Stan Musial, Chris Carter, Andrew Luck, Jerry Rice, Jonathan Sanchez
THERE’S AN excellent article on Stan Musial in last week’s Sports Illustrated that will remind many of you, as it did me, of a very different time in sports.
Even in that time, when athletes were much closer to their fans, Musial stood out. When people ask me what superstars were also very receptive to media and fans, I answer Steve Young in my experience, but that everybody who dealt with Musial says he was the best. He signed every autograph, talked to every fan.
I never saw Musial play. My first year at The Chronicle, 1963, was his last season, but I didn’t see any of the Cardinals games when they played in San Francisco – and, of course, there were no televised games during the season. It wasn’t until later that I met Musial, who had become a Cardinal executive and was traveling with the team. We talked for awhile in the press room at Candlestick and it was as if we were longtime friends. In truth, I was awestruck at being in the presence of a legend but he made no note of that, probably because it was hardly a first-time experience for him.
Musial was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame, a longtime star who had played almost continuously for the Cardinals – he served just one year in the military during World War II – and was an integral part of the great Cardinal tradition.
More than that, as he approaches 90, Musial is the symbol of a much simpler time. His fellow superstars, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, have died. Bob Feller is still alive but he is increasingly testy and confrontational, not an easy man to like even if you respect his accomplishments.
In Musial’s time, the reserve clause bound a player to a team as long as the team wanted him, so Musial, Williams and DiMaggio all played their entire careers with one team – though the Red Sox and the Yankees discussed a Williams-DiMaggio trade at one time in the late ‘40s.
That was not fair to the players, who had no bargaining power. When I started writing a column in 1971, I sided with A’s players in their constant disputes with Charlie Finley and with NFL players in their fight for free agency. Then and now, I thought that players deserved to be paid what they were worth to their teams and to have the freedom to leave if they weren’t.
But, there were advantages to the old system, too, because it bound players together on a team and to the fans. The great Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the late ‘40s and ‘50s had a core which stayed together for most of the period: Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Billy Cox, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine. They all lived in Brooklyn, close to Ebbets Field, and would go out to eat together and to the movies. And the fans would talk to them and not harass them.
They were much friendlier to the media, too. The late Leonard Koppett remembered being poolside in spring training with the Yankees one year when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris staged a brief holdout. Mantle passed the pool and said, “Hey, Leonard, we just signed our contracts.”
I got in on the tail end of that era when I covered the Raiders, 1967-71. We traveled with the team and were around players regularly. In training camp, at the long gone El Rancho Tropicana Motel, we’d stop by players rooms after lunch for interviews. In my case, I’d often go to Tom Keating’s big room upstairs where several players were gathered and just listen to them talk. It was understood that I wouldn’t write anything I heard – unless I got it confirmed in a formal interview later – but I learned a lot about football in those sessions.
Nothing like that would be remotely possible today. Interviews have to be set up in advance and are conducted in the locker rooms. It’s a totally different experience.
There’s no going back, but it was enjoyable reading about Musial, whose life seems almost too good to be true. He’s been married to his high school sweetheart for 70 years, he quit smoking early in his career because he was afraid youngsters would follow his smoking example.
Even in that simpler era, Musial stood out, but reading about him brought me flashes of my own long gone youth.
49ERS CHANCES: To the surprise of absolutely nobody, first round draft picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iapatu have been officially moved into the starting lineup in training camp, so they’ll be ready for the Sept. 12 opener in Seattle.
The two were drafted to be starters, and Iapatu has been especially impressive in earlier workouts in the spring. He’s the kind of offensive lineman who punishes the defender opposite him.
It was absolutely essential that the 49ers upgrade their offensive line, so they could make quarterback Alex Smith comfortable operating out of the straight T formation. Smith has been most effective operating out of the spread/shotgun because that was the formation used by his college team, but it’s difficult to run out of that, so Frank Gore was largely wasted. The 49ers have to operate out of the T this year to have the consistent offense they need to become a playoff team.
CHRIS CARTER: Earlier, it seemed Carter, and Michael Taylor, wouldn’t be up with the A’s before September, but Carter came alive on July 1, hitting .321 since then for Sacramento, with power, and is up with the A’s now.
This has been the pattern for Carter, startling slowly but then coming on like gangbusters when he becomes accustomed to the pitching on the new level. In this case, it was a breaking pitch he hadn’t seen before that initially confused him, but he’s figured it out now.
So now, the A’s have to figure how to use him. He has to be in the lineup every day because of his power, a conspicuous lack on the current A’s. But finding a position won’t be easy.
A righthanded hitter (and thrower), Carter is not known for his defensive ability. He’d probably be passable as a first baseman, less so as an outfielder, though any team which would play Jack Cust in the outfield is obviously not too particular about that.
The A’s chances of making the playoffs are remote at best; it would take a spectacular collapse by the Texas Rangers to put them into contention, and I don’t see that happening.
So, what we’re really talking about is getting Carter and the A’s ready for next season.
Left field does not seem like a good option. The A’s have a number of good young outfielders, including Ryan Sweeney, who’s out for the year after surgery, and Taylor, whose hitting has also picked up some at Sacramento. They’ve been building around their good young pitching, so they need to have a strong defense behind them. Neither Carter nor Cust fit that description as outfielders.
At first, the question is whether the A’s can afford to play Daric Barton there. Barton has developed into a superior defensive first baseman and his hitting has improved, but only to the .270=.280 range. His on-base percentage is high, always an important factor for the A’s, but he’s a doubles hitter, not a home run hitter. On a club which has so little power, that’s a serious problem.
Carter’s best position may be DH, which could mean a final farewell to Cust, who has been a mixed blessing. He hits home runs but he strikes out so frequently that he can be a rally-killer in the middle of the lineup. When he was sent to Sacramento at the start of the season, no other major league club tried to acquire him, which tells the story.
ANDREW LUCK: This will be an interesting year for the Stanford quarterback, in his second season as a starter.
Defensive coaches always make their plans dependent on the one player they think they have to stop. Against Stanford last year, that was Toby Gerhart. Not that it did any good because Gerhart had an outstanding season but he was definitely the focus for opposing defenses. That meant that Luck was almost an after thought.
That won’t be true this year because Gerhart is gone. No matter who replaces him – it seems right now that the load will be shared – teams will focus on stopping Luck.
So, we’ll get a better read on Luck’s ability. My guess is that he’ll do fine. I’ve been watching Stanford quarterbacks since John Brodie, who I’d rate as the second-best I’ve seen at Stanford. Guy Benjamin, when he played under Bill Walsh as a senior, would probably rank third.
The best, of course, was John Elway, and he was that way from the first time he stepped on the field. Elway could throw any kind of pass, and he was also a very good runner at that time.
Luck is the best since Elway, and I’m certain he’ll be a good pro, too. That may even be next year if he decides to pass up his last two years at Stanford to go into the NFL draft.
But however good he is, Stanford fans should remember that Elway’s team went 5-6 when he was a senior. A great quarterback isn’t enough by himself.
JERRY RICE: Briefly, I’d like to clear up a misconception I saw in print last week, that Walsh let Rice go after the 49ers 2000 season because he thought Jerry was through.
In fact, Walsh realized that Rice could never be happy playing second-fiddle with the Niners after being the go-to guy for so many years. He was already griping that Jeff Garcia could not get the ball to him as Young and Joe Montana had.
So, Walsh called Al Davis and told him Rice still had something left and he could help the Raiders. Without the baggage he’d had with the Niners, Rice had three productive years as a possession receiver with the Raiders.
I know this background because Walsh told me that in confidence at the time.
JONATHAN SANCHEZ: His Giants’ teammates didn’t care for Sanchez predicting a sweep of their series with the division-leading Padres this weekend, right after Sanchez had had a bad outing against th Braves, lasting only four innings in the Giants 6-3 loss.
Managers and coaches don’t like that type of statement, either, because they think it will end up on the wall of the other team’s dressing room. In this case, I don’t think it matters. Football coaches sometimes use this kind of statement as a motivational tool because football, played only once a week, is a very emotional game. With baseball, it’s much more important to stay on an even keel through the 162-game season, even again divisional rivals.
KEN DITO: Dito’s show, “Press Box,” celebrated its first month last week on KTRB, 810 AM, and is gathering steam. Unlike the Ralph Barbieri-Tom Tolbert shows on KNBR, Dito just lets his guests talk, prompting them occasionally with questions. Hams that we all are, we love that.
I’ve made a couple of appearances on the show and Ken says he plans for me to be on regularly. My next appearance will be at 9:05 a.m. on Thursday.
TV: I’ll be a guest on Comcast’s “Chronicle Live” at 5 p.m. today. The show is repeated after the conclusion of the Giants-Cubs game.
E-MAIL: I haven’t answered all my e-mail in the last couple of weeks because I was in Tennessee for most of that time and have been trying to catch up since our return. I also have an eye appointment tomorrow which will result in my eyes being dilated, which will virtually wipe out that day, but by Thursday, I should be back on track. Because of my eye appointment, I’m writing on Tuesday this week but I’ll resume my Wednesday schedule next week.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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