Dallas Braden/Ben Roethisberger; Jack Cust/Eric Chavez; Cal in 2011
by Glenn Dickey
May 12, 2010




DALLAS BRADEN is a welcome antidote to the run of bad news about athletes. Call him the anti-Ben. Roethlisberger, that is.

Roethlisberger was not tried on a sexual assault charge in Georgia, because the district attorney’s office didn’t think there was enough evidence. These cases are very difficult to prosecute because they’re usually a he-said, she-said type of thing, with little or no independent evidence.

That didn’t stop NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from suspending Big Ben for six games, and threatening more, citing a pattern of behavior, which included a similar charge in Lake Tahoe the year before. Goodell’s action was backed up the Pittsburgh Steelers owners, the Rooney family, who have been embarrassed by their quarterback’s behavior. Before his suspension, there was talk that Roethlisberger might be traded, and that could still happen, after he’s off suspension.

Since he hasn’t been tried, I won’t assume Roethlisberger’s guilt, but the accounts of what happened that week in Georgia make it obvious that, at the very least, he’s hanging out with a bad crowd. It sounded like the worst kind of “spring break” activity, but Roethlisberger is 28, long past college age. Though he suffered severe injuries a few years back because he was not wearing a helmet when he crashed his motorcycle, he’s reportedly still riding without his helmet. If he were 16, his behavior would be called reckless.

The NFL has seemed to have the highest number of out-of-control players lately, from Plaxico Burress carrying a concealed weapon, with which he shot himself in a New York night club, to Michael Vick being involved in dog fighting. Vick served a prison term and is back on the field. Burress is in prison now, and his athletic future is in serious question.

I’m not one to say athletes should be role models, any more than entertainers should be. Would you like your daughter to emulate Lindsay Lohan?

Still, it’s nice to see Braden in the spotlight because he’s a genuinely good person. He has solicited, matched and served Thanksgiving Day dinners at St. Mary’s Interfaith Community Service in his home town of Stockton, he is sponsoring one child a year from a single parent family who participates in Hoover Tyler Little League (where he started) in Stockton and has also purchased tickets to A’s games for players in that league.

Along the way, he’s also developed his pitching skills. He has never been an overpowering pitcher and, frankly, when I first saw him, I thought he’d never make it on the major league level. But he’s had the benefit of working with A’s pitching coach Curt Young, who was the same kind of pitcher, a lefthander with a mediocre fast ball but good control with his breaking pitches.

Braden progressed from 1-8 start in 2007 to 8-9 with a 3.89 ERA last season. His continued improvement this year has made him the most consistent of the A’s starters, with the more talented Brett Anderson on the DL.

Still, he remained under the radar until he challenged Alex Rodriguez for running across the mound, which was still a big story in New York through last Saturday.

All that changed in a big way when Braden threw his perfect game on Sunday. Now, everybody knows him – and his grandmother. Her funny comment, “Stick It, A-Rod!”, made the front page of New York papers.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, or family.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: In 1968, I covered the A’s on their first home stand, for two weeks.

Then, I went on vacation, and Catfish Hunter pitched a perfect game.

Last weekend, the A’s played two games. I opted to go to the Saturday game.

The baseball gods do not love me.

A’S ATTENDANCE: A new theory about the A’s drop in attendance surfaced in a press box discussion during the A’s win over Tampa Bay on Saturday: that televising almost all their games has caused A’s fans to stay home and watch on TV.

Unfortunately for those making that argument, the Giants’ attendance has remained around the three million level every season they’ve been in AT&T Park – and at much higher prices than the A’s charge – though they haven’t been in the playoffs since 2003.. This year, despite the bad economy, attendance is even up. And for those who argue it’s because of the park, the Pirates are not drawing in their park, which is much like AT&T and newer. A new park is only a temporary panacea. Ask the Indians, Tigers or Orioles about that.

The other story that surfaced last week is that, when owners negotiate a new contract with the Players Association next year, they’ll threaten that Oakland and another club will be eliminated if the A’s can’t move to San Jose.

What? The P.A. has nothing to do with where teams play. That’s up to the owners. In this case , of course, the Giants have a provision in their contract that no other major league team can be located in San Francisco, San Mateo or Santa Clara counties; most of San Jose is in Santa Clara county. That can only be changed by a three-quarters vote of all owners, and if they tried that, they’d face a legal battle. Of course, the MLB constitution says owners can’t sue each other. The NFL constitution also provided that a team couldn’t move without three-quarters approval of other owners. I guess Al Davis didn’t read that part when he moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles without ever asking his fellow owners. William Neukom, managing general partner of the Giants, was the president of the American Bar Association before he assumed his current position. You can be sure Neukom would use the Davis precedent if baseball owners were foolish enough to allow an A’s move to San Jose.

There is no secret why A’s attendance keeps going down: The Lew Wolff-John Fisher ownership team. Attendance has declined every year these two have owned the team. Wolff has directly ordered such anti-fan moves as closing off almost all of the upper deck and canceling the very popular Fan Fest. He’s also issued public statements that he can’t make it in Oakland. Way to encourage your fans, Lew.

Last week, Wolff told Chronicle writer John Shea that he had tried hard to find a location in Oakland, pointing to a 200-page study. I haven’t seen the study but I know that the only Oakland site he considered was across 66th Avenue from the current site. He apparently wanted Oakland officials to help him buy up the land cheaply so he could make another one of his real estate deals. When that didn’t happen quickly, he dropped the plan.

Wolff never showed any detailed plans for that mythical stadium, but not long after that, he popped up with a very detailed plan to build a park in Fremont. I missed the dog-and-pony show he had for a media news conference but his son, Keith, showed the plan to me in his San Francisco office. I’ve been looking at park/stadium plans since 1980, so I know what to look for. In this case, I saw a plan that had clearly been designed for San Jose. Keith Wolff even referenced Santana Row at one point. Clearly, this was a plan Lew Wolff had commissioned for San Jose, but when that wasn’t feasible, he switched quickly to Fremont.

The plan would have worked nicely in San Jose, which had the infrastructure to support it, but it was never feasible in either Fremont location that Wolff suggested. To make it worse, residents and businesses in Fremont didn’t wan it. Wolff had to concede.

He hasn’t conceded on San Jose yet, but he doesn’t yet have a workable plan. Sports fans always assume that their cities will welcome sports teams, but that’s not true in the Bay Area. In the early ‘90s, the Giants twice tried to build a park in the South Bay, once in San Jose and once in Santa Clara. Both proposals were rebuffed by voters. Now, the 49ers stadium initiative is on the Santa Clara ballot in June. This measure does not call for ANY money to come directly from Santa Clara; the city’s participation will be a combination of national urban renewal money and an increase on the visitor tax at hotels in the area around the stadium. Yet, there’s no guarantee it will pass.

Wolff’s plan for a park in San Jose calls for the city to give him a parcel of land for which they paid $46 million. Any San Jose official who approves that will be committing political suicide.

As I’ve written before, the best solution is for Wolff and Fisher to sell the A’s. Look for your real estate deals elsewhere, Lew.

JACK CUST: The spectre of Jack Cust looms over the A’s because of Eric Chavez’s problems in coming back from his multiple injuries and surgeries.

Chavez hit his first home run of the season Tuesday night in Arlington, and he has yet to have 100 at-bats, so it’s too early to write him off, but he hasn’t looked good. He’s taken too many good pitches and his bat speed seems slow.

From a personal standpoint, I hope he can pick it up – and I’m sure that A’s general manager Billy Beane feels even more strongly about that. Chavez deserves to get a fair chance because he undoubtedly shortened his career by playing with serious injuries because the A’s needed him.

As a guess, Chavez will get at least another month and perhaps two to prove he can still contribute, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he announces his retirement after that period, and after discussing it with Beane.

At that point, the A’s may have no choice but to bring Cust up from Sacramento. I can only hope that Beane will tell Bob Geren to use Cust only as a DH. Don’t put him in the field again.

CAL IN 2011: A reader pointed out another potential problem for Cal playing its 2011 football season at AT&T: All Giants charter seat owners, of which this reader is one, have the right to purchase tickets to any event at the park. There are about 13,000 who have bought charter seats. If any significant percentage of them exercise their rights, that will put a further dent in the number of seats available for Cal fans.

I think there’s going to be a big backlash from Cal supporters on this decision. The many fans who will be shut out because of the limited seating will be unhappy. Those season ticket holders who are relegated to uncomfortable bleacher seats won’t be happy. And if the Giants are in the postseason next season, perhaps two of the six Cal home games will have to be shifted to another venue.

It doesn’t make financial sense for Cal, either, because they’ll be losing so much attendance. The USC game would easily draw 70,000 at Candlestick, so they’ll sell at least 25,000 fewer tickets.

Cal AD Sandy Barbour cited lack of public transit as a strike against Candlestick. She should have looked south to the little brother: UCLA rents buses to take students from campus to the Rose Bowl for home games. Cal could have done the same for Candlestick and come out far ahead financially.

A big part of the decision was that Giants president Larry Baer is a Cal alum, having graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1980.

I have tremendous respect for Baer. I first met him at least 30 years ago. I think it was in the 1980 season when A’s owner Charlie Finley hadn’t been able to negotiate a radio contract. So, the first 10 A’s home games were broadcast on the Cal radio station – and Larry was the announcer.

Our next connection came in the fall of 1992 when Baer was in the thick of the negotiations to keep the Giants in San Francisco. I was talking to him, Walter Shorenstein, Leigh Stenberg and San Francisco mayor Frank Jordan. That led me to write that there was a good chance the Giants could be kept in San Francisco. Then Chronicle sports editor John Curley called me a Pollyanna, but I knew what was happening and he didn’t. No surprise. Curley was always clueless.

When the Giants started their push for a new park, Baer was the point man, getting Pacific Bell to contribute $50 million to get its name on the park. Talking frequently to Baer, I was able to predict that the park would be built. Because he never talked to Baer, Ray Ratto was predicting the park would never be built until, oh, about three days before it opened.

I can certainly understand why Baer wants his alma mater to play its 2011 football season at AT&T. That still doesn’t make it a good idea.

INJURED PITCERS: In the wake of Robin Roberts death, and the publicity about all the innings he pitched without a serious injury, I heard from a reader who wondered why so many young pitchers are injured these days. In no particular order, this is what I see:

--Steroids. I’ve been amused in the past by writers who vilified Barry Bonds without taking any note of the sudden upswing in pitchers throwing 98-100 mph fast balls. I suspect that many of them were taking something, though I believe Dodger reliever Eric Gagne was the only one who was publicly outed, in the Mitchell report. Steroids can certainly build muscle, with a rise in velocity, but if a pitcher’s frame can’t support those muscles, injuries often occur.

--Difference in coaching pitchers. Roberts knew how to pace himself and he also had excellent control. He gave up a record 505 homers in his career but most of them were one-run homers because he hadn’t walked anybody in front of the home run. Catifhs Hunter was the same kind of pitcher, and both he and Roberts are in the Hall of Fame.

Today, pitchers are told to throw as hard as they can for as long as they can. That’s why there’s so much attention to pitch counts, which dismays old time fans and writers. But a young pitcher throwing six innings today is probably putting more strain on his arm than Roberts did in nine.

--Teams are much more conscious of protecting the health of their pitchers. When I was young, pitchers (and position players) were expected to suck it up when they got hurt because, if they went on the DL, there were young players in the minors to replace them. When he managed the Giants, Roger Craig once told me that he pitched a whole season with what turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. Not surprisingly, that was the year he lost 20 games.

We hear about the pitching marvels like Roberts and Juan Marichal, who knew how to pace themselves, but there’s no telling how many pitchers were burned out by that practice. The best example, of course, is the A’s 1981 rotation of Mike Norris, Steve McCatty, Rick Langford and Brian Kingman. Billy Martin seriously shortened their careers by trying for complete games. Of course, Billy didn’t care because he knew he’d be gone soon. Amusingly, the beat writer on the A’s that year is now a Chronicle sports columnist who consistently condemns what he calls the “pitch count nonsense” but will not admit that his idol, Martin, ruined his pitchers that way.

LINE OF THE WEEK: “It’s only May but as far as other National League pitchers who could keep Tim Lincecum from another Cy Young Award, the most likely candidates reside in the Giants bullpen.—Janice Hough, Palo Alto

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