Bill Walsh/Jim Harbaugh; A's Hitting; Tim Lincecum/Barry Zito; Skip Thomas/Charles Philyaw
by Glenn Dickey
Jul 27, 2011

27JULY

BILL ROMANOWSKI was on a national sports show this week and was asked how players would be affected by the no-pads rule in the new contract and the limiting of two-a-day practices.

Romo’s answer: Not at all. He played on Super Bowl teams with the 49ers and Bill Walsh’s philosophy, carried on by George Seifert, was to practice without pads during the season.

Walsh’s reasoning was that he wanted to keep his team as fresh as possible as the season went on. It worked. His teams usually played their best in late season.

He also believed in relatively small but very quick offensive lineman. The one exception to that rule, Bubba Paris, drove him crazy. Walsh and Bobb McKittrick, his outstanding offensive line coach, believed in getting off the ball quickly and neutralizing bigger defensive linemen. Walsh often likened it to boxing, saying that the quicker boxer, by beating his opponent to the punch, would wear him down and eventually knock him out.

You can expect to see the same kind of play from the 49ers this year because Jim Harbaugh uses an offshoot of Walsh’s offense and teaches many of the same principles. It will take him longer because of the protracted labor negotiations, but he’ll get it done.

The concern about the “no pads” rule is not the only misreading of the effect the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will have. Many think that there will be more injuries than before because of the lack of offseason practices. I think there will be fewer.

There is a great difference between basketball and baseball practices. Basketball players love to go out and shoot when there are no games; Chris Mullin was in the gym year-round when he was playing. Baseball players aren’t that fanatic but they enjoy spring training. You almost never hear of a veteran player retiring in spring training but it’s common to hear of veteran football players coming to camp and then deciding they just can’t do it any more.

Football is a collision sport and it’s hard work. When you’re colliding with other players continually, your chances of injury go up with every collision.

When I first covered the Raiders in 1967, players came to camp out of shape because many of them had to work at offseason jobs. Training camp could be grueling because they had to work their way into shape. That’s no longer true. Not even the lowest paid players have to work in the offseason now. They can afford to work out in high class facilities; the stars can even afford a personal trainer. Players come to camp in good condition, so they can quickly learn what they have to know.

What football players need most in the offseason is time to let their bodies heal. They haven’t had that chance in recent years because teams have had offseason mini-camps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs). What’s the difference between them? Only the name. OTAs are simply a means of getting around restrictions on mini-camps. Supposedly they’ve been voluntary, but good luck to a player who skipped one.

Players got that time off this year because of the lockout, and the new CBA calls for restrictions on both offseason and regular season practices, so I think you’re going to see players whose bodies aren’t beaten up going into a season – which I think will translate into fewer injuries.

The one thing that can’t be legislated is cutting down on the time coaches spend looking at videos. Coaches have too much information now, and they’re all afraid that, if they don’t watch that video one more time, they’ll be missing something. So, when game day arrives, they’re brain dead. That’s why they make so many strange decisions during games.

Once again, I have to cite Walsh because he didn’t make that mistake. He didn’t always make the right decisions during games – his offensive coordinators were always after him not to give up on the running game too soon – but it was never because he wasn’t rested.

My hope is that Harbaugh will follow Walsh’s example in that regard, too.

A’S HITTING: I was amused to see Ed Crosby quoted as saying the A’s “take the bats” out of their hitters’ hands by telling them to always take the first pitch.

Crosby is upset because his son, Bobby,` flamed out with the A’s after a promising start, but that had nothing to do with the A’s hitting philosophy. Crosby’s problems had everything to do with the fact that he couldn’t resist the temptation to try to pull low, outside pitches. When pitchers learned that, they gave him every opportunity to do it. Pedro Feliz had the same problem with the Giants, and nobody ever accused Feliz of trying to coax walks from pitchers.

Over the years, there have been many hitters who have taken the first pitch as a hitting philosophy. The most prominent was Ted Williams. Didn’t seem to hurt him.

But, as a matter of fact, I have talked to many A’s hitters and hitting coaches over the years and none of them ever said A’s hitters were told to take the first pitch. What I’ve heard consistently has been that they’re told to make the first pitch they swing at one they can drive, until they have two strikes. Then, of course, they have to swing at anything that looks like a strike.

With that kind of hitting philosophy, the A’s have run up pitch counts over the years, which means that starting pitchers don’t go deep into the game. They’re not the only teams that have that kind of philosophy. One current team is the Boston Red Sox, and nobody ever accuses the team’s coaches and manager of “taking the bat” out of their hitters’ hands.

That philosophy has been around since at least the ‘30s, when Branch Rickey preached it to first the Cardinals and then the Dodgers. It was Earl Weaver’s philosophy with the Orioles in the ‘60s and ‘70s, too. (Weaver also didn’t want his players trying to steal bases, because he thought having a runner thrown out trying to steal stalled rallies. I heard a profanity-laced speech from Weaver on that subject after a game.)

And, the A’s under Sandy Alderson and Tony La Russa had the same philosophy. Alderson was the first to show me that there was a direct correlation between on-base percentage and runs scored – and a very uneven correlation between batting average and runs scored.

Of course, the A’s of that period did well because they had hitters like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson. The A’s do not have hitters like that now, but their problem is not their philosophy but their lack of ability.

The current lineup should be hitting better than it did in the first half of the season, and there has been a bit of a revival since the All-Star game. Hideki Matsui, especially, has had a hot streak, so his career might not be quite over yet. But even at their best, this A’s lineup can’t come close to comparing to the 1988-90 A’s.

This lineup probably won’t remain intact the rest of the season, either, because the A’s are well out of the race in the AL West, so they’ll be sellers, not buyers. Josh Willingham is the player most frequently mentioned, though I think the A’s should keep him and re-sign him at the end of the year; he’s indicated he’d like to return, but the A’s aren’t making any decisions until the season is over.

David De Jesus is the player I’d like to see them move because I can’t see that he brings any more to the table than Ryan Sweeney. They’re both excellent defensively with strong arms. Neither one has much power, but Sweeney seems to be a better average hitter and he’s younger.

GIANTS PROSPECTS: The Giants are in the midst of a stretch where they’ll face postseason contenders, which should give a better read on their chances to reach and even win another World Series.

Though GM Brian Sabean said last week that the Arizona Diamondbacks worried him – what was he smoking? – that seemed ridiculous at the time and now, the Diamondbacks have lost shortstop Stephen Drew for the season. Ex-Giant Cody Ransom is his replacement. Ransom never hit much for the Giants but he’s got good power numbers at Reno. I’ve never seen the park there but it must be about 280 feet in the power alley.

So, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Giants will win their division. The three best teams in the National League appear to be the Phillies, Giants and Braves, probably in that order. The NL Central is an exciting race with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, and Cincinnati in striking range, but they’re all flawed teams. The top three teams have records that would put them third in the NL West.

The Giants are playing the Phillies in Philadelphia in a three-game series now and will host them for four games next weekend. It’s not the playoffs, though. Only one of the Phillies top starters – Cole Hamel – is pitching this week and, when Tim Lincecum got sick, Barry Zito had to pitch, with predictable results. Barring injury to a starter, Zito will be off the postseason roster again this year. If he didn’t have that huge contract, he’d probably be off on the beach somewhere, strumming his guitar and wondering what happened to his major league career.

Sabean has indicated that the market for a catcher or shortstop, the two positions the Giants need help, is almost non-existent, so a big deal is unlikely. Though Giants fans got very excited about the acquisition of second baseman Jeff Keppinger that was a marginal improvement. He’s a good hitter who seldom walks, so his on-base percentage isn’t high (see above) and he has little power. He’s sure handed in the field but doesn’t have much range. The Astros traded him for a couple of low-level prospects which tells you two things: 1) They didn’t have much regard for him; and 2) Other teams weren’t interested in him.

WRONG EXAMPLE: Chris Townsend, who usually does a good job with sports talk on the A’s new station, 97.5 FM, made a glaring error the other day.

Townsend wants the A’s to move to San Jose and he said that if Al Davis were the team’s owner, he would have defied the league, made the move and built his own park.

Davis’s independence is well known, but I’d like Townsend to show me one instance where he’s put his own money into a facility. It’s always been a stadium that’s already there, in Oakland and Los Angeles, or one (again in Oakland) where public money was used to upgrade the stadium.

SKIP THOMAS: The death of the Raider defensive back, known as “Dr. Death” for his deadly tackling, brings to mind a funny story from his time. Charles Philyaw, possibly the dumbest player I’ve ever known – there are several contenders – got sick at practice in training camp and then coach John Madden told him to see the doctor. Philyaw went to Thomas’s room.

WATCH OUT! I’ve always said the press box at AT&T is the best of all that I’ve been in, because it’s so close to the field – and to the fans. I sit in the front row and people often stop by to talk to me or shake my hand. At Sunday’s game, one father put his son, maybe 4-5, on his shoulders and the well-prepped youngster said, “Hello, Mr. Dickey.”

But, you have to stay alert. When I was just starting with The Chronicle, the Giants beat writers were all old. One of them was noted for falling asleep in the press box. He’d never have survived at AT&T because foul balls occasionally come whizzing into the box.

I got a vivid reminder of that Sunday when an Aubrey Huff foul liner headed right to where I was sitting. I moved as quickly as I can these days, the bag of popcorn I was holding flying out of my hand, but I still got hit a glancing blow on my right forearm. I wasn’t hurt and I don’t have a bruise, and I quickly assured those around me that I was all right. Tim Kawasaki, sitting next to me, said, “That ball definitely had your name on it, Glenn.” Funny, I didn’t know Huff was one of my readers!



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