by Glenn Dickey
Jun 09, 2010

THE 49ERS have surmounted their first challenge in building a new stadium with a 61 per cent approval by Santa Clara voters yesterday of a measure which will provide a small percentage of the total cost of the stadium, which may exceed $1 billion.

The Santa Clara contribution, which did not affect the city’s general fund, was necessary to call it a public-private plan which would be eligible for NFL assistance. There is no money now in the league’s G-3 program but it will certainly be refunded by the time the 49ers could actually start construction.

There is one parallel between the 49ers effort and the successful effort in Arizona to build a new stadium for the Cardinals: In each instance, it was only possible when that son of an ineffectual owner took control. In the 49ers case, it has been Jed York who spearheaded the Santa Clara campaign, going door-to-door himself to talk to voters. The 49ers are in good hands with Jed York.

Much work still needs to be done. The 49ers have been in a contentious discussion over parking with Cedar Fair, owners of bordering Great America.

Most important is the financing that remains. I sat down with the 49ers task force, headed up by Lisa Lang, last spring to get a comprehensive look at the plan, and I think it’s a good one. I’ve looked at many stadium/ball park plans over the last 30 years, so I know the differences between a dream (Lew Wolff’s A’s park idea) and a plan. At the time and in print subsequently, I’ve questioned their estimates on what they can raise from PSLs and stadium naming rights, an area which has dried up recently. The new Cowboys stadium and the combined Jets/Giants stadium for New Jersey have yet to sell naming rights.

Without question, the key for the 49ers will be a marked improvement on the field. If they can once again get back to the playoffs and make a serious run at Super Bowl contention, they will be able to sell PSLs and interest investors in the Silicon Valley. Teams that finish around .500 won’t generate that kind of interest.

I’m optimistic that will happen. They seem to have solidified their front office. Trent Baalke doesn’t have the title, but he’s the general manager. I met Baalke when he conducted a post-draft video session with reporters, and I was impressed by the way he analyzed players and described how the Niners conducted their draft.

Mike Singletary is still growing as a head coach. He’s not a brilliant football mind like Bill Walsh, but he’s an inspirational leader, more in the mode of his former coach with the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka – who won a Super Bowl.

The draft added two much needed parts in offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, who have been alternating between working with the first and second units in spring drills but will no doubt be starters in the fall.

Quarterback Alex Smith is enjoying his first experience with working with the same system two years in a row. He’s so confident now, he’s even advising the other quarterbacks. Smith showed flashes of being a great quarterback last season but lacked consistency. I expect him to show that consistency this season and lead the Niners into the playoffs.

Does that mean the 49ers will be playing in a new stadium by 2014? I’m still skeptical, but their chances are looking brighter all the time.

JOHN WOODEN: I arrived at Cal in the fall of 1956 in time to watch two coaching legends, Wooden and Pete Newell, square off in a rivalry that featured totally contrasting playing styles.

Wooden had played high school ball in Indiana, staying in-state to be an All-American at Purdue – and eventually a member of the Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. The style he learned was fast break basketball, and he brought that to UCLA in 1949.

That ran counter to the style that dominated west coast basketball at the time. Pete Newell and Phil Woolpert had both learned a suffocating defensive style and conrolled offense from Jimmy Needles at Loyola of Los Angeles. Newell had won the NIT (then the bigger tournament than the NCAA) in 1949 with USF and would later win the NCAA title with Cal in 1959 and finish second in 1960. Woolpert had won back-to-back NCAA titles at USF with the Bill Russell teams and a then record 60 straight games.

Wooden’s overwhelming offensive style brought him early success at UCLA, but Newell figured out how to counter that style, and he won the last eight games that Cal and UCLA played before Newell’s retirement after the 1960 season.
The key to the Newell/Woolpert teams was a trapping defense, sometimes called a zone press, in which two defenders surrounded the player bringing the ball up the floor, often either stealing it or forcing an errant pass, either one of which usually resulted in a basket for the team that had been on defense.

That defense frustrated Wooden’s UCLA teams. Would it have continued to do so if Newell hadn’t retired? We’ll never know but judging on the way Wooden made other adjustments in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I think he would have figured out a way to counteract the Newell defense. But, he didn’t do it while Newell was there.

Wooden wasn’t the revered figure then that he later became. Officials didn’t like the way he constantly badgered them while keeping his voice low enough that it couldn’t be heard by fans. Other coaches thought he was a hypocrite because he was criticizing officials while pretending not to, and they thought he was sanctimonious, which was really just his Midwestern background, much different than the freewheeling California style.

I’ve seen stories since his death talking about his insistence that his players be clean shaven and short-haired, but that was the norm of the time. There were a few rebels, and I was one, growing a beard in 1961 that, of course, I still have, but as late as the mid-‘70s, Cincinnati manager Sparky Andersoon insisted that all members of “The Big Red Machine” be clean-shaven.

Conformity was the rule when Wooden started at UCLA and it didn’t change for nearly 20 years. By the time rebellion – sparked by Vietnam War protests – had taken effect in the late ‘60s, Wooden had had so much success that players didn’t question him. He had some rebels – Bill Walton used to answer the phone by saying, “Impeach Nixon” – but they all did what he wanted on the court.

Wooden started changing his coaching approach in the ‘60s, incorporating the defensive principles he’d seen with Newell’s team. Soon, writers with very short memories were talking of UCLA’s “zone press” as if Wooden had invented it.

His first champion, the 1963-64 team, was probably his best job of coaching because he had little size, with 6-5 Fred Slaughter his tallest player. On later teams he would have two of the best big men ever, Lew Alcindor (who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a pro) and Walton, but those great players were also very independent. A lesser coach might have struggled to fit them into the team concept, but Wooden handled that challenge easily.

On a Comcast “Chronicle Live” show last Friday night, we talked of Wooden’s legacy, but to me, legacy means creating a system others follow. Walsh comes to mind, with an offensive scheme which is used in some form by more than half the NFL teams today.

Wooden wasn’t like that. His genius was in taking the best from other systems and incorporating that into his system. And, he was always a good teacher because he was able to get his players to listen to him, which isn’t always easy. He was a great coach, certainly, but not an innovator. There is no “Wooden system” making its way through collegiate basketball.

Just as he grew as a coach, I thought Wooden grew as a person, especially after he retired from coaching. He seemed to open up more to people, giving speeches, issuing one sentence homilies that were heartfelt, though they seemed to come straight out of the Reder’s Digest.

But, that was Wooden. Though he lived in California for the last 61 years of his life, he remained a Midwestern in his behavioral patterns I’m familiar with that pattern. My parents were born and raised in the Midwest and, though we moved to California in 1946 and they were always very happy to be here, they remained Midwesterners to their core.

So, Wooden remained comfortable in his life style and adored by those who met him, only a few of whom had actually seen his teams play, for 35 years after his retirement from coaching.

BASEBALL INSTANT REPLAY: Even for a sport which resists change, this one should be a no-brainer. It wouldn’t even cause a significant delay in the games.

I don’t advocate using it on balls and strikes. That would open a Pandora’s box. It should be limited to questionable home run calls – it’s already used on that – and disputed calls on the bases.

Every baseball press box has multiple TV monitors. Even if a game isn’t televised, a rarity these days, there are inhouse telecasts. All IR would require is an umpire looking at a monitor, with the ability to back up and take a look at a controversial play. If it’s a televised game, that would happen without him doing anything. If it’s necessary to overturn the call, he could make the decision while arguments were still going on down on the field.

The arguments against it are silly, including the one that Instant Replay would turn baseball into a “video game.” Really? Is football a video game because it uses IR? Hardly. It’s still humans playing the game.

The 1977 AFC championship game, when Denver was awarded a touchdown though the replays on national television showed the back was tackled a couple of yards short of the end zone, spurred the movement to NFL Instant Replay.

Now, the blown call on what should have been a perfect game wil probably do the same for baseball because so many people who don’t follow baseball closely, if at all, have gotten involved in the debate. Baseball would be found guilty in the court of public opinion if it ignored this problem now. Since it would be so easy to implement the system, I expect it will be in place by next season.

In the meantime, commissioner Bud Selig should have nullified the call and given Armando Galarraga his perfect game. Of course it would set a precedent. In the future, any time there was a blown call on the 27th out of a perfect game, it would have to be overturned. How often do you think that would happen? It never had before in baseball history.

But Bud wouldn’t do it. After all, that decision wouldn’t have brought additional revenue into the game.

PAC-10 EXPANSION: The expansion of the Pac-10 to at least 12 teams is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

There’s a lot to be said for conferences whose teams are in the same geographical area. I was opposed to the addition of the Arizona schools in the late ‘70s – and I still don’t like it, for reasons that are no longer important – but those schools are at least contiguous to the west coast schools. Texas and Oklahoma, which are the key to the expansion, are not.

The beauty of the Pac-10 has been that it has played a total round robin schedule in football and a home-and-home basketball schedule. It hasn’t been the victim of scheduling in which a team misses another top opponent in a given year. A team that has won a Pac-10 championship in either football or basketball has earned it.

That will no longer be possible with the expansion of the conference because it will not be possible to play a round-robin and still bring in outside opponents for nonconference games.

The other problem is travel. Trips to Oklahoma and Texas will be reasonable only for the Arizona schools. And, how do you think Texas will like traveling to Pullman, Washington to play the Cougars? That will certainly be a highlight for the Longhorns!

Will the new alignment also include basketball? I’d assume so, but travel will be even more of a problem in that sport because of the longer schedule. One solution might be to split the conference into divisions. If only two teams are added, that might mean a Southern Division with Oklahoma and Texas put in with the Arizona schools and UCLA and USC. But that would eliminate one of the great conference rivalries, Cal-UCLA.

Despite these obstacles, expansion will happen for the usual reason: money. An expanded Pac-10 can expect to negotiate a much more lucrative television contract, The fact that it will come at the price of integrity won’t bother the conference’s schools one iota.

NO OFFENSE: I was amused by Sports Illustrated’s gyrations last week to explain the sudden emergence of the pitchers, highlighted by what should have been three perfect games in a month, after only 19 in baseball’s previous history.

The emergence of good young pitchers was cited and, of course, the new drug policy. As I’ve written before, that policy is a joke because the top sluggers use Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which cannot be detected in an urine test. David Ortiz, who tested positive earlier, was thought to be through earlier but hit 10 home runs in May. Yeah, he’s definitely “clean”.

Think about this for a minute: If pitchers and hitters are both taking performance enhancing drugs, as the leaked test results showed, who has the advantage? But if the ball is juiced, the batters are the only ones who benefit. And, if the ball is de-juiced, the pitchers benefit.

I believe the ball has been de-juiced in the last two years. It’s easy to control the ball; a slight difference in how tightly the yarn is wound will do it. MLB officials always claim there’s no difference from year to year, but their representatives are supervising the testing. Give me a break.

It’s always a delicate balance. It isn’t good if every game seems like a home run contest. On the other hand, the most boring season I’ve known was 1968, when ordinary pitchers were throwing shutouts. Gaylord Perry and Ray Washburn threw consecutive no-hitters at Candlestick.

After that year, the rulesmakers lowered the mound, and offense returned to the game.

I suspect after this season, baseball people will order the ball tighter wound, but not so much that they can’t continue to claim that their drug policy is working Hypocrisy reigns.

YOUNG PLAYERS: Dusty Baker, now managing the Cincinnati Reds, has a young roster and says that’s what he’s always wanted.

That wasn’t his reputation with the Giants, of course. It was a given that Dusty preferred to work with veterans. Of course, he had no choice.

And, now that he’s long gone, the Giants are still an old team.

Similarly, some writers blamed Peter Magowan for bad signings, especially Barry Zito. But the overpriced signings have continued, with Edgar Renteria, two years at $18.5 million, and Aaron Rowand, five years, $60 million, the latest blunders.

There’s one constant in Giants management through all this. I’ll give you a hint: His title is general manager.

BLUE HONORED: A tribute to Vida Blue will be held at Ozumo’s Restaurant, 2250 Broadway, Oakland, on July 14. Rich Lieberman, who put on the successful Jim Brown event earlier this year, is in charge. Tickets are $50, with proceeds going to the Vida Blue Foundation. They’re available at the restaurant or by calling (510) 286-9866.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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