Artie Moreno/Albert Pujols; Lew Wolff/Billy Beane; Al Davis/Jon Gruden/Hue Jackson; De Sean Jackson
AS ARTIE MORENO opens up his pocketbook big time to sign Albert Pujols and Texas’s best starter last season, C. J. Wilson, and Texas appears poised to hit the free agent market, too, the A’s have been reduced to irrelevance, still on their quixotic quest for a new park in San Jose.
The A’s have used the excuse of a bad park to say they can’t compete because they can’t get free agents to come here, but they signed Josh Willingham and Hideko Matsui last year. Willingham was their only consistent power source all year and Matsui had a strong second half after a weak first half. Didn’t matter. The A’s were never in the race.
Lost in all the verbiage emenating from the A’s these days is that the good teams of recent years, when Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann owned the team, were NEVER the result of big free agent signings. The star position players – Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez – came from the farm system, as did star pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito; Hudson was only a sixth-round draft pick but Mulder and Zito were first-rounders.
That was when general manager Billy Beane was riding high, the principal figure in the fictional book “Moneyball”, which has since been made into an equally fictional movie, which ignores the contributions of Hudson, Mulder and Zito while making a hero of Scott Hatteberg. In fact, Hatteberg is an example of an A’s weakness because he replaced Giambi, who had hit 33, 43 and 38 homers in his last three years with the A’s. Hatteberg hit 15, 12, 15 and 7 in his four years with the A’s. Oh, yeah, just what they needed as a replacement for Giambi.
Beane has also lost his way. Maybe the “Moneyball” thing went to his head. Maybe he’s just looking for an excuse. But his moves during the Lew Wolff/John Fisher ownership period have been puzzling at best.
Despite the “Moneyball” talk, the A’s earlier success was based on very good scouting and a system applied throughout the minor league. The A’s were putting out winning minor league teams which were producing very good major league players – as was also true in the Walter Haas era, when the A’s had three consecutive “Rookie of the Year” winners – Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Walter Weiss.
Lately? The best A’s minor league products lately have been catcher Kurt Suzuki, shortstop Cliff Pennington and second baseman Jemile Weeks, all three good players but much more like Weiss than Canseco and McGwire, or Giambi or Tejada, either. They’re certainly not the type of players who turn a franchise around.
In tacit admission of the poor drafts and player development of recent years, Beane is now trading good players/pitchers off the major league roster – Trevor Cahill went last weekend – to get prospects from other teams.
Meanwhile, Wolff has been campaigning non-stop for a chance to move to San Jose. His claim is that he can’t do anything in Oakland, but the reality is, he never tried.
Supposedly, he had a plan to build a park on the other side of 66th Avenue from the current Coliseum, but he attached some unreasonable conditions: Oakland officials had to help him buy the land at greatly reduced prices and BART had to put in another stop next to the new park, perhaps 200 yards from the current stop.
When those unreasonable conditions weren’t met, Wolff said that was the last chance for Oakland. It’s hard not to believe he was just going through the motions because he very quickly announced a plan to build in Fremont. The plan he produced, was obviously intended for San Jose. I had a good relationship with Wolff at the time, so his son, Keith, showed me the plan in his San Francisco office. It was clearly intended for a San Jose park and Keith even referenced Santana Row. It would not have worked at the 66th Avenue site, nor was it appropriate for Fremont, which is one reason residents shot down the plan, even after Wolff had tried two sites.
There was a mayoral race going on in Oakland at the time and candidate Ignacio de la Fuente had his own site, near Jack London Square, adjacent to the freeway and very close to a BART stop. But the city owned the land, which would have been ceded to the A’s, which was not what Wolff wanted. He wanted to make a real estate deal.
Since then, he has showed media people a thick file which he claims to show that he investigated other sites. But, he’s never let anybody see that file. Reminds me of Senator Joe McCarthy in the early ‘50s when he held several press conferences at which he waved a paper saying it had the names of 50, or 63, or maybe 47 known Communists who were working in the State Department. McCarthy never let anybody see his list, either.
In fact, there are sites in Oakland where a new park could be built; the “Victory Garden” area just adjacent to Jack London Square, where Peerless Coffee has been located for generations, is probably the best. Oakland government is dysfunctional at the moment with a mayor who will soon be subjected to a recall election which she will undoubtedly lose. But the biggest problem is that it takes two parties to make a deal and Wolff has openly stated many times that he is not interested in Oakland.
Wolff hopes that the major league baseball owners will decide at a meeting next month that the Giants territorial rights to San Jose should be removed.
I don’t believe that will happen for reasons I’ve stated earlier, but let’s just suppose for a moment that it does – and that Wolff overcomes the other obstacles, which include having the voters approve the option for him to buy city land at a sharply discounted price and a lawsuit which has been filed to stop that acquisition.
Wolff is obviously counting on heavy support from Silicon Valley with a new park, but the Giants have already gotten quite a bit from that group, both to build their park and in “charter seats” (the dreaded Personal Seat License by another name). The 49ers have gotten financing for their Santa Clara stadium from banks but they’ll be looking for advertising money and PSLs from Silicon Valley people. If the Raiders join the 49ers in the new stadium, which would be a sensible move, they’ll be after the same people.
So, if Wolff is able to move the A’s, he could be fourth in line for Silicone Valley money. Maybe not the windfall he thinks.
Of course, he’s not risking much. That’s not the way Lew Wolff works. He uses other people’s money, John Fisher’s in this case. So, Wolff will get out with his net worth unaffected, after virtually ruining what had been a successful franchise. There is no justice, but you already knew that.
DH ERROR: After writing a lengthy item about both leagues going to the DH after the realignment to 15 teams in each league, I inexplicably wrote that the Designated Hitter will disappear. That is the opposite of what I intended to write and the opposite of what will happen. The National League will have to adopt the DH, abandoning its 1876 model, which will greatly disappoint the long-time National League fans. Ah, well, they still have their horse-and-buggy rigs.
AL DAVIS LEGACY: If you’re wondering what’s happened to the Raiders the last two weeks, you have to look at the second part of the Al Davis regime.
In the first segment, 1965-83, Davis was brilliant, a risk-taker, a great talent evaluator, a man willing to go against the grain in trusting his judgment. That era produced four Super Bowl teams, the last three winners, and consistent winners. The Raiders’ record would, in fact, have been even better but for the fact that they had to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won four Super Bowls in one six-year stretch, and the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1972.
But, he didn’t do it alone. He had good coaches, especially John Madden and Tom Flores; Madden is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Flores should be. He also had Ron Wolf, a great talent evaluator, at his side for a good part of that time. Wolf went on to build top teams in Green Bay, starting with his trade for Brett Favre.
By the time he’d moved the team to Los Angeles, though, Davis had made the Raiders a one-man show. He built a good scouting/personnel department but there was only one man making decisions.
The one time this pattern was broken was when Jon Gruden was named coach and forced his way into the process, with a strong personality and a willingness to have sustained, profanity-filled arguments with Davis. Gruden got rid of the underachieving players drafted by Davis because of their potential and brought in players who knew how to win, with Rich Gannon being the prime example.
When Gruden was “traded” to Tampa Bay for draft picks, Davis went back to his previous patterns. The results were disastrous: an NFL record seven straight seasons with double digit losses before last year’s 8-8.
And when Davis died, he left a vacuum behind. Amy Trask, his No. 2, is very smart, but her knowledge is in legal and administrative matters. She can’t make football decisions, and she knows it. Mark Davis, Al’s son, has never been involved in a football team, so he can’t make those decisions.
In this power vacuum, coach Hue Jackson stepped up to trade for quarterback Carson Palmer when Jason Campbell went down. Palmer is a better quarterback but he’s been trying to do too much and playing poorly. It hasn’t helped that good young receivers have been hurt and Darren McFadden, who is really the key to their whole offense, has been out since he was injured in the Kansas City game. Michael Bush had one game, against the San Diego Chargers, when he was very good, but his primary effectiveness is as a change-of-pace runner when the elusive McFadden is playing.
But the biggest problem is that the Raiders have reverted to the way they’ve played for every coach but Gruden since they returned to Oakland, playing – or not playing – as if they’re just individuals, not part of a team. I argued last week that Jackson should have benched Rolando McClain for a game, not because I was judging McClain guilty in the unseemly incident in Alabama, but to make the case that players are responsible for their behavior. Jackson blew that chance to make his point, and the Raiders since have played miserably in two straight games, against the woeful Dolphins and the undefeated Packers.
For a time, it seemed the Raiders might make it to the playoffs, because they’re playing in the AFC’s easiest division. Now, they’re rudderless and drifting out of contention.
The team badly needs a general manager to give it direction, and probably an additional top level administrator. As much as I like Jackson personally, I don’t see how he can survive this mess, so another coach will have to come in and install some discipline in players who have none. Good luck to him on that.
DE SEAN JACKSON: After sulking through most of the season because he wants a new, more lucrative contract – a big factor in the collapse of the Philadelphia Eagles – Jackson has decided to start playing as he can.
This pout is unfortunately too reminiscent of the way Jackson was at Cal. He made some highlight plays, especially on punt returns, but he also had to be disciplined for missing meetings, right up to the last game he played, a bowl game in which he was benched for the first quarter. Though coach Jeff Tedford never spoke of it publicly, Jackson was also notorious for running the wrong routes, which made the quarterback look bad.
This behavior is what knocked his draft status down, so the Eagles got him on the second round. I’ve heard from readers who were upset because the 49ers didn’t draft him, but bringing Jackson into what was already a dysfunctional team would have only made it worse.
That spring, though, Jackson was hooked up with Jerry Rice, who not only gave him instruction in route running but also in personal discipline. Jackson listened to him, and he had a great start with the Eagles.
But now, he’s reverted to his earlier behavior and you have to wonder if he’ll be regarded as one of the great receivers or like a version of Randy Moss Lite. Moss is as physically gifted as any receiver I’ve ever seen but for much of his career (and all of his time with the Raiders), he loafed through practice and “short-armed” passes in the games. Going to the Patriots, he set a single season record for touchdown receptions, but he couldn’t stick to a disciplined pattern, so they cut him loose. Moss should have been a cinch to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame but I’d be shocked if he made it now.
Jackson isn’t as big as Moss, so he can’t do all the things Randy did when he wanted to. But De Sean is both fast and quick after the catch, so he’s always a big play waiting to happen – when he wants to play. It’s up to him whether he wants to go on to a great career or just be one of these guys, like Moss, who goes from team to team because he wears out his welcome.
WARRIORS: New owner Joe Lacob has been a busy man, meddling in the team’s operations, as I discussed in yesterday’s Examiner column, and meeting with the Giants on the possibility of a new arena on the Giants AT&T property.
Since I came to The Chronicle in 1963, there has been talk of San Francisco building a new arena, but it’s never been done. The closest bid was when the late George Moscone was mayor and an arena was proposed for the area which, ironically, now is home for the Moscone Convention Center. Moscone turned the matter over to a committee which voted against it.
Lately, Larry Baer, now the top executive for the Giants, has been pushing for an arena on the Giants’ land. Baer can be very persuasive – he was the one who produced the financing for the baseball park – but I’ve always been skeptical because it seems to me it would greatly reduce parking for Giants games, which is already limited.
Moreover, though a San Francisco site is more glamorous, the current site for the Oracle Arena in Oakland is convenient for most Warriors fan, easily accessible by freeway for fans from San Francisco, Contra Coast, Oakland and the South Bay – and a BART connection for the first three groups. Parking is easy and, I’m sure, cheaper than it would be in San Francisco. I’m sure if Lacob polled his season ticket holders, the overwhelming majority would prefer the Oakland location to San Francisco.
The supremely knowledgeable C. W. Nevius (that’s a joke, folks) referred to the Oakland arena as “outmoded.” I guess it escaped his attention that the Warriors former owner, Chris Cohan, had the arena totally remodeled, at his expense, with luxury suites. In addition to basketball, I’ve seen concerts by Andrea Boccelli and Elton John there, and it worked fine for them, as well as for basketball.
MERRY CHRISTMAS: This will be the last column I write for this year as I disappear into holiday celebrations, including our annual cruise with our son and daughter-in-law. I hope you all have a great holiday season and new year.
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