Giants Chances, Cal's Problems,Cheap 49ers, A's Future, Barry Bonds
IN OCTOBER, 1954, I first learned how different postseason baseball can be from the regular season when I watched the then New York Giants sweep the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, after the Indians had set an American League record with 111 wins in the season.
We have seen some startling results in the Bay Area, too. The 1972 Oakland A’s were given little chance against “The Big Red Machine” from Cincinnati, but they won the first of three consecutive World Series. Conversely, the 1988-90 A’s were the best team in baseball but they were upset in the first and third of those Series by the Dodgers and Reds.
If the Giants continue their winning ways in the NLCS, it would be another stunning upset. I saw one story from a Philadelphia writer who assumed the Phillies would sweep right through both the NLCS and the World Series and become the dominant team in baseball for the near future.
Well, maybe not.
The big difference in the postseason is usually pitching, and the Giants have a deep rotation. This is written before the fourth game is played but, having seen Joe Blanton with the A’s and Madison Bumgartner with the Giants this season, I give the Giants an edge in that matchup.
Having a hot hitter is also a big help. I’ve seen comparisons of Gene Tenace in 1972 and Cody Ross this year which aren’t exact because Tenace was only a part-time player in ’72, but Ross is certainly zeroed in at the plate. He’s made a huge difference. He isn’t this kind of consistent hitter – he’s more in the .265 range for his seven-plus seasons, but he’s a good player, good defensively and with good speed. The Giants should do their best to re-sign him for next season.
Otherwise, the Giants haven’t done much at the plate. It worries me about their chances that in three games they’ve scored only six runs, though they’ve won two of those. The Phillies have a strong hitting lineup which could bust out at any time.
But, the Giants have an attitude, which is very important. Harking back to those ’72 A’s, they paid no attention to all that was written about them having no chance. They believed they could win. They did, and it was with much the same formula as the current Giants, great pitching and timely hitting. (Those A’s, though, were much better defensively than these Giants.)
The other point in the Giants’ favor is that they’re accustomed to scrapping and winning close games. They had an occasional blowout during the regular season but they also had to win many close games to get this far. They’re playing loose now, which is vital in the postseason.
I’m making no predictions, but I’m watching closely. I’ll also be writing on Thursday’s game, another great pitching matchup between Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay, for the Friday Examiner. It would be fitting if that’s the one in which the Giants put the Phillies away.
JEFF TEDFORD’S statement that “We won the second half” after trailing USC, 42-0, at halftime, enraged some of the Cal supporters who subscribe to this column, but all Tedford was doing was trying to encourage his players. He has a mostly young team, and he didn’t want them taking a defeatist attitude into this Saturday’s game, a winnable game against Arizona State at Memorial Stadium.
As for me, I was shocked by that first half but, truthfully, I had no real hopes that the Bears would win that game. I didn’t want to face this reality at the start of the season, but I realized after the trouncing by the Nevada Wolfpack that Cal was going to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10.
I had a running debate last year with Cal supporters, some of them subscribers, over the Cal defense. They were certain that the schemes of defensive coordinator Bob Gregory were to blame for the Bears’ problems; they wanted a more aggressive defense.
After the 35-7 win over UCLA, one of them e-mailed me and asked me if I were going to apologize for calling them ignorant. (I don’t believe I did that, but I did tell them they didn’t know anywhere near as much as they thought they did. Even the coaches don’t full understand what’s happening until they watch the videos of the game and break them down. For fans to think they have all the answers is ludicrous.)
I like the schemes of new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast but I pointed out that the Bears had played three weak offensive teams at home. UC Davis isn’t even in the same division. Colorado was weak on both sides of the ball. UCLA has a couple of good running backs but no quarterback. It’s easy for a defense to stop a team that is so unbalnced, as USC proved against the Bears and the 49ers proved against the Raiders last weekend.
UCLA got a lot of attention for beating Texas but it’s a down year for Texas. More significant was the fact that the Bruins had barely scraped by Washington State at home the previous Saturday. My guess is that the Bruins won’t finish ahead of anybody but the Cougars in the final conference standings.
But, the test of a defense is not how it looks against a weak offense but a strong one. The Bears had no answer for the “Pistol” offense of the Wolfpack and they had no answer for USC, either. Together, the two teams have scored 100 points on the Bears. The anemic Cal offense was a problem against the Trojans, too, but the reality is that USC rolled up more than 600 yards. The new defensive schemes made no difference.
What’s happened with the Bears? I see two problems:
1) Tedford hasn’t had the quarterback he needs since Aaron Rodgers left, for a variety of reasons. Joe Ayoob had been a great quarterback in junior college, a double threat with his running and passing ability, but when he started slowly, he couldn’t hold up to the pressure on him. Nate Longshore was the No. 5 rated prep quarterback with a great arm, but when defenses discovered his lack of mobility, they pressured him into costly interceptions. He became the collegiate version of Steve DeBerg. Kevin Riley looked like he was going to be an outstanding quarterback but he has a medical condition which causes him to be inconsistent. Tedford thinks highly of Beau Sweeney’s potential, but he’s not ready to start.
2) Though this year’s class was a very good one, recruiting has not been at the USC-Oregon level in previous seasons. If you understand intercollegiate football, it’s not hard to understand the problem. The Cal athletic facilities have been at the bottom of the conference for some time. Though alums are rightfully proud of Cal academics, the best high school players are looking at what gives them the best chance to make the pros. It has been hard for them to overlook the inadequate Cal facilities, not to mention the tree-sitters in the recent past and the construction mess around the stadium now.
I just hope Cal fans can be patient through this down period because I have confidence in Tedford and his staff. He wants to stay and I think he’ll build a consistently good program. Consider this year a blip.
49ERS FUTURE: The 49ers finally got their first win of the season, but that says more about how bad the Raiders are than how good the 49ers are.
This team still has real problems, which will extend past the season. I can’t believe Mike Singletary will last beyond the end of the season, but the 49ers front office is so depleted, there’s nobody there who can look for the right guy. Trent Baalke did a good job on the draft, but his specialty is evaluating college playrs, not potential head coaches.
Behind the 49es’ problems is a philosophy of going cheap. When John York was in charge, he even checked on how many paper clips were used in the office! Jed York isn’t that bad, but part of his reason for not hiring somebody to replace Scot McCloughan was a desire to keep costs down. Two years ago, when PR director Aaron Salkin was fired, the job was offered to the No. 2 man, Jason Jennings – but for less money than he was already making. Both Salkin and Jennings, who are very good, found jobs elsewhere, Salkin with the Patriots, Jennings with the Dolphins. When Salkin went to work with the Patriots, they welcomed him to a major league operation.
Since then, the 49ers have hired PR people who will work cheap. They’re efficient enough so I’m not complaining, but it’s an example of what’s happening throughout the organization.
And, keep in mind, the player payroll is probably around $70 million, maybe more. They could get a couple of good NFL people for the front office for perhaps $300,000 a year combined. Yet, they won’t. False economy
We’ve known for a long time that the Raiders operation is hopeless, but the 49ers franchise isn’t in good hands, either. Not much to look forward to for pro football fans on either side of the bay.
A’S FUTURE: In the past, I’ve written that the A’s have to be cautious about picking up hitters who have looked good in better hitters’ parks, but there’s another factor: To get good free agent hitters, they have to show them they’re serious about winning.
Lately, the A’s have been in a constant rebuilding mode, while managing partner Lew Wolff tries to figure ways to get to San Jose. He’s done everything he can to depress attendance, from a tarp over almost all of the upper deck, to canceling FanFest, which is always a good way to build up interest. Not to mention putting out e-mails before the start of the last two seasons saying he wasn’t interested in keeping the A’s in Oakland.
It’s worked financially for Wolff and his partner, John Fisher, because they make money by keeping the payroll low and getting revenue-sharing money from other teams. But, why would a good free agent hitter want to come here?
BARRY BONDS got a rousing ovation when he was introduced before Tuesday’s game at AT&T Park, which shouldn’t have surprised anybody. I saw a puzzling reference at the end of a Chronicle column recently from a writer who said the excitement at AT&T now was like the “anti-Bonds” theme. I wonder if he ever saw a game when Bonds played for the Giants? He was wildly popular because fans knew how much he meant to the team, and they loved the home runs he lofted into McCovey Cove. Even now, he has more home runs hit into the Cove (35) than everybody else combined (20).
When I walked around the park, I saw another example of the Bonds phenomenon: Almost everybody stayed in their seats in an inning when he was scheduled to come to the plate. It was only after he hit that they headed for the concession stands or the restrooms.
In his last couple of seasons, writers often concentrated on the negative aspects of Bonds – how he avoided team photos, his three stalls in the locker room. But those didn’t bother his teammates because he was so productive, almost to the end. He wore down in mid-August of his final season because he had to play the outfield, but until he reached that point, he was the most feared hitter in baseball.
Now, he’s back in court as the Feds resume their ridiculous perjury case, which started in 2003. They took a two-year recess appealing a decision by the trial judge to throw out hearsay evidence. One legal source said that was the legal equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass. It didn’t work, so they’re still trying to get Bonds’ longtime friend and trainer Greg Anderson to testify, which he won’t, trying to bring in test samples which may or may not be Bonds’ and bringing in Bonds’ former girl friend to testify to what he supposedly told her. There’s a reliable witness: the spurned girl friend.
The Feds like to bring high profile cases to scare us lesser mortals, but they’ve got egg all over their faces on this one. Attorney General Eric Holder should pull the plug.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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