by Glenn Dickey
Jul 14, 2010

MIDSEASON EVALUATIONS: At just past the halfway mark in the long season, thereís some reason for optimism for both the Giants and the Aís, as well as some reasons for concern.

In some significant ways, the Giants are stronger than the team which started the season. Andres Torres is a much better leadoff hitter than Aaron Rowand, whose five-year, $60 million contract is looking worse and worse. Madison Bumgarner is a big improvement as the fifth starter over Todd Wellmeyer. Buster Posey is likewise a big improvement offensively over Bengie Molina, and Iím not hearing any more comments from Giants pitchers about needing to pitch to Molina.

There are also some flukey things happening. Travis Ishikawa has hit better in a short span this season than he ever has, in the minors or with the Giants. He was used first as a pinch-hitter and lately has been playing more regularly. I donít expect his hitting success to continue. Heís a great defensive first baseman, only a shade off J. T. Snow, the best defensive first baseman Iíve ever seen, so he has value as a defensive replacement in late innings and a pinch-hitter. I think that will soon be his role again..

Once Ishikawa cools off, the Giants will be better with Aubrey Huff at first. Huff has been the biggest surprise of the year. Heís been at least decent as a fielder at both first and in the outfield, and heís on his way to being the Giantsí first 30-homer hitter since Barry Bonds. Playing Huff at first gives manager Bruce Bochy the ability to go for either defense in the outfield, playing Nate Schierholtz, or hitting, with Pat Burrell.

Problems have also appeared for the Giants, even with the pitching staff which should be the teamís strength. After a fantastic start, Barry Zito has reverted to being. . . well, Barry Zito. He couldnít protect big leads in his last two starts, and he has one win in two months. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have all been erratic.

The Giants got younger by substituting Posey for Molina, but theyíre still an old team, with as many as six position players over the age of 30 on the field at the same time. Down the stretch, that age makes them more vulnerable to injury and fatigue. I donít expect them to finish strong.

But the biggest negative the Giants face is their first half pattern of beating up on mediocre-to-bad teams and losing to the good ones. They came into the break having lost their last six three-game series to teams with winning records (plus a four-game series to Colorado). They have losing records against all three teams ahead of them in the NL West and, overall, are 9-20 in their division. They continued that pattern in the last three weeks before the break, going 6-1 against Milwaukee and Washington after going 2-8 against the Red Sox, Dodgers and Rockies.

Until they can prove they can beat the better teams, the Giants have to be regarded as pretenders, not contenders.

The Aís started strong but then fell out of the race in June as they had a bad month at the same time Texas got hot. The Rangers, who always score a lot of runs but have pitching problems in their hitter-friendly park, have gotten even stronger with the addition of Cliff Lee in a trade with Seattle. On a conference call last week with Bud Selig and the Fox announcers, Selig was asked how the Rangers, who are in bankruptcy, could afford to add Leeís contract. Selig replied that the Rangersí baseball operation is doing fine financially. Itís the owner, Tom Hicks, who is in bankruptcy. When the new ownership group takes over, the Rangers will be fine.

As has been true for the last four years, the Aís have suffered from injuries. Three of the five-man rotation which started the season Ė Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden and Justin Duchscherer Ė have been on the disabled list. Duchscherer has undergone his second hip surgery and his career with the Aís, if not his career in general, appears to be over.

But the Aís have a pitching coach, Curt Young, who is very good at working with young pitchers. Trevor Cahill, who started the season on the DL and then was optioned to Sacramento when he got healthy, has since won nine games and been an All-Star. Gio Gonzales is starting to live up to his potential. Anderson and Braden should both be ready to go when the Aís resume their season in Kansas City, so their pitching should be a strength in the second half.

Lacking power, the Aís decided to go to a running game this year but the supposed catalyst for that, Coco Crisp, has spent more time on the DL than in the lineup.

Even with all their problems, the Aís finished the first half just three games under .500. I expect them to play better in the second half and finish over .500 but it is unrealistic to expect them to be contenders, either for the AL West title or the wild card.
Itís difficult for the Aís to find a power hitter in free agency because the Coliseum has a well-deserved reputation as a pitcher-friendly park. Itís really harder on power hitters than AT&T, which is difficult for left-handed hitters who donít pull the ball down the line because of the cavernous area in right center, but is not difficult for right-handed power hitters. The Coliseum is tough on all power hitters because the ball does not usually carry well Ė and it has huge foul areas. Many hitters lose at-bats on foul balls caught in the Coliseum foul area which would be in the seats at AT&T.

In the offseason, the Aís pursued Adrian Beltre and offered him a two-year contract, but Beltre ultimately signed with the Red Sox for one year at $9 million. He said it was a tough decision, but I doubt that. The Red Sox offered him a chance to play in a park which has notoriously favored right-handed hitters, in the middle of a powerful lineup and on a team certain to compete for a spot in the postseason. The Aís couldnít offer any of that.

Grooming power hitters in their farm system has also proved difficult lately for the Aís. Chris Carter and Michael Taylor are both struggling at Triple-A Sacramento. Carter has good power numbers, 19 homers and 64 RBIs in 88 games, but is hitting only .233. Taylor was injured early but is hitting .253 with four homers and 46 RBIs in 74 games.

SAN JOSE AíS? Owner Lew Wolff continues to push to move the team to San Jose, which isnít going to happen. His latest complaint was last weekend to San Jose columnist Mark Purdy, who is always very sympathetic, that Selig appointed to study the situation is moving too slowly.

Thereís a reason for that: Selig is in no hurry. Anybody who has observed Seligís behavior as commissioner knows he only brings an issue to the table when heís absolutely certain he has the votes. Heís better at counting the votes than Nancy Pelosi. If he thought h could overcome the Giantsí territorial rights to Santa Clara County, heíd have presented that long ago. But he knows better.

Frankly, even if the Giants didnít own those rights, it would be difficult to get anything done in San Jose. Wolff wants the city to donate a parcel of land worth $46 million for the park, but it would have to go on the ballot. Does anybody think that San Jose voters would approve that in this economic climate?

The San Jose Aís are still a pipe dream. Sell the team, Lew, and find another real estate project.

COLUMN RENEWAL: Iíve decided to continue my website column for at least another year, starting Sept. 1. For those of you who subscribed through PayPal, I assume you can just renew on your anniversary date. (Iíve never had any experience with PayPal.) Iíd urge any of you who have large e-mail lists to pass around a couple of columns to see if anybody is interested in paying for it. Be sure to tell them they can either subscribe through PayPal or e-mail me to find out how to get on my list for e-mailed columns.

PLAYER EVALUATIONS: A reader pointed out to me that my description of David Lee as a good defender (in my Tuesday Examiner column) was in contradiction to opinions by two other Bay Area columnist, Tim Kawakami and Lowell Cohn, both of whom I respect.

In this case, my opinion was based on Leeís reputation in the league because I havenít seen enough of him to be certain of my evaluation. Iíve also learned to be cautious about judging players traded from other teams because I donít see them on a regular basis. For instance, Freddy Sanchez is a better defensive second baseman than I thought, and Edgar Renteria is a worse defensive shortstop than I thought before each came to the Gians.

With NBA players, thereís an added difficulty. Because the travel schedule is so rigorous, players are often tired and donít show their best game on the road. Thatís especially true on defense; if fatigue causes a player to be a step slow, itís the difference between a stop and a layup for the offensive player.

LEBRON JAMES: The reaction to Jamesí hour-long telecast announcing his signing with the Miami Heat, has been emotional. One reader said, even in an era in which Terrell Owens operates, James set the bar for self-promotion. Another fan commented that he had stabbed Cleveland in the back. The Cleveland owner issued a statement making the same charge.

As to the first charge, Iíd agree Ė except that James was doing it to raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. It wasnít all about him.

The second charge is just ridiculous. As Iíve written countless times, athletes owe their best efforts to the fans and clubs for which they play, and nobody can argue that James didnít do that for the Cavaliers.
And, when he hit free agency, he had every right to go where he wanted. He has always said he wanted to play on a championship team. He did everything possible himself to make that come true, but the self-serving Cleveland owner didnít make it happen.

In a way, itís much like Jason Giambi leaving the Aís to go to the Yankees. It was obvious in May of his last season with the Aís that he would leave for the Yankees. I wrote that in The Chronicle and Giambi confronted me angrily in the Aís locker room the next time he saw me Ė because I was right. But, I never blamed Giambi. He wanted to be on the biggest stage and he had certainly given the Aís his best.

Giambi went to a winner and James is doing the same thing. Heís in a great position, on a front line with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade which is easily the best in the game. I wish him all the best.

GEORGE STEINBRENNER Give Steinbrenner his due: He pioneered an idea in sports television that made him even richer than he already was.

Steinbrenner was the first to start up a regional pay-TV network with Yankee games going all over the northeast an even into Canada. That, even more than the exorbitant ticket prices at games, is the reason the Yankees can afford payrolls far beyond every other team.

The Yankees are not alone in that area. The Red Sox also have a regional pay-tv network, as do the Seattle Mariners, but neither can match the Yankees. And teams like the Giants and Aís, who have to split revenue and donít have much population to reach outside the Bay Area, canít begin to compete.

Because Steinbrenner was smarter than the commissioner Ė damning with faint praise, there Ė he was able to keep Selig from including those TV revenues in figuring a luxury tax.

In that, he continued a long tradition of bullying Yankees owners, which is a reason my admiration for Steinbrenner is muted and my hatred of the Yankees remains strong. Any day the Yankees lose is a good day, and if the Dallas Cowboys lose on the same day, itís time to break out the champagne.

KEN DITO is doing the kind of talk show, ďPress Box,Ē on XM Radio, 860 a.m. , that I wish had existed 25 years ago. I was a guest on the first show on Monday and Iíll be a guest again at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday) and Ken promises that Iíll be a regular.

Dito is sports director for the station but when he was first approached to do this show he said absolutely not, because he thought the station wanted him to take calls from listeners. Instead, what they wanted was for him to have regular guests, many of them sportswriters, who would discuss the issues of the day. Ken was fine with that.

It was about 25 years ago that Bill Dwyer, then the general manager of KNBR, wanted me to do a sports talk show. He took me to lunch at Trader Vicís twice, trying to convince me. I enjoyed the lunches but turned him down each time.

I had two problems with the show. The first was that it was from 7-10 p.m. The dinner hour has always been sacred in the Dickey household. There were times when I had to cover a night game and times when Nancy had to go out on a real estate appointment, but 99 per cent of the time, Nancy and I Ė and Scott while he was home Ė gathered together to eat and discuss what we had done during the day. The TV set, not incidentally, was never in the kitchen or dining room. Unless youíre single, watching TV while eating dinner defines you as a clod.

The other problem I had was the audience. I prefer to talk sports with people who know more about the subject. Sometimes, thatís the professionals, from Bill Walsh to Tony La Russa. Sometimes, itís my colleague. I will often ask Marty Lurie about specific ballplayers because he knows everything thatís happening in baseball. Sometimes, itís my readers who send me links to helpful stories; Cal alums are especially good at this.

But I could never have spent three hours a night talking to people who had nothing better to do with their lives than listen to a radio sports talk show at night. Iíd have gone crazy in a week.

Iíve never regretted my decision and Iíve had several opportunities to be on radio and TV since; I still make occasional appearances on the ďChronicle LiveĒ show on Comcast. But if Iíd had a chance to do the kind of show Dito will be doing Ė especially if it were during the day Ė Iíd have been very tempted.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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