Giants Trade? JaMarcus Russell, God Bless America, Alvin Dark/Charlie Fox
by Glenn Dickey
Jul 07, 2010

THE GIANTS are in Milwaukee which is significant for two reasons: They are talking about a deal with the Brewers and they are playing a team they can beat.

There has long been talk that the Giants are interested in Prince Fielder but his contract is up at the end of the season and, with the inflated Barry Zito/ Aaron Rowand contracts still on the books (and both back-loaded) for 2011, it’s highly doubtful that the Giants could re-sign him.

The other intriguing possibility is right fielder Corey Hart, who is on the National League All-Star team. . Hart is a 28-year-old who is having his best year, with 19 home runs in approximately half a season, and he’s under contract for next season, too.

He would give the Giants another sorely-needed middle of the lineup type of power hitter. Right now, it’s down to Aubrey Huff, who has been a very pleasant surprise. Juan Uribe has been slumping because of a finger injury and there’s no other Giant who looks capable of 20 homers for the season.

Hart wouldn’t hit as many home runs for the Giants as he has for the Brewers, who play in a hitter-friendly park, but he’s a right-handed hitter and AT&T Park is not a difficult park for right-handed power hitters. Jeff Kent proved that years ago. And, he would complement the left-handed hitting Huff well.

That’s the end of the good news. The Brewers badly need starting pitching, so they would part with Hart only if they got somebody out of the Giants rotation. Not Zito. His salary is overwhelming, especially now that he’s returned to normal after his hot start. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have long been off limits. With Lincecum’s recent slump, Jonathan Sanchez has been the Giants most consistent starter, so it’s hard to see Brian Sabean trading him. That leaves Madison Bumgarner, who’s only 20 and seems to have a bright future. The Giants have been all about building around pitching in recent years – which is a sensible approach – so it’s hard to believe they’ll let Bumgarner go.

But, it wouldn’t make sense for the Brewers to trade for a pitcher in the Giants farm system because they need pitching help now. Hart is in the prime of his career and they’ll probably want to sign him to a long-term contract before the 2012 season.

Without that kind of addition, it’s hard to see the Giants as serious contenders for the postseason. Their pattern throughout the first half has been a consistent one: They beat up on the weaker teams and lose to the good ones. They’ve lost six straight three-game series to teams with winning records, and they also lost a four-game series to Colorado last weekend. They have a losing record against the three teams ahead of them in the NL West. As of this morning, they trailed the Padres by 6 games in the NL West and were behind five other National League teams in the wild card race.

Do you see anything in that which would make you think they can reach the playoffs? Me, neither.

I got some idea of how the rest of baseball sees the Giants when I was interviewed by a Phoenix radio station after the trade of Bengie Molina. My interviewer asked me if I thought the Giants might try to unload players after the All-Star break, especially Huff, who would have value to a contender.

My answer was a definite no. The Giants can’t afford to concede the season because they don’t want their fans to lose hope. With that $20 million yearly payment they have to make on the park debt, they need to keep filling it. Bay Area fans are notoriously fickle. As soon as the Giants fans sense that the team management has given up, so will they.

But it was significant that an outside observer thought it might be time for the Giants to admit that they are no longer in playoff contention.

RUINED LIVES: JaMarcus Russell has been arrested for possession of a controlled substance and I thought once again how young people can ruin their lives when they seem to have everything to live for.

This self-destruction is not limited to athletes or to any ethnic group. The big story yesterday was Lindsay Lohan being sent back to jail for violating conditions of her probation. In the ‘80s, when athletes use of cocaine became a scandal within baseball, particularly, I remember riding a BART train and seeing a poster identifying the typical cocaine user: It was a white male lawyer.

Even earlier, when my wife and I got married in 1967, we were living on the edge of the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco, as young people of differing backgrounds destroyed themselves on LSD and similar drugs.

Now, the latest thing apparently is the “hip hop culture” which mixes codeine syrup with alcohol to produce a mind-boggling high. And, Russell was apparently in the middle of it. Police had been watching his home for some time because he was having parties there, and he and his friends were all drinking the concoction.

Apparently, Russell had been doing this while he was in Oakland with the Raiders, too. No wonder he was reported to be falling asleep in team meetings.

After a sensational collegiate career at LSU, Russell seemed to have a chance to be an outstanding pro player as well. Instead, he’s become a laughingstock and a symbol of wasted talent.

Late last season, Raider head coach Tom Cable had finally had enough of Russell’s poor work habits, which led to poor play on the field. With Al Davis’s support, he benched Russell.

When the Raiders traded for Jason Campbell, it was obvious Russell was on the way out. He wasn’t released until after the first spring workout, probably because the Raiders were trying to get him to agree to a reduced contract, as Alex Smith did last year with the 49ers. When he refused, Russell was cut.

Now, his NFL career may be over. I can’t imagine an NFL team signing him because he hasn’t shown either the consistency or discipline a team needs from its quarterback. When you add in a drug problem . . .

MISPLACED PATRIOTISM: Lowell Cohn was on with Gary Radnich last week and said he objected to the playing of “God Bless America” before the start of the seventh inning of Sunday games. Predictably, e-mails protesting his stand came flooding in. Equally predictably, I agree with him.

Patriotism is not the issue here. I’m proud to be an American. We hang the American flag out every Fourth of July – it’s still hanging from our balcony as I write this – and we have a traditional Fourth of July get-together with our son and daughter-in-law, complete with grilled steak and corn-on-the-cob among other things. I listened to Nancy Sinatra’s program of patriotic songs on Sirius twice, because it was replayed on Tuesday. We gave up going to fireworks shows years ago because, in the Bay Area, what you see is well-lighted fog, but we love the TV shows of the program in Washington, D.C.

I also believe that playing “God Bless America” at ballparks in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was absolutely the right thing to do. We needed a time to heal as a nation, and hearing Kate Smith belt it out was one way of doing that.

But for an ordinary baseball game? Forget it.

I’ve written before, too, that playing the National Anthem before every sporting event makes a mockery of the anthem and cheapens it.

Again, there was originally a good reason for this.
During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged major league baseball to keep playing to keep the morale of the people up. To avoid criticism from those who did not know this, owners decided to play the National Anthem before every game. (It had only been designated as such in 1916 by President Wilson and confirmed by Congress in 1931. And you thought Congress moves slowly today.)

After the war, the practice spread to every event, though it makes little sense. Why nefore a game when it isn’t played before other forms of entertainment, like plays, the opera, the ballet? Are they less American?

The fact is, professional sports leagues shamelessly exploit patriotism, especially if there’s a profit motive. The latest example: The white caps which are supposedly raising money for veterans. In fact, almost all the profit goes to the baseball clubs.

The NFL is the worst. Games not only have the National Anthem but often feature displays of rockets and military jets flying over the stadiums. The language of the game is filled with military jargon.

I have no hope of ever winning this argument. Playing the game of phony patriotism has been a winning strategy for pro teams and leagues.

BEWARE OF BLOGGERS: On SF Gate this week, a blogger was rating the best SF Giants managers and put Charlie Fox two spots ahead of Alvin Dark.

Oh, boy. This is exactly the problem with the Internet. There’s a lot of valid information out there but it’s generally overwhelmed by bloggers who have nothing to offer but their opinions, unsubstantiated by fact or any kind of contact with the individuals of whom they write.

So, let me tell you of my experiences with the two gentlemen in question.

Dark was the manager of the Giants when I first came to The Chronicle in April, 1963, and I had already had some contact with him before that because I had covered the 1962 World Series games in San Francisco for the – are you ready? – the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian and Sun. Hard as it Is to believe in this era of shrinking newspapers, there were once three daily newspapers in Watsonville, a town of less than 20,000, and the paper for which I worked was a result of a merge of the three.

Dark was a very competitive man, as a player and as a manager, and he was also a strange personality mixture, having been born and raised in the segregationist South. He had his problems with both the blacks and the Latinos on the team, though none at all with Willie Mays, with whom he had played in New York. Willie’s talent trumped everything. Dark tried in vain to break up the racial cliques in the clubhouse, and he also tried to force the Latino players to speak English, which didn’t work well, either..

But none of Dark’s beliefs kept him from playing his best players, and he was a strategic genius. Sometimes, too much of one. When he and Gene Mauch faced each other, it was like a gigantic chess game.

Dark was also a master at handling a pitching staff. He often said, “You should only take a pitcher out if you think the pitcher you’re bringing in will be better.” More managers should pay attention to that.

And, Dark was one of three managers who got the SF Giants into the World Series.

Fox was a very outgoing man who got along very well with those in his age group, which included the writers who were covering the Giants at the time. Te press lounge was well stocked with liquor in those days and Fox would stop by and drink with the writers. Not surprisingly, they praised him in print.

Fox, though, did not get along with his ballplayers. When I went on a trip in June, 1972, I had several players come up to me with complaints about Fox. They didn’t want to be quoted, for obvious reasons, but it was good background material for me.

Unlike Dark, Fox wasn’t very good at handling his pitching staff, and it was generally thought that he was behind the trade of Gaylord Perry for Sam McDowell. (When I interviewed Fox for my 1997 history of the Giants, he denied that.) He also played players out of position, trying Dave Kingman at third base, for instance.

Of the Giants managers I’ve seen, I would rank Dark, Dusty Baker, Frank Robinson and Roger Craig (before he lost interest) as the best, in about that order.

Fox? Not even close.

OOPS: When I was writing in the Examiner on Tuesday about the black stars who came into baseball in the ‘50s, I was thinking Roy Campanella but wrote Campy Campaneris, whose name was in my mind because of his recent induction into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.

LAST FRIDAY: For some reason, my column on Bengie Molina was dropped early from the Examiner website. For those who missed it, go to the Examiner Home Page on the net, scroll all the way to the bottom (it will take awhile) and you’ll see columnists listed with their most recent columns. I’m on the top right.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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