49ers; Rainy Series?; Tom Landry/Bill Walsh; Jeff Tedford/Pappy Waldorf; A's Future; Warriors
THIS JUST IN: The Brits have told the NFL they’d like to substitute a second division soccer match for the 49ers-Broncos game on Sunday.
RAINED OUT? The possibility that Game 2 of the World Series might be rained out reminded me of the first World Series I covered, 1962, between the Giants and the Yankees.
I had not yet joined The Chronicle but was writing for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, and the editors assigned me to cover the San Francisco games of the Series.
The Series started in San Francisco, then shifted to New York, where one game was postponed because of rain. When it returned to San Francisco, there were four straight rain delays before the sixth and seventh games.
That didn’t bother me. I got a chance to wander around San Francisco which I had never done, though I had gone to school at Cal, just across the Bay. The only times I had been in San Francisco during my two years at Cal were for a couple of baseball games, for an NCAA Regional at the Cow Palace and when some friends took me to a night club, the long gone Ann’s 440, to celebrate my 21st birthday.
I also enjoyed the sumptuous spread the Giants put on for the press at the Sheraton-Palace with booze flowing. When Horace Stoneham was involved, the booze was always flowing.
With no baseball, there were the “rainy day” stories. One I remember in particular was the speculation that the Giants might trade Willie McCovey for Yankee catcher John Blanchard.
Giants manager Alvin Dark had decided that year that McCovey could not hit lefthanded pitchers; as a platoon player, McCovey had hit 20 homers in just 229 at-bats. And, of course, the Giants had the problem of two outstanding first basemen, McCovey and Orlando Cepeda.
Fortunately for the Giants, they didn’t make that trade. As a full-time player in 1963, McCovey hit 44 homers and had 521 lifetime, most of thm for the Gians. Blanchard played eight years, hit .239 with 67 homers. Not quite the same.
Eventually, the Giants traded Cepeda and, as much as Giants fans have howled about that, trade, by then, it was obvious that neither McCovey nor Cepeda could play any position but first base well, and the Giants picked the right player. Both are now in the Hall of Fame, but McCovey had the better career.
And when I returned to Watsonville for the weekend, I covered a Cabrillo College game in the rain. It was the first year the college was open, so the “press box” was a school bus. We had the choice of keeping the windows closed and having them steam up or opening them and letting the rain in.
When the Series resumed in San Francisco, it had a dramatic finish. The Yankees were leading, 1-0, going into the bottom of the ninth. Matty Alou singled and Willie Mays doubled down the right field line. On a normal field, the ball would have gone into the corner, but because the ground was so soft, Roger Maris was able to get to Mays’ double and throw home to keep Alou on third. Some fans later thought that Lockman should have sent Alou but he would have been out easily. As Chronicle baseball writer Bob Stevens wrote at the time, “The only man who could have scored on that hit was the one who got it.”
Both Dark and Mays agreed with Stevens. “Mays was always looking to score when he was on base,” Dark told me for my 1997 book on the Giants first 40 years in San Francisco. “There might have been a terrific collision at home plate, but he would have scored.” Mays told me, “I’d scored in situations like that many times. I’d have scored that time, too.”
But he wasn’t the runner. Lockman was also thinking that McCovey was the next hitter.
Yankee manager Ralph Houk left starter Ralph Terry in the game, though it was Terry who had given up the Bill Mazeroski home run that won the 1960 Series for the Pirates. This time, Terry got McCovey to hit a hard liner that second baseman Bobby Richardson reached up to grab for the final out. The myth grew in later years that Richardson had to jump for the ball but that’s not true. Except for the circumstances, it was a routine play.
When I’ve been asked, I’ve always said that was the best San Francisco Giants team I’ve seen. I admit my judgment may be somewhat clouded because I was much more excited about baseball at that time, but that team had solid players at almost every position.
Felipe Alou was on that team. So was Jimmy Davenport, Tom Haller, Harvey Kuenn, Jose Pagan. Two future Hall of Famer, McCovey and Cepeda, were fighting for playing time. And, it had Mays, the best player I’ve ever seen.
The team had solid pitcing, too. Jack Sanford had the best season of his career, winning 24 games. Juan Marichal was just beginning his great career and won 18 games (Marichal was injured and didn’t pitch in the Series.) Billy O’Dell, who’s often overlooked, won 19 games. (Sanford and O’Dell were polar opposites in temperament. Nobody went near Sanford after a loss because he might throw the stool in the front of his locker at you. One time, after O’Dell had lost a game, 2-1, when Matty Alou totally misplayed a ball in left field, I consoled O’Dell. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Win some, lose some.”)
Stu Miller was outstanding in relief. In those days, when starters were expected to either pitch a complete game or come very close, one pitcher handled all the important relief duty. The others were there just to limit the damage if the game got out of hand in earlier innings.
The real difference maker in ‘62, though, was Billy Pierce. In the offseason, Dark had been talking to Paul Richards and said he needed a lefthanded starter to balance the rotation. Richards told him he should get Billy Pierce, but not to pitch him more than once a week because he was near the end of his career. Pierce won 16 games and was a perfect 13-0 at Candlestick.
Because the game has changed so much since then, especially with the way pitchers are handled, it’s difficult to compare this year’s team with ’62, but there are some points I can make.
The closest comparison is in the pitching. Both teams had strong rotations; Tim Lincecum reminds me of Marichal, though he goes for the strikeout much more often. This team has a much deeper bullpen, but that’s because the way the game is played now, it’s a necessity. In ’62, it wasn’t.
The ’62 Giants were better defensively, with Mays leading the way. Most of all, they were better hitters. Mays and Cepeda had 84 homers between them, 49 by Mays, though Candlestick was notoriously unfriendly to righthanded power hitters. The top four power hitters on this year’s team – Aubray Huff, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell and Buster Posey – combined for 86.
Still, this year’s team has shown a knack for winning, even when it seemed it has no chance. The players believe in themselves, and the fact that they don’t depend on just one or two hitters to get it done is probably a plus. An opposing pitcher can’t figure that he’s got it made when he gets through the heart of the order because somebody else may do the job. Cody Ross was hitting eighth when he started bashing home runs.
I’m making no predictions. As we’ve already seen, strange things can happen in the postseason; none of the “experts” thought either of these teams would make it.
So, just sit back and enjoy. Or, continue sitting on the edge of your seat, as Giants fans have had to do all year.
CAL COMPLAINTS: A reader chided me for my excoriation of the Cal knownothings in Tuesday’s Examiner, saying that was no way to start a dialogue. True, but these people don’t want a dialogue. They want to be able to savage coaches with good reputations and then be congratulated for it. That’s why I called them the knownothings.
Even after covering big time sports, pro and college, for 47 years, there are still many things I don’t know. But there is one thing I know: Systems alone don’t win football games. A coach must have the right players or the system won’t work.
I’ll give you the example of two Pro Football Hall of Fame coaches, Tom Landry and Bill Walsh.
Landry was certain he had the best defensive system when he was named coach of the Dallas Cowbooys in 1960 but he didn’t have the players, so the Cowboys didn’t win a game. In fact, they didn’t reach .500 until Landry’s sixth season.
By then, he had the players he needed because the Cowboys had been drafting high annd they had good people in the front office. For the next decade and a half, the Cowboys were the dominant team in the NFC, winning five conference titles and two Super Bowls.
Then, Walsh came along. As he and Guy Benjamin showed me when we were all working on “Building a Champion”, Walsh could force Landry into defensive sets that could be exploited simply with Walsh’s offensive sets. But he didn’t have the players his first two years, so the Cowboys beat the Niners, 59-14, in 1980.
But by 1981, Walsh’s talent level, though probably still not quite as high as the Cowboys, was high enough to challenge them. The 49ers thumped the Cowboys, 45-14, in the regular season and then beat them in the dramatic “The Catch” NFC Championship game, 28=27. that San Francisco fans called “The Real Super Bowl.” So, system plus players equals success.
Though they never see the videos, don’t know the game plans, don’t talk to coaches or players, the knownothings think they have all the answers – and they send e-mails to each other, often copying me, in praise of their brilliance. That takes a special combination of ignorance and arrogance.
PAC-12 ALIGHTMENT: I was pleased that Cal will retain its traditional games with UCLA and USC despite being in the Northern Division of the new conference.
But those Cal fans who think it will be easier for the Bears to get to the Rose Bowl because they’re not in the same division with USC forget that the Bears will play the Trojans every year and rivals in the Northern Division may not, so the schedules will not be equal.
In the long haul, the team I think will suffer is Oregon. The Ducks have been riding high latterly for three reasons: 1) Good coaching; 2) Monopolizing the recruiting in the northwest; and 3) Being able to get good players out of the Los Angeles basin.
The first factor will be constant, because Chip Kelly will continue to do well. But Washington’s improvement will mean that the Huskies, who were once the dominant team in the Pacific Northwest, will improve their recruiting and perhaps even regain their earlier edge. And the Ducks will not get the yearly exposure in southern California that they need to continue to entice recruits from the area.
A’S FUTURE: The fact that pitching coach Curt Young declined an offer to extend his contract tells you all you need to know about the A’s. Young is an excellent pitching coach, who has brought along the young pitchers nicely. Why should he stay with an organization that isn’t even trying to win?
General manager Billy Beane extends the contract of manager Bob Geren, apparently because they’re friends because Geren has certainly done nothing else to merit that. Managing owner Lew Wolff has done everything he can to depress attendance, from tarping off most of the upper deck to canceling FanFest to sending out e-mails before the start of the season saying he wanted no part of Oakland.
Meanwhile, Wolff and his financial backer, John Fisher, have been making money from baseball’s revenue-sharing plan while he whines about not being allowed to move the franchise to San Jose.
Who would want to stay in that environment? I’ll miss Curt, but I wish him well.
Now, Wolff has contributed $25,000 to Don Perata’s campaign for Oakland mayor because Perata said he wouldn’t ask for public money to build a ballpark.
Well, duh. Do you think the mayor of any California city would?
In fact, if Wolff had taken the time to learn anything at all about Oakland he’d know that a park is more likely to be built with Perata in the mayor’s office because he knows how to get things done and he would be the first mayor in the last three who actively supports sports. Jerry Brown was anti-sports and the only thing Ron Dellums seemed to favor was first class trips to Washington, D.C. for photo ops.
PAPPY WALDORF: As I knew I would, I got some angry e-mails over my designation of Jeff Tedford as the best Cal coach since Andy Smith in the ‘20s. My readers noted that Pappy Waldorf had three straight Rose Bowl teams in the 1940s.
He did indeed. I didn’t see any of those teams because we didn’t live anywhere near Memorial Stadium at the time. The only Cal game I saw before stepping on the campus as a junior in the fall of 1956 was a 1953 game between the Bears and San Jose State on a high school Journalism Day. I remember nothing of the game though I have many memories of seeing the campus for the first time.
But I know the history of Pacific Coast football and USC is almost always the elephant in the room. That wasn’t true for the Trojans in the late ‘40s, when Pappy had his great string. When they returned to their normal state of dominance, Waldorf’s success stopped abruptly; he didn’t have a winning season in his last four years and won only five games his last two years. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
Tedford, by contrast, coached through the Pete Carroll years, which was as dominant a stretch as the Trojans have ever had. I stand by my evaluation.
WARRIORS OPENER: Against the competition of the World Series at AT&T, the Warriors will open their season tonight at Oracle Arena. My guess is that they’ll still have a full house. Considering how little success the team has had in recent years, the Warriors fans are the most loyal in the area.
It’s impossible to predict a finish for the team at this point because there’s been a nearly total overhaul of the roster, but I’m optimistic. Keith Smart brings NBA experience as a player and assistant to the job of head coach and he is emphasizing defense, a boring concept to the departed Don Nelson. There will be no more freaky lineups but the Warriors should play well under Smart. It will be very different from the Nelson teams but ultimately, I think Smart will have success.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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