Lew Wolff/Bud Selig; Barry Bonds; Roger Clemens; Melky Cabrera; Ryan Vogelson/Tim Lincecum
I WAS AMUSED when A’s owner Lew Wolff said he wouldn’t support San Jose mayor Chuck Reed’s threat to sue MLB over its anti-trust exemption, preferring to “let it play out.”
I’ve got news for you, Lew. It’s already played out. The subtext to baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s comments two weeks ago was, “We’re not going to challenge the Giants territorial rights.”
In addition to the reasons I’ve advanced, there’s another: Selig wants to keep the concept of territorial rights alive to prevent a team from moving into New Jersey and cutting into the Yankees/Mets market. That would make baseball more competitive but, as usual, the wishes of the New York teams prevail.
Stories about Reed’s threat mentioned that, in 1994, after a proposed sale of the Giants by Bob Lurie was aborted when investors surfaced to buy the team and keep it in San Francisco, Florida state officials threatened a similar suit. But, the conclusion that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now just Rays, were started because of that is erroneous. MLB had been looking at that area for some time, either for an expansion team or an established one. Before the Giants, the Chicago White Sox had threatened a move there in the mid0’80s (I joked at the time that they’d be reunited with their older fans, many of whom had retired to the Tampa Bay area). The area was regarded as a hot site.
Be careful what you wish for.
The White Sox probably never intended to move, but they coerced the state government to provide funds for them to build what everybody seems to think is a hideous park (I’ve never been to it). It’s always been easier for teams in states with no more than two teams in a particular sport to get state governments to give them money. That’s not possible in California with five baseball teams, three NFL teams, three NHL teams and three NBA teams. Even when money was available, there were too many teams after it. Now, of course, there’s no money for basics, let alone sports stadiums/parks/arenas.
Wolff is still trying to peddle the canard that Walter Haas gave the Giants territorial rights in 1990, without explaining how Haas could give away something he didn’t own. Too many lazy writers, even those who were around at the time, have gone along with this fable. When I explained the facts to Susan Slusser, The Chronicle’s A’s beat writer, she wrote in her next piece that the rights had come with the Giants sale to the current ownership, which is correct. Susan wasn’t around at the time but she’s smart, even if she is a Stanford grad.
Meanwhile, Wolff is still dreaming of San Jose. Oakland mayor Jean Quan was on the A’s radio station this week and said her hour-long meeting with Wolff was like “talking to a wall.” At the end, he said, “I see you have nothing to offer to me.” Of course not. She wasn’t talking about anything happening in San Jose. He also met with Oakland businessmen who had offered to help him or even to buy the team. There was no public report on that, but I’m sure there was no progress.
Wolff (and John Fisher, the money man) bought the team thinking he could persuade his old fraternity brother, Selig, to eliminate the Giants territorial rights. He made no serious attempt to build in Oakland. He proposed one site, across 66th St. from the Coliseum, which was a sham, setting up conditions that could not be met, specifically, allowing him to buy land from businesses there at below market cost and BART putting in another station, just for the park. When those conditions weren’t met, he said he was through with Oakland.
There were other sites available then. Councilman Ignacio de la Fuente, running for mayor, had proposed one just south of Jack London square, adjacent to the freeway and close to BART, on land owned by the city. Wolff didn’t even consider it. It wasn’t in San Jose.
With great fanfare, he announced a plan for a park, Cisco Field, in Fremont. I’ve looked at a lot of plans for parks/stadims/arenas over the year and when I looked at that plan, I knew what it was instantly: Wolff’s plan for San Jose. It was not a plan for an area with big businesses, as in Fremont, where the businesses soon forced Wolff to look at another site, which also didn’t work. It would not have worked at the 66th Avenue site, either. But, it would have been a perfect fit for a mixed-use area in San Jose – which Wolff already had already identified.
But, Wolff and Fisher are content to let the team continue to deteriorate, while they collect their yearly welfare check from teams which are actually trying to win. I simply can’t see why Wolff continues to just sit there, hoping for something he has to realize at this point that won’t happen. He says he enjoys being an owner, but how enjoyable can it be knowing that so many fans revile you?
Meanwhile, the A’s have sunk to their expected position in the AL West, competing with Seattle to stay out of the cellar. It’s depressing. They had two weekend day games against the Yankees but I didn’t go to either one. What’s the point?
NBA LOTTERY: It says all you need to know about the NBA that they had to put in the draft lottery because of the fear that teams would deliberately tank games to move up in the draft. There’s been no serious suggestion of that happening in other sports, but the year it was put in, Houston papers were printing standings upside down, which would have been the draft order.
Of course, there have been rumblings about the lottery procedure, too. The Warriors had the worst record in the league but finished seventh in the lottery. I still remember the stricken look on the face of Al Attles, in New York to represent the Warriors. The big prize, literally and figuratively, was Patrick Ewing, and guess who got the first pick. The New York Knicks. What a surprise.
At least, the Warriors got a good player, Chris Mullin, who had a great career with them, though he couldn’t transform a team, as Ewing could. They’ve picked some stiffs when they had high picks, including Joe Barry (Hardly There) Carroll. My choice as the worst, though, was Chris Washburn. When I tried to interview Washburn, I thought he was hands-down the dumbest player I’d ever met, in any sport. He wasn’t uncooperative, but he knew nothing, about the game or life. It was no surprise that he washed out early.
I’m writing about this before the lottery is held, but I don’t have high expectations. I never do with the Warriors.
BASEBALL REPLAY: I’ve criticized Bruce Jenkins so it’s only fair to say that I thought he had an excellent column in The Chronicle today, saying baseball should review plays via TV monitors and even saying how it should be done: By retired umpires in a box above the field. They could look at the replays and make a decision very quickly and relay it to the field. Play would not be interrupted.
For whatever reason, umpiring has deteriorated sharply in recent years – or perhaps, it’s just that we have a better way of evaluating it. At any rate, this would be an easy way to address an obvious problem. If umpires are offended, well, maybe they’ll start working harder on their craft.
BARRY BONDS: When he was at a Giants game this week, Bonds suggested he’d like to work for the club. Actually, a way is already in place. His last contract called for a personal services contract for 10 years to start after he retired, with $100,000 a year going to Bonds Family Foundation. At 47, he hasn’t announced his retirement but he should. It’s clear that no major league club will sign him.
And then, the Giants should get to work on a statue for Bonds on the park grounds, as they have with Willie Mays, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey. In a very real sense, AT&T Park is the park Bonds built because he created an excitement that created an atmosphere that made sellouts routine in the early years, and which has sustained them since. I walked around the park often in those days and one of the things I observed was that people stayed in their seats when Bonds was scheduled to come up in an inning. They even stayed off their cell phones. And when he had his last at-bat of the game, there was a mass exodus from the park. Barry was booed in other parks but he was beloved by Giants fans. That should be officially recognized by the organization.
ROGER CLEMENS: Two jurors had to be excused from his trial for perjury last week because they fell asleep. Who could blame them? Thinking people everywhere are bored by this relentless Federal prosecution of baseball players for taking steroids.
This started, of course, with a Congress that couldn’t keep from poking its nose into sports situations, simply because the politicians got headlines for it. Now, it’s being continued by Federal prosecutors who can’t admit that we lost the war on drugs decades ago.
George Santyana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” He could have been talking about our country. We should have learned from our experience with Prohibition, which did nothing to stop drinking but created a criminal subculture which remains a huge problem. The drug war has done the same in Mexico, which is racked with battles by the drug cartels, even making it dangerous for tourists in what once were friendly stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Acapulco. You can lay that at the feet of the Federal moralists in this country, who have made selling drugs profitable by making them illegal and thus driving up their prices.
And now, the judiciary is involved. I have no sympathy for Clemens, whom I regard as an overbearing, arrogant individual, as insufferable as Curt Schilling. But, this trial – and the long drawn-out proceedings against Bonds – are a waste of taxpayer’s money, at a time when there are many better places for that money.
MELKY CABRERA: The best free agent acquisition the Giants have made in years has been a hitting wonder in May, but what I’ve really enjoyed about his play has been this throwing.
When I first started covering major league baseball, strong-armed, accurate outfielders were common. Roberto Clemente was probably the best. Nobody even thought of going from first to third on a base hit to right because Clemente’s throw would beat a runner to third base by several feet. Unless a fly ball were hit deep to right, runners wouldn’t even risk a dash from third base to home because they’d be thrown out.
Other teams had strong-throwing and accurate outfielders, too. I remember Ollie Brown from early Giants teams. Brown didn’t have a long career because his overall talents weren’t good enough, but his throws were strong and accurate.
You seldom see that now. Even strong-armed outfielders have little accuracy; throws from the outfield are so far off target that they’re routinely cut off.
Not with Cabrera. I’ve seen him make laser throws from deep left field, right on the target at home plate. Beautiful.
GIANTS PITCHING: Nobody has commented much on Ryan Vogelsong, but he’s shown that his success last year was no fluke. He traveled a long road to get back to the majors but he learned how to pitch while he was doing that. He knows what pitch to throw when, and he doesn’t get flustered when something goes wrong.
Maybe he should talk to Tim Lincecum. One of the problems Lincecum has faced with his big inning blowups has been his choice of pitches. Even when I was playing high school ball, I remember coaches telling pitchers not to throw a weak hitter soft stuff. Just burn the fast ball by them. But Lincecum has been hurt lately when, instead of going with his fast ball against a weak hitter, he’s hung a curve ball and given that hitter a chance to hurt him with the long ball, which he has.
It’s beyond important that Lincecum get untracked. Without him pitching at the high standard we’ve come to expect, the Giants won’t make the postseason.
EXAMINER COLUMNS: I’m now writing only one a week, on Fridays.
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