NFL Strike? Baseball Notes; Bill King; Bill Walsh; Roy Eisenhardt
Rich Lieberman offers what I think is a credible theory: that NFLPA executive direction DeMaurice Smith will threaten a strike just before the Super Bowl, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t risk losing the biggest game of all.
Yes, I know, the 1994 World Series was called off when then acting commissioner Bud Selig played a game of chicken with the baseball Players Association. But Selig is an idiot. Goodell isn’t. Selig didn’t even get what he wanted, a salary cap for baseball. But the good citizens of Milwaukee are paying for a statue of him, which doesn’t say much for their intelligence, either.
Goodell may be running his own bluff, with his talk of expanding the regular season to 18 games. Though everybody would welcome a shortening of the exhibition season, adding two regular season games would result in more injuries in a sport which is already plagued by them. All the television contracts would have to be re-negotiated, too.
Here is the Dickey Plan for a better NFL, which of course, will never be adopted.
--Keep the 16-game regular season but reduce the number of exhibitions to two. Nobody likes all these games. Coaches admit they don’t need them. They can schedule scrimmages with other teams to achieve what they want, which is evaluation of new players.
Fans certainly don’t like them. Season ticket holders have to pay full price for them because they’re tied to the season ticket package, the biggest ripoff in sports.
Many season ticket holders give their tickets away.
The only game of the four in which starters play a significant amount is the third game. They hardly play at all in the fourth game because coaches don’t want them to get hurt. Alex Smith said yesterday that he’d just as soon skip the game – and also that he wouldn’t play Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, who have missed the last two games with minor injuries, if it were up to him. Sounds like it will be a helluva game.
--Reduce the offseason workouts, whether they’re called mini-camps or OTAs (Organized Team Activities) to one session for rookies and one for the whole squad, each no more than three days.
All these offseason workouts are one of the reasons the NFL has so many injuries in the regular season. Players bodies are already worn down before the season even starts. Coaches minds, too. It’s no wonder they make bad game-time decisions; they’re zombies from working on football for 11 months of the year. Even U. S. Presidents get more time off.
--Stop this international scheduling for league games. The 49ers are playing what is supposed to be a home game in London this year, which could seriously hurt their playoff chances. They lose a true home game with that advantage, and they’re taking a transcontinental flight. I’ve taken a few of those and I can tell you, they seriously mess with your body clock.
This is done strictly to boost business for NFL Properties. The NFL learned from its earlier development league in Europe that there isn’t enough interest in American football to start a division of the NFL there. But they love to sell those team jerseys.
THIS AND THAT: The Oakland Coliseum and AT&T Park are both known as pitcher’s parks. The Coliseum is tougher than AT&T because it also has enormous foul areas; batters are often retired on foul balls that would be several rows back at AT&T. The one thing they have in common is the cool, often foggy air which holds up fly balls and turns potential home runs into outs. That all changes when it heats up. Balls can fly out of both parks when that happens. Not surprisingly, the Giants scored in double digits three straight days last week when it was unseasonably hot. Pitching duels resumed when the fog returned. Now, it’s heating up again, but if the Giants score big again, it will be the weather, not their bats. . . The “experts” who analyze pennant and wild card races in late August and September forget that the bottom rung teams are unpredictable. They may just fold up and die, or they may just let it all hang out and play their best baseball of the season. Check what the Diamondbacks have done in the last few days against the Giants and Padres, or what the Nationals and Astros have done to the Cardinals. . . The Dodgers trade of Manny Ramirez was an obvious white flag but Manny could give the White Sox a boost in their chase of the Twins, just as he did for the Dodgers when he first joined them. And, as the DH, he won’t have to pretend he can play in the field. . . The A’s young pitchers have been treated rudely in New York by a powerful Yankee lineup playing in a home run park. They’ll recover and be the basis for future A’s success, but I was glad that the talk about their club record streak by starters ended. The current starters go 6-7 innings, usually; the ones whose records they were breaking were often pitching complete games. Not the same.
BILL KING is once again a candidate for the Ford C. Frick writing award for the Baseball Hall of Fame and, though it’s many years too late, it would at least alleviate a terrible wrong. King was a great all-round announcer, perhaps the best in the country’s history, and he should already be in the halls for football, basketball and baseball. But, he is in none of them.
I thought King’s best sport was football. It was almost like watching TV listening to King because he told listeners where individual players were on every play, and he instantly told listeners who caught a pass and for how many yards, all this while also imparting the excitement of the game.
He prepared for each game as if he were taking the state bar exam, poring over play-by-plays from opposing teams. My favorite example: In a regular season game, he told listeners that the Denver Broncos might try a fake punt, because they had done it in a similar situation in an exhibition game. Sure enough, they did.
He was never a homer, which might come as a surprise to those who have only listened to Raiders broadcasts since they returned to Oakland. The worse the team gets, the more Al Davis insists they hype the team. If he’d tried to do that with King, Bill would have told him where he could put the microphone – and that would have been very uncomfortable.
I would never dispute those who think basketball was his best sport, because he was great there. Again, he told listeners not just who had the ball but who was cutting to the basket to be in position for a pass. All the while “evaluating” the officiating!
He was a brilliant man – when he first came to San Francisco, he did a 15-minute nightly sports report on KSFO entirely from memory – and he was also fiercely independent. He lived on a houseboat in the Sausalito harbor, and he grew a moustache and beard at a time when facial hair was a no-no. That kept him from doing TV sports shows, but King didn’t care.
Baseball was probably his third best sport. Lon Simmons was better when he was with the Giants because Lon has always had a great feeling for the rhythms of baseball, knowing when to start a story, when to crack a joke. He never got caught in the middle of a story as an inning ended. And Lon has a natural sense of humor, which worked especially well in his baseball broadcasts, where there is more time to fill.
King actually started in baseball, doing minor league games in his home state of Illinois, but when he came back to it with the A’s (and teamed with Simmons), he seemed ill at ease at first. He soon got his bearing, though, and his postgame wrapups were really something. I’d sometimes tune into the game after it was over to listen to King’s wrapup, confident I’d hear everything of interest that had happened in a game.
The one thing King would not tell anybody was his age. “I don’t want to be defined by my age,” he said. Ken Korach, then the No. 2 announcer, now the lead announcer for the A’s, and I used to debate King’s age until Ken finally came up with a report from World War II that enabled us to figure it out. But because King kept his age so private, neither of us divulged it publicly.
Why isn’t King in one of the Halls of Fame? In the case of basketball and football, it’s because he hasn’t been pushed for it. There’s nobody in a position of power at the Warriors with any connection to King. You’d think Davis would have pushed for him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he hasn’t.
To the A’s credit, they’re the only ones who have pushed for him, in the baseball Hall of Fame. I hope he finally makes it.
RAIDER PROPAGANDA: The week the Raiders play the 49ers is the only time I see the Raiders media e-mail because the 49ers put it in their own media package. Otherwise, none of us who criticize the Raiders – which is basically every columnist – are on the list. The Raiders have a very strange idea of what constitutes public relations.
When I looked briefly at one of last week’s Raiders messages I thought, as I usually do, “Than heaven I don’t get this crap on a regular basis.” It was more of the “Team of the Decades” nonsense.
If the Raiders had any sense of perspective, they’d know this propaganda just makes them look ridiculous. It was one thing trumpeting their success when they were good, which was basically 1967-85. It’s quite another story when they’ve been well below .500 in regular season play since 1985 and are coming off an NFL record seven straight years of double digit losses.
The Raiders, though, are tone deaf. The latest example is the T-shirts they flaunted in training camp boasting that they’d win the AFC West and the Super Bowl. Maybe Tom Cable thought that would inspire his team, because Cable operates on a high school, rah rah level. But what it really does is set up the Raiders for media jibes – I took my turn in yesterday’s Examiner – and give their AFC West rivals an added incentive to beat them badly.
I believe the Raiders will be slightly improved this season, but 7-9 doesn’t win a division. They’ll get no closer to the Super Bowl than their TV sets.
ATHLETIC INTELLIGENCE: Of all the coaches and sports executives I’ve met, Bill Walsh and Roy Eisenhardt are in a special place.
Walsh was a man of many interests, even teaching a course at Stanford law school after his retirement from football. He compartmentalized with his friends, which became very obvious at his memorial service. Always in control, he had set up the guest list before he died. After the service, as we stood outside, people were congregated in groups – and few from one group even knew anybody in another group. Walsh was the only thing we had in common.
Most of the time – and all of the time in football season – Walsh concentrated on football. He’s been called an innovator, but he didn’t claim that for himself because he always said he’d picked up different ideas as he went along. His organizational ideas came from Paul Brown, for instance. One of his trademark plays, the delayed draw, in which the quarterback would go past the fullback and then slip the ball to him from behind, was something he had seen when Pop Ivy was coaching the Houston Oilers in the ‘60s. It was so old, it was new.
Walsh took all that he had seen and put it together in a cohesive offensive system that emphasized relatively short passes, after which the receiver would run for sizeable gains. To my knowledge, it was the first time passing had been used as the basis for ball control. Many NFL teams still use variations of Walsh’s system.
I was lucky enough to get close to Walsh when he came to Stanford as head coach in 1977. I campaigned for him to become the 49ers head coach, continued to support him when his teams went 2-14 and 6-10 in his first two seasons and remained close to him until his death. We talked often when he was a coach. Some of it was on the record, some he said I could use if I didn’t attach his name to it, other stuff was strictly off the record. I was happy to abide by those ground rules because I was getting an extensive football education, and I was quite happy to use his thoughts without his name because that made me seem smarter than I was!
Eisenhardt is a different person entirely. We seldom discussed specifics about the team when he was in charge of the A’s but delved into strategy and theory. More often, our conversations would stray into nonsports areas, which was fine with me. Roy had such broad interests and knowledge that I learned from him, too. I’d often be in his office for an hour but it seemed like much less. To this day, I miss those talks.
I never thought he would stay indefinitely with the A’s because he had too many other interests. It wasn’t long before he turned over the reins to Sandy Alderson, who was also very intelligent but absolutely focused on the subject at hand. Alderson was a bulldog; I still remember how he kept hammering on a three-way deal that eventually brought Bob Welch to the A’s.
Since then, Eisenhardt has had several jobs, all of them challenging. Currently, he is doing interviews for the San Francisco City Arts program (Michael Lewis this month) and acing as interim director for the San Francisco Art Museum. In the spring, he’ll be teaching a class in sports law at Boalt. And, believe me, he’s only scratching the surface of his interests.
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