Madison Bumgarnet; Dan Straily; Bruce Bochy; Curt Young; Brian Sabean; George Kantos; Bay Area Super Bowl; Walter Haas/Tony La Russa; Brent Jones/Steve Young
AS I WATCHED the opener of the Bay Bridge Series yesterday, I thought of the irony. The Giants are reigning World Champions and everybody knows their individual stories. Only the most ardent A’s fan could name even half a dozen players on their team. Yet, they are equal on the playing field.
Last year, both teams won their divisions, the A’s most dramatically by sweeping the Texas Rangers in the final series of the season. They lost to the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, though, and the Giants had a remarkable postseason run, constantly on the brink of disaster but ultimately winning the World Series for the second time in three years.
This year? It’s much too early to tell for either team. It seems they’ll both be in the mix for the postseason, but the baseball postseason has become a real crapshoot with so many more teams involved. We can only enjoy the season and hope that at least one of the teams will be in the postseason.
The A’s have been hit by a staggering amount of injuries, including the loss of their best pitcher, Brett Anderson, for an undisclosed time. Fortunately, they have a pitching coach, Curt Young, who is the best I’ve ever seen at working with young pitchers. His latest project, Dan Straily, was the winner in yesterday’s game. Straily has been regarded as a top prospect but in the last game I saw him pitch at the Coliseum, he had a terrible outing, hitting two batters in a row in a loss to the Rangers. I concluded that he wasn’t yet ready for prime time. But since then, he has pitched two outstanding games, against the Rangers in a hitters park in Arlington and yesterday against the Giants at the Coliseum. He’s just throwing strikes. And he threw only 78 pitches in six innings yesterday. Then, manager Bob Melvin turned it over to Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour to shut the Giants down the rest of the way.
The Giants have had injuries of their own, and the loss of Santiago Casilla is especially critical. Casilla was the Giants closer last year until he was supplanted by Sergio Romo and had been acting as the setup man ever since.
Of course, the Giants starting rotation hasn’t helped because there have been so many uneven performances, plus a broken hand suffered by Ryan Vogelson when he was batting that has sidelined him. Michael Kickham, who has been lights-out recently with Fresno, has been recalled and will make his first start tonight. He will have the advantage of a pitcher-friendly park, probably more than AT&T because of the huge foul areas. Pop fouls are often caught at the Coliseum that would be in the seats at AT&T.
Because his pitching staff is shorthanded, Giants manager Bruce Bochy let Madison Bumgarner throw 115 pitches yesterday. Bumgarner was struggling with his control and was obviously upset at the calls (though Straily was having no problem throwing strikes with the same umpire behind the plate.) Finally, with two men on base and two outs in the seventh, Bochy brought in George Kantos. It seems to me that Kantos often throws gasoline on the fire, and this was no exception. Kantos threw a hanging slider to Yoenis Cespedes who hit it to the bottom of the wall in right center. Two runs scored, giving the A’s a three-run lead. Game over.
One of the strengths of Giants general manager Brian Sabean has been building a strong bullpen. He realized years ago that bullpens had become more important, because starters weren’t pitching as deep into the game as before, and that relievers came much cheaper. He needs to get on the phone immediately and rebuild his bullpen. Getting rid of Kontos would be a good start.
HOSTING THE 50th Super Bowl at the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara is a big thing for the Bay Area, but not because many area residents will actually see the game in person.
For one thing, the tickets have become horrendously expensive. The last Super Bowl I covered was also the last one the 49ers won, in January, 1995, in Miami. I bought a ticket for my wife, which was in the very top row of the end zone. Obviously, I had great influence within the NFL. Nancy’s ticket was $150. Now, a ticket like that costs more than $2,000 and you don’t even want to ask about the others. At the Miami Super Bowl I just mentioned, scalpers were selling tickets for over the ticket price, until the game started, at which time, the price dropped precipitously.
I suppose there will be scalpers at this game, too, but I doubt there will be much of a market for them.
The ridiculously high ticket prices have led to the phenomenon of some people traveling to the area where the game is played, getting in as many events as they can and then watching the game at the hotel, either in their room or, more likely, at a sports bar.
The other problem is that relatively few tickets are allotted to either the host city or the teams involved. The NFL wants the VIPs from around the country at the game, even if they’re not football fans. That practice was already in effect in 1985, when the game was played at Stanford, and many 49er season ticket holders were shut out. Randy Cross told me he had to shut off his phone because he was getting so many calls from “friends” who wanted him to get tickets for them. Foolish fellow that he was, Randy thought he should concentrate on game preparation, not being a ticket broker.
There’s no way of knowing whether the 49ers will be in the 2016 game but it’s a possibility. If they are, prepare for the screams when season ticket holders get shut out again. Of course, with those ticket prices and the advance in television technology, they may be better off.
Pat Gallagher headed up the effort to get the game. I saw Pat, whom I’ve known since he was trying to get Marineworld noticed in the early ‘70s, at the party before the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame (BASHOF) last Thursday night. I congratulated him but we both knew this was a slam dunk. The NFL loves to give the game to areas that have built new stadiums, to encourage other teams to build stadiums. All professional leagues are about money but the NFL is REALLY about money.
The game has really come a long way from the first one, which was not close to a sellout at the L.A. Coliseum. Of course, Los Angeles fans don’t seem much interested in professional football, unless it involves USC.
The BASHOF proceedings last Thursday night were emotional and, though over long, one of the most enjoyable I can remember, and Nancy, and I have been to all but one of them.
We were sitting at a table with Bill Dauer who, in a sense, started all of this. When Lou Spadia resigned his position with the 49ers after the 1977 season, Dauer, then the head of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, hired him to work for the chamber and the two of them talked about a hall of fame for the Bay Area, and their idea took form in 1979. Spadia was determined to use the money raised for youth sports and nothing more, not even a building to house the plaques. His great friend, longtime Chronicle sports editor Art Rosenbaum, dubbed it “the hall without a hall”, and plaques have been displayed at the United Airlines terminal (because United has been a big supporter) and various athletic venues throughout the area.
Spadia was vigilant in his attempts to keep all of the money for the program. One of his daughters, Kate, stopped by our table to say hello and told me, “When some group said they needed something, Dad said ‘Give me the money and I’ll buy it for you.’ He didn’t want any money to be siphoned off.”
Another way he saved money for the program was to use unpaid volunteers to do the work for the various BASHOF ventures. One of them was Ken Venturi, who ran golf tournaments which raised quite a bit of money and once quipped, “Spadia’s name should be Crime because crime doesn’t pay and neither does Lou Spadia.” Venturi died on May 17, two days after his 82nd birthday, and there was a touching video summary of his great career that was played at the start of the program.
Tony La Russa presented Walter A. Haas Jr. for induction and told two stories that gave a good picture of the man Haas was.
The first was from 1987 when the A’s lost their first five games. Tony got a message that Haas, his son, Wally, a club executive and general manager Sandy Alderson would be down to talk to him after the media left. La Russa was naturally apprehensive but when the trio got there, Haas simply said, “We just came here to make sure you’re all right.”
` In the 1988-90 period, the A’s won three straight American League pennants but their only World Series win came in 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit just before what would have been the start of the third game, at Candlestick. “We didn’t pop the champagne,” said La Russa, “because Walter didn’t think it would be appropriate, with so many people suffering. And, there was no parade. For years after, Walter said he missed not having the parade, so in the 1995 season (when Haas was dying), our battle cry was ‘Let’s get Walter to the parade.’ Then, on Sept. 20, we heard that Walter had died. We lost the next 10 games.”
The most boisterous part of the evening came when Brent Jones was inducted. Brent was one of my favorite 49ers because he was so much fun to be around. He hasn’t changed. At the cocktail party before, when he spotted me, he came rushing over, saying he’d been reading me since he was a kid and that, “Nobody ever evaluated players and teams like you.” I modestly agreed.
His longtime friend, Steve Young, presented him and the two bantered back and forth about rooming together, each of them telling stories that may even have been true. Then, Brent started talking and for a time, it seemed he might never finish. He kept thinking of somebody else who had helped him up the ladder. Some people left because of the lateness of the hour but, as always, Brent was entertaining. And, I have to say, of all the inductees I’ve seen over the years, I can’t remember any who were quite as excited.
It was fortunate, though, that Dave Righetti was the fourth and last to be inducted. Righetti was properly grateful and happy, but he was also aware that he had a work day coming up as Giants pitching coach, so he kept his remarks within the limit.
We stayed for the whole program, even knowing we’d probably regret that the next morning!
CULTURE SHOCK: A Chronicle reader complained last week that San Francisco was the only major city where residents had to travel 40 miles roundtrip to see NBA games and 100 miles (to San Jose) to see entertainment events. After I dried my tears, I thought about that for a moment. Living in Oakland, Nancy and I have frequently gone to San Francisco for theatre, symphony, ballet, opera and special events such as the Dutch Masters exhibit at the De Young last Wednesday. We’re looking forward to seeing a concert at the new San Francisco jazz center. It’s hard for me to believe that San Franciscans are culturally deprived. Of course, it’s true that there’s probably no venue for a Beyonce concert. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a bad thing.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: One of my Examiner readers e-mailed the paper that “the only tradition Dickey cares about is the old bowl system.”
He’s wrong about the only tradition but he’s certainly right that I preferred the old bowl system. Despite its flaws, there were bowls with long traditions, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena being the longest, of course, but the Cotton Bowl was very big in the southwest, the Sugar Bowl was the same in New Orleans and surrounding area and the Orange Bowl in Miami was a highlight in that section of the country. Now, all these bowls have lost their lustre because they’re just part of a process that theoretically determines the national champion. That’s apparently important to the couch potatoes but it’s pretty ridiculous. The NFL needs a postseason tournament because it’s a pro league at the top of the food chain. College football is not. (Neither is college basketball, of course, but people like the postseason tournament because of the many betting possibilities, down to the office pools.)
College football has totally lost its way, turning its game over to television because of the money. They need the money because they’re putting far too much money into their programs, overpaying their coaches enormously and adding far more assistants than they once had. So, the schedules now come out with most game times marked TBA, which is short for “whenever TV wants the game played.”
I once defended college football as an activity that brought everybody together. As I walked around the Cal campus before mid-day games, I would see alums into their ‘80s, along with much younger alums who sometimes even had toddlers with them. Groups of people would be meeting for pre-game lunches; when Tennessee played at Berkeley, many Vols fans came out and partied with Cal people and I talked to some of them. Meanwhile, the Cal band would be playing as it marched up the hill to the stadium. Great fun.
That scene is a rarity now because there are so many night games. Sad.
OOPS! The Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington, Texas, not Irving, as I wrote last week. Their first stop after leaving Dallas was Irving but Arlington put in a stronger bid when Jerry Jones wanted to build his state-of-the-art facility.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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