Joe McDonnell and Me

On Friday, we lost a friend in Joe McDonnell. Tom Hoffarth did a great job of eulogizing him in his Sunday column in the Daily News, an effort I’m not going to try to duplicate. But I did want to talk about what he meant to me.

I first really got into sports in a big way in the early 2000s. Listening to “The McDonnell-Douglas” show he co-hosted with the Press Telegram columnist Doug Krikorian really educated me in the history of LA sports and what was going on in the scene. He was among the first people in town to pick on Frank McBankrupt McCourt and his lack of actual money when he tried to buy the Dodgers.

It was fun listening to him kick people out of LA, razz Doug and his producers, bemoan about everything and anything. This show was a must-listen for me everyday. Then there was a change in management at KSPN, they fired Joe and Doug and in an instant it felt like all of the passion in sports radio left the airwaves.

When I started getting into the Dodger Stadium pressbox in 2009, I had seen Joe around, but I was too shy. I bought into his “Big Nasty” persona and was scared of irritating him. I heard his on-air near fight with Petros Papadakis. Joe was only around sporadically at that point, so I didn’t have to worry about him all that much.

But by the time he started coming back regularly in 2011, I finally had that balls to talk to him. I was sitting next to him in the back row of the Dodger Stadium pressbox. One of the challenges was waiting out the throngs of people who would stop by to talk to him: Bill Plaschke, Lon Rosen, Steve Futterman would be the regular visitors. Finally, around the seventh inning, he had a moment alone, and I reached out and said, “Excuse me, Joe. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years. This is a thrill.”

We had a proper conversation, albeit short since we both had to work. I found out what a lot of people in the sports media already knew. Joe was not nasty at all. He was perhaps the nicest person you could meet in the industry.

He was working with at this point, which meant he was coming to the games regularly again. Most horrifyingly, however, was that he was reading my stuff regularly. He liked it. He told me he loved my bio blip on the LAist website:

There is nothing to know about Jimmy. He is a filthy whore who has ODed on every drug possible. The fact that he has the will to wake up every morning is a miracle unto itself. His love for the Dodgers came back in 2001 when catcher Paul LoDuca hired him for a blowjob. He aspires to be that lady in the anti-smoking PSAs who smokes through her tracheotomy hole. He’s an Aries who enjoys crossword puzzles and calculus problems.

One day, I forget what the hell he were talking about, but I told him that my mom as a typical Korean owned a liquor store in North Long Beach. He asked me where exactly. I told him it was on the corner of Del Amo Blvd. and Long Beach Blvd. “Was it called ‘Del’s Liquor’ by any chance?” Yes, yes it was.

It turned out my mom used to be his liquor dealer!

I told my mom about his death on Friday, and she told me this nugget. One night my uncle was closing up the store. He was slowly doing his thing while Joe was in the store getting his booze. Somehow my uncle didn’t notice a 700-pound man still in the store and locked up. Joe realized he was locked in the store, so he found the telephone and dialed the police. They called my mom, and she came to get him out of the store. Yes. The Big Nasty got locked in my mom’s liquor store.

Sometimes life folds neatly upon itself, and I’m still astounded by this coincidence.

I know he had a tough time with his health over the last several years. Yet he kept on with his head down and kept trying to plow ahead.

I know he loved his wife Elizabeth and always felt he was a lucky man to have married her.

I know he loved the Lakers, the Dodgers, his friends, his fans.

I know I will miss the man.