Larry Baer; Bob Melvin/Curt Young; TV Sports;Dwight Howard/Jarrett Jack/Nemanja Nedovic
LAST FRIDAY in the Examiner, I wrote a column about the Aís and their fans as a throwback to earlier times. In it, I had a couple of good humored jibes at the Giants which a couple of Giants fans took to be critical of the Giants operation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since a new ownership took over the Giants more than 20 years ago, Iíve admired the way they do things.
Letís back track to their beginnings, after they bought 90 per cent of the team from Bob Lurie. (Lurie retained 10 per cent, which he later sold.) Iíve always been the only sports columnist in the area who was interested in parks/stadiums issues, so it was natural that I followed the Giantsí efforts to build a new park, which was essential because of their agreement with MLB that gave them territorial rights down the peninsula and San Jose if they built a new park in 10 years. I talked often to Larry Baer about the financing agreements he was obtaining and the progress of the new park, which has finished three years before the MLB deadline.
After construction began, I started talking to those in charge, primarily about their efforts to keep the always present San Francisco wind out of the park. They were using a technique that had been employed with snow fences in the Midwest. Builders had learned that, if you put up a solid barrier Ė as the Giants had tried at Candlestick Ė the wind just gathers momentum as it comes up over the barrier, stronger than ever. Anybody who ever saw a night game at Candlestick can attest to that. So, instead, the fences in the Midwest have open spaces between narrow poles of fence. The wind dissipates and drops snow as it goes. No big snow banks that way.
Similarly, at AT&T the wind is kept out of the park, except for the seats at the top of the stadium. There have been many times when Iíve feared that Iíd be blown out to sea as I crossed Lefty OíDoul Bridge, walking from the parking lot. But, inside the park, all is calm, and fans are sitting comfortably in shirt sleeves. Itís cooler for night games, of course, but the wind is still not a factor unless youíre sitting high in the park.
From my visits with Baer, I understood that the Giants were tapping heavily into Silicon Valley, not just to build the park but also to sell the luxury boxes and ďcharter seatsĒ, the Giants quaint term for PSLs. What I didnít understand until later was how the Giants were also changing the dynamics for younger fans by creating a multitude of diversions around the park, whether itís eating spots or games for children behind the left field stands. They understand that the younger generation is much different from their elders, and not just in age. They have so many gadgets and video games that their attention span is short. Realizing that, the Giants made many diversions available. For those who want to stay in their seats Ė those sitting in the areas right in front of home plate do relatively little moving around Ė the game is there. For those, whose attention wanders, there are many things to occupy them as they walk around the park, even if itís nothing more than staring as the boats in the inlet behind the park known as McCovey cove. There are also a multitude of TV sets, and Iíve also seen the phenomenon of fans watching on TV sets in the passage way behind the seats back of the third base line, instead of returning to their seats.
Iím not making any judgments here. Iíve seen tremendous changes in sports over the years Iíve covered and I donít judge them by what I liked when I was young. The NBA, for instance, is much different than it was when the Warriors won their championship in 1975. I frankly canít enjoy the games because theyíre like a carnival with unbearable noise and flashing lights throughout. But younger fans enjoy that atmosphere Ė and I can always watch what I want to see on TV.
Similarly, baseball has changed greatly since I came to The Chronicle. As I wrote in that Examiner column, when last Wednesdayís game ended as a complete game shutout, other writers in the press box asked me if thatís the way it was earlier. They were all younger, of course, and hadnít seen the Aís then.
But Iíve always adjusted to the changes as they came, and I still enjoy them. The Giants have done a great job of adjusting to their changing fan base, and I salute them for that.
ON SUNDAY, I stayed home because, frankly, I didnít want to walk across the Coliseum parking lot in that heat. So, I stayed home and watched the game on TV.
The game was a wild one, especially in the early innings, because neither starter was in charge. But behind the big hits Ė three home runs early by the Cardinals, a huge one by the Aís Josh Donaldson later Ė there was some very interesting managing/coaching in the Aís dugout. It showed exactly how well manager Bob Melvin knows his pitchers, and how much he trusts pitching coach Curt Young.
Frankly, I thought Melvin should have given the hook to his starting pitcher, Tommy Milone, in the fifth inning, when he was struggling again and the Aís had only a one-run lead. Instead, he sent Young out to the mound to calm Milone down. I donít know what Curt told him but it worked. Milone got through that inning and then worked another scoreless inning. That set the Aís up to go through three relievers the last three innings, with Grant Balfour working the ninth and getting the save. He could breathe a little easier because Donaldsonís solo homer in the seventh inning had given the Aís a two-run lead.
Melvin is easily the Aís best manager since Tony La Russa. He has the respect of his players because he doesnít play favorites and heís been very good at mixing and matching, as the Aís have brought players in during the season and changed positions if necessary; Brandon Moss had been an outfielder but has done a surprisingly good job defensively at first base. And, he hits home runs, which a first baseman is expected to do but no Aís first baseman had since Jason Giambi left.
The Aís are really an amazing bunch, more like a group of school kids than a professional team. They joke around among themselves and none of them ever seem to act like a big star. No Jose Canseco attitude on this team. As a result, theyíre fun to watch Ė and theyíre winning. It seems incredible that they could win with such a low payroll, while the Angels are well back again, with a huge payroll. But Angels owner Artie Moreno knows why: Itís the writers, whom heís banished to a spot high in the upper deck. If the Angels miss the playoffs again, I guess the writers will be in the parking lot next year. Apparently, Moreno has no mirrors in his house so he canít find the real problem.
MEANWHILE, THE Giants have continued their slide down. Only the mediocrity of the NL West, with only Arizona above .500 and by only two games, makes it seem that the Giants are any kind of contender. Realistically, they donít have reliable starting pitching, which has always been the core of their championship teams, and they donít have the hitting to overcome that. As Iíve been writing, they need to be looking to the future and making some decisions on who should be on the team next year.
Ryan Vogelsong is just beginning to make easy throws, after being on the long term disabled list because of a broken hand suffered when he was batting; the National League continues to be on the wrong side of history by refusing to use the DH. He has to first strengthen his arm before he can try a rehab assignment in the minors. The best guess is that he wonít pitch again for the Giants before September.
Michael Kickham got another start in Cincinnati and it was again a very short one. Kickham has the pitches to be successful but he obviously still has a lot to learn about pitching in the majors. The Giants will probably put Chad Gaudin back in the rotation against the Dodgers next week but theyíll probably give Kickham more starts because he should be part of their rotation in the near future.
General manager Brian Sabean had been fielding questions about possible moves this month, which he has answered by saying he canít evaluate his team with so many injuries. He also has to make a big decision on Tim Lincecum for next season, when heíll be a free agent. Lincecum has done little this year to make anybody think heíll ever be a frontline starter again. I still think his future is in the bullpen, but nobody can predict whether that will be with the Giants. For sure, his next contract will be considerably less than the $22 million heís getting this year from the Giants.
After next season, theyíll have to make a decision on Pablo Sandoval, too. Sandoval is a dangerous hitter but his weight is already a problem; he just spent two weeks on the DL because of his foot injury and Giants observers think he may play no more than 120 games this season. If Sandoval doesnít show some restraint in his eating habits, his weight will continue to rise and heíll be injured more frequently. My guess is that the Giants will let him go. Heís not worth the risk.
PROFESSIONAL SPORTS have always worried about the effect of first radio and then TV on their attendance. The Brooklyn Dodgers at first would only broadcast games on the road, until they realized that the radio broadcasts increased interest and ultimately attendance. If fans could get to games and afford the ticket price, they always preferred to be there.
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle worried that televising home games would decrease attendance, but he had to modify his position when the Redskins became winners and the politicians couldnít always get tickets to games. Even so, the NFL has always put a restriction on televising home games that are not sold out (now, itís 80 per cent sold out). That was a reason the Raiders cut back on their seating to pre-1980 levels. Amy Trask realized that television is a great selling tool Ė though nothing could sell some of those Raiders teams in Al Davisís last years.
NFL officials have always worried that fans in cold weather cities would stay home in bad weather; when Paul Tagliabue was commissioner, he used the example of Buffalo in December, with an icy wind coming off Lake Erie. Of course, people living in areas like that are accustomed to being out in terrible weather. If they donít get out when the weather is bad, theyíll always be house bound.
My argument has always been that, if people can afford the tickets and theyíre able to move around without difficulty, theyíre always going to prefer the excitement of being at the game.
Now, though, Iím not so sure. The technology is just amazing. If you have a big screen TV (mine is 60 inches and, of course, HD) you see the action in a way you couldnít possibly see at the park or stadium. Even baseball can be especially interesting because of all the close-ups and analysis. If I really want to evaluate a pitcher, Iíll watch games on TV. You can also stop the action and make your own replays. In my case, I always give myself some lead time so I can skip through all the commercials.
Football has always been the sport that televised the best, but football fans have always liked to organize tailgate parties with their friends before and after games. Then, theyíd often organize parties with the same friends to watch the road games on TV.
Now, though, in addition to the improvement in technology has come a huge spike in ticket prices as clubs try to pay for their new stadiums. It will make you dizzy to check the ticket prices for the 49ers new stadium.
For now, the 49ers are selling those tickets because of the novelty; many fans want to be able to say they were there for the opening season.
But for the 49ers and all NFL teams, there may be a new day coming. I can certainly see fans deciding to invite their friends to watch the home games as well as the road games on their huge HD sets. They can create their own excitement.
THE WARRIORS deserve credit for working to better themselves but I think their pursuit of Dwight Howard is futile. It may not even be worth it. Howard has become a poster boy for the ďme firstĒ athlete in the NBA. When the Lakers got Howard before last season, he was supposed to be what they needed to win another NBA title. Instead, their season collapsed, and the Lakers were actually better when he wasnít on the court.
In contrast, the Warriors were better than the NBA prognosticators expected last year, and one big reason was that they had a team chemistry that the Lakers conspicuously lacked. Now, theyíre fighting to hold on to Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, both of whom have opted out of their contracts. They canít get both back and Jack is the more important player, the one who often came off the bench in the fourth quarter to run the offense and also make big shots under pressure.
Meanwhile, it was impressive the way they maneuvered to draft Serbian guard Nemanja Nedovic in the draft. Nedovic is a late comer to basketball, having first tried tennis, soccer and team handball before basketball when he was 12. The Warriors scouting has been good lately, and thatís no accident. When Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber bought the team, Lacob hired Bob Myers to be the general manager, and Myers has done a great job. But Larry Riley, the former GM, was kept around because heís a great scout. Riley travels all over the country and to Europe to evaluate players. Iíd guess that his evaluation was a big factor in the decision to draft Nedovic.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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