49ers Draft; NFL Lockout; Mickey Mentle/Chipper Jones; Joe Perry; Brian Wilson
NFL DRAFT: No matter how much is written about the 49ers need for a quarterback, I would be shocked if the 49ers used their first pick on one. As I wrote last week in the Examiner, I think it’s much more likely that they’ll go for a defensive back. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury came to the same conclusion and for the same reason, because of what general manager Trent Baalke said and didn’t say when he met with the local media last week.
Baalke was asked about four of the top quarterbacks: Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker, and he summed up all four in a manner which indicated to me that the Niners wouldn’t draft any of the four on the first round. (Newton and Gabbert will probably be gone before the 49ers draft at No. 7.) More important, though, was the fact that he answered the question. I’ve been at a number of these pre-draft meetings, for both football and basketball, and I have never known a GM to talk much about a player he wanted to draft. Indeed, if he does talk at length about a player you can be sure he won’t pick him.
For instance, in June, 2009, Warriors GM Larry Riley talked sparingly about Stephen Curry, who was the player he had always wanted. Many writers thought the Warriors would draft strong forward Jordan Hill of Arizona, so they asked about him and Riley described him at great length. I knew at that point he had little interest in Hill and, sure enough, though he was available when the Warriors pick came up, they took Curry instead. Hill went on the next round to the New York Knicks.
Many local writers now are going crazy because new coach Jim Harbaugh has praised Alex Smith. After all, they know more about quarterbacks than Harbaugh does and they’ve declared Smith a bust. Bruce Jenkins even wrote that Harbaugh was known to say things he didn’t mean to the media.
I’m quite certain Bruce has never been part of an interview process with Harbaugh; he got that from an unhappy writer. In contrast, I have been at many sessions with Harbaugh from one-on-one meetings to the Stanford Tuesday meetings to the Big Game media day to the pre-season meeting with Bay Area coaches and I’ve never seen that happen.
And BTW, the 49ers have made a contract offer to Smith (which he hasn’t accepted). Obviously, that was done because of Harbaugh’s evaluations, so, yes, he did mean what he said.
Baalke leans on Harbaugh for quarterback evaluations but he will be the one deciding which position to try to fill in each round. That makes sense because he’s been involved in personnel decisions for several years and with different teams, from the Jets to the Redskins to the 49ers. Since his playing days, Harbaugh’s only NFL experience was as a quarterbacks coach for the Raiders, and you know he wasn’t involved in the draft there.
NFL LOCKOUT: Federal judge Susan Richard Nelson has ruled against the NFL owners lockout but the league is appealing that decision to an appellate court and, meanwhile, asking for a stay of Judge Nelson’s decision until the appellate court rules.
That’s customary in these cases but I’m hoping Judge Nelson won’t grant the stay (her decision won’t come any earlier than late today and probably not even then) because as long as the lockout is in place, the owners are under no pressure to negotiate seriously. They know they can outwait the players.
There are several issues in this dispute but the key one is that owners want more money in the new agreement because there are teams that need new stadiums but can’t get the kind of public financing they’ve been able to get in the past. The problem is most acute in California, where the 49ers, Raiders and Chargers all need new stadiums. The 49ers and Raiders could solve their problem by cooperating on a combined stadium but Al Davis hasn’t found “cooperate” in his dictionary yet. End of story.
Why do the owners want new stadiums? Because they can build more suites and club seats – and the revenue from them is not among the revenue that is shared by other teams. It is also not part of the revenue counted in figuring the salary cap, so the players don’t get any of it.
Boiled down, it means that the owners are asking the players to take less money so clubs can build new stadiums which will decrease the players’ share of the revenue even more. And, BTW, they won’t open their books to prove they need this, either.
The owners have accused the players of always planning to go to court, but the players really had no choice. They went to court after the last labor problem, in 1987, and eventually got a settlement which aided both sides. The players got free agency, the owners got a salary cap and the NFL has grown exponentially since then.
But, even that isn’t enough for the owners. They probably look back longingly at life in the Charles Dickens era.
MLB PROBLEMS: I’m not accustomed to siding with Bud Selig but I think the baseball commissioner was exactly right when he stepped in to take operating control of the Dodgers from Frank McCourt. Expect Selig to do the same soon with the New York Mets, whose owners got caught up in the financial mess on Wall Street.
The Dodgers situation was especially troubling because this had been a model franchise for decades, starting with their 1941 National League pennant in Brooklyn, through the 1947-57 period when they dominated the National League team and were quite possibly the best ever in league history, then through many more glory years after moving to Los Angeles.
Now, with McCourt and his wife locked in a bitter divorce struggle, he’s tried to borrow $500 million from Fox, while the payroll has gone down.
There are other troubling signs. Dodger Stadium used to be the model for baseball, perfectly maintained and with a well behaved fan base which regularly filled the park. I haven’t been there for many years but those who have tell me that the crowds are unruly, in and out of the stadium. The tragic beating of Bryan Stow is just the tip of the iceberg.
McCourt isn’t responsible for all these problems but he certainly can’t do anything about them because he’s too busy fighting his wife. I know the issues – he’s accused her of having an affair with her driver/bodyguard – but I have no knowledge of the facts, so I can’t comment on that. I can comment on the baseball aspect, though, and I applaud Selig for his action.
JOE PERRY: One of football’s real gentlemen, as well as an all-time great, died this week.
I didn’t see Perry play, though I saw film clips of him, and I didn’t meet him until I was working on my history of the 49ers, “San Francisco 49ers: The First Fifty Years,” which was published in 1995. He wasn’t a big talker but he was a very amiable man, and I ran into him several times in later years at 49ers games, when he would tailgate with other 49ers alumni.
Those who played with him were better at describing what he did. “He added so much speed to our club,” said Frank Albert, who was the quarterback when Perry came to the Niners in 1948. “As the quarterback, you had to turn around very quickly to hand off the ball or he’d be past you.”
Y.A. Tittle later had the same problem and Perry would kid him about it. “You’re just a slow talking, slow moving Southern boy,” Perry would say. “You’re not used to the way we do things.”
“He was the fastest off the ball I ever saw,” Tittle said. “He could just fly. The running game was different then. Now, backs line up seven yards deep and they pick their hole. Then, they were just 3 ½ yards from the line of scrimmage and they’d just hit the hole. It was either there or it wasn’t.”
For Joe Perry, it didn’t make much difference because his speed also generated power. He wasn’t as spectacular a runner as Hugh McElhenny, who was as good in the open field as any running back ever, but he was much more durable, playing an incredible 16 seasons, his first 14 with the 49ers, and he was ultimately more valuable to the team.
With McElhenny, Tittle and John Henry Johnson, he was part of the “Million Dollar Backfield” in the ‘50s. “That didn’t refer to our actual contracts,” Tittle told me. Eventually, all four were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lou Spadia, who had started his own 49ers career in 1946, remembered another Perry attribute: His intelligence: “Sometimes, Albert would forget a play and Perry would remind him,” said Spadia.
He was also tough. In those days, players did not wear mouthpieces and Tittle recalled a time when Perry was hit so hard, a couple of teeth were broken. He spit out the broken parts and continued to play.
Though the color barrier had been broken by Kenny Washington in the early ‘40s, there were few black players in professional football. Perry was the only black on the 49ers for years and he told me that sometimes created problems when they played exhibitions in Southern towns or even league games in quasi-Southern cities like Baltimore because there would be restaurants that refused to serve him or hotels that would not allow black guests. But, it was not a problem with the 49ers. “We were like a family,” he said. Whenever opposing teams tried to gang up on him, 49er players would protect him.
I’d guess that Perry’s nature also made that possible. He had such a sunny personality, it would be very hard to dislike him, let alone hate him.
Joe Perry was a great player and a great man. He’ll be missed.
SWITCH HITTERS…On “Chronicle Live” on Comcast last Friday, we were discussing whether Chipper Jones has a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame when Mark Purdy said, “He may have been the best switch-hitter ever.” I turned to him and said, “Have you forgotten Mickey Mantle?” Mark said, “Well, you’re older than me.”
Mark was kidding; he and I are friends, though we disagree on some issues, most notably the “A’s to San Jose” notion. He knows that Mantle is indisputably the best switch hitter ever because he hit for average and power from both sides of the plate. Often when he was suffering from a hangover. He was an incredible talent.
But, though Jones isn’t in that class, Mark and I both felt he should be in the Hall of Fame. He has the individual statistics and one World Championship to back his candidacy, and he hasn’t been accused of taking steroids, so the moralists won’t vote against him. It may not happen on the first ballot because some writers just won’t vote for a candidate in his first year. I’ve never seen the logic in that. If he’s got the record to be in the Hall of Fame, why wait until the second year to vote for him? So, Chipper may have to wait a year but he’ll get there.
He’ll be one of the few switch-hitters there. It seems that switch-hitting is a great idea because you’d never have to hit against a pitcher throwing from the same side but there are two disadvantages: 1) A hitter only gets half the practice from each side that he’d get from one otherwise; and 2) Every switch-hitter not named Mickey Mantle seems to have one side which is stronger than the other. J. T. Snow was convinced by the Giants to drop his right-handed hitting because he was not very effective from that side. I think they should do the same with Pablo Sandoval. Pablo is raking again from the left side, hitting for both power and average, but he continues to look lost from the right side.
AARON ROWAND: On the same Comcast show, we discussed Aaron Rowand and Andres Torres. The host who was filling in for Greg Papa said “you ride the hot hand” and was all for keeping Rowand in the lineup. I said that, by the time Torres is ready to come back, Rowand will no longer have the hot hand. Torres is the better player, both at bat and in the field. He should play.
If you’ve watched baseball for more than 10 minutes, you know that all hitters have streaks, hot and cold. Cody Ross was on a real hot streak in the first two rounds of the playoffs last year, hitting game-winning home runs. Ross is a good player and a big defensive boost but he’s not that kind of power hitter; he’s hit as many as 24 home runs in a season only once. Conversely, Pat Burrell fell into a terrible slump in the postseason when he probably couldn’t have hit underhanded pitches, but he’s a solid power hitter who has returned to form this year.
We’ve seen enough of Rowand in his two years with the Giants to know he’s an average hitter at best and perhaps slightly above average as a fielder. He’s 33 and has played eight full seasons in the majors and parts of two others, so he’s not suddenly going to develop into a great hitter. He just had a hoy streak early and it’s already ending. After hitting .364 in his first 12 games, he’s hit .160 in his next six. When Torres returns, Rowand should return to his best position: on the bench.
NOTE TO BRIAN WILSON: Shave the beard. You’re beginning to look like one of the Smith Brothers. You could hide baseballs in it now.
It was a cute idea for a time, the “Fear the Beard” stuff, and Wilson had a great ride on the publicity wagon. But it’s getting tiresome and I suspect it’s affecting his pitching because he doesn’t seem to have the concentration he once had.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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