Once again, Southern California is out of step with America.
And that’s a good thing, at least for our local sports teams.
E-Poll, a San Fernando Valley-based company, did the survey for Forbes Magazine asking people nationwide what sports stars they liked the least. For obvious reasons (such as we like dogs as a nation) Michael Vick “won” going away.
But second to him was Manny Ramirez — 57% of those surveyed disliked him.
This years' steroid suspension was just icing on the cake. Fans have long groaned about Manny's aloofness, inconsistent effort and poor fielding. "Manny being Manny" still works OK as long as he's hitting, but fans outside the home market (recently Boston, now Los Angeles) don't take the liking to him they do to quiet, steady stars like Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols.
Pujols is boring. Manny is Los Angeles — a free spirit who comes off as laid back but is intense about his craft — and he is dramatic. Game winning grand slam on your bobblehead night dramatic. Los Angeles loves drama, we love stars, and if you are going to sell a sport in this city you need star power (remember what Gretzky did for hockey?). Manny is a star. Our star. And as you can tell from the reception he got on return to Dodger Stadium from his suspension just how this city feels. To heck with middle America.
Then there is the obviously polarizing case of Kobe Bryant — fifth on the list with 42% of fans surveyed disliking him.
Fair or not, fans see the super-talented Bryant as basketball's A-Rod, a phony who focuses on saying the right thing in public.
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If America thinks Kobe is phony, they don't get him. What Angelinos understand is that Kobe is a complex, smart person. He does not fit neatly into the media’s stereotypical athlete box. The man has casually quoted Ben Franklin in postgame interviews (and the reference went over the head of virtually every sportswriter in the room), he was accepted to Duke not just because he could play basketball but because he got accepted to Duke (but chose to go to the NBA instead). He is driven like few others. He is focused like few others. He is special like few others.
Los Angeles gets that and him, and slowly but surely the rest of the nation is catching on as well. Sure, the image of Eagle, Colorado, will forever taint Kobe for some — even though he was acquitted. But Angelino’s cheered him through that episode because the truly special are rare and to be appreciated. And you stand by your own, your friends, through everything.
So most of America doesn’t like Los Angeles’ star. Who cares? We know what we like, and it’s Manny and Kobe. And we’re right.