Pac-12 TV; NFL Problems; A's/Milton Bradley; Warriors/Rick Barry; Willie Mays
PAC-12 CONTRACT:I was wrong to assume that new conference commissioner Larry Scott would not be able to deliver the lucrative television contract he was seeking. In fact, he has. The new Pac-12 will be awash in money, for the time being.
But, rest assured: The big-time football programs will soon find a way to spend it all. In retrospect, it would have been far better if the NCAA powers had found a way to rein in the huge increases in spending for football programs many years ago, but that may always have been an unrealistic hope. There are too many schools – including an entire conference, the SEC – who regard football as a way of life, not just a sport. And, when you have schools like that, the others have to try to keep pace or drop out of the race. It’s like the arms race: You can’t unilaterally disarm.
In the ‘30s, Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, which had been a football power, ended the intercollegiate program. The school has thrived since as one of the very best academic universities, but no other Midwestern power followed. In the ‘50s, the Ivy League, where intercollegiate football began, de-emphasized, but that was an unique situation, a group of similar schools which could depend on alumni contributions to make up for the loss or revenue at games. There is no comparable situation among big football schools now.
There are some interesting side stories, one of them at Cal, where chancellor Robert Birgenau and athletic director Sandy Barbour put out a dire scenario months ago that involved dropping sports because of a lack of revenue. An impressive fundraising campaign by alumni produced enough money so that, in the end, all the threatened sports were saved.
Did Birgenau and Barbour know the school would soon by receiving this windfall from the football TV schedule? We’ll never know because “transparency” is not a word in their dictionaries.
One thing is certain: The old ideal of college football, as a vehicle for bringing alumni and students together on a Saturday afternoon, is fast disappearing. There will be more and more night games, which bring in more TV viewers but tend to discourage older fans from attending in person.
That’s not universally true. In Southern cities, where college football is very big, it’s also a social event which nobody wants to miss. It’s quite literally the only game in town. That’s true also of some Midwestern powers, like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan.
But in the Bay Area, where there are so many different attractions, a night football game loses its appeal for many older fans – and you can include me in the group.
All of this is played out against a background of schools so starved for money for academic pursuits that student fees continue to be raised and raised and raised, shutting out students who are academically deserving but can’t afford the fees.
So, forgive me for not offering high fives for the new Pac-12 and its television package.
NFL TESTING: The talk by NFL owners that they may institute testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) if they cannot have their lockout in place is just more saber-rattling.
Everybody who has been in an NFL locker room lately knows that there are a lot of bodies that have been sculpted by drugs, not nature. So, the idea that players might be tested for HGH will send a tremor through their ranks, which is what owners want.
Unfortunately, this is no more than a ploy. I would love to see players tested for HGH because I think this unnatural growth is a real danger to players and certainly the root cause of all the concussions. But please, not the Anti-Doping group which has had so many flawed test results. They can get away with it in the “amateur” sports because the athletes don’t have anybody fighting for them. But the NFL should have results it can trust.
Meanwhile, as the labor fight drags on in the courts, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is making some remarkably stupid comments.
I understand Goodell’s frustration and, overall, I think he’s done a good job as commissioner. But now, he’s facing the same problem that Pete Rozelle faced in 1987: The owners have told him to butt out. They’ll tolerate a commissioner making inter-league decisions but when it comes to their labor fights with the players, they don’t want any input from him.
Meanwhile, Goodell is the symbol for fans, who booed him at the draft last week. So, he’s making public statements to players telling them they should drop their lawsuits and resume negotiations.
The problem is that the players were forced into the legal mode because owners wouldn’t negotiate honestly. Remember that it was not the players who wanted to change the Collective Bargaining Agreement; they said they were willing to extend it. It was the owners who wanted a drastic change because they said they weren’t getting a fair share. Fine. If you feel that way, open your books to show how you’re losing money. They wouldn’t do that – except for the Green Bay Packers, who are publicly-owned by residents of the city – because they know what it would show: They’re all making money.
And, they’ve got their own little slush fund, $4 billion withheld from the last TV contract so they could finance this battle. Even by the standards of the super-rich, this is outrageous.
That issue is in the court of U. S. District Judge David Doty, who brokered the salary cap/free agent CBA in 1993. It would not surprise me if Judge Doty ruled that the $4 billion should be considered league revenue and divided among players and owners on the 60/40 split that was in the last CBA. You’ll know when that happens because you’ll be able to hear the owners screaming from your living rooms.
It will probably take something like that to force the owners to do realistic negotiating because otherwise, they’ll figure they can outlast the players.
I’ve been writing on these labor disputes since the early ‘70s, and I’ve seen one significant difference this time: Fans seem to be much more supportive of the players (or, against the owners, which is the same thing) than ever before. That’s probably because there’s so much more information out on the Internet that is sympathetic to the players. In previous struggles, most of the writers favored the owners.
A’S HITTING: The A’s offensive futility has frustrated their fans so much that they’ve offered some frantic solutions. The craziest: a suggestion to sign Milton Bradley now that he’s been released by the Mariners.
Bradley was briefly a member of the A’s, and Ken Macha was able to keep him mostly under control. Bradley respected Macha. Do you think he’d have any respect for Bob Geren?
The A’s made some offseason additions to try to improve their offense, with mixed results. Josh Willingham has supplied some power, with a five RBI game on Monday against the Rangers. Designated hitter Hideki Matsui has had his moments – including one walk off homer – but hasn’t done as much as the A’s had hoped for.
I don’t think it’s time to panic. The A’s, like the Giants, are not in a tough division, so they should be able to wait until the All-Star break to see if they have to do something. By that time, there will be teams who are out of contention that will be ready to get rid of players. That’s the time to pick up players, not now.
By then, they’ll have a better idea of where Matsui is. At times, I’ve thought he looked good. Other times, not so good. He’ll have time to get in his groove by then. If he hasn’t, the A’s should cut him. Maybe Chris Carter will be showing enough at Sacramento to be brought up to be the DH. Maybe they’ll rotate between the extra players, mostly outfielders, that they have.
The A’s pitching is the best in the league. The Giants showed last year how far pitching can take a team. The A’s need to keep plugging, and their fans need to keep their cool.
RICK BARRY: I have no idea who the next Warriors coach will be but I’m sure it won’t be Barry, who has been proposed by a Chronicle columnist.
It was about 15 years ago when I made a similar suggestion. I thought Barry would be a successful coach – he had been in the Continental Basketball League – because players would respect his playing background, as one of the 50 best NBA players of all times.
But Warriors owner Chris Cohan, who was actively involved in the decision-making then, said, “Have you ever talked to him?”
Of course I had, many times, and I knew what Cohan meant. Barry is a very abrasive personality, self-centered in the extreme. His own teammates tired of him in the 1975-76 season. He had been a one-man gang the year before, leading the Warriors to their only NBA title, but in the semi-finals the next year, his teammates wouldn’t even pass him the ball as they went down to defeat.
His coaching chance has come and gone. Today’s players are like all young people: They think history is last night’s TV news. Barry’s playing background would mean nothing to them and they’d never listen to him.
No, it’s time for the Warriors to move on, get a relatively young coach who has played in the NBA – an essential these days – and will work very hard to prove himself.
WILLIE MAYS: I ran into Lon Simmons, only two months from his 87th birthday and still ramrod-straight, at the Giants game on Sunday. Lon and Russ Hodges were the Giants broadcasters when the team moved to San Francisco, and Lon has been a close friend of Mays since then, so he was in town for all the festivities.
And, also to catch up with the Giants, which he can’t do in Maui, where he lives. “There’s never a word about the Giants in the Hawaii papers,” he complained. “I can’t believe it.”
He had spent a good part of the day with Mays on his 80th birthday Friday. “Willie woke up at 3 a.m. that day and couldn’t get back to sleep,” said Lon. “Then, he had a luncheon celebration honoring him and finally, the celebration that night at the ball park. He enjoyed it all, but he was just exhausted by the end of the day.”
It took San Francisco fans some time to warm up to Mays because he had been a hero in New York. They were more interested in Orlando Cepeda, who was Rookie of the Year in 1958 and a big time celebrant in the San Francisco night life, earning the nickname of “Cha Cha” for his dancing in night clubs.
Cepeda was always more outgoing than Mays, too, as I learned when I first encountered Mays, doing dressing room stories for The Chronicle in the ‘60s. Every question I posed to Mays was greeted with the same answer, “Aw, sheeit.”
When I started writing a column in 1971, on a trial basis, I hesitated to write about Mays because he had become a big hero to fans and I knew what kind of reception a critical column would get. When I finally wrote that column, in June, 1971, I got exactly the reception I expected, in the media and from readers. It wasn’t much fun, but it established my reputation as a writer who wrote what he believed, even if it went against the grain.
Despite that column, I had enormous admiration for Mays as a player. I had never seen anybody like him. I saw a lot of him when I was assigned to do a Giants story, and on days when I was working in the office, I’d come out and watch until I had to go to work, just to see if Mays would do something I’d never seen before. I was seldom disappointed.
Mays wasn’t especially big – 5-11, 185 pounds – but he had a naturally muscular body. If he ever lifted weights, nobody ever saw him. Bill Rigney, his last manager in New York and first in San Francisco, said it best, “When I walked into the dressing room and saw Willie, I knew we had a good chance to win the game that day.”
At a time when few hitters ever reached 50 home runs, he surpassed that number twice, with 51 in New York, 52 at Candlestick. Realizing it was nearly impossible to hit a ball out to left field at Candlestick with the fierce wind – the Giants lessened the burden by eventually putting a fence about 30 feet in front of the left field stands – Mays altered his swing so he hit the ball to right center, so the wind would blow it out in right field. He had a four-game stretch in the ‘60s at Candlestick when he hit, 47, 49 and 52 homers in three of the four seasons.
Hank Aaron played in the same era and he was a great player, but he was neither the fielder nor the baserunner that Mays was and, though he was the first to surpass Babe Ruth’s career home run record, he wasn’t as good a power hitter, either.
Mays lost two seasons in his early career, protecting the country by playing baseball for the Army team at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Aaron never served in the military. He also had an advantage that Mays lacked, playing the last part of his career in a park called “The Launching Pad” because it was such a notorious home run park. But even with that, Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a season.
Mays lost his power after his 40th birthday, despite the fact that he always kept very fit and didn’t drink or use recreational drugs. I think the reason was that his power came from his timing, and he had deteriorated just enough because of age to lose that timing.
Willie was traded to the New York Mets in 1972 and retired after the 1973 season. Though it had been widely speculated that he would make his postcareer home in New York, he returned to the Bay Area. In 1969, with the help of some entertainment stars, including Dinah Shore, he had bought a home in Atherton. It isn’t a grand home, more of a suburban ranch on a cul-de-sac but next to the railroad tracks, so he can hear the train as it goes by.
I had had no contact with Mays since he had left the Giants but in 1996, the Giants commissioned a book on what was then their first 40 years in San Francisco. I did numerous interviews of former players which I arranged myself but in Mays’ case, I asked for the help of Pat Gallagher, who was close to Mays.
I think both of us approached the interview with some trepidation but we had a marvelous time. I remembered specific plays from Mays time in the ‘60s, which pleased him – and he gave me specific information about them. He also talked about the way he approached the game and why he was able to do what he did. I was there for more than an hour, but it seemed like only 15-20 minutes.
And, when Mays was talking at the groundbreaking for the Giants’ new park in China Basin, he gave advice to his godson, Barry Bonds. “Glenn Dickey and I had our differences,” he said, “but we broke bread and now we’re good friends.” He told Barry he should be cooperative with the media.
Barry, of course, didn’t follow his advice.
Mays remains a treasure for all Giants fans. There may be another like him in years to come but I certainly don’t see him on the immediate horizon.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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