Tiger, A's Future, Will Clark/Jose Canseco, Joe Montana
FRANK DEFORD reminisced last week about his remarkable career in Sports Illustrated, which interested me because Deford and I are roughly contemporaries; he started writing professionally four years after I did. He noted that when he came to SI, the competition wasn’t stiff. Only white males need apply. There were no women, of course, and nobody with a skin darker than mine, either. It’s quite different now, and I can tell you that the older men in the sportswriting world fought every change bitterly. Deford notes that Stephanie Salter, then a baseball writer for SI, was banned from the baseball writer’s banquet in 1965.
There has been another remarkable change: Writers and broadcasters didn’t delve into athlete’s private lives. That was also true of politics. You didn’t read anything about John Kennedy’s philandering until many years later. When FDR was President, there was neither mention of the fact that he was in a wheelchair, nor any photos taken.
Now, nothing is sacred, as we’ve seen most lately in the saga of Tiger Woods. Even Vanity Fair, a magazine I thoroughly enjoy for its long and insightful profiles, went the tabloids route with a story on Tiger’s women, complete with pictures. Suffice it to say, classy is not the adjective you’d apply to the women pictured.
Tiger had a carefully controlled news conference this week before the start of the Masters, and media coverage during the tournament will no doubt be restricted to questions about his play.
That’s fine with me. I much prefer the old style of reporting which actually emphasized performance, not sexual proclivities. I almost never write about athlete’s private lives because I find that both distasteful and none of the public’s business. With both athletes and politicians, I evaluate them on the basis of performance, not sexual adventures away from home. That’s the legitimate concern only of their wives and girl friends.
But many sports fans don’t agree. I’ve even had readers who demand that the media disclose the exact reasons for the split between Scot McCloughan and the 49ers. Knowing the emotional/political climate within corporations these days, I can speculate about the reason with 99 per cent certainty, but I’m not going to write it merely to satisfy prurient interest.
I have no special knowledge about Tiger’s activities but I wouldn’t write about them if I did. I’ve written that men who have power and/or money often have women chasing them. In Tiger’s case, he is also young and handsome, so he’s catnip to the ladies. Some in his position resist but many do not, so I’m not going to be a moralist on the issue. Was he foolish? Of course, but he’s not alone. It’s time to move on and let him try to work the situation out with his wife – a longshot, I’d think.
What I do know about Tiger is that he and Jack Nicklaus are the best golfers ever. I have a sentimental attachment to Nicklaus because he’s of my generation but Tiger is probably even better. I witnessed his dominating performance in the 2000 U. S. Open at Pebble Beach and it is one of the great memories in my career.
Hopefully, when he takes the course at Augusta tomorrow, there will be an immediate cessation of the gossip and a concentration on how well he plays.
Some writers think he should have played in the warmup event before the Masters, but I think that was unnecessary. If you’re playing a team sport like football, baseball and basketball, or even an individual sport like tennis, you need live competition to get sharp, but in golf, you’re competing against a standard. It’s easy enough for Tiger to sharpen his game on the practice tee. Golf galleries are controlled in a way that other sports audiences are not, with the exception of tennis. He didn’t need to get accustomed to a largely favorable gallery.
He also needed to come back on a big stage, which the Masters certainly is. The course is also one suited to his game. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play well and win the tournament.
That would be great news for other golfers, too. Golf first became a major sport when the charistmatic Arnold Palmer came along. Tiger doesn’t have Palmer’s outgoing personality, but he has drawn the fans in a remarkable fashion, partly because most of the other golfers on the tour seem to be interchangeable parts.
If he wins the tournament, it will make a huge difference to the sport, especially in TV ratings. And perhaps we can once again focus on Tiger as a golfer, not the subject of gossip columnists.
A’S FUTURE: The San Jose Mercury ran a poll of the city residents last week, showing that 62 per cent of them favored an A’s move to their city.
Later, it came out that there were a couple of details not supplied by pollsters: The city would have to give the A’s ownership a plot of land for which it had paid $46 million, and it would also have to pay for infrastructure costs of many millions.
Do you suppose San Jose residents would have had the same reaction if they’d been given that information?
Frankly, conditions for building a park/stadium anywhere in California have gone from difficult to impossible. That includes the 49ers attempt to build a football stadium in Santa Clara, which is running into opposition even though it would not require any money from the city’s general fund. (Santa Clara’s contribution would be from urban renewal money and an increase on the tax for visitors to hotels in the area.)
Some time back, in a Chronicle column, I proposed that the 49ers and Raiders both play in the Oakland Coliseum, which could be upgraded if it had two tenants, and that the A’s play in PacBell (now AT&T) Park. But logic seldom applies in sports, so only the Giants liked that idea, because it would give them an additional tenant to pay their costs.
So, for the foreseeable future, the A’s and Raiders will share the Coliseum and the 49ers will be in Candlestick. And, none of them will be happy.
Lew Wolff is always poor mouthing Oakland but the A’s attendance problems have much to do with his management of the team. He and John Fisher have kept their costs down and, because the A’s don’t draw well, make money from revenue-sharing contributions by more successful teams, including the Giants.
Wolff’s stewardship of the A’s seems deliberately aimed at reducing attendance by insulting the fans. He’s canceled the very popular “Fan Fest’ days, for instance, and closed off the upper deck, which had low prices and great views. Their big investment this spring was in a new tarp covering the upper deck. Hooray!
His strategy from the start has been aimed at moving the team to San Jose. It hasn’t worked yet and it won’t in the future, either, no matter how many phony polls the Mercury runs.
NFL STRIKE: Some fans feared this would happen this year, when the Collective Bargaining Agreement was expiring. But, the only real change has been that there is no salary cap this year, which has had no appreciable effect on free agent signings.
Next year, though, may be a different matter. The two sides are $1 billion apart. Yes, that’s right. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants that much money taken out of the pool from which the players get their cut to help finance new stadiums. The players – surprise! – oppose that.
At this point, there doesn’t appear to be much give on either side. Gene Upshaw’s death last year was bad news because he knew how to negotiate. I have no confidence that DeMaurice Smith, the current NFLPA executive director, has any such ability.
ZITO SPEAKS: Reader Janice Hough noted, after Barry Zito’s pounding by the A’s last Friday night, that it may be still the exhibition season but Zito is in midseason form.
He was with his postgame comments, too, saying he wasn’t concerned. What, me worry?
Then, on Monday, Zito told The Chronicle’s Henry Schulman that he had regained his “appetite for success,” that he had let the business of sport (meaning his huge contract) overcome his zest for the game. Is that a Zito comment or what.
Many writers talk of Zito’s “zen-like” approach. I think it’s much simpler: He isn’t very bright. But he’s smarter than at least one man in baseball, the one who signed him to that ridiculous contract. Though some Giants fans desperately look for a hopeful sign with Zito – he was sharp in his first start against the punchless Astros – the fact is that he’s 32-43 with a 4.51 ERA in his three years plus one start for the Giants. That isn’t even Kirk Rueter, let alone a staff leader.
ROOTING INTEREST: When I found out that the president of Butler University is Robert Fong, a 1969 graduate of Oakland High, I immediately started rooting for Butler. Oakland, where I’ve lived the last 41 years, has been saddled with losers: The A’s, the Warriors and, of course, the Raiders. It would be nice to root for a winner. Alas, it was not to be, as Duke narrowly won in the NCAA Finals.
GREAT, BUT….With Will Clark working for the Giants this season, it’s reminded me of spring training, 1986, when I saw Clark and Jose Canseco for the first time.
The first time I saw Clark take batting practice, I thought, “This guy is going to be a great hitter.” That didn’t take any special powers of observation. Pretty much everybody who saw him that spring felt the same. It was obvious early that, though Clark had only 65 minor league games behind him, he was going to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. Indeed, he was, hitting a home run off Nolan Ryan in his first at-bat.
With Canseco, all you had to do was watch him in the clubhouse, wearing T-shirts two sizes too small, to know that he was something special. He had already been dubbed “The Natural,” after the movie, which came from a Bernard Malamud novel. With his combination of power and speed, he was being compared to Mickey Mantle. Lon Simmons, who has been very close to Willie Mays over the years, has said that he thought Canseco would become the best of all time.
But, mental attitude is as important as physical ability for star athletes. The first time I became really aware of this was probably 1965. Because the Knicks and Warriors had finished last in their respective conferences, the NBA gave them each an extra pick: The Knicks drafted Bill Bradley as a territorial pick and Dave Stallworth No. 3 in the regular draft. The Warriors picked Fred Hetzel No. 1 and Rick Barry No. 2.
The Warriors thought Hetzel would be a star. He was a 6-9 forward, which was really big in those days; some centers were shorter. He could shoot from the outside and rebound, too. But basketball was not Hetzel’s world and players, except for a handful of stars, did not get big salaries. He was on the All-Rookie team but lasted only six years, none of them outstanding. He retired to become a stock broker, if memory serves.
Barry had been a center in college and had no outside shot at all. His entire game as a rookie was driving to the basket and, if fouled, converting his free throws. But basketball was Rick’s world. He worked and worked on his outside jumper, and he had a great grasp of the game and terrific court vision. He became one of the 50 best NBA players ever.
Another later example: Joe Montana. As a collegian, Montana had his moments but pro teams thought so little of him that he lasted until the 49ers picked him late in the third round. But Joe was both competitive and confident. Guy Benjamin came to the 49ers in 1981 and roomed with Montana on the road and he’s told me that at the time, though Joe had started for only the last half of the 1980 season, he was confident that he would be very successful and make a lot of money. As we know, he was right.
Early in their careers, I thought both Clark and Canseco were headed for the Hall of Fame.
Clark was a great competitor and constantly rode his teammates to play harder and better. He was a dangerous clutch hitter, as well; he drove in the winning run as the Giants beat the Cubs in the NL Championship Series in 1989.
Canseco became a superb all-round player, an outfielder who led the league in assists one year and a hitter who became the first to have 40 homes and 40 steals in one year while hitting over. 300. Contrary to his image, he was also a student of the game. I did a magazine piece on him at that time and he explained how he studied pitchers.
But, neither made the Hall. Clark was too lazy to work out in the offseason and, after he hit 30, that lack of training caused him to be hit by frequent nagging injuries that sharply reduced his effectiveness. Canseco just went crazy, thinking he only had to hit home runs. His batting average fell and his fielding declined to the point that he became a joke, getting hit on the head by a fly ball one time.
The problem for teams, of course, is that they can’t measure a player’s mental attitude – though NFL teams try with pre-draft tests. But, a player’s mental attitude is often the determinant for his success.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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