Tiger Woods/Tim Lincecum/Vida Blue; Roger Clemens/Lance Armstrong; Barry MacKay; R.C. Owens
THE IMPORTANCE of mental attitude for top athletes was underscored when Tiger Woods crashed and burned in the U. S. Open at the Olympic Club last weekend.
The really great athletes have an attitude that could be described as arrogance. It certainly goes beyond mere confidence. When something goes wrong, they just know that they can make it right again.
Tiger had that kind of arrogance before his world blew up in 2008. He seemed to have it in the Wood Memorial, which he won in dominating fashion the week before the Open, but that was an illusion, as we certainly saw in the Open.
For the first two rounds at the Olympic Club, we saw the Old Tiger, hitting every shot crisply and confidently, putting with confidence as he posted rounds of 70 and 69. The next two rounds, we saw the New Tiger. On Saturday, he was so frustrated, he was throwing clubs. When he came off the 18th green, a camera man was shooting and Tiger just knocked his camera away. The next day, when his fans hoped he’d have a surge to get back in it, he went seven-over on the first six holes.
In a way, Tiger’s problems are similar to what Tim Lincecum is suffering with the Giants this season, flashes of brilliance and then collapse.
I had a routine visit yesterday to my doctor, who is a huge Giants fan, and as always, our session started with talk about the Giants, specifically Lincecum this time. He wondered if I’d ever seen a case in baseball like Lincecum’s.
The only case at all comparable in my experience would be Vida Blue in 1972. The previous year, Vida had been absolutely dominating, going 24-8 with 301 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.82.. He was also unquestionably the leading draw when the A’s went on the road. He held out the next year and, in an era before arbitration, A’s owner Charlie Finley wouldn’t budge. Finley never paid his stars what they were worth and he didn’t like any player getting more attention than he got. Reggie Jackson had had problems with Finley after he had his 47-homer season and Catfish Hunter would have problems after Blue.
Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn had to step in to get the Blue contract debate settled, but Vida went only 6-10 that season. He had some good years after that, one of them with the Giants in 1978, but he never approached the dominance of his 1971 season. He also struggled regaining the ebullience of his 1971 self but, as anybody who has talked to him recently knows, he got his personality back big-time.
Lincecum certainly isn’t being hassled by the Giants, who desperately want him to return to his pre-2012 brilliance, but he has obviously lost that arrogance he once had. At this point, I doubt that he ever will regain it. He’ll probably be a good pitcher but not the Cy Young winner he’s been in two previous seasons.
It will probably be much the same for Tiger. He’ll win some tournaments but I doubt that he’ll win another major because he can’t put together four good rounds under that kind of pressure. Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors is safe.
I felt sorry for Blue in 1972 and I feel sorry for Lincecum now. I have zero sympathy for Tiger, who made his own bed, literally.
TESTING: A jury took only 10 hours of deliberation to declare Roger Clemons not guilty of charges that he had perjured himself in testimony to Congress. The message was clear: Politicians should butt out of these issues and leave them up to the sports to police. Amen to that, but it probably won’t happen. Politicians can’t resist the media attention they get when athletes are testifying.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Doping Association is still pursuing Lance Armstrong, though he’s passed every test he’s taken and isn’t even in cycling competition any more. These people are totally out of control, the worst moralists in sports. Maybe they should be tested, because they obviously have snake venom in their veins.
CHANGES NEXT YEAR: For some time, I’ve been writing that next year, when Houston goes from the National League to the American League and baseball goes to the NFL model, one league with two equal divisions, the National League will go to the Designated Hitter, thus joining the rest of the baseball world.
I’ve written that because there were two long pieces in Sports Illustrated and USA Today in which baseball writers said flatly that the National League would be forced to drop its 19th century model and adopt the DH. There was no debate, no back-and-forth on whether this would be a good idea, just the flat statement that this would happen. From my experience, I knew what this meant: Each writer had been told that off the record by high baseball officials.
Then, Tom Verducci quoted baseball commissioner Bud Selig in Sports Illustrated that the DH would be adopted some time in the next 10 years. I knew what that meant, too: Because Selig was being quoted, he was dissembling.
One of the things I learned long ago when I was a columnist for The Chronicle that, if you insist on getting quotes for a story, you may very well be lied to. My motto always was to get the truth, not quotes.
The best example of this came in midseason, 1996, when I wrote that Brian Sabean would replace Bob Quinn as the Giants general manager the next season. The assistant sports editor of The Chronicle wanted me to cite the source. I refused. I trusted my source, and he trusted me not to use his name. The column ran. Within the month, I was sitting with Sabean in his box at Candlestick as he said, “We’ve only got four major leaguers out there.” At season’s end, his promotion was announced.
Verducci was once a fine baseball writer but then he fell victim to what I call the Bob Costa Syndrome: He thought he was the voice of baseball and should tell everybody how it should be run. His moralizing on the steroids issue was ridiculous.
In this case, Selig knew exactly what Verducci wanted to hear, that the NL wouldn’t have to adopt the DH, so he gave him that vague answer, which makes no sense. Ten years? What’s going to happen in the interim? The National League owners have had 40 years to change and they haven’t. What’s going to happen now to change their minds, except Selig telling them they have to? Obviously, the time to do it is next year. There will be some angry sounds from older male fans, but the younger fans, who comprise most of those attending games, will accept it, just as American League fans did in the ‘70s.
A’S MANAGER Bob Melvin declared that Kila Ka’aihue would be the regular first baseman. A day later, the A’s signed Brandon Moss and Ka’aihue was designated for assignment. Billy Beane’s critics lit into him, and A’s players criticized the move because Ka’aihue was popular with his teammates and his wife is expecting a child.
Time out for a reality check.
The A’s were getting very little production from their first basemen, at what is supposed to be a power position. Ka’aihue was marginally better than Darric Barton – can we finally concede he isn’t a major league first baseman? – but he was hitting .234 with three home runs.
The timing was bad but Moss was a very good pickup. He hit six home runs in his first 10 games and, though a converted outfielder, he also made some good defensive plays. He appears to be the first A’s first baseman who can hit with the expected power since Jason Giambi left.
And, after 10 days when Ka’aihue was not claimed by another team, he was optioned to Sacramento. He’s a nice guy, but that’s probably the highest level at which he can be successful.
BARRY MAC KAY: I was saddened to hear of MacKay’s death last Friday. Barry, almost an exact contemporary of mine (six months older) was a great guy. It’s not too strong to say he was loved by all who knew him.
MacKay was a very good player in his own right, winning the 1957 collegiate championship and getting to the semi-finals at Wimbledon two years later, where he lost to Rod Laver, which was certainly no disgrace. He went on to become an announcer for big events and a promoter of a very successful tournament.
I first met Barry in 1970 when he was promoting the tournament then known as the Pacific Coast Championships and played at the Berkeley Tennis Club. By 1973, he had bought an interest in the tournament, which was moved to San Francisco venues.
The tournament was very successful because all the top players knew and liked Barry. Some were very faithful; John McEnroe and Andre Agassi always said yes when he called. Often, he would work the TV during the tournament, too. It was an All-Barry show. When he left the tournament, it became harder to get the top players, especially when the tournament was moved to San Jose. Top players have many choices. San Francisco was always a draw because their wives and girl friends liked to go shopping in San Francisco or eating at restaurants there. When the tournament was in San Jose….well, that exhibition in Dubai looked very enticing.
When the tournament began, I was playing tennis on a regular basis and very close to the tennis scene, both men’s and women’s; my wife, son and I would go to Wimbledon in 1978 and the French Open in 1990, because we were all interested.
As the years went on, my interest in tennis waned, in large part because I had to give up playing – a great loss to the tennis world – for physical reasons. But I could always rely on Barry to give me accurate analyses of the players in his tournament, usually at a media luncheon where we discussed the subject over glasses of Pinot Grigio.
Our relationship wasn’t unusual Barry got along with everybody, and it wasn’t an act. That’s the kind of person he was.
He’ll be missed.
R. C. OWENS: This is beginning to look like the obituary section but I had to say goodbye to R. C.
I never saw him play because it was only after I came to The Chronicle in 1963 that I saw the 49ers and he was long gone by then, but I’ve seen enough film on him to know what an outstanding player he was.
I had also talked to him many times when he was working for the 49ers after his retirement, and I learned more when I interviewed him for the bio when he was elected to the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
R. C. was also an excellent basketball player in college, playing alongside Elgin Baylor and leading the nation in rebounds one year. He was drafted by the then Minneapolis Lakers and went on an European trip with an all-star team. He toyed with the idea of playing professional basketball before settling on the 49ers.
He was always upbeat, even in pain. He had a kidney transplant in 2004 but he worked for the Niners right up until the day he had it – and nobody even knew he needed it.
That was R. C. He never complained about anything or anybody, which is why he was such a delight to be around. And, with all his health problems, he lived to be 78, and I’m sure he would have said they were 78 great years.
BOBBY VALENTINE: When the new Red Sox manager said in spring training that veteran players had to stay for the whole game after they’d been taken out, instead of going back to their spring training homes, I wrote that he’d already lost his team, because major leaguers don’t like to be treated like high school players. Soon after the season started, the Red Sox dived to last place in the AL West and have stayed there.
Compounding the problem, Valentine also decided to go to “small ball”; last week, John Shea reported in The Chronicle that the Red Sox were leading the league in bunts. That hasn’t been a good strategy since 1910. The next year, baseball brought in the lively ball. Because hitters weren’t thinking of home runs, they just concentrated on base hits and batting averages soared; Joe Jackson hit .408 that season but didn’t win the AL batting title because Ty Cobb hit .420. It wasn’t until Babe Ruth started hitting home runs in bunches, 54 of them in 1920, that the power potential became obvious, which is why that is usually the year cited as the end of the deal ball era.
With all the evidence that the big inning approach – games in which the winning team scores more in one inning than the losing team scores in the game – is the winning approach, there are those that still cling to the “small ball” approach. In that sense, nothing has changed since I came to The Chronicle in 1963 and the old-timers were grousing because they thought the Giants should bunt more – when they had Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Ray Hart. Good grief.
Valentine shares that belief, and he’s been a disaster for the Red Sox. But as a friend who is an ardent Sox fan told me, “He got the job because nobody else wanted it, so we’re stuck with him.”
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