Sabean's Moves; Chris Carter/Billy Beane; Baseball Instant Replay; Joe Paterno/Penn State Death Penalty
by Glenn Dickey
Jul 18, 2012

18JULY

THE GIANTS and A’s are both doing well, much better than expected for the A’s, and the right kind of trade at this point could make them even better. But, I’d be surprised if either team makes that kind of trade, for different reasons.

The Giants need more punch in their lineup, especially somebody who could hit the ball out of the park, but they don’t have much to entice clubs willing to deal. The Twins might be willing to trade Josh Willingham, though he’s signed to a three-year contract, because they’re going absolutely nowhere. But at a minimum, they’d want Gary Brown, who’s seen as the Giants center fielder of the very near future because he combines good fielding with good hitting (for average) and base stealing ability. In another year, he’d probably be perfect at the top of the batting order, replacing Gregor Blanco, who is looking more and more like a good reserve, not an everyday player.

Giving up Brown at this point would probably be a decision the Giants would regret for years. It would only be worth it if they won the World Series again, and that would be a longshot. Of course, it was also a longshot in 2010. As I wrote last week, strange things happen in the baseball postseason with the different rungs of competition, and this year, there will be another with an added wild card team in each league.

Early in his time as Giants general manager, Brian Sabean did well with trades involving Giants minor league pitchers. The best would probably be the trade in which he got Jason Schmidt (and John Vander Wal) for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. The Giants got the absolute best out of Vogelsong, not only getting Schmidt, an outstanding pitcher during his years with the Giants, and then getting Vogelsong back last year, when he finally learned how to win on the major league level.

Sabean’s last trade, though, giving up pitching prospect Zach Wheeler in the three-month rental of Carlos Beltran doesn’t look very good right now. Wheeler was an Eastern League All-Star in the Mets’ system and is regarded as a top prospect. The Giants, who have only three solid starters at this point, would love to have him as a backup.

I doubt that Sabean would be willing to give up Brown, who could have a long, productive major league career, at this point. Which probably means, the Giants will stand pat.

When Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann owned the A’’s, Schott used to leave money in the budget in case general manager Billy Beane wanted to make a deal to get a player at this point in the season.

You can bet that, under the penny-pinching regime of Lew Wolff and John Fisher, there’s no money there for Beane to make a deal. It’s questionable whether that would be enough to get them in the playoffs, anyway, because there are so many good teams in the American League; 10 of their 14 teams were over .500 this morning, compared to 8 of 16 in the National League. USA Today noted that the A’s play 61 of 77 games after the All-star break against teams with winniing records. They started this week with back-to-back series against the two best teams in baseball, the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.

So, the A’s are more likely to be sellers than buyers; Bartolo Colon might be interesting to a potential playoff team which needs starting pitching. The A’s have a number of good, young pitchers. Their best starter, Brandon McCarthy, should be off the DL soon, and both Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden should be back before the end of the year.

With a multitude of deals, Beane has put together a potent lineup, which hit eight homers – some of them tape-measure types – in the last two games of the Minnesota series. The team is fun to watch, which hasn’t been true for most of the Wolff-Fisher years. There’s another important point here: Beane got good value when he traded pitchers like Gio Gonzales and Trevor Cahill because he got good scouting reports on the players he obtained. I’m a believer in the new baseball statistics Bill James introduced in the mid-‘80s and the A’s have used since but good scouting has been primarily responsible for the good teams under Beane, not the mythical system promulgated in “Moneyball.”

There are still some soft spots in the lineup. Chief of them is at shortstop, where incumbent Cliff Pennington’s average has been hovering around .200 all year. The A’s have brought up Brandon Hicks, who hit well at Triple-A, but he hasn’t had enough at-bats to show whether he can hit at the major league level.

Pennington should be a much better hitter than he is, but he seems intent on proving he can hit home runs, so he takes a big, uppercutting swing that produces fly outs, well short of the fences. He’s got very good speed and should utilize it, as Omar Vizquel did so effectively with the Giants, bunting occasionally and slapping balls past the third baseman when he plays in. Other times, he should concentrate on hitting line drives to the outfield, not fly balls, again as Vizquel did – and Brett Butler from an earlier Giants era.

Pennington is an excellent fielder and teams will play weak-hitting shortstops because that’s such an important defensive position, but “weak-hitting” in this era no longer means just keeping above the “Mendoza line” (.200). It means something more in the range of .240. I believe Pennington could easily surpass that if he concentrated on using his speed instead of trying to hit for power, which is a lost cause for him.

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to change a hitter’s style once he reaches the majors because, even if he makes a momentary change, he’ll go back to his previous style the first time he goes 0-for-4 in a game. That’s why hitting coaches seldom make a difference on the major league level. Look at the Giants; they keep changing hitting coaches and getting the same results.

On the minor league level, though, it’s different. Players in the minors are trying very hard to get to the majors, so they’ll listen and change. The latest example is Chris Carter, who made some changes at Sacramento this year – chiefly, moving closer to the plate – that have enabled him to hit well so far for the A’s on the major league level.

The first time I saw Carter with the A’s, I could see that he’d have problems. He hit inside fast balls very far, but he just waved at curve balls on the outside corner. When major league pitchers learn that a hitter can’t hit one type of pitch, he gets a steady diet of them. That’s exactly what happened to Carter, and he was soon back in the minors.

But, by moving closer to the plate, he can now hit those pitches on the outside corner, and he can still get around on inside fast balls, as he did for a homer against the Twins on Sunday. He may have a major league career after all.

BASEBALL PEOPLE are fighting the idea of widening the use of cameras for Instant Replay, with the usual nonsense of “taking away the human element” and adding length to the games. Commissioner Bud Selig prattles on about the “pace of the game.”

Well, on that note, there are a lot of reasons that games are longer these days, including the many commercials between innings of televised games. Are you going to cut back on them, Bud? I didn’t think so.

There are other ways the game could be speeded up. Umpires could enforce the time limit pitchers have to throw another pitch when no runners on base. Some pitchers fiddle endlessly in between pitches, which makes as much sense as recreational golfers standing over putts for several minutes. Umpires could also stop hitters from continually stepping out of the batter’s box; after the first time, just signal the pitcher to throw the ball and call it a strike. I’ll guarantee you that hitter wouldn’t keep stepping out. One of the things I liked about Barry Bonds was that he never stepped out. He got into his stance and stayed there. Sometimes, he’d only get one good pitch in an at-bat, but he was always prepared for it.

As for “taking out the human element”, I think it’s far more important to get it right. Umpires are blowing too many calls, more than I can ever recall. Having an umpire sit in the press box watching the TV monitors has been suggested by others, and I think that’s the best solution. He can signal his decision quickly, which would not slow the game down.

Baseball is always slower than other sports to make changes – 40 years after the American League made a sensible change, substituting an offensive specialist, the designated hitter, for a defensive specialist, the pitcher – the National League has still not made that change.

In this case, the NFL put in Instant Replay after the Denver Broncos were given a touchdown when the runner was actually stopped three yards short of the goal line in the 1977 AFC championship game. There has been some fiddling with the rule since, but the game is better for it.

It’s time for baseball to expand its use of modern technology. Getting it right should always be the goal.

JOE PATERNO: The NCAA is looking into punishment for the Penn State program, possibly even invoking the “death penalty” for a year, under a clause that it can act if there’s a lack of institutional control. The report by former FBI director Louis Freeh stated that there was a coverup by Penn State officials, including Paterno.

The Paterno family is fighting back, threatening to investigate Freeh’s investigation. While I can certainly understand the emotions of the family, it’s past time for family members to face reality.

The fact remains that Paterno was willfully blind to the repeated abuses by his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky, even allowing Sandusky to continue to use college facilities for his despicable acts.

In the little enclave of Happy Valley, which seems shut off from the realities of the world, Paterno will continue to be revered. For many others, including me, his tacit approval of Sandusky’s actions obliterates all the good he may have done earlier. This will be his real legacy, no matter what the Paterno family thinks.

If the NCAA shuts down the program, maybe even the idolators will Happy Valley will catch on.

TOO MANY GAMES: My good friend Sam Spear tells me that the De La Salle football team will play 14 games this season, with all the playoffs. A high school team! Good grief.

But this is all part of the pattern. When I came to The Chronicle in 1963, colleges played 10 games and only a handful played another, in a bowl game. Now, they’re playing at least 12 and playoff systems add more. This is just the beginning. Soon, there will be more rounds of playoffs and more chances of injury for players who will never play professionally, which is more than 95 per cent of them.

On a Comcast “Chronicle Live” show, I was asked if I’d be willing to see a more complete college playoff season if colleges went back to 10-game schedules. I said, certainly, but there’s zero chance of that happening. Too much money lost.

Adding all these games has played havoc with traditional games. The Big Game historically has been played at the end of the season; this year, it’s in the middle. Well, we don’t have to worry about it messing up the Thanksgiving weekend, though Halloween festivities are in danger.

The NFL is no better. It’s gone from a 12-game season to 16 and commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been campaigning against the “bounty” system of former New Orleans defensive coordinator Greg Williams – because the league is getting sued by former players who contend they weren’t given enough protection from or information about concussions. Yet, Goodell still wants an 18-game regular season. He’s argued that adding two regular season games and subtracting two of the pretend games, which I call exhibitions and the league calls pre-season games, would mean the same schedule. But starters play very little in the exhibition games and most of the time in the regular season games. Hardly the same.

The NFL should really be cracking down on steroids – the present program is a joke – because they’ve created the beefed-up bodies that are causing greater collisions and more damage. They should be looking seriously at the equipment, including helmets, which are part of the problem. But the NFL likes the warrior look, so that won’t happen.

On all levels, the people in charge are killing the sport. Wait until parents of high school players start filing lawsuits. The sport will die first on the high school level, then the college and finally on the professional level. And greed will have killed it.

RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY: England has had such heavy rain this summer, even for that traditionally wet country, that one British writer started a column saying that, if it didn’t stop raining soon, visitors would be asking why they were holding the Olympics underwater.

The Dickey family has had some experience with the English summer rain. We went to England in 1978 and every day, it would rain at 4 p.m. We went to Edinburgh for three days. More rain. We returned to London and it was pouring rain, washing out a day of Wimbledon. Fortunately, it let up after that and we were able to see the tournament and stay (relatively) dry.

LONGTIME FANS: Andy Mousalimas tells me that he and his cousin, Nick Cesnos saw the first 49ers game, against the Chicago Rockets of the old All America conference, in 1946, and enjoyed it so much, they signed up for season tickets.

They’re way ahead of me. I didn’t see a 49ers game until about 1960, when I came up with some friends from Watsonville, when I was working for the Register-Pajaronian. I don’t remember anything about the game, just that I hated the experience of sitting among the drunks in the stands at Kezar so much, I vowed never to do it again. I didn’t. The games I saw after that, I was writing for The Chronicle and sitting in the press box. That was an experience in itself because politicians and their wives would also be there, sometimes in greater numbers than the writers!


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