A League of His Own

Lee Hacksaw Hamilton wants to talk sports with you

"I'm a little bit old-school, kind of set in my ways, and this job consumes me," Hacksaw confides, as if you couldn't tell from what he's wearing amid Trophy's upscale-leaning décor—a long-sleeved Oregon State T-shirt and khaki shorts, with running shoes and white socks that stretch to midcalf. His graying moptop of hair and walrus mustache are framed by a headset, and large glasses sit on his nose. He could use a shave. "I spend my whole day networking with people, creating, getting guests, doing interviews, doing all my own research. The upside is that my job is dynamic; my show changes every day and hour to hour. The downside is it never ends."

Hacksaw's show begins the same way every day—with a quarter-hour of sports news and minutiae that he reels off Walter Winchell-style. "That's what Lee Hamilton thinks!" he challenges his listeners at the end of this blitz. "You have just heard the best 15 minutes of radio anywhere! The topics are on the table! Now I'm looking for callers to jam those phone lines. Tell me what you think! Or better yet, stop on by for a beer! Have a beer on me! We're live at Trophy's in Newport Beach!"

Hacksaw's voice may suggest to listeners there's a party going on, but Trophy's is nearly deserted. Hacksaw's voice may be amplified throughout the restaurant, but when the show cuts to commercial, you can hear bartenders washing glasses. If Hacksaw cares about the low turnout, he doesn't show it. He's checking in with his producer back in San Diego, who is feeding him sports updates and lining up callers. Periodically, somebody in the restaurant stops by to shake hands and make small talk. Or somebody leaving an office nearby will drop in to pick up a pair of the free San Diego State football game tickets Hacksaw has offered over the air. "Pull up a chair and have a beer," Hacksaw usually invites them, adding "I was only kidding about it being on me." Sometimes they do. But they usually leave as quickly as they came. "Traffic," most explain.

Ask Hacksaw about this strange ambiance, and he shrugs.

"I'm a conduit for the guy on the freeway parking lot—on the I-5 and 405 split," he says with the goofy solemnity of a St. Bernard. "This show gives the guy trapped in gridlock a place to go. That's what works, and that's why it works. There's an old-fashioned consistency to what I do."

So why does he bother driving up the freeway to Trophy's every other Thursday? Basically, so he can say he's there—and, by implication, claim Orange County as his territory. That's part of the old-fashioned consistency Hacksaw was referring to. But if you miss the implication, Hacksaw will tell you straight-out.

"I announced on the air one day that I was annexing Orange County. It belongs to me," he says, not smiling. "Orange County has been kinda treated as a stepchild by the LA market. It had no identity—till I came along."

Hacksaw isn't only a sports-talk show host. He has considerable experience as a play-by-play announcer for pro and college football—a few years ago, he did his Monday-through-Friday show, USC football on Saturdays and Seattle Seahawks football on Sundays. He says he nearly became the Angels radio announcer before last season and the New York Jets broadcaster before this season. He says he's always turning down offers to bring his show to LA. He insists he has no desire to take his act to TV.

"TV is too restrictive. It isn't creative enough for me," Hacksaw says. "Besides, I'm really established at what I'm doing. I've built a power base. I'm probably at the peak of my popularity right now. People from all over the place stop me and say, 'Hacksaw, we know who you are. We love your show.' That could be on vacation, in an airport somewhere. Heck, I was on vacation in Honolulu, in a bar, and some guy yelled at me across the bar!"

And then, of course, there are those loud impersonations of Hacksaw that Jim Rome occasionally performs on his show.

"Jimmy has done very well for himself, but I think sometimes he's a bit of a cheapshot artist," Hacksaw says, and he's not only talking about the shots he takes from Rome. "I'm disturbed by that because anybody can take a cheap shot at somebody—but if you never, ever go into the locker room and face that person, it's very different from what I do. I occasionally say some harsh, caustic things, but at least I'll show up in that locker room with those athletes and answer for it. There's a difference between that and somebody hiding behind a microphone in a studio somewhere."

True. Hacksaw remains very much the journalist. A few years ago, when he was the San Diego Chargers' radio play-by-play announcer on Sundays, he nonetheless was loudly critical of the franchise on his Monday-through-Friday show. The Chargers management complained—even barred him from team practices—but Hacksaw didn't back down. It eventually cost him his play-by-play job, and some say it prompted the Chargers to sell their broadcasts to another station.

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