Sergio Romo/Bruce Bochy; Mark Texeira; Jarron Collins/Mike Montgomery; Antwan Boldin; Reggie McKenzie/Darrius Heyward-Bey; Allan Bridgeford
AMERICAN TEAM sports have been trying to spread the religion with international contests. This is how I would rank their efforts, from best to worst:
1) The NBA plan to play exhibitions in China before the next season makes sense. Basketball is the one American sports which has made the most inroads internationally, and the Chinese have become interested in the NBA since Chinese players have joined teams. American fans don’t care about the exhibition games, anyway. Frankly, relatively few even care about the regular season. How many times have you heard fans say, “I’ll wait for the playoffs.” That has some validity because it is only in the playoffs that you can be assured teams will be rested enough to play their best. In the regular season, they’re often too tired because of their ridiculous travel schedules.
2) Baseball has done a couple of things which I don’t like. The worst was the scheduling of A’s-Mariners opening week games in Tokyo. For what purpose? To build baseball interest in Japan?
Hello, news flash: Japan is already baseball crazy. Any time a major league team has a Japanese player, the press box is filled with Japanese reporters who are exceedingly polite as they file daily stories on the players. Sometimes, that can be difficult. When Tsuyoshi Shinjo was playing for the Giants, reporters often had to make something of a three-strikeout day.
Now, we have commissioner Bud Selig’s brainchild, the World Baseball Classic. I don’t object to the competition as much as the timing. Major league teams are preparing for the regular season, and veteran players and pitchers are trying to gradually work into playing shape. Having to go all-out in games is counterproductive. Giants manager Bruce Bochy was beside himself when Sergio Romo had to pitch two days in a row, though he’d thrown 28 pitches the first day. That’s nothing compared to how Yankees manager Joe Girardi felt when Mark Texeira strained a tendon in his right wrist, sidelining him until mid-May. Teixeira’s injury was a reminder why many American players have declined to play in the event, rather than risk their future.
The WBC has been popular primarily in countries where baseball is not in season, which basically means the countries around and in the Caribbean. It has not made much of an impression in the country that invented the sport, though Bruce Jenkins, the eternal 14-year-old, wrote that he was recording the games to watch at night, after a full day of spring training games. The WBC finals will be played at AT&T this year, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out, but I think the lack of overall popularity for the event, and its potential for disaster to the regular MLB season, will end it after this year. Good riddance.
3) But even the WBC is better than the NFL’s idea of playing a regular season game each year in London. There is only one reason for this: M-o-n-e-y. NFL Properties sells a lot of jerseys, Jackets,caps, etc. There’s no thought of expanding the game internationally. The NFL tried that with its own league, which never approached the popularity of soccer (called football everywhere else) in European countries, as well as rugby in England. Meanwhile, there’s a serious chance it could affect the seasons of those teams playing. It’s utter nonsense.
BEFORE THE “Chronicle Live” show on Comcast last Thursday, I was talking with another guest, Jarron Collins who, with his twin, Jason, anchored some great Stanford teams in the ‘90s. Jarron, a second-round NBA pick in 2001, played 11 seasons in the NBA and is now a color commentator on college games. Jason was a first-round pick and is still playing.
Naturally, we talked about Mike Montgomery, who was coaching Stanford at the time and is now with Cal. “Coach Montgomery had a way of telling players they had specific roles and they were expected to play within that,” Jarron said. “My role was as a rebounder. I knew when Casey Jacobsen came off a screen I had to head for the basket because that play was devised for him to shoot.”
If you substitute Allan Crabbe’s name for Jacobsen, it’s the same with Cal now. As Montgomery told me one time when he was at Stanford, “This is not an equal opportunity offense.” By designating some players as shooters – Jason Collins was one of them – Montgomery maximized the players’ individual talents. That’s why his college teams – Montana, Stanford and Cal – have all been successful.
On air that night, Jarron predicted that five Pac-12 teams would get into the NCAA tournament. Others in the media doubt that. I don’t know and I don’t care, as long as Cal is in. As I wrote in the Examiner last week, the NCAA tournament is a crapshoot, whose interest is fueled by gambling. I haven’t bothered watching much of it for a very long time, and I have even less interest now that so many college teams have these “one and done” players.
Office pools? I’ve never participated in one. Of course, I haven’t worked in an office since June, 1972, when I became a full-time columnist for The Chronicle and started working out of my home, a decision I never regretted. I did it primarily so I could watch our son, then just a few days short of his second birthday, grow up. So, Scott had two full-time parents at his disposal.
THIS HAS been an eventful week in the NFL because free agency began yesterday, and no team has been more affected than the Raiders. Among other changes, the Raiders cut wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and Michael Huff, both first round picks by Al Davis.
I was fortunate to cover the Raiders in the 1967-71 period when Davis was at the top of his game. I learned quite a bit in mostly off-the-record conversations with him in training camp because at that time, he was terrific at evaluating players. And, he also listened to subordinates. He initially opposed the trade for Daryle Lamonica, for instance, not because he didn’t want Lamonica but he didn’t want to give up Art Powell, a very talented but moody receiver. Raiders general manager Scotty Stirling and coach John Rauch lobbied hard for the trade, which also sent away quarterback Tom Flores, and it worked out well for the Raiders. Not so well for the Bills. Powell played poorly for them and soon went off to Canada. Davis also listened to Ron Wolf, who talked him into drafting Ken Stabler, who was not at all Davis’s type of quarterback.
Meanwhile, Davis virtually stole Willie Brown from Denver, and Brown became a Hall of Fame cornerback. Among many other moves, he signed Ben Davidson and Ike Lassiter, the two defensive ends on the Raiders team that went to the second Super Bowl, as free agents.
As time went on, though Davis failed to adjust to the changing times in the NFL and his vindictive qualities came to the surface. Jon Gruden saved him from himself by arguing in many profanity-laced sessions for the release of Jeff George and the signing of Rich Gannon. That paved the way for the Raiders’ last Super Bowl appearance, but by that time, Gruden was gone and Davis never listened to anybody again.
In the last years of his life, Davis became increasingly desperate and signed players to contracts which were much too generous with delayed payments that also created salary cap problems. It wasn’t that these were great players, either. Too much of the time, Davis based his top draft selections on the measurable statistics, speed and size, which didn’t often coincide with football skills.
Heyward-Bay was an example of that, chosen because he had great speed. Unfortunately, he was a terrible receiver when he was drafted. To his credit, he worked very hard and became a better receiver, but he’s certainly not close to the best receivers in the game. Even the Raiders have better ones, drafted on lower rounds.
This is the problem general manager Reggie McKenzie faced when he took over the Raiders after Davis’s death. It hasn’t been pretty, and it will probably be even uglier this next season because McKenzie has been forced to make such drastic cuts in the roster. It’s hard to tell Raiders fans to be patient because the best they’ve seen after that last Super Bowl – when the Raiders were routed by Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers – is a couple of .500 seasons. But, this is the only way McKenzie could do it.
MEANWHILE, THE 49ers have some decisions to make that have been forced on them. They’ll have to replace free safety Dashon Goldston, who apparently is ready to sign with Tampa Bay. Delanie Walker has signed with Tennessee, which will make him the starting tight end. Isaac Sopoaga has signed with Philadelphia and Ricky Jean Francois may, too, which would create a gaping hole in the middle.
The good news is that the Niners may have as many as 15 draft picks this year. That doesn’t guarantee success, as two contrasting drafts in the late ‘80s showed. With the draft picks they got in the Herschel Walker trade added to their own, the Dallas Cowboys rebuilt around two Hall of Fame players, quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmit Smith, and became a powerhouse in the early ‘90s. But the Rams, getting a similar bounty by trading Eric Dickerson, didn’t move the needle at all.
The 49ers have had some very good drafts in recent years, though wide receiver A. J. Jenkins didn’t make a catch this last season. (Jenkins has reportedly beefed up with offseason workouts; lack of strength was a major part of his problems last year.
Meanwhile, they made a very good move by trading for Anquan Boldin, who gives them a receiver who can make tough catches in traffic and is a great target for quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he’ll stretch out for those high throws, unlike the departed Randy (“I’m the greatest”) Moss. The Seattle Seahawks made an even better move, though, nabbing young receiver Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks are not going to go away.
THE AMAZING win over the New York Knicks on Monday night was the best sign yet for the Warriors hope of not only reaching the playoffs but having a chance to advance. Coach Mark Jackson has been constantly preaching the importance of defense to his team, and this was an indication that they’re finally learning the lesson.
One of the problems for this team has been to play two types of games, one with Andrew Bogut and another without him. Not coincidentally, Bogut was in the lineup for the Knicks game, though he didn’t play anywhere near a complete game. When he’s in there, he plays the kind of defense centers used to play, blocking the lane, altering shots when he doesn’t outright block them. And, he knows how to position himself for rebounds; he’s gotten some without even jumping.
It’s vital for the Warriors that they keep the sixth position they currently have because that would mean a matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. They match up well against the Clippers but having to play either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round would mean a quick exit for the Warriors.
CAL FOOTBALL: Senior quarterback Allan Bridgeford got caught in the coaching shuffle and decided to drop out of the football program this week, though he intends to graduate from Cal this spring. It may be that he’ll go to UC Davis for one more year of collegiate football; because the Aggies are in what is now called a “subdivision” conference, he’d be eligible to play.
Bridgeford expected that, as the only quarterback with any collegiate playing experience, he’d get the most reps this spring, but new coach Sonny Dykes was being realistic. He knows he has a year of grace, so he wants to get one of the young quarterbacks in there. I’m betting it will come down to true freshman Jared Goff, who finished high school early so he could participate in spring practice, and redshirt freshman Zach Kline.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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