Bartolo Colon/Josh Donaldson/Grant BalfourWillie Mays/Hank Aaron/Frank Robinson/Roberto Clemente; Buster Posey/Pablo Sandoval/Jeff Kent/Rich Aurilia/Barry Bonds/Warriors Moves;
BAY AREA MEDIA reports all noted that the Giants are well represented in the All-Star game while the Aís, who are playing much better, have only Bartolo Colon, who may not even appear if he makes his scheduled Sunday start. But that reflects voting changes more than the ability of players.
The fact is, there is really no good way to select All-Star teams. Originally, it was supposed to be the voters but that changed for a time in 1957 when the Cincinnati fans elected seven Reds starters; Stan Musial at first base was the only non-Reds starter. Cincinnati had a strong regular lineup, but it wasnít that strong. All the voting was done by mail at that time, and the Cincinnati Enquirer made it easy for fans by having ballots in the newspaper which were already filled out with Reds players. Readers needed only to mail the ballots.
Commissioner Ford Frick inserted Willie Mays and Hank Aaron for Gus Bell and Wally Post; Bell remained as a reserve and, by game time, Post was injured and couldnít have played, anyway.
For a dozen years after that, managers and coaches selected the teams. They are probably the best qualified but they donít have the time to do the best job. Besides, itís supposed to be the fans game, so in 1970, voting was returned to the fans.
Itís become more complex with the rise of the social media and the internet. The advantage lies with the teams which are most adept at handling them, and the advantage in the Bay Area goes to the Giants, who have mobilized a campaign for deserving Giants. The Aís have a public relations director, Bob Rose, who is the best Iíve ever worked with but the organization is woefully understaffed, thanks to the penurious operation of Lew Wolff and John Fisher. And, to be honest, the Aís donít have many candidates. Josh Donaldson is having a terrific year but would you pick him over Miguel Cabrera? The one truly deserving candidate is closer Grant Balfour and AL manager Jim Leyland will probably pick him when one of the three starters who are scheduled to pitch Sunday (Colon being one) bow out.
The game itself has also changed enormously over the years and nothing shows that more than the first one I saw, about which I wrote an award-winning story, at Candlestick Park in July, 1961. It was the first of two played that year; the second was at Fenway Park.
The National League was trailing, 4-3, going into the bottom of the 10th but Hank Aaron singled to start a rally, went to second on a passed ball and scored the tying run on a double by Willie Mays. Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch and then Roberto Clemente singled in Mays to win the game.
Think about that. Aaron, Mays, Robinson, Clemente. All Hall of Famers and all still in the game in the 10th inning. Managers played the game to win at that time. When Chub Feeney was National League president, he would give National Leaguers a pep talk before the game, reminding them that their leagueís prestige was at stake.
Virtually everything in baseball has changed since then. Inter-league play has meant that fans in areas with only one team still have a chance to see teams and players from other leagues, and they can see them on television, too. Free agency has brought about unprecedented player movement, not just from team to team but between leagues. Players no longer have strong feelings about their leagues, and managers treat the All-Star game like a spring training game, taking out starters early.
Trying (for television) to make the game seem important, commissioner Bud Selig has decreed that the league which wins the All-Star game gets the favorable World Series schedule, with the first two and last two games.
Doesnít matter. Itís still an exhibition.
THE STARTING ROTATION has mostly been blamed for the Giants freefall but their lack of offense is at least as much to blame. In last nightís 16-inning loss to the Mets, they managed just three runs.
Perhaps the main problem for the Giants is their lack of power. They have only three hitters with a chance at reaching the mid-20s in home runs Ė Buster Posey, who homered last night, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval. I donít consider them real power hitters. Unless a hitter gets at least 30 homers in a full season, he doesnít belong in the conversation.
Posey is valuable because heís a good hitter in a defensive position. People who say he should be moved to first base donít understand that, in baseball, there are positions that demand power and others where defense is a priority, catcher, shortstop and center field. A good catcher who is also a good hitter is a real plus. Conversely, first base is a position which is supposed to be a power position. I realize that Giants fans may not understand that because they havenít had a first baseman like that since Will Clark. The current first baseman, Brandon Belt, is more like J. T. Snow, almost as good defensively and developing as a hitter, despite an 0-for-8 last night, but heís more of a doubles hitter. He may reach 20 or slightly more home runs this season but, again, thatís far below the level expected for first basemen, especially for a team that has had Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda in its San Francisco history.
This lack of power is a recent development. In the early years at AT&T, the Giants had middle infielders, Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia, who hit more than 30 homers. And, of course, Barry Bonds set both the season and career home run records while a San Francisco Giant.
Whatís happened since? Some people blame the park but I donít. The Oakland Coliseum at night is probably a more difficult park in which to hit a home run. Those who were there for Matt Hollidayís Aís debut in a night game at the Coliseum still talk about the way he absolutely crushed a pitch, only to see it die in the left fielderís glove. Both Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco complained about the dead air at the Coliseum, though they both hit plenty of home runs there. Of course, nobody ever heard Aurilia, Kent or Bonds complain about AT&T. Nor did any players from that previous era. Itís the current players who are the problem, not the park.
The Giants park is a tribute to the gameís past, when parks often had unusual dimensions because they were built on city blocks. The Giants property is actually slightly less than normal for a ball park, which forced alterations. The right field foul line is only 309 feet, well below the 335 feet limit usually imposed. To compensate, the Giants extended the area in right center, creating ďTriples Alley.Ē Iíd hate to see that changed because I think the triple can be the most exciting hit because itís a race between the hitter and the outfielderís arm. Iím not sure MLB would allow it, either, because if AT&T had a normal right center and a short fence in right, it would be below standard.
The Giants have emphasized pitching in their farm system which is wise but they need to start looking for power, too. The only recent farm system product with power is Sandoval, who is rapidly eating himself out of prominence. Heís been injured off and on this season and has seldom looked like the same hitter. If he doesnít start to show some restraint in his eating, his baseball career may end much sooner than it should.
Meanwhile, as Iíve written in my Examiner column, theyíre going nowhere this season and need to start positioning themselves for the future. Finding a true power hitter, either in free agency or in their farm system, would be a good place to start.
JOE MONTANA was featured in one of those ďwhere are they now?Ē issues of Sports Illustrated, and the piece did a very good job of showing where Montana is now, making a ton of money as a motivational speaker to business groups.
The most interesting aspect of the article, though, was Montanaís explanation of why he didnít want to continue with his TV work after one year in the studio during NFL games. He didnít want to be the guy criticizing the quarterback when a pass went awry because he couldnít know what was called. Montana felt the TV people didnít care if their commentators were accurate, just that they were loud and forthright.
Hello there, Terry Bradshaw!
There are some former NFL quarterbacks who do a credible job on TV. Phil Simms is generally excellent with his insights. Troy Aikman, with Joe Buck, is part of what is probably the best combination now. But unfortunately, Simms and Aikman are the exceptions, not the rule.
THE BRITS are joyful because one of their own, Andy Murray, won Wimbledon on Sunday. Murray is a native of Scotland, which is part of Great Britain, so heís the first player from the island kingdom to win the menís singles since Fred Perry did it in 1936! Only the Chicago Cubs World Series drought Ė no winner since 1908 Ė exceeds that record of futility.
Thatís been especially galling for the Brits because they pretty much invented lawn tennis, as it was originally called, and Wimbledon has remained the premier tournament.
My wife, son and I went to Wimbledon in 1978 when we were on a trip to England (and three days in Edinburgh). We were very involved in tennis at that time, so this was a real treat. The most enjoyable part of it, though, was the first week, when you can walk around and see matches on the outer courts, often standing just a few feet away from the court. It was more like an American sports event, with people talking during the match.
The next week, we watched the womenís final between Chris Evert and Martina Navritolova at Centre Court and it was much different. Iíve been in churches where there was more noise. Spectators were discouraged from anything more than mild clapping. Not my idea of a sports event. I like to make noise. A good friend and his wife were in London at that time so I gave them our tickets for the menís final.
Iím told that the Wimbledon officials have relaxed some and the atmosphere isnít quite so rigid now. Iím guessing, though, that itís still a long way from the raucous atmosphere at the U. S. Open
WARRIORS OWNER Joe Lacob deserves credit for working to change the attitude of the Warriors, from hiring Bob Myers and adding Jerry West to the staff, then making a gambling trade for center Andrew Bogut. He even recommended to Myers that he draft Klay Thompson, which turned out to be a good move.
Unfortunately, the Warriors are still burdened by bad decisions of the past, so they lost both Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry to free agency. To help compensate, the Warriors traded for All-Star forward Andre Iguodala in a complicated deal that allowed them to shed the contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins. They also had to give up their ďBird rightsĒ to Jack, which was his road to free agency.
(Donít ask me to explain all this. The NFL salary cap is relatively straightforward but the NBA salary cap seems to be written in Sanskrit.)
The upshot of this is that All-Star forward David Lee may become a supersub. Iguodala is a versatile player but he doesnít have the physical presence of Lee, so the Warriors are going to need Bogut to play big minutes next season for them to have a chance to compete. With Stephen Curryís tender ankle, Warriors fans will have to keep their fingers crossed.
PET PEEVE: When I watch baseball on TV, the announcers talk about the strike zone of the plate umpire of the day. Whatever happened to the uniform strike zone? Who gave umpires authority to install their own?
The truth is, umpires have been out of control for some time, and the game has suffered for it. One example: A manager arguing his case vociferously with the plate umpire used to be a staple of games, which fans loved. If the manager went too far, he got the hook; Earl Weaver led baseball in getting thrown out of the game. Now, a manager can get tossed for a mild complaint.
Some wonít even acknowledge technology. In an Aís game against Cleveland earlier this year, Adam Rosales blasted what should have been a game-tying home run but the umpiring crew, headed by Angel Hernandez, universally regarded as the worst umpire in MLB, ruled that it had hit the wall and was only a double. They reviewed it on the TV replay and it was clear that the ball had hit in the seats and bounced back. Yet, Hernandez would not permit a reversal of the call.
I wasnít at that game but I had been at an earlier game with the Aís and Angels and saw an almost identical play. On this one, Mike Trumboís home run was originally ruled to have hit the wall. Those of us in the press box all said no, and the replays proved us right. That time, the umpires quickly reversed the call and gave Trumbo the home run he deserved.
It shouldnít be up to the umpires on the field, though. There should be a retired umpire with access to a TV in the press box who could quickly review a play like that and make the decision, with virtually no time elapsed.
Meanwhile, MLB needs to get tough with the umpires. Quit coddling them. Insist on uniform strike zones. If they rebel and threaten to go out on strike, let them. The game would hardly be any worse with minor league umpires working the games. At least, their egos wouldnít be out of control.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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