Great Years for Sabean, Bochy; Ron Washington/Bob Geren; Cal Tree-sitters
THIS HAS been Brian Sabean’s year. After a long slump, he came out of it with some great moves.
The only one that didn’t work was signing Mark De Rosa, who got injured early and probably wasn’t the best choice to play left field, anyway.
Aubray Huff was a much better move than I anticipated. The word on Huff was that he was a butcher in the field but that wasn’t true at all. He’ll never win a Gold Glove but he was more than adequate at first base and did a surprisingly good job when he played the outfield. Most important, he supplied a big power bat in the middle of the lineup, which surprised even him. He thought, when he first came here, that he wouldn’t be a home run hitter in AT&T but he was the Giants most consistent power threat for five months, before he tailed off.
Re-signing him should be a priority for Sabean. Huff has said that his wife likes San Francisco, always important, and he was thrilled to be on his first playoff team, and even more so when his home run was the difference in game 4.
Pat Burrell was a great pickup in May, as he hit many key home runs in the last four months before falling into a dreadful slump in the postseason. Payroll problems may prevent the Giants from re-signing Burrell, though.
Cody Ross was the accidental star in the postseason – accidental in the sense that the Giants claimed him primarily to keep San Diego, then ahead of them in the NL West, from getting him. Ross is not the kind of hitter normally that he was in the postseason – he’s below .260 lifetime – but he’s a good player, strong defensively, good arm, good speed and with decent power. I’d like to see him as a regular in the outfield next year, right field if Burrell stays, left field if he doesn’t.
Though he was the MVP of the Series, the Giants should let Edgar Renteria retire. He’s had a great career but he doesn’t have much left in the tank. One reason he could shine in the postseason is that he was well rested from all the time he’d spent on the DL this year. He’s always been a smart player and popular with his teammates, so he should be a good manager.
The problem for the Giants is that they still have two expensive mistakes on their roster, and there seems little chance they can be unloaded.
Aaron Rowand still has two years left on his contract. As they’ve done with other high-salaried players, Rowand’s contract is backloaded, so he’s getting more as he goes along; though it’s a five-year, $60 million contract, he got $13.5 million this year.
Rowand’s signing was always a mistake. He was a slightly above average player whose statistics were inflated by playing in two hitters’ parks, the Phillies and White Sox, and playing in the middle of a terrific hitting lineup in Philadelphia. Pitchers didn’t pay much attention to him when they had to deal with the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
In the Giants’ lineup and playing half his games at AT&T, Rowand was never that kind of hitter, and he lost his job to Andres Torres, who should get a huge raise in arbitration from the $485,000 he got this year.
The biggest headache for the Giants, of course, is Barry Zito, who started strong but tailed off so badly that he was left off the postseason roster. Zito is no better than the Giants No. 5 starter now, yet he’s probably going to make $18 million next year. And, he has another two years on his contract after that! He also has a club option for the 2014 season, but I’m guessing the Giants won’t pick that up.
It’s interesting that Sabean’s best pickups have been relatively cheap – Huff, Burrell, Juan Uribe and Torres, who was really cheap. The mistakes have come on the really big contracts, like Zito, Rowand and Renteria. And don’t tell me those signings were foisted on him by ownership. That’s a fairy tale that has been promulgated by writers who like Sabean and are trying to make excuses for him.
One thing I really liked about the Giants’ win: Bruce Bochy got credit for being a good manager.
Bochy has always done a good job. I wrote last year that he deserved to be Manager of the Year in the National League, though I knew he wouldn’t get it. He’s a low-key guy who doesn’t make headlines but the players like and respect him, which is the most important part of a manager’s job.
This year, he probably will be the Manage of the Year in the National League. And next year, fans in the stands will be second-guessing his decisions.
PREDICTIONS: I was skeptical all year about the Giants and certain that they would lose to the Phillies in the NLCS, but I felt better when I picked up last week’s Sports Illustrated and saw that Tom Verducci had predicted the Rangers would win the World Series because Cliff Lee was so overpowering. Well, not quite. In fact, Lee lost two games; rookie Madison Bumgarner had a better Series.
Verducci’s job is to cover baseball and only baseball. He talks to people all over baseball, watches games coast to coast – and he does a great job. If he can be wrong….well, it just shows what I’ve always known: postseason baseball can be unpredictable.
If I had to rank the Giants’ four World Series teams, I’d put them in this order: 1) 1962; 2) 2002; 3) 2010; 4) 1989. But only this year’s team won.
MANAGERS: Having Ron Washington in the World Series once again reminded us of the Achilles heel for A’s general manager Billy Beane: His inability to hire and keep a good manager.
Beane fired Art Howe after a playoff season. No argument with me there. Howe is a very nice guy but he was a manager without an original thought. He managed the same game that he had played, though the game had changed.
But Beane also fired the best manager he’s had, Ken Macha, again, after the A’s had gotten to the playoffs and as far as the ALCS, the farthest they’ve gone into the playoffs since their three straight World Series, 1988-90.
Beane and Macha didn’t get along, but Billy should have swallowed his pride and kept Macha on. Macha reminded me of Dick Williams, a tough manager who demands that his player give their best; if they don’t, they sit. The best example was Terence Long. Howe had kept him in the lineup even though he wasn’t producing to keep Long’s consecutive game streak intact. Macha benched him and made Long show he deserved to play.
After firing Macha, Beane waited until Washington got the Texas job because he wanted to hire his good friend, Bob Geren.
At the time, I thought Geren would be a good manager, as he had been in the minors. As it turned out, he has been an example of the Peter Principle. He simply isn’t a major league manager. You can be certain pitching coach Curt Young decided not to return because he was disgusted with the operation, especially when Beane extended Geren’s contract.
Until Beane is willing to sublimate his own personality and hire a strong manager, the A’s have no real future.
Meanwhile, Washington has obviously done well at Texas, although I think he blew two big decision in the World Series: He should have pitched Cliff Lee in the fourth game and he shouldn’t have pitched to Edgar Renteria in the at-bat that won the Series for the Giants. But he’s a smart man and will learn from his mistakes. Geren won’t.
BASEBALL SCHEDULING: The last time the Giants won a World Series, 1954, they were in New York. That Series ended on Oct. 2. This one ended on Nov. 1, which is ridiculous. Major league baseball is very lucky that the weather cooperated. A predicted storm for game 2 in San Francisco never materialized, and game time temperatures in Arlington were in the mid-70s. In late October and early November, rain and cold weather are more often the norm.
We all know why the season stretches on so much longer. The regular season is now 162 games, instead of the 154 in 1954. Instead of one postseason matchup, the World Series, there are now division series, league championship series and the World Series.
It’s time to cut about two weeks off the regular season, so the postseason could start sooner and end sooner. Let’s face it: three-quarters of the teams are out of the race in September and hardly draw, anyway. So, what would be lost?
Of course, this is flying in the face of recent sports history in which seasons are expanded, not reduced. We’re much more likely to see World Series games played around Thanksgiving in the future. Bring your parkas.
BASEBALL INSTANT REPLAY: It’s been largely forgotten in the excitement of the games that followed, but there was a play in game 5 of the NLCS that showed exactly why I think baseball needs more Instant Replay.
With runners on first and second, Philadelphia pitcher Roy Halladay laid down a bunt but didn’t run. Giants catcher Buster Posey fired the ball to third but the throw pulled Pablo Sandoval off the bag, so the runner was safe. Sandoval threw to first to get Halladay for one out.
A television replay showed why Halladay didn’t run: He could see that the ball was foul when Posey picked it up. The home plate umpire was blocked by Posey.
If Sandoval had touched third and the Giants had turned a double play, there would have been a tremendous uproar – and the possibility of this kind of thing happening could be easily prevented. All you need is a retired umpire, or similarly qualified individual, sitting in front of a monitor in the press box, looking at the replays. He could rule on it instantly and phone it down to the field. The game wouldn’t be delayed, but they’d get the call right.
This was a season of missed calls, one of them even ruining a perfect game. Why continue to put up with this when there’s a reasonable alternative?
EVER WONDER why some successful college coaches don’t have the same success in the NFL? Mainly, it’s because the competition in the NFL is even but in college ball, it seldom is.
The NFL has the draft, which gives the weakest teams the first crack at the best players coming out of college and the salary cap, which prevents the richest teams from capturing all the top players.
These mechanisms don’t always work because teams still have to make the right decisions, but sometimes, they work spectacularly well. For instance, Jimmy Johnson was 1-15 in his first year as coach of the Dallas Cowboys but the Cowboys drafted top talent, starting with Troy Aikman, and won three Super Bowls in four years. The St. Louis Rams were the worst team in the NFL for most of the ‘90s but drafted the talent that made them Super Bowl winners once and then runnersup in a three-year span.
In college football, there is a very uneven distribution of talent because some schools have a big recruiting edge on others.
Most of that can be traced to academic standards. There are some schools who actually try to educate athletes. There are others for whom the only requirement for admission seems to be that athletes can breathe in and out. The second category is much larger.
Thus, Urban Mayer, who once said Notre Dame would be his “dream job,” instead chose Florida. He knew that Notre Dame had raised its admissions standards for athletes but Florida, like all SEC schools, only tested their breathing ability.
Another example closer to home: Dennis Erickson, who had remarkable success at Washington State, Miami and Oregon State, reaching. At Miami, he had two national championship teams. Admissions standards for athletes are almost non-existent at all those schools.
In between his collegiate succeses, Erickson had two coaching turns in the NFL, with Seattle and the 49ers. He could no longer count on having superior talent, and he went 40-56 overall for the two teams.
Back in college, at Arizona State, he became a winner again. He’s done what he always has: recruit great athletes who ran very fast, especially past class rooms.
In the Pac-10, Stanford has the highest admissions standards by far; in fact, Stanford may have the highest admissions standards of any school playing big time football. (The Ivy League schools, of course, play a much lower brand of football.)
Cal and UCLA are next. Washington’s admission requirements have varied greatly in the past three decades, during which they had a long period of dominance but are now middle of the pack or lower. Their admission standards are just behind Cal and UCLA now, but were much lower when the Huskies had dominant football teams. Surprise, surprise.
There are other factors. Being young men with pumping hormones, football players look for babes – which gives USC a big edge because they have so many women students who are prepping for a possible movie career.
There are negative factors, too, and Cal has had a couple. In the “Free Speech” era of the ‘60s, opposing coaches recruited against Mario Savo and his followers. How successful was that? Check the won-lost records of Cal football and basketball in that decade.
More recently, it’s been the tree-sitters. You can bet many coaches told parents of prospects, “You don’t want your boy to be part of that weird Berkeley culture, do you?”
All of that explains why, if you’re a Cal fan, you have to be philosophical. If you want perfection, try the pros. Oops! Not in this area.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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