Bob Geren, Robert Rowell, Klay Thompson, Barry Zito, Brandon Crawford, NFL Blackouts
by Glenn Dickey
Jun 29, 2011

29JUNE


BECAUSE I don’t follow sports news on vacation, I returned from a trip to Europe to learn that Bob Geren had been fired as the A’s manager and Robert Rowell had left the Warriors by “mutual decision,” which usually means, “You can’t fire me, I quit.”

Maybe I should go out of town more frequently!

Both of these decisions were long overdue. Geren’s appointment as manager seemed reasonable at the time because he’d had the experience that seemed to qualify him, as a successful minor league manager at Sacramento and a coach with the A’s. But as manager of the A’s, he was a clear example of the Peter Principle at work.

Brian Fuentes’ criticism, though ill-timed, was the tip of the iceberg because Geren had frequent communication problems with his players. It wasn’t a personality issue because Geren is a very likeable person, but he never made it clear what their jobs were. He often didn’t even post a lineup until just before game time.

His strategic decisions, or lack of them, were equally troubling. I was at an A’s game when Brett Anderson, by his postgame admission, had the worst stuff and control he’d had since high school. Yet, Geren didn’t even make a trip to the mound until Anderson had given up seven runs. Needless to say, the game had been long since lost by that point.

The writers covering the team thought that Billy Beane would wait until the end of the season, when Geren’s contract expired, to make a change. Apparently, the 10-game losing streak convinced him he couldn’t wait any longer. Bob Melvin, who has proven to be a competent manager in earlier stints, should be a huge improvement.

I haven’t talked to Beane about this, but I’m sure he feels the A’s still have a chance to make the postseason, based less on who they are than on the weakness of the division. The American League is the stronger of the two leagues but the AL West is the weakest division in MLB. Texas is barely above .500 as the division leaders. Though the Rangers made it to the World Series last year, they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t traded for Cliff Lee, who is with the Philadelphia Phillies now.

Their pitching remains strong despite injuries, including Anderson’s current biceps problem. And, the hitting remains inconsistent, to be charitable. They still seem to be a work in progress. Jamile Weeks, a highly-regarded prospect, has been brought up to play second base, with Mark Ellis moving over to first, though Conor Jackson will probably be the more frequent starter because he’s been a decent hitter when not injured, as Melvin knows because Jackson played for him with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Daric Barton has been sent to Sacramento to try to regain his batting stroke. Adam Rosales has supplied energy and it probably would be better to make him the fulltime third baseman. Kevin Kouzmanoff should be in his prime but he’s been awful, at bat and in the field, and I don’t know how much longer the A’s can justify even keeping him around.

I still think they should cut Hideki Matsui at the All-Star break. He’s had a great career but he doesn’t have much left in the tank. The A’s have plenty of candidates for the DH role, especially with Chris Carter up, and they have a surplus of good outfielders, too.

Of course, the A’s would have to eat a couple of contracts – unless they could find somebody who wants Kouzmanoff – and that’s not been something they’ve been willing to do in the past. It would send a message to fans, though, that they’re serious about making a run instead of just biding their time in the hopeless thought that MLB will let them move to San Jose.

As for Rowell, I had thought getting rid of him would be the first move of new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber. I can only surmise that they wanted to get the coaching hire of Mark Jackson and the draft out of the way before making that move. Rowell was certainly not involved in any significant decision since the sale.

Rowell was a prime example of what was wrong with Chris Cohan’s ownership. His only “qualification” for the job as team president was his friendship with Cohan. He was petty and vindictive, seemingly interested only in creating power. He brought nothing to the table but an ability to alienate almost anybody he was around. Just to make it clear, this is not a personal judgment for me. Nothing Rowell did affected me, mostly because I avoided contact with him. But I could see how damaging his behavior was to the team.

In contrast, I’m very pleased with the new owners, who seem to be making the right moves. Bringing in Jerry West was certainly a good idea, even if it would have been even better 10 years ago. Only those in the meetings know how much influence he had on the draft, but I think the selection of Klay Thompson in the first round was a good move. Thompson is the big shooing guard they’ve needed for some time, and if anybody believes the Warriors when they say they’re not shopping Monta Ellis, well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

I also like the addition of assistant coach Michael Malone, who is known for his ability to coach defense. It’s been a long time since the Warriors have emphasized defense. Don Nelson’s plan was always to outscore the other team but that style hadn’t worked much lately.

Of course, to play good team defense, you first have to have guards who can stop opposing guards from driving to the basket, and neither Ellis nor Stephen Curry have been very good at that. And, you also need a defensive force in the middle. Andris Biedrins seemed to be developing that way until he ran into a stretch of injuries for two years. Now, he seems dispirited and cautious. It may be that Ekpe Udoh, last year’s No. 1 pick, will develop into the inside presence the Warriors need, though strong forward still seems his best position.

The important thing, though, is that Malone actually coaches defense. He doesn’t just talk it. I remember at Keith Smart’s promotion to head coach that he talked about the Warriors rebounding and playing tough defense. “Rebounding is in the DNA of these guys,” he kept saying. Yeah, we saw how that worked out.

BARRY ZITO returned to the Giants with an impressive seven-inning, two earned runs performance in the second game of a doubleheader in Chicago on Tuesday.

The showing was all the more impressive because the wind was blowing out at Wrigley, and when that happens, balls just fly out of the park. Two home runs off Ryan Vogelsong in the first game probably would have been long outs in normal conditions.

Zito did it by “pounding the zone”, throwing strikes, keeping runners off the bases. That’s a good formula for any pitcher but especially for Zito, who is what baseball people call a “flyball pitcher,” meaning that he gets a high percentage of his outs from fly balls. That means also that, if he gets runners on base, it’s not likely he’ll get a ground ball for a double play.

This is not breaking news. Zito has always been this kind of pitcher. So, why doesn’t he throw strikes with more frequency? To answer that question, you’d have to penetrate the complicated Zito psyche.Or, just accept the fact that he’s not very bright, which is what I believe.

At any rate, his return comes at a good time for the Giants, with Jonathan Sanchez on the DL. What happens when Sanchez returns? I’ll leave that decision to manager Bruce Bochy.

BLACKOUT NONSENSE: The Sports Fan Coalition, about which I wrote in an Examiner column recently, has filed a motion with the FCC to abolish blackouts of NFL games which are not sold out.

The NFL has filed a brief arguing that the FCC does not have jurisdiction.

I have long argued that blackouts make no sense because TV is a great advertising tool. The NFL’s argument is that, in cold weather cities, if games weren’t blacked out, fans would stay home and watch them on TV.

I think that argument is nonsensical. If fans are able to afford the games and don’t have mobility problems, they’d much rather be at the games. You can’t be part of the excitement if you’re watching games at home. People who live in those cold weather cities accept the fact that it will be cold and dress for it.

Conversely, blackouts don’t promote attendance. We’ve seen that with the Raiders, who probably lead the NFL in blackouts. Attendance fell at games in northern Midwest cities last year but that was because of the economy. If you don’t have a job, you can’t afford to pay the price for the games.

GIANTS BEAT: The Giants face an interesting dilemma with Brandon Crawford. On the one hand, he is definitely superior defensively to either Miguel Tejada or Mike Fontenot. On the other hand, he’s not shown that he can hit major league pitching with any consistency, and he’d probably be better off in Triple-A.

They had a similar decision to make with Brandon Belt earlier and decided to send him down for awhile. But Belt wasn’t playing a critical defensive position, as Crawford is. If they send him down, it seriously weakens their defense, on a team which depends on its pitching.

NEXT WEEK: This week’s column is shorter than usual because I’m still playing catchup on the news,, and I’m also battling the cold I always get on these transAtlantic flights. I should be back to my normal acerbic self next week.



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