Gary Plummer/Eric Davis; Opening Day; Brandon Belt; Raiders Influence; Warriors Changes
49ERS RADIO: The Chronicle had a story this morning suggesting that Gary Plummer was replaced as the color man for 49ers broadcasts because of an interview he did on the sex habits of the players.
Don’t believe it for a moment. I’ve talked to people who know what’s going on and they agree: Plummer was replaced because he was critical of the team. He even went down to the locker room at halftime of one game last year and told the players, “This is not the way the 49ers do it.”
Plummer himself said that he had been told “four or five times” during the season by the 49ers front office people to ease up on his criticism because they were trying to fill the stadium. That’s not an announcer’s job. That’s the responsibility of team executives, to get good players and hire the right coach, which they hadn’t done since Steve Mariucci was fired. (They’ve finally made a good choice with Jim Harbaugh.)
Plummer, who had played for the 49ers, was a bit rough when he started on the broadcasts but he had learned from his mistakes and was doing a good job.
Ironically, if the 49ers were looking for somebody who would overlook bad/stupid play, they made the wrong choice by selecting Eric Davis to replace him. I’ve worked with Eric at times on KPIX’s in-season show on the 49ers and he’s been more critical than I am! Believe me, he won’t let up on the air.
OPENING DAY: Since I came to The Chronicle in 1963, I don’t think I’ve missed a Giants home opener. Not because I’m trying to keep any kind of streak going. I just thoroughly enjoy the experience.
So, there was no chance I was going to miss this one, with the added bonus of the Giants defending their first World Series championship since coming to San Francisco.
I usually have press parking for games, but this time, I decided to do what I’d done on the day the park, then Pacific Bell Park, had opened in 2000: I took BART over and then walked down the Embarcadero to the park.
The first thing I noticed was that the walk was longer than I’d remembered. Apparently, the blocks had been lengthened somehow. I’m surprised there weren’t any stories about how that was done.
But it was as enjoyable as I’d remembered. Hundreds of fans were taking the same walk and all were very excited. Several people said hello to me as they walked by and some stopped to talk to me. One fan told me he’d learned to read by reading my column! Another young man volunteered that he’d read me a lot when he was growing up. Another fan wanted to get a picture with me, saying he’d gotten Lon Simmons the year before, but his wife couldn’t get the camera to work. Well, maybe next time.
Many fans were milling around the Willie Mays statue in front of the park. Many others were eating at tables set up on the sidewalk. It was like a big outdoor party.
The Giants had planned a weekend-long celebration. On Saturday night, they had their ring ceremony, with rings for other Giants World Series winners (in New York) and the jewelry that was handed out before rings became the standard. Talking to writers before Sunday’s game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he couldn’t wear it to bed because it was so heavy, he was afraid he’t hit himself on the head during the night and knock himself out.
Giants management hadn’t wanted to give Juan Uribe his ring publicly when the Dodgers came to town, but the players, who knew how big Uribe’s contribution was last year, campaigned for him and he was awarded it before the start of Monday night’s game.
On Sunday, Buster Posey got his Rookie of the Year award, and the Giants had earlier Rookie of the Year winners, going back to Willie Mays in New York, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey in the Seals Stadium days and later Gary Mathews and John Montefusco, who reveled in returning to San Francisco. Well, what would you expect? He lives in New Jersey.
On Opening Day, in addition to the baseball happenings, they had the Blue Angels buzz the park before the game. Over the top, but the fans loved it, which is what counts.
Having seen the Giants lose to the Yankees in the 1962 Series with what I still believe was their best team in San Francisco and again in 2002 when they should have won in six games, I had given up on the Giants ever winning the Series. Then, a team that nobody expected to win did. That unpredictability is what makes sports so much fun, even to a jaded sportswriter like me! It’s highly unlikely the Giants will repeat this year, but in the meantime, we can enjoy the magic of last year.
BRANDON BELT: The Giants made a gutsy move when they kept Belt to start the season. Now that he’s struggling – not unexpected for a young hitter – they shouldn’t lose their nerve and send him down to Fresno.
Belt is going to be a very good major league hitter. Pitchers are testing him now with pitches he’s never seen before. He has to learn how to hit those pitches. He can’t learn at Fresno because he won’t see the same pitches. He’ll learn with the Giants if they’re patient and don’t panic.
FAN BEATING: The day after Brian Stow was badly beaten by Dodgers “fans” after the season opener in Los Angeles, I commented on the “Chronicle Live” show on Comcast that this was more typical of football fans than baseball. There are several NFL stadiums, not just the one in Oakland, where a fan is courting danger by walking through the stands with the opposing team’s colors.
Unfortunately, I think this mentality emerged in Los Angeles when the Raiders moved there.
In their first time in Oakland, fans were mostly blue collar workers who rooted very hard for their team but wouldn’t have thought of harming anybody. My wife sat in the stands for numerous games in that time because I knew she was not in danger – as she would have been at 49ers games at Kezar earlier.
When the Raiders moved to Los Angeles, though, they attracted the gang element. After games, players had to be escorted to their cars by police officers. Many Oakland fans who had never gone to the games watched the games from L.A. on TV and thought the outrageous behavior at those games was the way to go. Though there are many well-behaved fans at the Oakland games now, there is a bad element there which causes the trouble – and gets all he attention on TV.
Meanwhile, that attitude has spilled over to the Dodgers games in L.A. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of Dodgers fans are well behaved but it only takes a handful of bad apples to cause serious problems. I hope they find the two thugs who attacked Stow and throw them under the jail.
MANAGERS: In my Examiner column on the Giants loss to the Dodgers in the season opener in Los Angeles, I wrote that the Dodgers were hustling, as they hadn’t the last two years, and would be a better team for it. A reader asked me, “Do you think Don Mattingly is a better manager than Joe Torre?”
The answer is that, at this point, I don’t know. Mattingly has only been the Dodgers manager for a handful of games. But, my guess is that he’ll do a better job than Torre has the last two years.
In general, baseball managers make much less difference than NFL coaches because most baseball strategy is straightforward. If you’ve been around baseball for a long time, whether a fan or a writer, you can predict most of the strategy. Fans and writers can’t begin to do that for football, which is a much more complicated game.
The prevailing opinion in baseball is that a really good manager can help his team to six more wins than the norm while a really bad manager can cost his team six losses. But there are very few in either category. Most baseball managers fall in the middle and when owners make changes, it’s more because players and fans are tired of the current manager, not in expectation of a big improvement.
I’ve only seen two managers of Bay Area teams that I felt made a real difference strategically: Alvin Dark in the ‘60s with the Giants and Tony La Russa with the A’s in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I thought Bochy did a good job with the Giants last year, but not because he’s a strategical genius or innovator. He’s more in the Dusty Baker mode, the type of manager players like and play well for. As for the A’s Bob Geren, I’m withholding a final judgment because he hasn’t had the players to contend, but my initial impression is that he’s below average.
The worst Bay Area manager I’ve seen is Joe Altobelli with the Giants in the ‘70s, but Altobelli later won a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles, which only shows that good players can trump a bad manager.
Nobody thought Torre was a great manager when he had just five winning seasons in his first 14. Then, he went to the Yankees and won multiple World Series. Do you think talent might have had something to do with that?
The last couple of years, I think Torre has been worn out, from battles in New York with the Steinbrenner family and dealing with the battling Dodgers owners. Mattingly brings a fresh approach, and he brought in Davy Lopes, who has taught a more aggressive style of play. I think the Dodgers will be a force this year – and quite likely, Mattingly will get the credit, whether he deserves it or not.
GIANTS FANS: It amuses me when I hear people say that the Giants’ World Series victory has turned San Francisco back into a baseball town.
In fact, San Francisco was once a great baseball town, with kids playing ball on fields throughout the city and some of the best, with the DiMaggio brothers the classic example, going on to play in the major leagues. But the fields are gone and so are the players. You’re more likely to see soccer being played.
When the Giants came here, there was a temporary frenzy in San Francisco but the biggest story for the team was that, like the 49ers, they became a northern California favorite. Through good times and bad, they’ve remained that. One time in the late ‘80s, after Pat Gallagher had come over from MarineWorld to head up marketing for the Giants, he told me the team had more season ticket holders from Alameda and Contra Costa counties than San Francisco. If anything, that trend has probably accelerated as the San Francisco population has become even more diverse, far different than it was when Nancy and I lived there for the first two years of our marriage, February, 1967 to February 1969.
There are other signs. When the big victory parade was held to celebrate the Series win, BART had its highest patronage day ever. Those weren’t San Francisco fans and, in fact, I talked to people from Oakland who couldn’t get on the trains because they were already full with Contra Costa County residents.
On Sunday, I wrote an Examiner column on the Giants-Cardinals game, so I stayed, went down to the dressing room for about half an hour and then drove home to write. Relatively few fans had left the game early so it was a struggle to get out of the parking lot, and going across the Bay Bridge, it was like a Friday night commute. (I can make that comparison because, my last two times on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast, I’ve come across the bridge just after 6 p.m. on Friday.)
Because it was Sunday, it was obvious the crush was caused by Giants fans and, again, they were coming from the East Bay, not San Francisco.
The Giants win last October certainly ignited the population, probably not quite as much as the 49ers first Super Bowl win in January, 1982, but close, and more than anything else I can remember in the nearly half century I’ve been writing about San Francisco sports. But, it’s the entire Bay Area that has been involved. It is not a San Francisco sensation.
KEN DITO: As he announced while I was on the air with him last Friday, Dito’s “Press Box” show will end on Friday. Once the station lost the A’s, the reason for a sports format was gone.
I caught up with Dito later at the Giants opener and he said he would be looking for other stations which might want the show. I wish him well. He’s a hard worker and he gives his guests a chance to talk. One other local talk show host who shall remain nameless seldom does.
WARRIORS: Last week, I wrote that Robert Rowell had been fired by the new Warriors owners. That came from a story on the Internet. Unfortunately, the story was in error. Rowell is still there and likely to stay. I should have known the news of his firing was too good to be true.
Meanwhile, coach Keith Smart is campaigning to have his contract renewed, pointing out that the club was doing better than last year and that it was unrealistic to expect them to make the playoffs.
I agree with both statements, but I still doubt that he’ll return – or that he should. When he was named coach, Smart promised there would be a new emphasis on defense and rebounding, but, just as before, defense was usually missing in Warriors games this season. Smart’s use of Stephen Curry, whom the Warriors should be building around, has been puzzling. More than anything, I think that will do him in.
The Warriors should do the new coach a favor and trade Monta Ellis for frontcourt help. The Curry-Ellis backcourt is too weak defensively, and Curry plays better when Ellis is not in the game.
CLUELESS A’S: I thought it was a practical joke when I first heard that the A’s Bobblehead promotions would include MC Hammer. Why? Because Charlie Finley whimsically named him a club vice-president when he was only 14? Hammer had a brief career as a top rock star but he’s been in the has-been bin for a long time. The purpose of the Bobblehead nights is to build up fan interest in current players – but there isn’t a current player included in this year’s promotions! High school students could do a better job of marketing.
PRIORITIES: When the PA announcer at Giants games tells us at the start of the seventh inning, “Please stand and remove your hats for the playing of ‘God Bless America””, I remain seated. When “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is played, I stand up. The second song is appropriate at a ball game. The first is not.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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