Buster Posey/Hector Sanchez/Brandon Belt; Bud Selig/Lew Wolff/ Tiger Woods/Jim Harbaugh/TV appearance
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 08, 2012

8AUGUST

BUSTER POSEY has been on fire since the All-Star game, making some think he should be shifted permanently to first base, with Hector Sanchez as the catcher.

Bad idea.

In one of the baseball books he wrote yearly, starting about the middle ‘80s, Bill James broke down a baseball team into positions where defense was most important and positions where you’d expect more offense. The defensive positions, in order of importance, were shortstop, catcher and center field. James posited that teams were willing to give up offensive performance at those positions, in return for great defense.

Probably the best example of that would be the Baltimore Orioles of the ‘60s. Shortstop Mark Belanger had years when he didn’t even hit .200, and Paul Blair wasn’t much better in centerfield. But because with great starting pitching and equally great defense the Orioles won pennants.That should certainly be the model for the Giants.

Conversely, James wrote that a player who is an offensive force at a “defensive position” is a tremendous asset to a team. Ernie Banks was an example at shortstop, when he was hitting 40 homers a year. Not that it helped the Cubs, but they were beyond help, as they still are.

Buster Posey is that type of player for the Giants when he’s catching because he’s an offensive force who should hit over .300 with something like 25 homers a season. (Projections made based on what he’s been doing the last three weeks are unrealistic. Hitters always have hot and cold streaks, and Posey will hit a cold streak that will even out his stats.)

If he’s moved to first base, he becomes basically average in what is expected to be a power position. I realize Giants fans may not understand that because the Giants haven’t had a first baseman who hit as a good one should since Will Clark in his prime. The Giants won with J. T. Snow at first because Jeff Kent hit for much more power than the average second baseman and Snow’s superior defense compensated for Kent’s lack of range in the field.

Also, if Posey were moved to first and Sanchez made the catcher, it would weaken the Giants defensively at two positions. Posey is definitely superior to Sanchez as a defensive catcher but he’s only average defensively as a first baseman. Brandon Belt is very close defensively to Snow, who’s the best I’ve ever seen. Leonard Koppett, who had been covering major league baseball since the 1930s, said that Snow was the best he’d seen, too, and his opinion carried more weight because he’d seen so many more games than I had.

I still think Belt is the long-term answer at first because he’s shown in short bursts that he can hit for power and average. But yanking him around the way Giants manager Bruce Bochy has done has undermined his confidence. Baseball people like to say that players have to be mentally tough to play the game but not every player has the same emotional makeup. Good managers realize that, so they treat different players differently. I think Bochy generally understands that but he seems to think that Belt should have the attitude of a 10-year veteran. But, Belt is only 23 and was a pitcher until he converted during his college career at Texas.

The Giants should have enough fire power offensively, anyway, when Pablo Sandoval returns. Hunter Pence was a big addition, the kind of righthanded power hitter they’ve lacked since Kent left.

It’s going to be very important for the Giants to win their division because there’s a lot of competition for the wild card slot. As of this morning, if the Giants were in the wild card race now, they’d trail Pittsburgh by three games, Atlanta by two and be tied with St. Louis.

And, the wild card playoff, just one game, will make for an exciting but unpredictable game.

It will probably be a tough battle to win the division because the Dodgers new ownership is dedicated to building a winning team and restoring the Dodgers tradition, badly soiled by the McCourt ownership. In the “there is no justice” category, McCourt screwed up everything but walks away with more than enough money to settle his nasty divorce suit – and he still owns the parking lots at Dodger Stadium.

But however tough the battle, the Giants shouldn’t move Posey to first base. When you have a young player who looks destined for the Hall of Fame as a catcher, you leave him there.

IS THERE a bigger hypocrite than baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who announced yesterday that MLB is financially supporting the Hall of Fame program for youngsters, which requires them to sign an agreement not to use performance enhancing drugs.

To make my position clear, I think it’s a very good thing to keep young players from using PEDs, though I would prefer that their parents handle it, but Selig came very late to this party. He certainly knew what was going on in the ‘90s but watched happily as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put on the big home run show in 1998, with both blasting by the old season home run record of 61, McGwire finishing with 70, Sosa with 66.

That home run derby was the big story of the year, eclipsing the fact that the New York Yankees set a league record for most wins in a season. Attendance finally bounced back from the problems caused by the cancelling of the 1994 World Series, with the Players Association and, oh, yes, Bud Selig, couldn’t reach agreement on a new contract.

Bud didn’t get religion until Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s career home run record. He was present at AT&T when it happened, but he sat on his hands. There was some irony in that because Aaron was hardly an universal hero when he broke Babe Ruth’s record. There was a lot of rancor among the bigots at the time because it was a black man setting the record. Bowie Kuhn, then the empty suit occupying the commissioner’s office, was elsewhere when Aaron set the record, pleading an earlier engagement.

Kuhn was a hypocrite, but so is Selig, who likes to pretend that he was always against the PEDs in baseball. Sorry, Bud, but the record is pretty clear on that.

IN UPCOMING Hall of Fame voting, moralistic sportswriters are prepared not to vote for Bonds or any other players known or suspected to have used steroids, which means that the best players and pitchers of the era will not be in the Hall.

Veteran sports columnist Bob Nightengale, writing in USA Today, had the best answer for that. He said he was voting for Bonds, Roger Clemens and others because they were the of their era, and the fact that it was the steroids era makes no difference.

It wouldn’t bother Nightengale if they had a separate wing or some kind of statement that this was the steroids era, but he noted that the purpose of the Hall of Fame is to record baseball history. It is not a cathedral.

THE THREE-MAN committee studying the A’s situation came to Oakland over the weekend to meet with city officials and top business leaders, led by Clorox CEO Don Knauss, who has urged Lew Wolff (and moneyman John Fisher) to sell the A’s to owners who will keep them in Oakland.

The group discussed a proposal to have the city buy Port of Oakland property north of Jack London Square which would be close to both the 880 freeway and BART. The A’s owners would have to build the park but, in case you haven’t noticed, baseball ownership has become a very lucrative operation these days. Even the bottom feeders have prospered; the A’s have gotten revenue-sharing money in the millions because of the efforts of Wolff and Fisher to drive the franchise down. Even the San Diego Padres have a deal for $800 million on the table. Wolff and Fisher got the A’s at a bargain price and would certainly make a profit if they sold.

Wolff, of course, said he isn’t interested, either in an Oakland site or selling the club. San Jose has always been his target, though he faked interest in Oakland briefly. But having is committee come to Oakland to check out possibilities was just another indication that Selig isn’t going to let his former fraternity brother get his way. Selig knows MLB would face a lawsuit from the Giants that would not only be tough to defend but would be horrible publicity for baseball. Not going to happen.

TIGER WOODS: Another chance for Tiger to win that elusive 15th major is coming up this week, with the PGA tournament starting tomorrow in South Carolina. Most likely, it will be still another opportunity for Tiger to fall on his face.

Tiger spoke optimistically about his chances of reaching or surpassing Jack Nicklaus’s 18 career majors, noting that Nicklaus’s last major came when he was 46. The way Woods figured it, that meant that, at 37, he still he plenty of time and chances left. But Ron Kroichick pointed out in The Chronicle that Nicklaus only won one major after 41, so Tiger’s window of opportunity is much smaller. Adding to the problem: Tiger’s physical problems, most notably his knees.

He still remains the most charismatic figure on a tour full of golfers who are largely faceless to the general public. A friend of mine followed, Webb Simpson, the winner of the U. S. Open at the Olympic Club on the final round and noted that hardly anybody else did. But Tiger’s following was huge, though he finished tied at 21st, well back. That’s why you continue to see so many stories and TV reports on him.

THOSE DOUBTING the 49ers chances to have another good year often focus on the fact that they’ll be facing some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks this year. But, that’s just the way the NFL is going. In the ‘50s, Army coach Red Blaik called the NFL “basketball on cleats.” Imagine what he’d think now.

Every rules change in the last 40 years has been aimed at cutting down on the defense and helping the offense, especially the running game. As I’ve noted before, Bill Walsh’s offense, which featured receivers taking short passes over the middle and running for substantial yardage, would have been drastically curtailed earlier because middle linebackers would have cut down the receivers. But rules changes had eliminated that defensive tactic.

The 49ers defense has reacted to the rules changes in a creative fashion. Knowing that it’s impossible to stop these great passing offenses cold, they’ve concentrated on creating turnovers. A quarterback who throws for 400 yards isn’t having a great game if he also throws 3-4 interceptions which set up touchdowns for the other team. Much of the 49ers success last season was created because they usually won the turnover battle – which coaches always cite as the key to success.

The 49ers have their defense back intact this season, and they also have some advantages they lacked last year. The preseason evaluations of the Niners usually noted that they’d suffer more from the lockout which eliminated offseason workouts because they had a new staff and new head coach. It didn’t work out that way, but it’s certainly easier for them this season because they have had those workouts. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has even become more playfull, joking about his fall when he was running through a play in practice last week.

Their tougher schedule probably means the 49ers won’t match last year’s 13-3 record, but they’ll still win the NFC West. And, once you get to the playoffs, season records don’t matter. Just check out the New York Giants season record last year if you need proof for
that.

TV: For those of you in this area, I’ll be on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast at 5 p.m. Friday, re-broadcast at 11 p.m.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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