Giants World Series; Barry Zito; Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Alex Smith; A. J. Jenkins, LaMichael James; Raiders Problems
HO, HUM, another World Series. The great Giants teams of the Ď60s, with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, all in the baseball Hall of Fame, only made it once. Now, the Giants have made it twice in three years.
Well, itís a different world, and the baseball world reflects that. In the Ď60s, there were only two leagues and only the champions played in the World Series. Some historians think the National League in the Ď60s was the strongest itís ever been, because it had gotten most of the top black players after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. Some American League teams didnít even try. The Boston Red Sox tried out Mays and Ted Williams begged owner Tom Yawkey to sign him, but Yawkey was a native of South Carolina and did not have any blacks employed in any job in his organization. He wouldnít sign Mays or any other black for more than a decade, as the all-white Red Sox slipped from pennant contention in the late Ď40s (and one pennant, in 1946) to last place by 1966.
Meanwhile, the Giants had to battle the Dodgers, with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen in the rotation and Ron Perranoski in the bullpen, the Cincinnati Reds with Frank Robinson and fireballer Jim Maloney, the St. Louis Cardinals who, fortified by the addition of Cepeda in a trade, won in 1967 and the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a great team in 1964 but lost because manager Gene Mauch panicked in the last two weeks and overworked his starters.
So, the Giants made it only in 1962. Though I was not yet working in San Francisco, I covered that Series, for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, so I will have written on all of the Giants Series appearances in San Francisco, over 50 years!
Ironically, that first one was the only time Iíve sat in the main press box. There werenít many writers covering that Series, the radio people had their own booth and TV was limited to one national telecast. In subsequent Series, on both sides of the Bay, Iíve sat in the auxiliary press sections. At both the Coliseum and Candlestick, those were good seats, just above the press box in the upper deck Ė the seats Lew Wolff tarps off at the Coliseum. AT&T is obviously a much superior park to the ĎStick but the auxiliary press sections have not been as good. For 2002, we were sitting in the left field stands, and I almost got beaned by a home run. I lost track of the ballís flight and it landed about six feet from me. For 2010 and this year, the auxiliary press sections are high in the upper deck down the left field line. Those are seats that are sold during the regular season but seldom occupied for less attractive games because a significant part of the field cannot be seen. Knowing that, I ďcoveredĒ the 2010 Series via TV, and Iíll do the same this year. I have an unobstructed view on my HD set, and my wife will watch with me. Nancy loves the World Series when the Giants or Aís are in it. Baseball in the regular season? Forget it. Too slow.
The baseball postseason has always been more unpredictable than football because pitchers are so much more important than any one football player Ė though fans often mistakenly put quarterbacks in that category. So, there have always been upsets in the Series. I remember one vividly in 1954, when I was only a freshman in college. The Cleveland Indians, who had won an American League record 111 games (in an 154-game season) were overwhelming favorites but were swept by the New York Giants.
Now, with six divisions and wild card teams, the baseball postseason is really a crap shoot. The Cardinals got hot in the last three weeks of the season last year, made the playoffs as a wild card and wound up winning the World Series. The year before, the Giants got in when San Diego collapsed down the stretch and, of course, the Giants won. In the four division series this year, only one was won by the team with the better season record. The Washington Nationals, with the majorís best record, blew a 6-0 lead in the last game and lost to the Cardinals.
Nonetheless, when the Examiner sports editor asked me for my prediction on the Series, I told him Detroit in seven, with Justin Verlander winning three games. Verlander is probably the best pitcher in baseball at this point, and heís a throwback to previous eras, not concerned about pitch counts and throwing 100 mph at the end of games.
That doesnít take anything away from the Giants, who made a remarkable comeback from a 3-1 deficit to the Cardinals in the NLCS. I thought they were dead in the water after game 4, but Barry Zito pitched what was probably the best game of his Giants career as the Giants brought the series back to San Francisco.
That spawned some rather ridiculous remarks. One fan said Zito earned his Giants contract with that one win. Really? One win equals $126 million. Interesting math.
I also heard from readers who said I owed Zito an apology. Please. This is not high school. Heís a professional athlete who had done little to justify the highest free agent contract for a pitcher at the time he signed. Any criticism, by me or any writer, has certainly been justified.
My problem with Zito is that he often hasnít brought his A game to the mound. His teammates claim he works hard in preparation but it doesnít often show in a game. Time after time heís come into the dressing room after a bad game and said, ďI just donít understand what happened.Ē Good heavens.
I watched a much less-talented Kirk Rueter have a good career with the Giants because he did his best every time out, never making excuses, just going out there and keeping the ball down, so he got a lot of ground ball outs and double plays. Zito, by contrast, pitches up and then wonders why a chest high 86 mph fast ball gets hit out of the park.
And, before you get carried away by Zitoís last game, remember than he was taken out of his previous start with one out remaining in the third inning, having given up three runs already. Heís starting the Series opener tonight. Donít bet that wonít happen again.
Also, Zito had probably the best stretch of his Giants career in the last two months of this season. Could that have anything to do with the fact that, if he had another terrible year, the Giants might have just released him and eaten the last year of his contract? As it is, I wouldnít be surprised if Zito is just a year away from an enforced retirement. I canít see even Brian Sabean being stupid enough to re-sign him, and his reputation around baseball isnít high.
BIG GAME week was a dud, and so was the game. Stanford was obviously the superior team but the Big Game isnít always that predictable. This time, though, it wasnít as emotional as it usually is. The only good thing about it was that it was played in the middle of the day, because it had been picked up by Fox. If it had been on the beloved Pac-12 network that few people in the Bay Area get, it would probably have been played at 9:30. Is there any way we can get somebody in Florida to hire Larry Scott before he does anything more to ruin Pacific Coast football, which has been extended to Utah and Colorado by Sir Larry.
The festivities during the week lacked their usual sizzle, too. When the Big Game is played when it should be, at the end of the season, fans who arenít in the retail trade are relaxing, getting ready for the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday period. Celebrating during Big Game week seems a natural thing to do. But in the middle of the season, fans are busy with their work, with other activities. Theyíre not yet into the celebratory mood.
That showed at the Guardsmenís Big Game luncheon, which Iíve been going to for 30 years. The crowd was perhaps half of what it usually is, both coaches made only video appearances (David Shaw had said he had a prior engagement and when Jeff Tedford learned that Shaw wouldnít be there, he just did the video, too.) I canít blame them. Both coaches have been very cooperative in the past. The Stanford band also didnít show. No great loss. They were a funny counter-culture group in the Ď60s, and I loved them then, but theyíve been a bad joke since. The Cal Straw Hat band was there to bring some excitement, and the women cheer leaders danced up a storm, but it wasnít enough to ramp up the excitement to the usual level.
Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said the best the conference, meaning Larry Scott, could promise was that five of the next six Big Games will be played at the end of the season. Letís hope theyíll get picked up by a national network so Scott canít make them late night games.
Of course, by that time it will probably be the Pac-16 with the addition of Missouri, Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State. Weíve already learned that Scott skipped Geography in school.
JIM HARBAUGH and Pete Carroll didnít like each other when they were college coaches at Stanford and USC, and that animosity has carried over into the pros. Right now, Harbaugh has the edge after the 49ers gritty win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Thursday night game last week.
Harbaugh finally admitted that Alex Smithís finger was a factor in his struggle since he hit his hand on the helmet of a Buffalo defender in the lopsided win over the Bills. Alex never makes excuses. The only time heís spoken about an injury was when Mike Nolan threw him under the bus, saying Smithís shoulder wasnít a factor in his poor play Ė just before Alex had season-ending surgery on that shoulder. That example is enough in itself to show that Nolan should never get another shot as a head coach.
Smithís finger is getting some time to heal because the 49ers wonít play again until the Monday night game in Arizona against the Cardinals. The Niners are still in good shape despite the improvement of the NFC West, and the NFC in general. I still expect them to win the division and be strong contenders for the Super Bowl.
The questions about draft picks A. J. Jenkins and LaMichael James not playing were answered by the players themselves this week. Jenkins admitted he needs to build up his strength, and heís working extra time in the weight room to do that. For James, the problem is that he doesnít know the offense well Ė and coaches had to tell them he was giving away the playby looking in the direction heís going to run.
In both cases, too, there are many qualified players ahead of them on the depth chart. The 49ersí biggest weakness at the end of last season was their lack of good receivers, but thatís not true now. And the Niners have depth at running back, too, with Kendall Hunter backing up Frank Gore Ė and Brandon Jacobs apparently close to returning from an injury.
Jenkins and James will make significant contributions to the 49ers but in the future, not this season.
THE RAIDERS are only a game out of the lead in the AFC West, but thatís an indication of the weakness of the division, not the strength of the Raiders.
I was at the Raidersí OT win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Iíve never seen a team look so bad while winning. The only reason they won was that the Jaguars lost their best running back early and their quarterback before the end of the first half.
The biggest problem for the Raiders is the offensive line, which canít open holes for Darren McFadden or provide decent pass protection for quarterback Carson Palmer. Raiders coach Dennis Allen was honest in his post-game analysis, admitting that the Raiders were badly beaten at the line of scrimmage and also played a terrible first half.
Even playing in a weak division, there is no realistic hope for the Raiders. I believe new general manager Reggie McKenzie will have a busy offseason, making substantial changes in the roster and rebuilding through the draft. Iíve said all along that McKenzie is building a strong organization and I still believe that, but the improvement wonít show this season.
THANKS TO all of you who have wished me well after my accident trying to get to the parking lot at Candlestick before the disaster against the Giants. Fortunately, I was not injured, though the damage to my car was almost double the Blue Book value of the car, so Iíll be looking for a new car. Maybe Iíll buy a tank.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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