Jon Miller/Bill King; Johnnny Unitas; Elgin Baylor; Buster Posey;; Super Bowl Memories
JON MILLER: Iím not enthralled by Millerís broadcasting, which I find too theatrical, but I realize Iím in a distinct minority, so itís no surprise that he got the Hall of Fame nod for his baseball broadcasting this week.
Miller got it primarily because of his work on ESPN, not for what heís done for the Giants. Thatís been true ever since Mel Allen got in because he was on national telecasts for World Series games, at a time when the announcers for the competing teams covered the action. Frankly, Allen wasnít very good. He was a terrible partisan for the Yankees, which their fans liked but the larger number of us who hated the Yankees did not.
Conversely, Bill King isnít in any of the Halls largely because he never did television, which he hated, and was basically heard only by local audiences, mostly in the Bay Area, though he also did Raiders games in Los Angeles. He should be in both the basketball and football Halls, but neither the Warriors nor Raiders are pushing him. The Aís are, but baseball was definitely his third best sport.
Kingís broadcasting partner on the Aís, Lon Simmons, is in the baseball Hall, but mostly for his work with the Giants. He was the best of the Giants announcers since theyíve been in San Francisco.
(Special mention should be made of Al Michaels, who was a great radio announcer before he left for the more lucrative world of TV, at which heís also excelled.)
The best baseball announcer overall in the last 50 years is clearly Vin Scully, who is still doing TV work on Dodgers games. His defining moment was when he stepped to the back of the box after the final pitch of Sandy Koufaxís fourth no-hitter and allowed the roar from the crowd to tell the story.
QUARTERBACKS: I thought I made it clear in my Tuesday Examiner column that I was only evaluating quarterbacks Iíd seen on a fairly regular basis since 1967, but apparently I didnít because of the e-mails I got from readers who wondered why I left out Johnny Unitas. Clearly, Unitas is an all-time great but my exposure to him was almost non-existent, perhaps one Colts-49ers game which I vaguely remember and the televised Colts-Giants playoff in 1958.
The other reaction is found interesting was from readers who, looking at his stats, questioned my evaluation of Joe Namath. You had to see Namath to appreciate him, and I did. I made the comparison with Koufax because both had very brief careers in their prime but they were also both the very best in their sports in that time.
FORGOTTEN MAN: My friend, Andy Mousalimas, reminds me that I left out one very important player in my recounting of 1950s west coast basketball: Elgin Baylor, who took the Seattle Chieftains to the NCAA Tournament Finals in 1957.
Frankly, I donít know how I forgot Baylor because one of my great memories is seeing Baylor for the first time. In 1957, Seattle had to play Wyoming in a sub-Regional game to get into the Western Regional at the Cow Palace, and that game was played at Calís Harmon Gym.
There wasnít much of a crowd at the game, probably only about 4000, but all of us from the Daily Cal sports staff were there. We had heard about Baylor but, in those days when only the most important games were televised, this was our first chance to see him, and he put on a show. Iíve never forgotten how he would come down the middle of the court on a fast break, go into the air at the free throw line and then decide whether to pass the ball right or left Ė or take the shot himself. He was the first Iíve seen to play the kind of style that has since become the standard for both collegiate and NBA players.
Seattle won the game easily to advance to the Regionals. I didnít see the Regionals final game but I heard about it for years. With time running out, and everybody knowing who was going to take the shot, Baylor hit a field goal from what now would be three-point range to beat USF. The Cinderella story ended when Seattle lost to Kentucky on the Wildcatsí home court in the NCAA Finals. As I remember, Baylor had a cracked rib in that game.
As you all know, Baylor went on to NBA stardom with the Lakers, who were still in Minneapolis when he was drafted but soon moved to Los Angeles.
Andy also tells me that one of the internet sports sites listed the 10 best college basketball players and left off both Baylor and Hank Luisetti. That doesnít surprise me. Many younger journalists have no sense of sports history; if they didnít see it, it doesnít exist. Both Baylor and Luisetti (who I never saw) changed basketball history, Luisetti with his one-handed shot. They belong on any group of the 10 best.
CONGRATULATIONS: Marty Lurie will be doing both pre- and post-game shows on KNBR on weekend Giants home games this season. Itís a nice step up for Marty, and a great move by KNBR. Nobody follows baseball closer than Marty, because the sport is his passion, but heís not a partisan. On the Aís pre-game shows heís done, he doesnít root for the home team, and he wonít do it with the Giants, either. That will be a nice antidote for Ralph (Brian Sabean can do no wrong) Barbieri.
CONCUSSIONS: There have been many stories lately about the increased danger of concussions in football, including the cover story in Time, but there has been little discussion of the role steroids play.
There is no question that the increased danger of concussions is directly related to the fact that players are much bigger and faster than in previous eras, so the collisions between them are more violent.
The one thing we know for certain about steroids is that they enable athletes to work longer and harder to build muscle. There is testimony that the Pittsburgh Steelers were using steroids in the late Ď70s. The first time I became aware of steroids in college ball was in the Ď80s when Cal was scheduled to play Michigan State and Cal coaches showed me films of Tony Mandarich from that season and the previous one. It looked like two different persons. Iíve long suspected that Mandarichís failure in the NFL was because he got off steroids when he turned pro.
Yet, there is no uproar among fans or the media because of steroids use in football. (The NFL has testing and occasionally catches a player, but Iíve been in pro football locker rooms for 43 years and I have seen an explosion in the size of players that I donít attribute to eating Wheaties.)
In baseball, which is not a contact sport, thereís constant talk about steroids ruining the game.s
Why this disparity? Because fans and writers care about baseball records but not footballís. Thatís silly. As the saying goes, records are meant to be broken. Players should be judged against their peers, not on an absolute standard. Is Babe Ruth a lesser figure because his home run records have been eclipsed? I think not.
BUSTER POSEY: The signing of Bengie Molina for another year probably means that Posey will at least start the season in Triple-A, at Fresno. But, how long will that last?
Posey is a major league hitter, without question, but heís not as developed as a catcher. The feeling among writers covering the club is that manager Bruce Bochy doesnít believe Posey is ready to handle the Giants pitching staff. (Bochy hasnít said that for the record but he never publicly criticizes players.) So, Posey might benefit from more time in the minors.
Thereís no question that he could play first base for the Giants, or possibly third; he was an infielder before being switched to catcher. So, itís possible the Giants might promote him to play first, when Aubray Huff proves heís not the answer, which shouldnít take long.
But that would also slow Posseyís progress as a catcher. Though some have said Posey should play the infield, where heís likely to have a longer career, itís a huge plus to have a catcher whoís a strong hitter, so that wouldnít be in the Giantsí best long-term interests.
Meanwhile, thereís also a real question about Molinaís immediate future. Heís 35, playing a position that is very demanding physically. He was already showing some signs of deterioration last season. He could hit the wall very soon.
LETTERS: I updated this section last Saturday (finally!) and hope to do it on a regular basis from now on. Check it on Saturday afternoons.
OH, THOSE WARRIORS! The Warriors are painful to watch and the really bad news is that this is not unusual. In fact, this season probably wonít even match their worst since moving to San Francisco nearly 50 years ago because they finished 17-63 in the 1964-64 season, during which Franklin Mieuli traded Wilt Chamberlain.
The Warriors had a couple of good teams in the late Ď60s, built around Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond. They won their only NBA championship in the 1974-75 season and won a franchise record 59 games next year but lost in the playoffs. They had a nice run in Don Nelsonís first stint as coach (and general manager) and made the playoffs two years ago. Those are the only highlights in nearly half a century.
As always, itís a matter of management. Itís no coincidence that Dick Vertlieb was the general manager during the championship season or that then club president Dan Finnane, a very smart businessman, let Nelson ran the basketball end in Nelsonís first time here.
Now, itís Chris Cohan and his incompetent friends. I got to know Cohan well when he was involved in the day-to-day operation and I know he was trying to do what was best, but he could never seem to get the right general manager-coach combination. I still remember Dave Twardzik, when he was GM, telling me that 18-year-old Kobe Bryant would struggle in the NBA and was not worthy of a first-round pick..
Since Cohan stepped back, itís been no better because he put Little Bobby Rowell in charge. He shouldnít be in charge of a shoe store.
Meanwhile, Larry Ellison has made public comments about buying the Warriors, and apparently, he and Cohan have talked. Cohan doesnít want to sell but his tax problems might eventually force a sale.
The Warriors have a group of devoted fans, so home attendance has remained high, but theyíve been bad for so long that casual fans have deserted them. They are now in much the same position as the Sharks, with an audience that barely goes beyond those going to the games, though the potential audience for an NBA team in the Bay Area is many times that for an NHL team. Sad.
SUPER BOWL MEMORIES:
Pardon me for indulging in some of my personal memories from the 49ers five Super Bowls:
--I didnít go to the first one (in Detroit) because The Chronicle editor wanted Lowell Cohn, who had started writing a sports column in 1979, to have the experience. Meanwhile, I had been contacted by the editor of a San Francisco publishing firm who wanted to get out a book on the 49ers season. So, starting the Saturday after their NFC championship game win, I wrote for eight straight days; an editor who lived in Walnut Creek stopped each morning to pick up what Iíd written the day before. On Super Bowl Sunday, we watched the game on TV with friends and then, I went home and wrote Chronicle columns for Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, I finished the book, ďAmerica Has a Better Team.Ē The paperback version was published at the end of February; a hardcover version came out later.
--The second game was at Stanford, which made it simple for me. Iíd write a column during the day and then my wife and I would go to parties in San Francisco at night. I bought tickets for Nancy and our son, Scott, so we all went to the game together.
--I sweated out the 49ersí narrow win over Cincinnati in the third Super Bowl because Bill Walsh and I had been talking about doing a book together. As it happened, Walshís nerves were too frayed to do the book in his first year of retirement but we collaborated the next year on ďBuilding a Champion.Ē
--With our son off to a dorm at Cal, Nancy came with me to New Orleans for the fourth Super Bowl. We stayed in the media headquarters, located across the street from the Superdome and at the edge of the French Quarter, so we had access to parties Ė Leigh Steinbergís, on a yacht moored in the Gulf, was the best Ė and to restaurants in the Quarter when we didnít. The game was so lopsided that I started writing in the third quarter and finished shortly after the end of the game, at which point I just strolled across the street to join Nancy at our hotel.
--When the 49ers went to their last Super Bowl, the Chronicle sports editor was John Curley, who didnít like me. The feeling was mutual. Out of spite, Curley delayed officially assigning me to the game for so long that I couldnít get air tickets back until the Wednesday after the game in Miami. So, The Chronicle had to pick up the tab for me for two extra days. I wrote a couple of columns, including a short-lived scoop. Carmen Policy had told me he was going to propose to Mike Shanahan that he stay on as offensive coordinator for a year and then take over as head coach the next year. But a day after I wrote that, Shanahan accepted an offer to be the head coach for the Broncos. Even writing columns, I had plenty of extra time so Nancy and I drove around the area, including up the coast to Palm Beach, where we had lunch at The Breakers. I took great pleasure in presenting my expense account to Curley later that week.
That was the last Super Bowl Iíve been to, and frankly, I havenít missed it. Unless thereís a local team involved, itís not much fun.
In the early years, it was much more relaxed. My first Super Bowl was the third one. I was staying with the Raiders contingent at a Boca Raton motel and I remember how reporters would drop by and talk to players sitting around the swimming pool. Since then, the media list has grown much larger. The NFL is very good at manipulating the media. They allow access to coaches and players, but only in group interviews and press conferences. Almost every time I wrote a column at the Super Bowl, I knew thereíd be 500 similar columns written. There was an example of that in this morningís Chronicle when David White wrote about players asking Dwight Freeney about his swollen ankle over and over and over again.
No, thank you.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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