March Madness, Barry Bonds, Brandon Belt/Aubrey Huff/Pat Burrell; A's Radio; Richard Winnie
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 29, 2011


MARCH MADNESS; In last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, the story on the NCAA tournament said, “Ohio State and Kansas loom high over the rest of the field.”

Well, not quite. The Buckeyes were beaten by Kentucky last weekend. Kansas lost to Virginia Commonwealth, a team that some “experts” thought didn’t even belong in the tournament. None of the four No. 1 seeds in the Regionals survived. Butler was only No. 8 in its Regional, VCU 11th in its. The highest-ranked team left, UConn, was only No. 3 in its regional.

This has made for some interesting re-evaluations. The Chronicle’s Vittorio Tafur, whom I believe is doing an excellent job on this, as he has on his other beats, good humoredly noted that, before the tournament started, he had said 16 teams had a chance to win – but he didn’t include three of the final four. “Make that 19,” he said.

One of my Examiner columnar colleagues had written before the start that VCU didn’t belong in the tournament. He wrote this week that he still believed VCU didn’t belong. Sometimes, it’s better to cut your losses and admit that you were wrong but I have the sense that this guy has never admitted an error.

I’m also told that Skip Bayless said the same thing about VCU on ESPN. I wouldn’t know, because I don’t watch him. I got quite enough of Bayless when he was briefly with The San Jose Mercury. Ron Bergman summed him up perfectly: “He should teach a course at Cal in self promotion.”

This year’s tournament is an extreme but not all that surprising. These are all very young men, remember, and their performances vary dramatically from game to game, for emotional as well as physical reasons.

That has made for an exciting tournament, with very high TV ratings, but it’s certainly no way to determine the best team in the country. A much better way would be to take the two top teams based on season performance and match them.

But wait, that’s how the BCS does it in football, a system the sports media denounces all the time. Most writers and broadcasters favor a basketball-style playoff.

There are good reasons for being against a football playoff. My fear would be more crippling injuries to players who likely won’t even play after college but will have these injuries for a lifetime.

But even if you’re callous enough to ignore that, how can you be stupid enough to think that a football playoff would be more likely to determine a true champion than the current system. Take a look at the current NCAA basketball tournament, please, and clear your heads.

ENCOURAGING SIGN: Three players on the Associated Press All-American team are seniors, the most since 2006. The three are Jimmer Fredette of BYU, Nolan Smith of Duke and JaJuan Johnson of Purdue. Junior Kemba Walker of Connecticut and freshman Jared Sullinger of Ohio State joined them. My favorite, sophomore Derrick Williams of Arizona, was only a second team choice, as the bias against west coast basketball continues.

I have no problem with players leaving early because they come from poor families and need the money. That’s why I didn’t blink when Leon Powe left Cal early, though it would have been fun to see him at Berkeley for another year.

But, at the same time, I always hope that players are in school to get an education, not just play basketball. That’s a vain hope for many schools, but when players stay for four years, I have to believe that they are students, not just players.

Fredette is an interesting case because he seems to be everybody’s choice as the best collegiate player. (I have no opinion because I don’t see enough collegiate basketball to form one.) But there seems to be considerable doubt that he’ll go high in the NBA draft. The college game is much more structured, which fits Fredette’s skills, but the NBA is all about one-on-one play.

BARRY BONDS: Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s appalled at the lengths to which Federal prosecutors have gone to try to nail Bonds. Even inside the Justice department, there are reportedly attorneys who are very upset about this trail. Because of the economy, their budget has been slashed and they think the money used to chase down Bonds could go to better uses. So do I.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to attorneys over the years; covering the Raiders required that. My son and daughter-in-law are both attorneys and, though I haven’t talked to Scott and Sarah about this because I don’t want to spoil our time together, they’ve previously given me insights into the legal process.

What I’ve heard from attorneys is that, in cases like this, the prosecutors are determined to catch their man. It’s not really about the case, just their own egos. That’s certainly true in this case. They’re determined to get Bonds, no matter how long it takes and how much it costs. This case started with Bonds’ testimony to a grand jury in 2003 and has cost a reported $6 million.

Now it’s deteriorated to testimony by Bonds’ former girlfriend that his testicles shrunk – wonder what she used to test them? – and a fired business manager, whose motives are no doubt pure as the driven snow.

And if the prosecution proves its case, will the republic be saved? The question answers itself.

GIANTS QUESTION: The debate over whether Brandon Belt should stay with the Giants was probably answered when Cody Ross went on the disabled list.

I’ve thought for some time that Belt should stay because he appears to be the good hitting, good fielding first baseman they haven’t had since J. T. Snow’s early years with the Giants. (Snow’s power numbers declined when the team moved into AT&T, but he had good ones before then.)

Keeping Belt would move Aubrey Huff to the outfield and raises the possibility that Andres Torres will have to cover most of the area between Huff in right and Pat Burrell in left. Good thing Torres was a track star in high school.

There is a precedent for this in the Giants history in San Francisco: Willie Mays sometimes had to play between two inferior outfielders. Once, trying to solve the dilemma of having two All-Star first basemen, Alvin Dark played Willie McCovey in left field. As he told me when I interviewed him for my 40-year history of the San Francisco Giants, McCovey had never played there, even in high school. Mays told him, “You watch the foul line. I’ll take everything else.” And, he did.

The Giants announced last week that Belt had won the Harry S. Jordan award, named for a long-time league trainer, for his play in spring training.

I had never even heard of this award, and when I looked at some of the previous winners, I realized why. The first three winners were Joe Kmak, Francisco Melendez and James Steel. Later, they were followed by such luminaries as Greg Brummett, Joe Roselli and Felix Escalona. Who are these guys?

Nonethess, everything I’ve heard about Belt from observers I trust is that he’s potentially another Will Clark. I’ll accept that – even if it means watching Huff and Burrell in the outfield.

POOR LEW WOLFF: Despite his best efforts to poor mouth, the Oakland A’s made $23 million last year, according to Forbes magazine, and the value of the franchise, which he and John Fisher purchased for $180 million, has gone up to $300 million. That must be comforting to Fisher, who is only worth $1.4 billion – again, according to Forbes.

Wolff has run a bare bones operation since he and Fisher took over the franchise, hoping to drive attendance down so he could move it to San Jose. Even when the A’s have done fan-friendly things, they keep them secret. For instance, they’ve apparently had free parking for Tuesday games – but I’ve heard from A’s fans who didn’t know that. Could that be because the A’s didn’t publicize it?

Meanwhile, they’ve closed off almost all the upper deck, a very popular area, supposedly to create more demand for tickets. Yeah, that’s sure worked. It has prevented the A’s from having those big attendance days (or nights) when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town.

The popular FanFest disappeared for awhile. Now, it’s resurfaced as an “Open House” before tonight’s exhibition against the Giants, which isn’t at all the same as having it on a weekend at Jack London Square where players would have plenty of time to mingle with fans.

Wolff may finally be coming to the realization that he’s not going to get his old frat buddy, commissioner Bud Selig, to take away the Giants territorial rights in San Jose.

Now, there’s reason to believe that the A’s have upgraded enough to make a serious run at the NL West division title; in fact, I think they’ll win it. They’ve got an outstanding young group of starters, a well-stocked bullpen and improved hitting with the addition of Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus.

They could still use an upgrade at third base. Their attempts at acquiring Adrian Beltre have been consistently rebuffed. A friend who knows Beltre said it was for an unusual reason: Beltre doesn’t like to talk to the media but in the A’s clubhouse, there’s no place to hide, except the shower and the trainers room. (There is no room in the Red Sox locker room, either, but there are so many stars, he wasn’t bothered when he played there.)

And, despite Wolff’s best/worst efforts, the A’s should get a nice attendance spike. Hopefully, that will remind people that the A’s have drawn well when they’ve had good owners, who have tried to win..

A’S RADIO Still another problem, though I don’t blame this one on Wolff, as angry A’s fans do: The unsettled situation with KTRB, 860 a.m., has forced the A’s to put the three exhibition games on KFRC, 1550 am., which has a much weaker signal. The fear is that regular season games will also be there.

A’s fans aren’t the only ones caught in this mess. Ken Korach, whom I regard as the best baseball play-by-play announcer in the Bay Area, is also caught in the middle.

For some time, the A’s were on radio stations that didn’t reach many of their fans. When they signed up with KTRB, I thought it would be great because of the 50,000-watt signal. But the station is now in receivership, its facilities so damaged that it can only broadcast at 20,000 watts. The A’s have been negotiating with the bank to buy the station but there is no resolution yet. (RICH LIEBERMAN 415 MEDIA has been monitoring this situation closely.)

Korach is a true professional and he will give his best no matter what the circumstances, as he always has. But, he deserves better. So do A’s fans.

BLEACHER REPORT: Everything I’ve ever hated about bloggers came to the front when I read this one, posted on SF Gate, which said Alex Smith was the biggest draft bust of all time, surpassing JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf.

Good grief. I’m hoping Alex will stay with the 49ers this year and finally have the chance to work with a coach, Jim Harbaugh, who knows quarterbacks and can improve his game. But even with all the obstacles in his path, Smith was a middle-of-the-league quarterback last year, while Russell and Leaf were flat-out busts.

Of course, this evaluation comes from a guy who admits that, in 2006, when most Bay Area writers, including me, were saying the Niners should draft Aaron Rodgers, he was dismissing Rodgers as a skinny kid who didn’t have a very strong arm.

So, now we’re supposed to believe he knows how to evaluate players? That’s what happens when you never go to a practice or even a game, never talk to coaches and scouts and form all your opinions from what you see on the TV.

This, not incidentally, is the same forum (maybe even the same guy) which evaluated 49er coaches and, without ever talking to Bill Walsh or going to a practice or news conference when he was coach, wrote that Walsh and the media never got along and that he forbade star players from talking to the media before big games. I was there, of course, and I can tell you that both those statements are totally wrong.

This is what worries me about the failure of newspapers because it is newspaper writers who supply meaningful information. Bloggers have their place, but I dread the thought of an “informational” system that is entirely dependent on their opinions.

RICHARD WINNIE: My son just phoned me with some sad news: Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie has died, after battling cancer for many years.

Richard was one of the good guys. We worked together on several sports-related issues. He was always straightforward with me and I assured him, as I did with all my contacts, that whatever he wanted to stay off the record would.

He was always a big baseball fan and would usually go down to spring training, after which we’d have lunch to discuss the baseball season.

Our last conversation came perhps as long as three years ago. Learning that Scott was working in the Richmond city attorneys office – the San Francisco firm for which he works has the contract to do that work for Richmond – he said the three of us would have to get together for lunch and that he’d call me. He never did. Now, I know why.

TUESDAY COLUMN: I’m posting this today because I want to go early to the Giants-A’s game tomorrow. I’ll be back on the Wednesday schedule next week.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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