NCAA Woes; Chris Mullin; A's Radio; Bruce Bochy/Ted Williams/Brandon Belt; Fred Sanchez, Barry Zito
WHAT HAD been a very exciting NCAA tournament turned ugly in the final game with the clank-clank-clank of missed shots, particularly by Butler. Statisticians had to go back to the early 1940s to find a Finals with comparably low scoring and shooting percentages.
Could the fact that they played the game in a football stadium have had something to do with it?
This was not a first for Houston. On January 20, 1968, the UCLA Bruins, riding a 47-game win streak and featuring Lew Alcindor (who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) faced off against Houston, featuring Elvin Hayes. Houston won, 71-69, with Hayes sinking the winning free throws.
But that was an epic game, one that is still talked about. Most of the 52,000-plus who were at the game didn’t have a very good view of it, but you can bet they talked about it for years.
My guess is that most of the fans who were at Monday night’s game will only talk about it in terms of disgust.
But, the NCAA got what it wanted: a larger attendance and more money, which sometimes seems to be the organization’s only concern.
The starting time was also awkward because it was 9:15 p.m. on the East Coast, so it wasn’t over until after 11 p.m. EST. No problem. Outside of the state of Connecticut, I’m sure most viewers had turned it off well before the end.
Again, there was a reason for that timing: ABC wanted to kill off potential series viewing for the other networks. Nothing but reruns were shown that night. TV networks are still fighting the last war. As their share of the audience continues to be eaten away by cable networks (less than 50 per cent for the network programming), they still fight each other.
There was a final ironic twist to that final game: On Tuesday, the coaches’ poll voted Connecticult No. 1 in the country. During the season, the Huskies were ninth in the Big East. It’s ridiculous to crown a team as national champion when its regular season play has been mediocre, but that’s what happens when you have a playoff system. My colleagues in the sports media who are constantly clamoring for a football playoff should take note of that but, of course, they never will.
CHRIS MULLIN was the player the Warriors didn’t want. The prize that year, 1985, was Patrick Ewing. The Warriors were in the lottery but Al Attles, representing the team, came up with No. 7. I’ll never forget the anguished look on Al’s face when he saw the number.
Ewing would have been the big man the Warriors have needed forever. Chris Washburn was a dreadful choice; Joe Barry Carroll slept-walked through his time with the Warriors. Ralph Sampson was a great athlete who couldn’t stay healthy. Chris Webber and Don Nelson couldn’t get along. In the NBA, the advantage in those battles always goes to the player. Ask Jerry Sloan.
As it turned out, though, Mullin was a nice consolation prize. This week, he was named to the basketball Hall of Fame.
Mullin was probably the best pure shooter I’ve ever seen. One time at practice, I watched him hit something like 30 straight from what would now be three-point range. If the arc had been in existence then, I’m sure he would have set records with his three-point shooting.
Other than that, he had a lot of weaknesses as a player. He was slow and the poster boy for “white men can’t Jump.” Because of that, he had trouble developing his own shot, but he learned to move without the ball so he’d be open for a pass and a quick shot. It helped, too, that he was a real student of the game and other players, so he knew their patterns.
He was also an alcoholic when he came to the Warriors and did little exercise, except to shoot hoops endlessly. When Don Nelson took over for George Karl as Warriors coach in 1989, he challenged Mullin to stop his drinking and work on his conditioning. Mullin did both, and he became both a better player and a better person.
Mullin wasn’t happy at the shooting guard position so Nelson moved him to small forward, where he could make use of his excellent passing ability. When Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway came to the team, they formed the free-wheeling TMC offense that was very exciting to watch, though their lack of size always doomed the Warriors in the playoffs. Trying to get more size, Nelson traded Richmond for Billy Owen, which he has since called the dumbest move he ever made.The Warriors weren’t the same with Richmond gone.
After he finished his playing career, Mullin moved into the Warriors front office and later to the general manager’s position. He was eventually forced out in a power struggle with team president Robert Rowell, who was there only because he was a friend of owner Chris Cohan. Rowell lost his job when new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber took over, probably the best move they’ve made to date.
A’S RADIO: Many people were surprised when the A’s went to an FM station, 95.7 on the dial, for their games but broadcaster Ken Korach was ecstatic, as he told me personally and also said on the air.
Negotiations to buy KTRB, which was in bankruptcy, had collapsed when the negotiator for the receiver said the station’s contract for 2011 A’s games would not be honored if they didn’t increase their offer. So, the A’s went to an alternative.
I’m often critical of A’s management but in this case, I think they were bargaining in good faith and had made a very generous offer, by all accounts, more than the station was worth.
Though it seems strange to go to an FM outlet, the A’s are the fifth major league team to do so. It’s difficult to find an AM station that can fit 162 baseball games into its programming. In this area, there’s only one, KNBR, and it’s got an ownership piece of the Giants. No room for the A’s there!
“The Wolf”, as the A’s new station is known, has excellent penetration in the Oakland and Berkeley hills, which they haven’t had. I had thought the A’s would benefit from the KTRB connection because it was a 50,000-watt station, but its financial problems led to deteriorating equipment and a reduction to 20,000 watts. The A’s would have had to spend millions beyond the purchase price to bring the equipment up to speed. They made the right move.
BRUCE BOCHY was relaxed as he talked to the media in the Giants dugout before the last exhibition game a week ago against the A’s. The roster decisions had been made and, though Bochy didn’t make them official until after the game, we all knew the important one had been made. There wasn’t a player in the starting lineup who would be there for the regular season opener the next night, so when we didn’t see Brandon Belt’s name on the lineup card, we knew he would stay in San Francisco, not go to Fresno.
After the official session, since Bochy was in no hurry to go back to the locker room, three of us – Ken Dito, John Shea and I – stayed to talk to him on various baseball subjects, some relevant, some not. Among them:
--The Giants philosophy. “I just think it’s easier to replace a position player than a starting pitcher. If you lose a regular (as the Giants did when outfielder Cody Ross went on the DL before the start of the season), you can usually pick up a player who can fill in for awhile. But getting another starter if one goes down…it’s just about impossible.”
That’s why the Giants have concentrated on drafting pitchers. Their top four starters – Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner – were all draft picks, all but Sanchez first-round picks. Buster Posey is their only first round draft pick as a position player.
--Brandon Belt: “He’s got the kind of plate discipline you don’t usually see in a young hitter. He hits the ball where it’s pitched, a lot like Buster.”
--Ted Williams.Bochy asked me first if I had met Williams and I said, yes, I’d had a 30-minue interview with him when he managed Washington. I asked one question about hitting and then Ted just gave me a lecture. I never thought of interrupting, of course.
“Well, then, you know what Ted was like, a real John Wayne type of guy. He came into our (Padres) clubhouse, spotted Tony Gwynn across the room and yelled at him, ‘Tony! What the hell are you doing hitting everything to left field? You should be driving the ball, hitting home runs.’ And you know, after working a little with Ted, Tony changed his swing a bit and hit some home runs.
“There are different styles of hitting but I tell you, I’m not a fan of the Charley Lau style, slapping the ball around. I know it seemed to work for George Brett, but. . .
(IMO, Brett was such a natural hitter, he’d have been great with any style.)
“Ted was also a great fisherman,” Bochy continued, “and he heard I liked to fish. So, the next time he saw me, he started talking about tying the flies. I said,’Hey, I just buy the bait and put it on the hook.’ He was a lot more serious about fishing than I was.”
BASEBALL SCHEDULING: There has been quite a bit of discussion about the fact that the Giants, after winning the World Series, opened on the road this season. Even John Madden got into it, saying he thought the Giants should have opened at home.
I can understand Madden’s position because he comes from football. The NFL is totally built around television and opening games are ones which are supposed to be blockbusters. There was a tiny bit of miscalculation on the 49ers last season, of course, thinking the Niners would be a playoff team, but that’s the league’s MO.
Baseball is much less TV-oriented because it doesn’t become a national game until the postseason. Fox has weekly Saturday “national” games which, strangely enough, often feature either the Yankees or the Red Sox. In return, other teams have to stay out of that time, which is unfortunate because it knocks out Saturday afternoon games which would be very appealing.
The rest of the time, though, the programming is local. The A’s and Giants have approximately 90 per cent of their games on Comcast.
So, baseball schedulers use different parameters in scheduling than the NFL. In this area, with two teams, they try to schedule one team at home and one on the road; the Giants and A’s very seldom overlap. As part of that policy, the schedulers exchange home openers; the Giants opened at home last year with the A’s on the road and the pattern was switched this year.
Nobody ever complained about that before – but, of course, the Giants had never won a World Series while in San Francisco, so it never came up.
APRIL FOOL: On Friday’s “Chronicle Live” on Comcast, before moderator Greg Papa, fellow guest Jeff Fletcher and I could debate the wisdom of Brian Sabean extending Freddie Sanchez’s contract for a year, we first had to decide, “Is this an April Fool’s joke?” It certainly seemed so.
It was the timing that especially bothered Fletcher and me. As Jeff noted, “It’s not like there’s going to be a bidding war for him and the Giants will have to pay him $10 million to stay.”
Sanchez is a good player, but he’s fragile. He had still another operation and he’s played just 111 major league games in each of the last two seasons.
He plays a position which is injury-prone because he has his back to runners when he’s pivoting on double plays. He plays all out, which is a good thing, but it also makes him vulnerable to more injuries.
The Giants have a young (22 this week) second baseman, Charlie Culberson, a first round draft pick in 2007 who hit .290 in 128 games at San Jose last year. He showed a little power (16 homers) at San Jose, but in four years in the minors, he’s struck out about four times as often as he’s walked, which is not a good sign. He was shifted from shortstop and he’s apparently better at the less demanding position of second base but I haven’t seen any scouting reports praising his fielding.
He’ll start at Double A this year but the word from the organization is that they don’t expect him to be able to play at the major league level even by next year. Everything I’ve read from independent sources supports that decision. The Giants have moved top prospects like Belt and Buster Posey on a fast track the last couple of years, but it doesn’t seem that Culberson is the same kind of prospect.
So, it may have been a necessity to keep Sanchez around for another year, but it certainly wasn’t necessary to do it before getting some idea how the season will play out. What will they do if he ends the season on the DL, facing still another operation with no idea when he’ll come back. That’s hardly an unreasonable projection.
BARRY ZITO: Over the weekend, a columnist opined that Zito should be on a short leash and might be traded to the Yankees.
Hmmm. Where did I read that? Oh, yes, right here – but about a month ago, when it was feasible. At the time, the Giants had Jeff Suppan on their roster as a possible No. 5 starter. Not a great pitcher but adequate in that role and, whatever part of Zito’s contract the Yanees would be willing to pick up would be a clear savings for the Giants.
But, not now. Suppan is gone and, when Zito was in an accident last week, there was a bit of panic about who would take his place. Nobody wanted to pitch Madison Bumgarner on short rest and there were no viable choices on the Fresno roster.
So, I don’t see Zito leaving this year. For the moment, the Giants are maintaining the fiction that he’s their No. 4 starter because they don’t want to overwork Bumgarner early. But I’d guess that, after the All-Star break, Bumgarner will be the No. 4 starter and Zito will be at No. 5, so they could skip him if the schedule permits, just as they did in the 2010 postseason.
Meanwhile, they’re stuck with that contract for another two years after this. The gift that just keeps on giving.
RADIO: I’ll be on with Ken Dito at 9:25 a.m. Friday on Action Sports 860 a.m. If the station is still there.
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