They were freshmen together. Fernando Valenzuela and Fred Roggin each made their Los Angeles debuts in September 1980.
Valenzuela threw his last pitch for the Dodgers 33 years ago. After a career covering Valenzuela, Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretzky, Al Davis and countless others for Channel 4, Roggin is hanging up his microphone. His last day as a sports anchor there is Thursday.
It is his choice, he says. He will still appear on his AM 570 radio show. He will explore opportunities in television production, whether hosting programs or inventing them for others. But after more than 42 years as a local sportsman, he is ready to throw his last pitch from the anchor desk.
“I realized dreams I didn’t know I had,” said Roggin, 65. “I’ve been the luckiest and most blessed guy in the world.”
No farewell to Roggin would be proper without an acknowledgment of the significant role he played in reviving the nightly local sportscast here and elsewhere.
Sports used to be a serious thing, told by serious people.
Roggin was not one of them. A 1989 Times story about a new and lighter wave of sportscasters focused on Roggin and carried this headline: “Send in the clowns.”
As the Channel 4 sportsman, Roggin carried on the legacy of such distinguished alumni as Bryant Gumbel, Ross Porter and Stu Nahan. The station heavily promoted Roggin with its own tagline: “Fred Will Show You!”
“I said … that during an earthquake, your chances were 1 in 3 of being crushed by a Fred Roggin billboard,” Keith Olbermann said in that 1989 story.
Olbermann was the Channel 2 sportsman back then before exploding into a household name at ESPN. Roggin stayed in LA and realized over the years that it wouldn’t matter if Fred could show it to you if you had already seen it.
With apologies to older readers, a history lesson for younger readers: For a time you had to wait for the news at 23 to see Dodgers and Lakers highlights and Fred could show them to you first. Then ESPN came along and Fred could still show them to you, but a few hours later ESPN could. Then came the internet and the smartphone and you could see what you want, when you want.
“If we just sit there and tell people what they already know,” Roggin said, “there’s no reason for them to look at us.”
It’s not just a problem for Channel 4 or any other broadcaster. It’s a pressing dilemma for any medium, including this one.
For some fans, the end result is still news at 23.00 or in the morning paper. Not everyone looks at a screen at night. But for those who do, how do you attract viewers or readers?
Roggin more or less ceded the diehard sports audience to ESPN and focused on everyone else with “Hall of Shame” blooper reels and “Roggins Heroes” segments, the “Going Roggin” sports-talk-on-TV show and ” The Challenge” as a game show after the match.
And on Friday night, even in a market of 20 million people, he bid on high school football.
“I always thought it was a point where we could fly our flag,” he said. “When you pick up The LA Times or check it out online, the lead story isn’t about a high school kid or a high school game.”
Some days it is. The Times has committed to the high school dynamic duo of Eric Sondheimer and Luca Evans because The Times sees, as Roggin did, a chance to cultivate a new audience.
It might work. Maybe not.
That was really the essence of Roggin. Not everything he tried worked, but he tried. In this era, when teams and leagues offer scores and highlights and interviews, shouldn’t a local sports report offer something else?
“That’s not how local sports are approached around the country,” Roggin said. “It’s scores and highlights. With all due respect to everyone who does it – and does such a great job – it just doesn’t have the relevance it used to.
“That’s why you see local sports broadcasts die.”
There will still be local sports broadcasts in Los Angeles, on Channel 4 and beyond. After Thursday, however, they will no longer broadcast live from Mr. Roggins’ neighborhood.