tour said to me, ‘They can call it the Humana Challenge, or anything they’d like, but to all of us, it’ll always be the Bob Hope Desert Classic.’ And I’ve heard that so many times. They’ll say that on the local TV coverage, too. It’s still in people’s minds, just like the Dinah Shore LPGA event even though it has changed sponsors years ago. It’s interesting how that happens. I think it’s wonderful and a lovely thing that people still care about what Dad was trying to do and had so much fun with it. So many good times and memories that are imprinted on everyone.

Q: What was the most important element of the tournament to keep going – the pro-am? The charities tied to it?

A: They’ve certainly stuck with the same desert charities that have been recipients of the purse – particularly the Eisenhower Medical Center, which was a real favorite of my Dad’s. He gave the property for its construction and wanted it named in honor of his friend. The funding is very important to it continuing as a hospital. The pro-am is also so vital to the fun part of the event and that was dad’s favorite part, to call upon his friends who loved golf and tried to get them to come and be part of the tournament. Now, President Clinton is able to bring in a lot of those people to be part of this.

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Q: Maybe there’s a time when President Obama, who seems to be quite an avid golfer, gets an invite?

A: You can be sure Dad would have been on the phone working to get him out here. He enjoyed his playing days with all the presidents and I think also allowed them the opportunity to get a break from all the things they have to deal with, all the pressures. With President Obama, you never know. We’ll see if he’s elected again and make he can make time for it.

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That’s Cultural Ambassador Abdul-Jabbar to you now

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(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reacts after receiving a Lakers jersey as a gift from global cultural ambassador Kareem Abdul-Jabbar today at the State Department in Washington.

This press release just sent out by the office of the U.S. Secretary of State:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and a New York Times’ best-selling author, to discuss his new role as a global cultural ambassador.

During the meeting today, Secretary Clinton reiterated the United States’ strong commitment to engaging young people worldwide and to using people-to-people diplomacy as a means to create opportunities for greater understanding.

Secretary Clinton and Abdul-Jabbar discussed his upcoming trip to Brazil as a Cultural Ambassador and the strong relationship between the people of the United States and Brazil.

“I am excited and honored to serve my country as a Cultural Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who has focused his efforts after his NBA career on engaging youth through socially-minded projects and education. “I look forward to meeting with young people all over the world and discussing ways in which we can strengthen our understanding of one another through education, through sports, and through greater cultural tolerance.”

From January 22-28, Abdul-Jabbar will travel to Brazil to meet with underserved youth in Salvador and Rio de Janeiro. As a Cultural Ambassador, Abdul-Jabbar will lead conversations with young people on the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding, and using sports as a means of empowerment. In addition, he will participate in basketball clinics with young people in both cities.

Since his retirement in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar has devoted himself to projects focused on African American history and socio-economic justice. His 2011 documentary “On the Shoulders of Giants” sought to highlight these issues. He has also launched the Skyhook Foundation, which works to improve children’s lives through education and sports.

In June 2011, Abdul-Jabbar was honored at the White House by President Barack Obama and received the Lincoln Medal from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The medal honors Abdul-Jabbar’s commitment to education and equality which reflects the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln.

More information regarding Abdul-Jabbar’s travel to Brazil will be forthcoming. He will continue his public service as a Cultural Ambassador throughout 2012. Information on upcoming trips will be released at a later date. Stay tuned for updates via Twitter at @ConnectStateGov.

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The secret to Cy success for the Dodgers’ Kershaw: His wife, Ellen, and their challenging missions to Zambia

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Photo from Ellen Kershaw/Regal Books
Ellen (center) and Clayton Kershaw pose with Hope, the orphan they met in Zambia that became the inspiration for the Kershaw Challenge last season.

Ellen Kershaw has no doubt that her husband Clayton’s 2011 Cy Young Award-winning season was the result of a purpose-driven fastball.

It started just a few weeks after they were married in December, 2010. Ellen convinced Clayton to come with here on a return trip to the village of Lusaka, about a 10-hour plane flight from Los Angeles through London, serving as the capital of Zambia in southern Africa.

Or, about as far away as possible from the comfort zone known as the mound at Dodger Stadium.

There, on a different mound of dirt, the 6-foot-3 Dallas native can attract so many of the local orphans that, according to Ellen, he’s “like a human jungle gym – he’s got five kids on him at all times.”

Inspired to do more, and as a result of the creation last season of the “Kershaw’s Challenge – Strikeout to Serve,” Kershaw committed $100 for every one of his league-best 248 strikeouts last season.

A coincidence that his number of Ks went so high?

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