Giants/A's History; Crawford/Belt Trade? Huff Hitting Problems; Jim Tressel
THIS IS the tale of two franchises.
In the ‘80s, the Oakland A’s definitely had the upper hand with the San Francisco Giants.
When the Haas family bought the A’s in 1981 from Charlie Finley, who had either lost his best players to free agency or traded them, the team was in bad shape. Just two years before, the team had won only 54 games and drawn only a little over 300,000.
But Andy Dolich came on as marketing director, Roy Eisenhardt hired Bill King and Lon Simmons as announcers and Billy Martin, who had turned the team around in 1980, got the A’s into the postseason in the split season of 1981. Though the A’s had only 54 home dates that year, their attendance of a little over 1.3 million far surpassed the attendance for Finley’s three successive World Series champions, which showed what is possible when an owner promotes the team instead of himself.
Consistent success on the field took longer. Martin was not a long-range answer as manager because he self-destructed and ruined the arms of his best pitchers, which was his history with other teams throughout his career. It wasn’t until Tony La Russa arrived, with Dave Duncan as his pitching coach, that the A’s became the best team in baseball, 1988-90, though they won only one World Series, and set what were then Bay Area attendance records. The one Series win, in 1989, was almost an afterthought because it was interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake.
During that time, Bob Lurie was desperate to get out of Candlestick, even holding a press conference at one point to announce that the Giants would be playing at the Coliseum. Unfortunately, in the classic tradition of San Franciscans, Lurie didn’t consult with anybody on the Oakland side. At that point, the Coliseum was hosting a number of very lucrative music concerts and didn’t have the dates to spare.
Lurie then tried to find a San Francisco location for a Giants park. Then mayor Dianne Feinstein suggested an area just below Potrero Hill but the NIMBYS stopped that idea cold. Lurie put a measure for a park in the current China Basin location on the ballot in 1989 and that might have passed except that the earthquake hit. Those working for the ballot measure stopped to help with earthquake relief. Those working against it kept up their efforts and falsely claimed that money that should be going to earthquake relief would be diverted to the ball park. The measure failed.
Lurie then made two efforts to build a park in the South Bay, one on land right next to where the 49ers headquarters are in Santa Clara, another in San Jose itself. Both measures failed. So, the frustrated Lurie made a deal to sell the club to Tampa businessmen, who would move the Giants there.
I was very involved with the group seeking to buy the Giants and keep them in San Francisco, and I covered the National League meeting in St. Louis where the sale to the Tampa Bay interests was being considered. It was very obvious that the league did not want to move the Giants out of San Francisco, and league president Bill White delayed a decision until the San Francisco group could get its act together.
Ultimately, a deal was struck. The new ownership would have to get a new park built. In exchange, they’d get exclusive rights to major league baseball on the peninsula and in the South Bay.
The new Giants ownership went to work on two fronts. They cleaned up Candlestick, put on special promotions and made the old dog as palatable as possible. Meanwhile, Larry Baer was spearheading an effort to get corporate funding for a new park at China Basin, with the Silicon Valley area of San Jose key to his efforts. They opened the park in 2000 and it is a beauty.
Meanwhile, the A’s had been sold to Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann, who got an undeserved bad rep from the media because they got rid of the older players, as Sandy Alderson had advised, and put their money into the farm system. That provided the nucleus for a team that was a consistent contender from 2000 through 2006 and attendance rose above the two million mark again.
Then, an ownership group with Lew Wolff as managing partner, bought the team in 2005. Wolff has made a determined effort to get to San Jose, turning his back on Oakland fans. If you drive around Oakland, you’d never know that the A’s even play there. The only sign in the area is at the Coliseum, which is maintained by the city, not the A’s. Wolff has done away with the popular FanFest and twice sent out e-mails to the media just before the start of the season saying he had no interest in Oakland.
And, attendance declined in the first five years of his ownership before improving by 10,000 last season.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee to study the Oakland-San Jose situation. That group has not reported to him because he doesn’t want it to. Selig only brings matters to the table when he has an overwhelming majority. He knows he can’t win this one.
Three-quarters of the owners would have to vote to remove the Giants’ “territorial rights.” Forget about the fact that the Giants current managing general partner, William Neukom, is a past president of the American Bar Association and has already hired a firm to build a case if the owners tried that. Just assume that Selig brought this to the table. Even if all 14 AL clubs favored it, they’d need nine votes from NL owners. Why would nine NL clubs vote to penalize one of their own, one which has just won a World Series, knowing that they’d also be taking less money from the games at AT&T?
I’m sure Selig has talked to Neukom about a buyout of that provision, and I’m equally sure that Neukom has told Selig what he and Baer have told the media: There would be no acceptable buyout.
So, the A’s will not move to San Jose.
If you look back to 1992, if that deal had not been made, the Giants would have moved to Tampa Bay. There would be one team in the area, either in Oakland or San Jose, none in San Francisco.
That would be a travesty. San Francisco is a world class city. I;ve lived in Oakland for 42 years and love it, but I’d never claim that Oakland is a world class city. San Jose is a minor league version of Los Angeles, a string of suburbs but without the glamour L.A. has because of the movie industry.
Baseball made the right decision in 1992.
GIANTS QUESTIONS: I think the Giants future, as well as their present, hinges on what happens at two positions:
1) Shortstop. Brandon Crawford made a huge splash with a grandslam homer in his major league debut. Nothing in his minor league record suggests that he’ll hit for that kind of power consistently, but he’s also looked good in the field, which is the most important issue.
Neither Miguel Gejada nor Mike Fontenot can do the job defensively. Tejada hasn’t been able to do it for two years, which is why the Baltimore Orioles shifted him to third base. He hasn’t been great at third, either, except for an occasional play. He may be another Latino who is older than his birth certificate, or he may just be worn out from playing in the Caribbean in the winter as well as the major leagues. Either way, the Giants should release him when Pablo Sandoval returns.
Fontenot? He’s a backup infielder at best, and second base is where he should be backing up. He is not a shortstop.
With their pitching, good shortstop play is essential for the Giants. It would be best if Crawford could do the job there. If he can’t, the Giants should go to Emmanuel Burriss, though I think his best position is probably second base.
2) First base. This is a thornier issue because Aubrey Huff played such an important part in the Giants’ success last year. Once again, Brian Sabean was too generous with the team’s money when he negotiated a two-year, $10 million a year contract. Huff would have settled gladly for one year at that price, considering that nobody but the Giants pursued him in the offseason the year before.
I’m beginning to wonder if the National League pitchers have caught up to Huff, who had never played in the league before last season. If so, this will be another contract to regret, along with Aaron Rowan (shudder) and Barry Zito (double shudder).
Rowand is on the books through the 2012 season, and all he’s doing now is taking playing time from the more deserving Nate Schierholtz. Zito is on for another two years, and, considering that Ryan Vogelsong has pitched better since he came up than Zito has, there may not even be a spot for Barry in the rotation.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy gave Huff the day off yesterday and hinted he might do the same today. He picked the right spot. For some reason, Huff has hit much worse against righthanded pitching than lefthanded this year, which defies explanation.
Buster Posey’s loss is already fueling some wild speculation. One columnist suggested the Giants trade for 39-year-old Pudge Rodriguez, who is hitting .211. Can we say Bengie Molina? Rodriguez has had a great career but he doesn’t have much left in the tank. The same columnist thought that the Giants should package Brandon Belt, Crawford and 2009 draft pick, pitcher Zach Wheeler, to get shortstop Jose Reyes from the Mets. Reyes is an outstanding player who would certainly help the Giants this season but he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season and the Giants can’t afford him. Meanwhile, they’d have sent away a substantial part of their future in Belt and Crawford. They should say, no, thanks to that suggestion, too.
Even with all their problems, the Giants could still win the NL West this season. The one team I thought would threaten them, the Colorado Rockies, seems to be falling apart. I think the recent run by the Arizona Diamondbacks is just one of those spurts that bad teams sometimes have – I feel the same about the Seattle Mariners in the AL West – and they’ll come back to earth.
But, whether they get back to the postseason or not, this is no time to panic. With their young pitch and potential in young players like Belt and Crawford, they’ll have more chances in the near future – if they don’t make a trade they’ll regret for years.
JIM TRESSEL: Even by the low standards of college football coaches, Tressel comes off as a hypocrite. He lied and cheated and then lied about the cheating. And, oh, yes, he invoked God in his non-apology. That makes it all good, right?
Tressel is no stranger to controversy. There have been unverified reports of NCAA violations for several years, going back to his years at Youngstown State before he came to Ohio State. Meanwhile, he was writing books about faith and integrity.
Did I mention hypocrisy?
The latest problem surfaced in December when star quarterback Terrell Pryor and four other players were found to have taken cash and discounted tattoos from the owner of a tattoo parlor who is under investigation in a federal drug-trafficking case.
Tressel had signed an NCAA compliance form in September saying he had no knowledge of rule-breaking by his athletes, but a Columbus attorney, and former walk-on player, Christopher Cicero, had informed Tressel in April about the violations, and they had exchanged several e-mails about the matter.
God should have given Tressel a better memory.
I used to castigate Woody Hayes for his treatment of players – though former Buckeyes Jack Tatum and Tim Anderson told me after they had turned pro that they revered Hayes. But Hayes didn’t break rules and he insisted that players do the same, and that they get their education. Tressel was obviously concerned only with the W-L record
As for his claim that his mission was “to make sure we help young people change their lives.”…Well, he’s done that, all right. Remember, he didn’t say, for the better.
HITTING: There seems to be a dearth of consistent major league hitters – something that’s especially obvious to Giants and A’s fans – and there are a number of reasons for that.
One important one is the emphasis on home runs, with lighter bats that hitters can whip easily through the strike zone. When they connect, the ball can go a long way. More frequently, they miss. High strikeout totals have become accepted as a natural result of going for home runs, which they weren’t always.
Joe DiMaggio was the extreme among hitters in an earlier era; DiMag struck out only 13 times in 1941, when he hit in 56 straight games and in his career, had only eight more strikeouts than home runs, 369-361. t Ted Williams only three times had more than 50 strikeouts in a season, with a high of 64 as a rookie, and only 709 for his career. And, he hit 521 homers.
Today, hitters think 100 strikeouts is nothing, so long as they can hit 30 homers. For sluggers like Adam Dunn and Jack Cust, anything under 200 strikeouts is a bonus. It’s very difficult to hit .300 if you’re not putting the ball into play.
But, for American-born players, there’s another reason. Remember the saying, “There are so many good opera singers in Italy because there are so many bad ones.” Meaning that, in Italy, practically everybody sings.
It used to be that way with baseball in this country. There were playgrounds everywhere. I didn’t grow up in San Francisco but those who did told me about the numerous playgrounds – and, of course, San Francisco in that era produced a ton of baseball players, many of them of Italian descent, like the three DiMaggio brothers, Frankie Crosetti, Tony Lazzeri.
Now, the playgrounds are gone. In their place are the Little League programs in the suburbs. Now, kids grow up thinking they have to have fancy uniforms to play, and everything has to be organized. They don’t have the feeling for the game and they don’t often become major league players, let alone good hitters.
Now, the place where you find that kind of passion for baseball is much more likely to be in the countries around the Caribbean. The Latinos have a real passion that few American players, black or white, have any more.
And the phrase, “America’s Pastime,” has an ironic ring.
VACATION: This is my last website column until June 29 though I expect to write Examiner columns for June 7 and 10. I will not be checking my e-mails after June 6 so save your comments until I return.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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