Stephen Currry/Andrew Bogut/Rick Barry; Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum; Angel Hernandez; Amy Trask
THE SPURS-WARRIORS matchup continues to be confounding, as the Warriors pulled themselves out of a deep hole with their overtime win on Sunday. Once the game went to overtime, the Spursí age caught up with them. They suddenly looked very old, and it will be interesting to see if the Spursí age eventually causes their downfall in this series.
Thatís only one of the questions surrounding this series. The health of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut is a continuing concern for the Warriors. Curry played courageously despite a sprained left ankle, not the one which has been operated on, but he was nothing like the scoring threat he is when heís healthy. Unfortunately, the fact that heís having so much trouble with his ankles this early in his career seems to be a sign that he will never completely fulfill his promise.
Personal note: Just before the draft in 2009, I sat in on a conference with Larry Riley, then the Warriors GM. The other media types in the room covered the NBA on a regular basis, which I did not. They were all convinced that the Warriors were going to draft power forward Jordan Hill, who would probably be available at their spot, but Riley had scouted Curry personally and talked at great length about what a great player and wonderful person he was. Usually at those get-togethers, we get very little specific information but as Riley was talking, I thought, ďHeís going to draft this guy if heís there.Ē Thatís what I wrote, while everybody else in the room was predicting the Warriors would pick Hill. Both players were available. The Warriors took Curry. Hill went to the Knicks on the next pick. Sometimes, it helps to listen to the man in charge, even if you have a different opinion.
Bogut has had serious injury problems in his career. He was injured when the Warriors traded for him last season and missed a substantial part of this season. Heís been playing more minutes in this playoff series because of its importance and heís been very important for the teamís success. Heís not just tall; heís huge. When heís in the middle, he can either block shots or force a shooter to alter his shot. He had a late-game sequence against Tim Duncan that was incredible, blocking Duncanís first attempt and then sliding over to force an altered shot when Duncan picked up the blocked shot.
Obviously, the Warriors have nobody else who can replace Bogut defensively Ė and he is an excellent rebounder, too. His elbow is still not right, which affects him on foul shots. Noting that, the Spurs have intentionally fouled him late in the game. (On all levels, teams should be allowed to simply take the ball out of bounds when a player is intentionally fouled in the last couple of minutes, which would discourage that practice.)
There were a couple of encouraging developments in the Sunday win for the Warriors. One was that Harrison Barnes stepped up big time with 26 points and 10 rebounds. There is no question that Barnes is going to be a star in the NBA but he has seemed reluctant to step up. Not Sunday, though.
The other was that Jarrett Jack didnít let criticism from fans and the media deter him. The criticism was ridiculous. Jack has been a huge factor in the Warriorsí success this year, taking over the point guard duties from Curry late in the game and taking the big shots. Heís absolutely fearless. Sometimes, he makes bad decisions but mostly, heís making the right ones. Signing him and Carl Landry were two of the best moves general manager Bob Myers made this year in putting together a solid and deep team. I suspect the criticism of Jack is coming mostly from fans who jumped on the bandwagon late and donít either understand how much he means to the team Ė or much about the game, frankly. The criticism of Jack after the last game, for instance, because he took a bad shot just before the end of regulation time ignored both the fact that he took it because nobody else was open and he played great ball in overtime, as the Warriors won. Perhaps the Warriors should hand out leaflets explaining the basics of basketball to those fans who are buying only playoff tickets.
As another example of fans not understanding the game, when I wrote in the Examiner last Friday that this Warriors team reminded me of the 1975 champion because both teams came into the playoffs with little expected of them, an Examiner reader took that to mean that I was saying this team and the í75 team were equals, which was not my intention. He then compared the players on both teams and concluded that this team is much superior.
As Iíve often written, I try not to compare athletes from different eras because the changes in playing conditions and even rules make that futile. The one thing you can compare, though, is results. I was close to that í75 team, at courtside for the home games, and I watched them sweep the Bullets in the finals. That team came apart in the playoffs the next year when his teammates finally tired of Rick Barryís personality, as many have before and since, and simply quit throwing him the ball. But when they were on the same page in í75, they won a championship. I think this Warriors team is just the beginning and they probably will have a shot at future championships, but until they win one, donít tell me itís superior to the 1975 champion
THE GIANTS have gotten a boost in the last week because it appears their starting rotation is coming together once again. The dramatic finishes that the Giants had in their series in Arizona, because of rallies behind hitting, were a lot of fun, but teams who have good hitting but weak pitching donít win.
Many years ago, Bill James had an essay on hitting in which he showed, by using the example of Eddie Murray, that even the best hitters go through slumps. Murray was considered the most consistent hitter in baseball at the time because his season averages varied only about 15 points over several years, from smething like .297 to .312. But James broke down his monthly averages, which might be .167 one month, .415 another, to show that the season consistency consisted of a great inconsistency during the season. If Murray had this kind of inconsistency within a season, you can bet that itís even more pronounced for other players. And, in fact, Iím sure all of you reading this have seen favorite hitters suddenly plunge into a dark hole, for no seeming reason. Actually, there is a reason. A pitcher can control a situation because he initiates the action. The hitter can only react, and if a pitch isnít where he expected it, or where he can do something with it, heís in trouble. The mark of success for a hitter is hitting .300 Ė but that means heís failed seven times out of 10.
The Giants have won World Series in 2010 and 2012 because their pitching was outstanding and they got just enough hitting. When their starters struggled at the start of the season, that was cause for real concern, but Matt Cain has regained his rhythm and had two excellent starts. Tim Lincecum has also looked sharp; I watched the Sunday game on TV to see exactly what he was doing, and he looked much like the Lincecum of his earlier career. Heís not the pitcher who won two Cy Youngs but he is still an effective starter. Madison Bumgarner has been brilliant, except for one start. Barry Zito is finally concentrating on what heís doing instead of letting his mind wander; too bad he didnít do this earlier in his Giants career, so he would have earned half of his ridiculous salary. I thought the Giants might skip Ryan Vogelsongís next start Ė tomorrow, in Toronto Ė but manager Bruce Bochy is sticking with him. I still think that the hitters have caught up with Vogelsong, who also seems to have lost something off his fast ball, but weíll see.
I would hope, too, that the idea that the Giants have won because they have ďgritĒ will be put to rest. Determination certainly helps but itís a playerís talent that helps teams win. Interestingly, the Giants have benefited from this misconception because the Arizona Diamondbacks traded their best player, Justin Upton, to the Atlanta Braves, for Martin Prado, who can play several positions but contributes very little otherwise. In Uptonís first game back in Phoenix, he had four hits, including his major league leading 13th homer. Prado is hitting .233, but, by God, he has grit.
OF ALL THE major American sports, baseball has been the slowest to change. There have been only two meaningful changes since the lively ball was introduced in 1911. Yes, I said 1911. Hitters were so accustomed to not being able to hit the ball very far, that they didnít try to hit home runs, so the immediate outcome of that change was higher batting averages. That year, Joe Jackson hit .408 but didnít win the AL batting title because Ty Cobb hit .420. It wasnít until Babe Ruth started hitting home runs that the other hitters realized they could, too.
The meaningful change after that was the banning of foreign substance on pitches after the 1920 season, when Ray Chapman was killed by a spitball. That ban hasnít stopped some pitchers, most notably, Gaylord Perry, from using them.
The second major change was the designated hitter, adopted by the American League in 1973, but the National Leagues is still fighting that. (It may have to reconsider because so many of their pitchers have not hit since Little League days and are in danger of being hurt while batting.)
So, itís not surprising that baseball is still struggling with the use of Instant Replay on close calls. Umpires still have too much control, and on-field umpires can be reluctant to admit error. Not always. I was at the last game of the Aís-Angels series at the Coliseum when Mike Trumbo hit a ball that umpires on the field judged to have hit below the line for a home run, so Trumbo had a double. When the replay was shown in the press box, we could all see that it should be a home run. To their credit, the umpires on the field, looking at the same replays, came to the same decision and changed the original call.
The Aís werenít so lucky in a game in Cleveland last week. Adam Rosales hit a ball that should have been a game-tying home run but was ruled to have hit the fence and bounced into the stands. Everybody looking at the replay, including the Cleveland announcers, thought it was a home run. Unfortunately, Angel Hernandez was the crew chief. Itís true in any field that the incompetents never can admit mistakes, and Hernandez proved this adage by not changing his decision or even talking to the media about it after the game. And, MLB officials whiffed on this, too. They should have overruled Hernandez and said the game should be resumed at the point of Rosales home run and played out before the regularly scheduled game the next night. There is a precedent for this: In a July, 1983 game at Yankee Stadium, George Brett hit a two-run homer in the ninth to put the Kansas City Royals ahead, 5-4. Yankee manager Billy Martin protested that Brettís bat had more pine tar than was allowed and the umpires upheld the protest, giving the Yankees the win. League president Lee MacPhail, examining the case, overturned the umpires ruling, allowing Brettís home run, which eventually gave the Royals the win.
Of course, that was a time when baseball officials actually had the backbone to buck the umpires.
MLB need to do two things:
1) Have a retired umpire to check TV replays in the press box of disputed plays like these home run calls. That takes the decision away from the on-field umpires who might not be willing to change their original decision, as Hernandez clearly was not.
2) Start standing up to the umpires. Since the umpires formed their own union/association, theyíve changed the game in bad ways. Umpiring has become much more uneven, especially on pitches. There was an example of that in Sundayís Giants-Braves game when Tim Lincecum threw a pitch that hitter Brian McCann thought was a strike. Instead, it was ruled ball four and McCann had to be told to take first base! But, despite the decline in judgment, umpires will not allow themselves to be questioned. The manager coming out to argue with an umpire used to be a staple of baseball games, one which fans enjoyed. If it went on too long, the manager would get tossed, but the umpire would let the manager have his say. Not now. A manager who even opens his mouth is done for the day. Ridiculous. If football officials were that touchy, Jim Harbaugh would be in the locker room before halftime.
THE LAST vestige of the Al Davis Raiders disappeared this week with the announcement that Amy Trask was leaving the organization. Trask never had anything to do with football decisions but she ran the legal department and what there was of the organization in those days. Iíve always thought she was a woman with great intelligence and skills, though she could be difficult to deal with.
I had many dealings with Amy, some pleasant, some not. For a time, she sat down with me and tried to get me on the Raiders side with their dealings with the city of Oakland. I sympathized with the problems the Raiders faced in dealing with Oakland politicians who, with only a couple of exceptions Ė Jerry Brown and Ignacio De La Fuente Ė have seemingly no idea of what the city really needs. On the other hand, dealing with the Raiders during Davisís time was not exactly a piece of cake, either.
Our brief dťtente ended when I wrote a Chronicle column that said her legal strategy was an error because it was only costing the Raiders big money in court costs without bringing any victories. The Raiders threatened a lawsuit against The Chronicle. The Hearst editors who were running the paper then (theyíre all gone now) jumped on that opportunity, running large disclaimers in both the front section and the sports section. In fact, the only error in that column was that Amy was slightly misquoted once. And, shortly after that, she dropped all the Raidersí pending lawsuits, proving my point.
Significantly, when Reggie McKenzie was offered the job as general manager by Mark Davis, McKenzie insisted that he report to Mark, not to Amy.
Nonetheless, I thought she made some good decisions in her limited role lately, such as buying up tickets to get the Raiders on home TV and, this year, covering up some of the worst seats to bring the capacity down to about 53,000 seats, making it easier to reach the NFLís newest definition of a sellout, which is 85 per cent of the tickets being sold.
I have no idea if she left voluntarily or was pushed. I doubt that, despite her intelligence and skills, sheíll get another job in the NFL. The one owner who could appreciate her combination of intelligence and personality has died.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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