George Archer/Kevin Johnson; Jim Plunkett/Tom Flores; Condoleeza Rice/Gene Washington; Randy Moss; Warriors Trade; A's Sale?/ Barry Zito
LAST NIGHT’S Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame dinner was among the best in memory, and I’ve seen every one except the time Lou Spadia made the mistake of having it in San Jose. This should always be a San Francisco production.
This was an especially welcome change from last year, when a production bloated by an unnecessary musical production lasted far too long, with half the crowd gone long before the end. With Condoleeza Rice as a presenter, for Gene Washington, in the last act, nobody left early last night, and everybody left buzzing about the show.
There were both tears and laughter. The laughter started when Ken Venturi presented George Archer, who died in 2005, after a film extolling Archer’s great short game. Venturi noted, “I’ve got a great short game now, too. Unfortunately, it’s off the tee.” Venturi noted Archer’s total dedication to the game and said he had once asked George what he would do if he couldn’t play. “Caddy,” said Archer.
Donna Archer, George’s widow, gave a moving tribute, talking of Archer’s strength of character in overcoming his physical and mental problems. Archer could neither read nor even write his own name, problems that weren’t known until after his death. He was 6-6 and gangly (the media cliché at the time was “pencil thin”) which made it difficult for him to drive the ball far with accuracy. So, he concentrated on a short game, especially his putting – Venturi remembered one match play tournament where Archer had just 74 putts in 59 holes – and won 12 tour events, including the Masters, and another 19 on the Senior tour.
Jabs back and forth between Cal and Stanford alums involved in the program went on during the night. Jim Plunkett, presenting his Raiders coach, Tom Flores, talked in particular of one player, Jeff Barnes, who did all sorts of weird things. “By the way, he was a Cal guy,” Plunkett noted. Kevin Johnson said he had stayed eligible all four years at Cal. “But we could only drop a class after the first week,” he said. “Then, I heard that at Stanford, you could drop a class a week before the end of the term. No wonder you Stanford guys stayed eligible.”
Johnson is now mayor of Sacramento, his home town, and has brokered the deal to give the Kings a new arena and keep them in Sacramento for the next 30 years. “I guess you could say I’ve always been a politician,” he said. “I rooted for the A’s, then I rooted for the Giants. I was a 49ers fan, but I was a Raiders fan before that. I rooted for the Warriors, but now I’m a Kings fan.”
Those of us who are Cal alums, though, primarily remember Johnson as the great point guard who was at the forefront of the Bears’ return to basketball prominence. On January 25, 1986, the Bears hosted the UCLA Bruins, who had beaten them 53 straight times. New coach Lou Campanelli had promised that the streak would end. Instead of sitting at press row, I got a couple of tickets and brought my son, Scott, only 15, to the game. That was a rarity. Scott and I usually talked politics, not sports; I had taken 27 upper division units of Political Science at Cal. He eventually majored in Poli Sci at Cal, got a law degree from USF and is now a partner in a San Francisco law firm. But I had a feeling this game would be special, and I was right. The Bears won the game and pandemonium reigned in old Harmon Gym. I was happy to be part of the crowd, instead of just an observer.
Flores acknowledged that he had problems with the rebellious Raiders, and remembered John Matuszak getting arrested for causing a disturbance at 6 a.m. on Bourbon Street the night before the Super Bowl. “I said, ‘John, you’re 6-7 and 280 pounds. How did you think you weren’t going to be noticed?’ He said, ‘Coach, I was just trying to make sure everybody else was in.’”
Wonderfully goofy, those Raiders, many of whom were in the audience last night.
Ms. Rice, who met Washington when he was working on special projects at Stanford and she was the provost – and de facto athletic director – did not disappoint, with a smart, humorous tribute to Washington and praise to the BASHOF movement for its commitment to youth. Before she did that, she told Johnson, “I think you have a future in national politics.”
Her presentation was greeted by a standing ovation – yes, I participated in that – as was true of all the other presentations during the evening, a first. It was truly a memorable evening.
THE WARRIORS trade their best player for a player who won’t even play for the rest of the season because of a fractured ankle? That is so Warriors.
The Monta Ellis trade for Andrew Bogut also brought back Stephen Jackson, who was an inspirational player in 2007 and a player the Warriors couldn’t wait to get rid of two years later. Which will he be this time around, with a team going nowhere in a hurry? Put your money on the second alternative.
There is no question the Warriors need a big man who can both defend and score inside, and Bogut is that kind of player – when healthy. But he’s had serious injury problems the last two seasons, with a severely dislocated elbow the previous season. It has not been my experience that athletes with injury/health problems early in their career are suddenly 100 per cent in later career.
Meanwhile, the Warriors had to include a promising big man, Ekpe Udoh, in the trade, and they’re still dealing with Stephen Curry’s recurring foot/ankle injuries. Curry wants to play, of course, but the Warriors should shut him down for the rest of the season and let him heal. After all, their best hope is to finish far enough back in the pack to have a shot at one of the first seven picks in the lottery, rather than giving it up to Utah. Before this trade, they had no better than a 10 per cent chance of making the playoffs. That has just been reduced to zero.
General manager Larry Riley will discuss this trade with the media later today, but he’s taking one for the team. This isn’t his trade. It isn’t Jerry West’s, either. I talked to West before last night’s BASHOF dinner – he was presenting Kevin Johnson – and he had no comment on the trade, which told me he had little, if any, input. This was a Joe Lacob special. The new Warriors owner wants to be another Mark Cuban, who revived the Dallas franchise, but so far, the only resemblance has been in Lacob’s outsized ego.
Ah, well. Since the TMC era ended, Warriors fans have become inured to bad news. This is just the latest chapter.
IN WHAT is certain to be a controversial move, the 49ers signed Randy Moss on Monday, after he worked out with coach Jim Harbaugh, who probably still has his arm on ice.
My take: This is a good move, and it could be a great one. Nobody questions Moss’s talent; physically, he’s as good as any wide receiver ever. The question has always been his attitude, especially to local fans who watched him with the Raiders, when he took time off for questionable injuries and short-armed passes when he played.
But the Raiders were a dysfunctional organization then, as they had been since Jon Gruden left and Al Davis resumed his erratic control. They’re only now returning to a sane approach, and new general manager Reggie McKenzie has had to dump several of the horrendous contracts Davis gave out in his final years, when he was desperate for a winner. McKenzie and new coach Dennis Allen have the Raiders on the right track, but it will take some time to shake off the effects of the Davis mismanagement.
In that situation, the Bad Randy surfaced, but when he went to New England, which had a strong structure and a coach, Bill Belichick, who wouldn’t put up with slackers, Moss played superbly, setting an NFL record with 23 touchdowns in his first season with the Patriots.
Under Harbaugh, the 49ers are also a very disciplined group, and Moss has something to prove again, after sitting out the entire 2011 season. The 49ers still need to add receivers, especially with Josh Morgan leaving, but this is a very good start to improving in the area of greatest need.
MATIER AND ROSS had an interesting piece in Sunday’s Chronicle, where they talked of two possible buyers for the A’s, who wish to remain anonymous at this point, both of whom were confident they could be successful with the A’s in Oakland. Lew Wolff disagrees, of course, and he continues his quixotic drive to get to San Jose, which isn’t going to happen.
The A’s have a mixed history at the box office in their time in Oakland, and you can look at the ownership to see why. When they’ve had owners who worked to put a winner on the field and also looked to what the fans wanted, they’ve done well at the gate. When they haven’t, they’ve suffered, but it’s clear, looking at their history, where the problems have been.
When Charlie Finley owned the club, he did a great job of putting a good team on the field, one which won three straight World Series, but he failed miserably with the fans. Charlie ran a bare-bones operation. His “front office” was basically his cousin, Carl. He had nobody selling season tickets. As a result, the A’s attendance fluctuated wildly, depending on the opponent. For the attractive games, there was a tremendous walkup and Finley never had enough people selling tickets, either, so there were games where people didn’t get into the park until the fifth inning. How many of those fans do you think returned for future games? (I was first made aware of this by the principal at my son’s grammar school, who worked as one of those ticket sellers at weekend games. The next time, the A’s had a big weekend game, I stayed outside and witnessed this phenomenon for myself and talked to some of the people.)
The first year the Haas family owned the A’s, a midseason strike disrupted the season, and the A’s had only 51 home dates, roughly two-thirds of normal, and their team, though a good, exciting one, wasn’t close to the level of the Finley champions. Yet, the A’s drew more than 1.3 million in that truncated season, more than 200,000 better than the Finley teams ever had. Not hard to connect the dots there.
It took some time for the A’s organization to get a grip on what to do, but it all came together after Tony La Russa was hired as manager. The A’s won three straight American League pennants and one World Series and attendance exceeded two million, then the benchmark for great box office success, for six straight years, setting what was then a Bay Area record with slightly over 2.9 million in 1990. That’s what happens when you get an owner who is not only trying to win but looking at what fans want, too.
When Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann bought the team from the Haas family, they were branded as cheapskates by the media because they cut payroll drastically. I always believed in going to the source (too many media members just consult with each other), so I asked general manager Sandy Alderson what was going on. He said that Schott and Hofmann were doing exactly what he had advised them to do – get rid of the overpriced and over-the-hill veterans and sink their money into the farm system. By the late 1990s, the farm system was delivering a steady stream of players to the major league team. In the 2000-2006 period, the A’s were in the postseason five times and had back-to-back seasons with 103 and 102 wins, as well as an AL record 20 straight wins in 2002. Attendance didn’t go as high as in the Haas years but it was more than 2.1 million for five straight years. Part of that were the 10 crowds of from 53,000 to nearly 60,000 for their biggest games.
Then, Lew Wolff and John Fisher bought the A’s. Their first team was the 2006 team which was put together under Schott and Hofmann. But soon, Wolff was working his magic, starving the farm/scouting system so the A’s no longer had that steady stream of good, young players. He shut off the upper deck (the part above the press box has been re-opened, but that’s a small portion); no more of those embarrassing 50,000-plus crowds. People might get the idea that Oakland could support a team and didn’t need for it to be moved to San Jose. Not that the team deserved much support. In the last five years, it has been a colorless outfit that only once got as high as .500. The A’s are usually out of contention by, oh, the third game of the season.
General manager Billy Beane conceded the obvious in the offseason: The A’s minor league system is shot. He traded his two top starters and his closer to get prospects from other teams. As he did, Beane said he was putting together a team which could be good when they have the mythical new park in San Jose, and he cited the Cleveland Indians as an example of the right way to enter a new park. There is a better example across the bay: The Giants not only had a good team when they opened their new park but had been in the postseason as early as 1997 – and the ownership was putting money into Candlestick in the last years to make it as palatable as possible for fans. Imagine that, Lew and John, actually trying to do something to make the whole experience more pleasant for your fans.
Obviously, the best thing for the A’s and their fans would be for the Wolff/Fisher tandem to sell the A’s. Unfortunately, there’s no way of getting rid of bad owners, and, except for last season, the penny-pinchers have made money each year because successful teams contribute to the revenue-sharing plan for teams which lose money. That plans needs serious revision.
IF IT’S MARCH, it must be time for another change in Barry Zito’s approach and, sure enough, there was a story in The Chronicle last week about his latest change, this one after working with Tom House in the offseason. We’ll probably have to wait until sometime in early July for the sequel piece, when Zito is finally released after going 1-6 with a 5.03 ERA.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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