Big Game, Jeff Tedford, Baseball Awards. A's Moves, Cal Faking? A's Managers
BIG GAME HANGOVER: Yes, it was ugly though not unexpected. This is the weakest of the Jeff Tedford teams at Cal and it was playing the best Stanford team since the Rose Bowl winners of the early ‘70s and the best Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, since John Elway.
Te game also confirmed a couple of my theories:
1) That the quality of opposition mattered more than whether the games were played at Berkeley or on the road.
College teams consistently play better at home for the obvious reasons: They’re comfortable with the environment and have the whole-hearted backing of their fans.
Nevertheless, in 2009, Cal won road games at Minnesota, UCLA, Arizona and Stanford. They were blown out in a game in Eugene – but they were also blown out by USC at Berkeley.
This year, they had a much tougher road schedule with USC, Nevada Reno, Oregon State and Arizona. They were beaten soundly by USC, Nevada Reno and Oregon State and almost beat Arizona. At home, they got softies until Oregon, which they played surprisingly close, and Stanford which . . . well you know about that one.
2) Their defensive problems last year were the result of their players, not the system.
Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory was pilloried regularly by a group which was certain that the Bears would do much better if they played a more pressing defense, with more blitzes. I argued that Gregory didn’t want to put his defensive backs in single coverage because they couldn’t handle it.
This year, Clancy Pendergast is the defensive coordinator and a very good one but, significantly, his success has come against teams which depend more on the run, like UCLA and Oregon. He had no answer for the multiple-talented Wolfpack, nor for the passing games of USC and Stanford.
Will this change the minds of the Gregory critics? Of course not. They’re convinced they know more than the coaches. Ignorance is bliss.
JEFF TEDFORD: This has been a down year for the Bears and Tedford has come under increasing fire from some alums – but not this one.
I’ve been covering Cal football since 1956 and, in all that time, I’ve known only three coaches I thought were really good: Mike White, Bruce Snyder and Tedford, and Tedford is the best of the three. Snyder went out on top with a 10-2 record, including a win over Clemson in the Citrus Bowl, but in his four seasons before that, he was 19-22-4 and had only one winning season. Tedford has had eight straight winning seasons before this one.
The criticisms I hear from alums are: 1) There have been too many blowout losses; 2) He hasn’t developed a quarterback since Aaron Rodgers; and 3) The program seems to be going downhill.
The blowout losses have mostly been to very good teams, USC that last two years, Oregon last year. The loss to Washington last year was an aberration. The Bears had won a very emotional Big Game and obviously didn’t have their hearts in that game. We need to remember that these are very young men, not hardened professionals.
The quarterback problem has been maddening because Tedford has brought in QBs who should have been good but disappointed.
Joe Ayoob was a multi-talented player who should have been a star but ran into a storm of criticism because, well, because he wasn’t Aaron Rodgers. Fan behavior at Memorial Stadium during his first year was disgraceful, the kind of thing you’d expect at an Oklahoma-Texas game. If you were among those harassing Ayoob, be sure to congratulate yourselves.
Nate Longshore was the No. 5 rated prep quarterback but his lack of mobility made him an easy target for blitzes.
Kevin Riley has a medical condition which I can’t discuss except to say that it’s not life threatening but did definitely hinder his play.
Mansion has the ability but doesn’t seem to have the temperament; at this point, I think it’s doubtful he’ll ever be a quality college quarterback.
Tedford has six quarterback prospects coming in next fall, plus Beau Sweeney. I certainly hope one of them will step up.
As for the direction of the program, there have been numerous problems regarding the recruiting which I’ve detailed in earlier columns. I think Tedford will soon have the program back on a better course, but it’s unrealistic to expect Cal to be consistently in the top 10 nationally – or consistently near the top of the conference.
The schools which have consistent football success are those which have virtually no academic requirements for their athletes – all the SEC schools for instance. It’s much more difficult at Cal. Fortunately, athletic director Sandy Barbour knows that and she’ll ignore the yahoos among the alumni who don’t.
BASEBALL AWARDS: One writer said of the Manager of the Year awards for Bud Black and Ron Gardenhire that “everybody knows” that Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington deserved the awards.
Well, I know of one exception to that. I don’t have a vote (only writers who cover at least half of a team’s games during the season are qualified) but I look at what a manager does with his team. Nobody thought the Padres would even contend this year but Black had them in the race until the last day. Although I admire the job Bochy did, he had a better team and should have won. Washington had nobody to beat; the A’s were second in the AL West, nine games back. And, the Rangers brought in Cliff Lee at midseason to seal the deal. I was glad to see Washington get to the Series, but Gardenhire deserved the award for his season’s work.
The Cy Young was a strange decision because Felix Hernandez won though he had only 12 wins because he was superior in categories like ERA and hitters’ batting averages against him.
But, C. C. Sabathia won 21 games. Yes, he got much more run support from the Yankees but he was also pitching in a hitters’ park (Hernandez was in a pitchers’ park) and under pressure in every game as the Yankees tried to beat out the Rays in the tough AL East. Hernandez was pitching for a team that was out of contention from about game 2.
Sabathia would have been my choice.
The selection I really liked was Buster Posey as NL Rookie of the Year, in a very strong field. Posey was just amazing in the way he took charge behind the plate. He’s going to have a fine career, and he should also make a lot of money off the field. Tim Lincecum is beloved in San Francisco but the long hair, pot smoking image doesn’t play well in other areas. Posey, though, is the All American boy, clean cut, good looking, always saying the right thing. He has a very bright future, in every way.
A’S MOVES: The Giants success has forced the A’s to make offseason moves because the comparison between a team actually making moves to win and another doing nothing but pining for San Jose was odious.
But I’m not sure the moves have been productive.
First, they made a $15 million offer to get bargaining rights for Japanes pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, after which they traded young starter Vin Mazzaro for Kansas City outfielder David DeJesus, a good hitter and defensive player who has little power and is injury prone. Hmmm. Sounds like the definition of a typical A’s outfielder.
Now, it appears they might not be able to sign Iwakuma, who reportedly is asking for Barry Zito money. Of course, he’s a better pitcher thn Zito – who isn’t? – but they’re not inclined to be as generous as the Giants.
The one encouraging note is that the A’s have reportedly made a six-year, $65 million offer for Adrian Beltre, who is the type of power hitter they badly need. If they could sign Beltre and perhaps use rookie Chris Carter as a DH, that could be two power bats in the middle of the order, which is two more than they had last year.
SORE WINNERS?After Cal played the Oregon Ducks closely, though losing, a story in The Oregonian claimed that Cal had faked injuries to slow down the Oregon offense and saying an anonymous source in the Cal athletic department had confirmed that.
First, let me say that citing an anonymous source is the lowest form of journalism, because readers have no way of knowing the legitimacy of the source. In this case, you first have to question whether the source was high enough in the department to know anything, or whether he had a grudge against the coaches.
Any newspaperman who has been around for awhile develops sources. I’ve had many of them over the years; when they wanted to go on the record, I’ve quoted them. If they didn’t and I was satisfied that the information was accurate, , I’ve just used it as my own.
My sources, though, have always been with local teams. I’d certainly like to know how an Oregon writer was close enough to somebody in the Cal athletic department to use as a source. That doesn’t pass the credibility test.
Meanwhile, You Tube played shots of two defensive linemen falling down and claiming injuries, the implication being that they were faking.
For the record, Jeff Tedford denied that they were faking injuries – and one of the Cal linemen who was on video showed up at practice with an Ace bandage wrapped around his groin and hamstring. Draw your own conclusions.
Charlie Finley used up managers like toilet tissue but Dick Williams was a different matter. Knowing that players had gone behind the back of previous managers, on the first day of spring training, Williams met with his players and held up a piece of paper. “Here is Charlie’s number,” he said. “If any of you want to call him, go ahead, but it won’t do you any good. I make the decisions on who’s going to play.”
That got everybody’s attention. Williams became the first of Finley’s managers to have the total respect of the team.
“He made it very uncomfortable if you made a mental mistake,” Reggie Jackson once told me. “He accepted physical mistakes as part of the game but he absolutely did not tolerate mental mistakes. So, we worked very hard not to make them.”
Williams had first managed the Boston Red Sox, a team that was known as a “25 players, 25 cabs” team for its lack of team spirit. Owner Tom Yawkey, though he was much more benevolent than Finley, had his personal favorites, too. Williams forced his players to come together as a team, and they won the 1967 American League pennant. But the players still hated him.
I wouldn’t say Williams was loved by his A’s players but that was a team of individuals who appreciated the fact that he made them winners. Unlike many players on teams Williams managed before and after, they were not whiners.
They also respected him for standing up to Finley in the 1973 World Series, when Finley tried to claim that Mike Andrews was injured, so he could replace him on the roster. That subterfuge didn’t work but Williams was so disgusted that he quit, though he had a year left on his contract.
Alvin Dark replaced him, and the players weren’t happy. I was in the dressing room after one loss when Sal Bando came by, threw his glove against the wall and shouted, “He couldn’t manage a f---ing meat market!”
Dark did manage the A’s to their third straight World Championship, but he was quite different than in his Giants days. He had become immersed in religion, trying to convert others, even sportswriters (which really didn’t work). His religious feelings eventually did him in when he spoke out at a public meeting saying that Finley was going to Hell if he didn’t change his ways. I don’t know where Charlie ended up but I know that Dark was quickly out of a job.
The ones who followed were nonentities until Billy Martin arrived in 1980 and changed everything.
Martin was a great game manager, and he was also very flexible. He won in Detroit with a team which had power but no speed at all. Conversely, the A’s team he inherited had little power, so he had players running all the time and taking many chances on the bases, a style which became known as “BillyBall.” But when the A’s acquired power hitters, he returned to a more traditional style.
But Martin was a man consumed by personal demons, and those came out when he started drinking. He had several bar fights and, when he was with the A’s, trashed his own office in a drunken rage.
He was also no friend to his pitchers. It was especially obvious with the A’s when he rined his starting rotation of Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Steve McCatty and Matt Keough, but that was also his history with other teams.
Williams is in the Hall of Fame, deservedly. Martin is one of those being considered by a special committee. I don’t have a vote, but if I did, I wouldn’t vote for him. Being a great game manager doesn’t make up for his erratic behavior and the way he ruined his pitchers.
There was another stretch of mediocre managers until Tony La Russa, whom I regard as the best Oakland A’s manager.
Tony was not a media favorite because he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He hated the kind of writer who would come up and ask him, “What do you think of your team, Tony?” Once he said to me, “They expect me to write their stories for them. You always seem to have an idea in mind when you talk to me.”
Indeed I did, and I got a baseball education from him because specific questions always elicited detailed answers.
La Russa was an innovator. If you don’t like the idea of specific pitchers for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, you can blame Tony. He and pitching coach Dave Duncan, who resurrected the careers of Dave Stewart, Rick Honeycutt and Dennis Eckersley, decided that the last two could no longer be starters but could be effective in short relief roles. They decided they would only bring in Eckersley in the ninth inning with nobody on base and the A’s leading. In that role, he was devastatingly effective, and he made the Hall of Fame.
La Russa played the percentages but he also made exceptions for special circumstances. He would sometimes bring in Honeycutt, a lefthanded pitcher, against a righthanded hitter if a good baserunner was on first, reasoning that Honeycutt could keep him there with his move.
Everybody who know Tony remarks on his intensity. He’s more like a football coach than a baseball manager, and I think that intensity probably hurt his teams in the postseason. In baseball, you want to be able to rev it up in the postseason but La Russa’s teams were already playing at such a high emotional level during the season, they couldn’t step it up. So, though the A’s were the best team in baseball for three years, 1988-90, they won only one World Series.
The only A’s manager in the Billy Beane era who has been a good one was Ken Macha, and Beane fired him because they couldn’t get along. Macha was in the Dick Williams tradition, a tough manager who demanded the best from his players.
Beane inherited Art Howe, a great guy but who managed as if the game hadn’t changed at all since he was a player. Now, they’ve got Bob Geren, a good minor league manager who is unfortunately a classic example of the Peter Principle.
NEXT WEEK: I’ll be back on my Wednesday schedule.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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