March Madness, NFL Labor Strife, Eddie DeBartolo, Brian Sabean/Joe Thomas, Warriors Future
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 23, 2011


MARCH MADNESS: While others in the media pant about the excitement of the NCAA tournament, I am disenchanted for three reasons:

--I donít like the selection process, especially these phony conference tournaments at the end of the season, where a team that would not otherwise have been part of what is now the 68-team process can make it with a strong showing.

USC did it with one win in the Pac-10 tournament, playing what is its home court. The Trojans didnít merit inclusion in the NCAA tournament. This is not sour grapes just because that one win came over Cal. The Bears didnít belong there, either. They overachieved this year and Iím proud of them, but their lopsided loss in the second round of the NIT to Colorado Ė which should have been in the NCAA tournament Ė showed exactly what would have happened to them if theyíd been in the ďBig Dance.Ē

The NIT once was the bigger of the two tournaments, a glamorous showcase for collegiate basketball in New York Then, came the betting scandals in 1951, when stars from CCNY, Long Island University and Kentucky were found to have taken bribes to shave points, if not actually lose some games.

The NCAA seized the opportunity to blame it all on the influence of New York gamblers and promoted its tournament as the only one for colleges, prohibiting teams from playing in both tournaments. Fueled by anti-New York sentiment around the country, the NCAA tournament became the major tournament.

Then, in 1961, playing in these supposedly pristine collegiate arenas, there was an even bigger scandal, but the NCAA tournament remained pre-eminent.

The NIT has since been a sad shadow of its glorious past. I covered Cal in the tournament finals in New York in 1999. I enjoyed myself because the media hotel was the Mariott Hotel on Times Square. I ate at good restaurants on The Chronicleís dime and went to two plays, one of them ďChicagoĒ, with Bebe Neuwirth. (my wife and I had earlier seen a road show performance at the Orpheum Theatre with Gwen Verdon and we own a video of the movie. You might even think we like it.) But the games were an afterthought. Madison Square Garden wasnít half-filled, even though there was a very large contingent of Cal supporters who had come east.

Now, thereís even another tournament, the Santa Clara upset the USF Dons in a second-round game Tuesday night at USF, but only 2,615 fans were there, so even USF fans donít care much about this tournament, which only shows they are intelligent.

--Itís driven by the office pool regiment. Filling out ďyour bracketsĒ is the thing to do.

I think Iíve written before that Iíve never been in an office pool. Of course, Iíve worked out of my home since 1972 but I never got in one even in the 14 years before that, when I was working in an office. Iím either interested in as game or Iím not. I donít have to have a betting interest in games to watch. But, apparently, thatís what drives interest in the NCAA tournament.

Interestingly, this betting interest might actually lessen the enjoyment of those watching the game, acccording to Stephen M. Nowliss, Phd, a researcher at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Nowliss conducted a series of four experiments that showed those who ďmade predictionsĒ on the games had significantly less enjoyment than those who didnít. ďWe thought the opposite would be true,Ē he said.

--This is a personal one: Because basketball games are played at night, I donít watch them live. My wife and I watch a lot of TV after dinner most nights, but they are entertainment shows, not sports Ė though Nancy did get caught up in the postseason excitement with the Giants last fall and didnít want to miss a pitch. Other than that one aberration, she isnít interested. The only postseason basketball Iíve watched was the Cal win over the Ole Miss Rebels in the first round of the NIT, the next day for my own enjoyment. I didnít bother to watch the Bears loss to Colorado.

AWARD-WINNING journalist Evan Weiner writes of NFL owners playing with Other Peopleís Money.

Weiner discussed the fact that the NFL had a payment from broadcast and cable networks built in to their last contract to provide them with money to ride out a lockout or strike period this season. That has been challenged legally by the NFL Players Association before it broke up, and Judge David Doty issued a temporary restraining order. The issue will soon be addressed in court.

Weiner went further, saying that all subscribers to systems which carry the games are also subsidizing the owners because their payments to the cable companies are part of what the NFL is getting. He thinks that, if fans decided to withhold their payments to cable companies and the owners didnít get their money that they would force the issue to be resolved.

That isnít going to happen, of course. So, what is?
Veteran NFL observer Peter King, whose judgment I find reliable, speculates that a federal judge will end the lockout and the two sides will return to mediation by July. He thinks all the miii-camps and training camps will go through, and a full (16-game) season will be held, while the three-player suit against the league winds its way through the courts.

But, he calls this ďa best guess.Ē Truthfully, thatís all anybody can have at this point, including those of us who have been writing about NFL labor strife for almost 40 years.

BRIAN SABEAN: On Ken Ditoís ďPress BoxĒ show last Friday, we were discussing the best and worst general managers in the Bay Area since weíd both been on the scene. The worst was easy for me: Joe Thomas not only made bad deals but almost wrecked the 49ers franchise in just two years. Spec Richardson made some bad deals with the Giants and Terry Donahue was a washout with the Niners but neither approached Thomasís scorched-earth policies.

Then, Dito asked me about Brian Sabean. I put him in the middle, with some good points and some bad ones.

Sabeanís strong point has been his emphasis on pitching. The Giants drafts since heís been GM have been top heavy in pitching choices. Those who didnít pan out, heís usually been able to trade. That strategy was a spectacular failure with Joe Nathan but it also brought in Jason Schmidt in another trade. Except for Nathan (and, briefly, Francisco Loriano), I canít think of another pitcher heís traded who has been a big success.

Mostly, Sabean has hung on to the best pitchers, and it paid off with the World Series triumph last fall. The four starters in the Series Ė Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner were all draft picks. Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner were first-round picks. Sanchez was picked on the 27th round but Sabean has held on to him despite pressure to trade him for a bat, which was a good decision..

Countering this strength, though, is Sabeanís tendency to overpay for free agents, which has been a burden on the roster. He has two bad contracts on the roster now, with Barry Zito signed for three more years at $18 million and Aaron Rowand signed for two more years at $12 million. Those contracts not only take up far too much of the payroll but make it virtually impossible to trade the players. To unload either or both of them now would require the Giants to pay a substantial part of their contracts.

Writers who like Sabean have come up with ďthe devil made him do itĒ theory on Zito: that he was forced on Sabean by then managing general partner Peter Magowan.

Those who have written that had little or no contact with Magowan. In contrast, I talked to him frequently when I had my Chronicle column. Magowan is not a modest man but he never even hinted that he might have had anything to do with deals since Sabean had been GM. Instead, he continually praised Sabean for the moves he had made. The claim that he forced the Zito deal on Sabean doesnít pass the smell test.

And, Magowan was long gone when Sabean signed Rowand. Iím not second guessing on these deals. I wrote as soon as Zito was signed that it was a bad deal. I had seen him go downhill at a steady rate with the Aís. His Cy Young year came when he was No. 3 in the rotation, behind Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. As the No. 1 starter, he was inconsistent to the end, including his last two postseason games. He pitched a great game in the opener of the AL divisional series against the Twins, but followed that with a real stinker against the Tigers in the ALCS. I didnít think heíd suddenly be a topnotch pitcher with the Giants and, of course, he hasnít been.

As for Rowand, what I saw at the time of his signing was a slightly above average defensive outfielder whose hitting stats were inflated because heíd played in hitter-friendly parks with the White Sox and Phillies, and in a strong lineup with his second club. In a weaker lineup and playing home games at AT&T, it was inevitable that his hitting stats would go down.

The pro-Sabean writers, though, praised Rowand for his hustle, without realizing that disguised the shortcomings in his game. Heís become a dead weight as his performance has declined.

Nor was Magowan around when Sabean signed Edgar Renteria to a two-year, $18.5 million contract. I originally thought that was a good contract because Renteria had been a great player. As soon as he started with the Giants, though, it became obvious that he had little range to his right. Like many observers, I think Renteria is considerably older than his listed age. He still can show flashes of what he was, as he did in the World Series, but that didnít make him worth what he was paid.

The corollary to this is that the overpaid players can keep more deserving ones out of the lineup. From his first day as a Giant, Juan Uribe was a better shortstop than Renteria, both in the field and at bat, but he didnít play there consistently until Renteria went on the DL. Andres Torres showed in 2009 that he was a much better centerfielder than Rowand, but it wasnít until midseason in 2010 that he became the starter.

Do you think that it took Bruce Bochy that long to figure out who his best players were? I donít. I believe he had to persuade Sabean first. Perhaps Sabean has learned his lesson. With his blessing, Aubrey Huff has been used in left field for the first time in spring training, presaging a Brendan Belt promotion. One of my Examiner columnar colleagues opined this morning that they should send Belt to Fresno so they wouldnít have to cut Travis Ishikawa. Omigawd.

TO: Iím going to get this right yet: Terrell Owens has played with five NFL teams. The surprise: One of them isnít the Raiders. He would seem to be a natural for Al Davis.

WARRIORS: Once again, the Warriors will miss the playoffs Ė surprise! Ė but there is reason for optimism for the future because the clubís new owners apparently will renew the contract of general manager Larry Riley.

Riley has been a pleasant surprise. When he was first made general manager, replacing Chris Mullin, the media belief, which I shared, was that he would be a stooge for then coach Don Nelson, for whom he had been an assistant coach. But he has been his own man, in fact making decisions form the beginning to build the foundation of a team for the future after Nelson, which started this year.

Riley is a very hard worker, traveling across the country to scout collegiate players who will be in the draft. It was his personal work that convinced him Stephen Curry should be their first pick in 2009, even though it created a poorly balanced back court with Monta Ellis. Now, the next step is to trade Ellis for some frontcourt help which the Warriors badly need. Drafting for a big man would also be a help.

Keith Smartís future is uncertain. I thought Smart would be a good coach for the Warriors but the uneven play of the team, especially on defense, indicates heís not getting through to them. Heís also mishandled Curry, who is their future. My guess is that he wonít be back.

Meanwhile, Nelson said in a Comcast interview that he hadnít ruled out a return to NBA coaching. He should. I guess heís forgotten about those NBA road trips. Heís not physically up to that challenge, and I doubt thereís an NBA team that would take a chance on him, anyway.

EDDIE DE bARTOLO: I wonder if Denise De Bartolo York ever wonders what happened in her life.

Denise was the Good Daughter, a very good businesswoman in her fatherís tradition who worked as hard as he did.

Meanwhile, Eddie was the spoiled son, who drank and gambled his way through life, on his fatherís money, ultimately getting a largely undeserved reputation as the 49ers owner, climbing up on Bill Walshís work in building the reputation. Then, he was forced to sell the 49ers to his sister because he was peripherally involved in a gambling scandal in Louisiana. The Simon De Bartolo stock Eddie got in exchange escalated dramatically in the boom years of the Ď90s.

Now, Eddie is worth $1.9 billion, according to the latest Forbes magazine report, and beloved by 49er fans who donít realize how much he harassed Walsh in the glory years.

Denise is saddled with a football team in which she has no interest just because she wants to keep her husband happy. John York loves being a big shot as an NFL owner. Iím sure other owners laugh at him privately but York has absolutely no sense of how other people think. So, he continues as owner of a franchise which has self-destructed since he took over.

If Denise thinks that life isnít fairÖshe has cause.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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