Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa/Barry Bonds/Roger Cllemens; Brent Musberger; Pete Elliot; Joe Paterno
IT ALWAYS AMUSES me when fans talk about steroid use damaging the “integrity of the game”. In a half century of covering major league baseball, I haven’t found this integrity. What I have found is that players think only of ways of improving their performance, not ethics, and commissioners and owners think only of profits. Only naďve fans think of integrity.
In addition to my newspaper/magazine writing, I’ve also written 16 books, four of which were history books on baseball. I was able to talk to some original sources for those books. Former Giants PR man Garry Schumacher was an invaluable source. Garry could even tell me what John McGraw was like at a party. Chub Feeney, then president of the National League, was also helpful, because his office had voluminous newspaper clippings from the past.
Most of my research was in those clips and books from earlier eras. What I learned, beyond the stats, was that there was a constant theme of cheating. One early example: When McGraw played third base in the 1890s for the original Baltimore Orioles, with not enough umpires to watch him, he would hold the belt of a baserunner on third on a fly ball, just long enough to delay the runner. An enterprising runner stopped that practices by unfastening his belt in front, so when he bolted for home, McGraw was left with the belt in his hand.
Even more startling was the evidence that commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had letters written by Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker about fixing games – and did nothing about it. Meanwhile, Joe Jackson, a slow-witted country boy who did nothing more than sit in on a discussion by teammates before he went on to hit .375 in the 1919 World Series was banned by Landis.
What was that about integrity again?
Throughout the ‘30s, owners had the ball juiced to build up offense and bring back fans during the Depression. If you doubt that, check the incredible offensive numbers from the ‘30s – or read comments by Ted Williams about the ball being much less lively after World War II.
In the ‘90s, commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, head of the Players Association, played chicken and caused the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. Attendance plummeted until the great home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. If Selig didn’t know that both sluggers were on steroids, he had to be just about the only one in baseball who didn’t. It was only when Barry Bonds hit 73 homers that Selig got religion. Give me a break.
Selig, of course, is loved by the owners because he’s made them richer than ever.
What was that about integrity of the sport?
ALABAMA MANHANDLED Notre Dame in the BCS championship game? Yawn. I didn’t watch a minute of it, thus depriving myself of the chance to hear Brent Musberger salivating over the Miss Alabama girl friend of the Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. ESPN issued an apology for those comments. I don’t know which was sillier, Musberger’s comments or ESPN’s apology.
In the good old days, different areas of the country had bowl games with long histories. On the west coast, we had the Rose Bowl, the oldest one. The southwest had the Cotton Bowl, New Orleans had the Sugar Bowl and Miami had the Orange Bowl. All were very important to their areas.
Now, with the BCS system, they are all relegated to secondary position, except for the bowl hosting the championship game. (The Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix has been added to the mix.) This is not an improvement, and the limited playoff schedule for next season will only make it worse.
In the NFL, it makes sense for teams to have a playoff schedule that, presumably, ends with the best team winning the Super Bowl. That is their business and the players are very well paid to produce this show.
The players are not paid in college football, unless it’s under-the-table money from agents or alumni. They are in school on athletic scholarships and at most of the big football schools, they seldom get anything resembling an education. The vast majority of them will never play in the NFL, but they are now part of a playoff schedule which only gives them another chance to have a crippling injury which will affect them for the rest of their lives.
For what? So armchair quarterbacks can know which team is the best in the country. Whoop-te-do.
The old bowl system had its faults but for those teams going to the big bowls, it was also a reward for the players, who were in most cases going to areas with warmer weather in late December than their home areas. There were tours and special events for the players. And, winning the game – even if it were a minor bowl – was a reward in itself, not just a preliminary to the main event.
College football has lost its way, selling out to TV for additional money, paying coaches far too much. Once, a successfully football program paid for the non-revenue sports but no longer. The undermining of the bowl system is just another indication of what’s happening. It’s not likely to happen in my lifetime, but by the next generation, big time college football will be disappearing.
PETE ELLIOTT, the last coach to get the Cal Bears to the Rose Bowl, maybe ever, died this week, which brought back memories for me.
Pete was also the coach of the Bears in my senior year at Cal, and for a year after the Rose Bowl win. Neither season was a good one. The Rose Bowl season was a combination of Joe Kapp’s determination and a rare down period for USC. That wasn’t a great team. The Bears lost to College (now University) of the Pacific in the opening game and got obliterated, 38-12, by Iowa in the Rose Bowl. I saw both games, unfortunately.
Elliott taught me a lesson, though he probably didn’t know it. When I interviewed him for The Daily Cal, I’d ask him questions like, “Who impressed you today?” after practice. He’d then rattle off 17-18 names. When I became a professional journalist, I asked specific questions, not general ones like that. Many writers never learn that lesson.
Pete was a very nice man and we had many pleasant conversations when we saw each other in later years. I thought he was no more than an average coach and I think he probably agreed with that because he got out of coaching early on and became director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was perfect in that role because everybody liked him.
COLIN KAEPERNICK’S coming out year has shown that he has great talent but is not quite ready for the big stage.
If you look at the games he’s started, there’s a wide disparity. He had a great first game against the Chicago Bears, then three mediocre games against sub .500 teams, losing one of them to the Rams. Then, he had another great game against the New England Patriots, followed by a dismal game in Seattle against the Seahawks, then another mediocre game against the Arizona Cardinals, on their way to their 10th straight loss.
Even his two great games come with an asterisk. The Bears were obviously expecting the Niners to have a run-heavy offense and were completely unprepared for a stretch-the-field passing game. The Patriots game came shortly after the horror of the school massacre in Connecticut, practically in the Patriots’ backyard. I haven’t seen any local comment on this but it seems logical to assume that the Patriots were affected by that, quite possibly knowing some of the parents, and unable to avoid the onslaught of publicity. That would explain why they were virtually sleep-walking in the first half.
Now, the Niners face the Green Bay Packers on Saturday at the ‘Stick. I don’t like their chances. In fact, I think the Packers will make it to the Super Bowl against the Patriots, and we’ll be able to see a duel of the two best quarterbacks in the game.
BAY AREA HOOPS: This looks like another of those years where St. Mary’s is the best of the Bay Area teams. Randy Bennett has the program in great shape, though the NCAA has looked at his recruiting of Australian players. Meanwhile, the Cal Bears have battled injuries and don’t seem able to replace the graduating seniors who led the team to a Pac-10 title last year. Mike Montgomery seems to have a great recruiting year lined up, though, so he may have his team back at the top next year.
Stanford? Johnny Dawkins still looks like a great recruiter who doesn’t know how to coach the players when he gets them. He kept his team in the locker room for an hour after the loss to USC last weekend, trying to tell them that they have to play hard even against a weak team. Huh? They hadn’t gotten that message before? I thought Stanford players were supposed to be smart.
Meanwhile, the Stanford women are once again a dominant team. The Cal women would be a big story if they were playing elsewhere, but in the Bay Area, they’re playing second fiddle, losing again last night at Berkeley. I remember one time about 20 years ago when Tara VanDerveer was a guest on “Good Sports” and we explored the idea of her coaching the Stanford men. Might be time to revive that idea!
A READER asked me a question I couldn’t answer: How much influence has Jerry West had on the Warriors?
In midseason last year, West said he would be spending more time with the Warriors, but he hasn’t made any comments since. My guess, based on what’s happening and West’s personality, is that he’s having a big effect but doesn’t want to take credit from Bob Myers in his first year as general manager. West’s reputation is secure, so he doesn’t need more praise, but when you look at the Warriors getting solid contributions from all three draft picks…well, that tells me he’s making an impact.
So is the coach, Mark Jackson. Last year, I said it was impossible to judge Jackson because he didn’t have the right blend of players. This year, because of astute moves by Myers, possibly with West’s help, he has a solid team and he’s doing well with it. The Warriors definitely look like a playoff team and this time, unlike the last time they made the playoffs, it seems they will be in playoff contention in the near future, too.
WRETCHED EXCESS: Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has threatened a suit against the NCAA for its sanctions and financial penalties against Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky case, despite the fact that the state attorney general wants to pursue further penalties against the school.
I’m sure Gov. Corbett has heard from many in the Penn State community who mourn Joe Paterno, but both those fans and the governor need to take a deep breath and look at what happened. The prolonged abuse by Sandusky was atrocious but he was aided in this by the coverup by Paterno and school officials for another 10 years after the first report by an assistant coach of seeing Sandusky abusing a boy in the showers.
This is a shameful story, the need to keep a football program going at the expense of young boys. I had been an admirer of Paterno for seemingly running a program the right way but my admiration disappeared when I learned how he was willing to cover up abuse for the sake of his friend and the program. Only the blindest of fans could ignore that, but there are apparently enough of those in Happy Valley to influence the governor.
DUH RAIDERS: Rolando McClain got into legal trouble in his home town in Alabama this week, being arrested for a “window-tint” violation and failing to give police his correct name. He claimed police were targeting him and he’s probably right – Southern police are not inclined to give blacks the benefit of the doubt – but he’s done enough in addition to this to show that he has character deficiencies.
Even Al Davis admitted, when JaMarcus Russell was released, that character issues were damaging to his team, though he did nothing to change that pattern in subsequent drafts.
The Raiders got a reputation in Davis’s early years for bringing in players with character issues but that was a different era, one in which coaches had complete control and punished players who spoke back. That was especially true of blacks. The Raiders picked up Ike Lassiter when the Broncos released him and he played well for them. He was never a trouble maker. And, there were always players who were model citizens, like Ben Davidson, Tom Keating, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell, among others.
In Davis’s extended decline, he made more and more draft decisions on speed or strength, rather than football skills, and completely ignored character. So, it’s going to take some time for general manager Reggie McKenzie to revamp this roster and make the Raiders winners.
YOUNGER GENERATION: One Examiner reader, disagreeing with my column on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the Hall of Fame, started off with “This is typical of the younger generation.” So, without knowing it, I’ve apparently discovered the Fountain of Youth!
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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