Al Davis/Tom Cable/JaMarcus Russell/ NFL Strike? Blake Griffin, Pablo Sandoval
Whatever happened to the outlaw Raiders? I remember when Al Davis wanted to play a rapist, Warren Wells, and was enraged at Wayne Valley because Valley wouldn’t try to persuade the presiding judge, a friend of Valley’s, to give Wells a suspended sentence.
Now, he’s upset at Tom Cable because Cable apparently got into a fight with an assistant in training camp – the Napa County DA’s office dropped the investigation because the other Raider assistants wouldn’t testify against Cable – and also because he was charged with domestic violence three times and had a girlfriend with him on road trips.
These actions, Davis said at yesterday’s news conference, went against his beliefs and the “Raider way.”
Is he kidding? I’m not defending Cable’s behavior which, if true, I find reprehensible. But this is exactly the kind of behavior for which Raiders players were known when I was covering the beat, 1967-71, and many years after. At a time when the NFL was very buttoned down, they were the rebels.
So, now Davis wants to be mainstream? A little late, Al.
Davis also signaled a change in attitude when he talked of JaMarcus Russell. He noted that, in the past, the Raiders had successfully dealt with players who had personal problems and indeed they did, from Ted Hendricks to Bill Romanoski, to mention just two of many.
Now, though, he didn’t feel he could deal with Russell’s off-field problems; After he was cut by the Raiders, Russell was charged with throwing parties with drugs at the center, though the charge was later dropped.
So, the most significant decisions for the Raiders in the past two years have not been made for football reasons.
I thought not bringing Cable back was a good football decision. The improvement of the team this last year was due to Hue Jackson’s signal calling, an outstanding draft and the acquisition of quarterback Jason Campbell. Cable contributed nothing in this area. He was just a cheerleader and hurt the team because he put them on the same emotional rollercoaster.
Yes, they went 6-0 in the AFC West but they also lost to two sub .500 teams, the 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, and a third loss at home came at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, who only finished at .500 because of that win. The Dolphins dominated that game, having the ball for almost 42 minutes.
No good coach would allow his team to go into games as mentally unprepared as the Raiders were in those games.
Similarly, I thought Russell deserved to be shown the door for football reasons. He never showed any sign that he will ever be a capable NFL quarterback, and no sign that he would work to change that. He’ll go down with Ryan Leaf as the biggest quarterback busts of all time.
But if Davis wants to bring his team into the mainstream by stressing characters…well, it’s about time. Just as what’s cute in an adolescent is embarrassing when that person is an adult, what was fun in the ‘60s had made the Raiders a laughingstock for football fans, except for that lunatic fringe I still hear from.
NFL SEASON: More and more, it appears we’ll have an abbreviated season next year. The NFL Players Association head, DeMaurice Smith, does not have the negotiating skills of his predecessor, Gene Upshaw. And the league’s position, as presented publicly by commissioner Roger Goodell, is draconian.
The owners are striving for an 18-game regular season; indeed, Goodell talks about it already as a fait accompli.
The more I think about the 18-game proposal, the less I like it. Pro football has become an even more punishing game, with players much bigger and even faster than before – undoubtedly, because of steroids use – which makes the collisions even more dangerous. There are already more injuries, more concussions than ever. If the league adds a couple of games, they’re going to have to expand rosters because there will be even more injuries. Depth will be the key to winning, not star players.
The owners also seek a 10 per cent cut in the players share of total revenue. They realize that it’s getting much more difficult to get public financing for their new stadiums, and impossible in California where the 49ers, Raiders and Chargers all need new stadiums.
Of course, the new stadiums also exclude money realized for sale of luxury boxes and club seats from the total revenue figure, so the players’ actual share will decline even more. Do they think the players don’t realize that?
It seems the owners haven’t learned many lessons from the past, perhaps because few of them have been in the game long enough to have a connection.
In the ‘80s, the NFL went through two strikes, in ’82 when nearly half the season was lost and ’87, when three games were lost in early season.
In ’87, the owners hired “replacement players” to play the games during which regular players were on strike.
The 49ers thrived because Bill Walsh had planned ahead and knew some good players – though not the equal of what he already had – who could win against weaker replacement teams. They beat the New York Giants so handily that Walsh playfully ran some plays from the Wishbone formation, a popular formation in college football at the time but which was not used in he NFL.
Some top 49ers players, including Joe Montana and Dwight Clark, came back for the last three games, before the strike was called off. I attended one of those games and it was a strange affair because there was such a gulf between the best players and those there only as replacement players.
From the owners’ standpoint, it was a futile struggle. They were attempting to prevent free agency, forcing the players to go to court to win it.
So, what’s happened since? The players got free agency, the owners got a salary cap and the game has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. But, apparently not enough for the owners.
There’s a footnote to the 49ers story in 1987. The fact that some stars returned and others did not caused a temporary rift in the team. Walsh allowed players to vent their feelings in a meeting in the middle of the practice field, far enough away that writers were unable to hear what was being said – but close enough that we heard Ronnie Lott screaming at Walsh.
The 49ers came together and wound up in the playoffs but suffered a disastrous loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Walsh would coach only one more year, in which he won his third Super Bowl, before retiring.
NBA PLAY: Yes, the Warriors are improved, and I like the direction in which they’re heading, but the team which has really improved is the L.A. Clippers, who seem to be a team with some playoff runs in their very near future.
The NBA has always been a league which is based on individual stars. As long ago as 1948, the Madison square Garden advertised a New York Knicks-Minneapolis Lakers game as “George Mikan vs. the Knicks.”
Clippers rookie Blake Griffin is rapidly becoming that kind of force. Griffin missed what would have been his first season last year because of injuries but he looks like a man among boys now, with a combination of strength and athleticism. He’s having the same kind of impact Lebron James had when he came into the league.
If there’s been one team more futile than the Warriors in recent years, it’s the Clippers. But not now. Their fans can probably hardly believe their good luck.
KUNG FU PANDA: When Pablo Sandoval published post-diet pictures of himself on his website, not everybody was convinced. There were some who thought the pictures might have been photo-shopped. Others said they’d like a different view, from the side.
The real test will be what Sandoval looks like, in person, when he reports to training camp next month. If he’s lost weight and kept it off, it will be very significant to both his career and the Giants’ immediate future.
Sandoval’s obvious weight gain last season probably affected his fielding more than his hitting. In 2009, he had been surprisingly agile in the field, getting to balls hit to either side or in front of him and making plays. Last year, he couldn’t move very well and became a defensive liability. He rode the pine, as Mike Krukow would say, often in the late season and playoffs.
As a hitter, his problems were less his weight or pitch selection than which side of the plate he was swinging from. His stats as a lefthanded hitter didn’t differ too much from 2009 but his stats as a righthanded hitter did. Anybody watching him regularly saw the same thing: Pitchers had obviously figured out how to pitch him as a right-handed hitter, either tight on the fists or practically on the ground on the outside corner; he’d pop up or miss the first pitch and ground into a double play on the second.
If you check the times manager Bruce Bochy took him out of the starting lineup, a high percentage of the times came when a lefthander was pitching.
If I were the Giants, I’d tell him to ditch the switch-hitting and swing exclusively from the left side. As a natural left-handed thrower, who taught himself to throw right-handed so he could play catcher or third base, it’s probably more natural for him to swing from the left side.
The Giants need Sandoval to play third base, with Juan Uribe gone. Mark DeRosa is not a good option. He missed almost all of last season because of injuries, and he’s more valuable as a utility player, anyway.
It’s even more critical for Sandoval. If he stays on his diet and drops his mostly futile attempt to be a switch-hitter, he could go on to have a fine career.
If not. . . well, Fresno is not a great place to spend your summers.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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