Tim Lincecum/Barry Zito/Juan Marichal/Gaylord Perry; Aaron Hernandez/Bill Romanowski/Bud Selig; Jerry Rice/ Wilt Chamberlain
TIMMY’S NO-NO: Tim Lincecum shocked people in the baseball world by throwing a no-hitter on Saturday night against the Padres and San Diego. And, that one game will probably change Lincecum’s career path and perhaps keep him with the Giants with a new contract after this season.
No-hitters are a strange part of baseball history. Two Hall of Famers,, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, have thrown no-hitters for the San Francisco Giants, but so have John Montefusco, Ed Halicki and Jonathan Sanchez. All good pitchers and Montefusco had a delightful personality as well, but Halicki and Montefusco were never serious candidates for the HOF and I seriously doubt that Sanchez ever will be.
If you look through baseball history, you see some strange names on the no-hit registry, and no one stranger than Bobo Holloman.
On May 6, 1953 the St. Louis Browns and Philadelpia Athletics, the two worst teams in the American League, played before fewer than 2,600 fans on a cold, miserable day. The weather was so bad that Browns owner Bill Veeck announced that fans should keep their ticket stubs and turn them in for tickets at a future game.
Holloman was hit hard that day but every ball seemed to find a fielder’s glove – or go barely foul. At the end, he had his no-hitter, but he won only two more games and his major league career ended the next season. He was 3-7 lifetime.
Lincecum’s no-hitter was not that kind of fluke because, though he had not thrown a no-hitter since high school, he’s had two Cy Young years and seemed headed for the Hall of Fame. In the last year and a half, though, he’s struggled mightily. His best pitching last year came out of the bullpen in the postseason and many, including me, have thought his future would be as a reliever. It has also seemed that his future would not be with the Giants, after his $20 million a year contract elapsed at the end of this season.
Now, everything has been turned upside down. With that one game, Lincecum has proven he can be a topflight starter again. He told The Chronicle’s Henry Schulman that, though his fast ball speed had dropped about three mph, he had been trying to pitch the same way. Now, he’s learned his lesson. He has the second half of the season to prove this was no fluke.
Lincecum said earlier last week that he wants to stay with the Giants, and they’ve shown they will stretch their payroll to sign their top players and pitchers. They may not have to increase their payroll to keep him, if they think he can be a consistent winner again. There is plenty of time left in the season for him to prove his point. Giants fans would certainly like to have him back.
Interestingly, Lincecum threw 148 pitches. The Giants have monitored the pitches thrown by starters since Jason Schmidt threw 142 in a game, which essentially ended his time as a first-line pitcher. But this time, manager Bruce Bochy knew Lincecum would get extra time off because of the All-Star break, and he also knew that Lincecum would be furious if he was taken out while pitching a no-hitter.
Buoyed by Lincecum’s no-no, and the fact that they were playing the worst team in a mediocre division, the Giants’ spirits were up as they won the first three games of the series. But then, they had to trot Barry Zito out on Sunday and reality returned. Zito gave up three homers and was lifted by manager Bruce Bochy before he could record an out in the third inning.
It’s been my experience in dealing with athletes that the successful ones are, given that they have the physical ability to excel, those who can concentrate on their on-field performance. That has not been true for Zito since his Cy Young year in 2002, and his record reflects that. For a short period of time, he can do that, as he did in September and October last year, but he’s back in that “What am I doing out here?” mode again. Now, there’s talk he may lose his spot in the rotation when Ryan Vogelsong returns. Even before that, I’d prefer to see rookie Mike Kickham out there. He’s at least eager to prove himself.
Zito should retire after this season. He doesn’t need the money and he has many other interests. If he doesn’t, I hope the Giants don’t make another mistake and re-sign him. Enough is enough.
OAKLAND SPORTS: One of the many reasons I’m not happy with the Oakland city administration is the ridiculous plan for a multi-sports complex at the current site of baseball and football. Included is a new park for the A’s, a new stadium for the Raiders and a new arena for the Warriors.
Are you kidding me? Is there a printing press churning out money at City Hall? It’s a ridiculous waste of taxpayer’s money (including mine) for projects that haven’t a chance to be completed.
The reality is that the Raiders, who have just one year left on their contract with Oakland, will leave to play in the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara when it opens in 2014. The stadium was built so that it could handle two teams, just as the New Jersey stadiums housing the Giants and Jets have. Lew Wolff doesn’t want a new park in Oakland, as he’s made abundantly clear. Despite that anti-trust suit, he’s not going to be able to move the A’s to San Jose, either. He and John Fisher should sell the team but with millions pouring in through baseball’s insane revenue-sharing program, there’s no incentive for them to do that. The Warriors contract at Oracle Arena runs another four years but Joe Lacob has made it clear that he wants to build a new arena on the waterfront in San Francisco.
Of course, Oakland politicians, especially the mayor, will continue to dream on.
OH, REALLY? A’s broadcaster Ray Fosse noted on Sunday that the Red Sox had been the most dysfunctional organization in baseball last season “but then they got Johnny Gomes and that took care of that.” Gomes is a nice guy and decent player, but I think getting rid of manager Bobby Valentine and shipping overpaid and underproducing players to the Los Angeles Dodgers might have been more important reasons for the Red Sox turnaround.
THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS have made headlines recently in a way they certainly didn’t relish. Aaron Hernandez has been accused of murder (the Patriots released him even before he was charged) and defensive back Alfonzo Dennard has been charged with a DUI in Nebraska. He’s already due to serve 30 days of jail time on another charge.
Dennard’s problem seems to be alcohol but Hernandez is more likely steroids. He was suspended for violating the substance abuse rule in college. I doubt that he’s changed.
The fact is, pro football has had a steroids problem since at least the late ‘80s, when the term “’Roid Rage” became popular; Bill Romanowski was one of the first known violators.
It’s only gotten worse in recent years as players have used some form of steroids to buff up. Now we have 350-pound players who have no fat and when they run into players at top speed, serious injuries occur. The league is facing lawsuits from retired players who have reportedly suffered brain damage from the concussions which have resulted from these collisions.
Despite all this, when you hear about fans and writers who think players taking steroids is the absolute worst, it’s in baseball, not football. Why? Because of the statistics.
Football fans are more realistic about the numbers. They understand that changing rules and times make it senseless to try to evaluate players just on stats. To use one example close to home: Because rules changes have changed the NFL game into an aerial circus, there are several quarterbacks who have eclipsed Joe Montana’s stats. Has that hurt Montana’s reputation? The question answers itself.
But in baseball, fans and writers are incensed that Barry Bonds eclipsed Hank Aaron’s career home run record.
There are two things you need to know about baseball:
1) Cheating to gain an advantage has always been the name of the game in baseball, from the very beginning. Groundskeepers have slanted base lines so bunts would either go fair or foul, depending on which gave the home team an advantage. Long after they were banned, pitchers have used versions of the spitter, Gaylord Perry being the most famous but hardly the only one, and arranged to doctor the baseball. Batters have used corked bats. This is just a sample.
2) Baseball itself has changed the game to encourage attendance. In the ‘30s, when owners were desperate to get people to the park, the ball was hopped up. (Just wrapping the core tighter will do that.) The offensive numbers were off the charts in the ‘30s. Bill Terry was the last National Leaguer to hit .400, with a .401 average in 1930. Hack Wilson hit 56 homers and had 190 RBIs; the first number was the NL record until 1998 and the RBI record still stands. Several players from the ‘30s are in the Hall of Fame because of their inflated stats. Some writers have suggested having a “Steroids wing” if Bonds and company are elected to the Hall. To be fair, there should be a separate wing for the hitters of the ‘30s, too.
There have been other methods of improving offense. The mound was lowered after the pitchers year of 1968. The designated hitter was adopted by the American League in the early ‘70s and it is now the model for all leagues except the National, whose owners prefer the 19th century model. No doubt, they regret the adoption of the lively ball in 1911, too.
Because baseball has seen so many changes over the year, I do the same thing with baseball players that I do with football: I evaluate them in comparison to their contemporaries. But baseball fans and writers think they can evaluate players over many decades, ignoring changes. Foolish.
But probably not so foolish as commissioner Bud Selig’s claim that the sport has never been cleaner. This in the wake of still another revelation about a clinic in Florida that is apparently dispensing drugs. So, we can expect another announcement soon that several more Latinos have been caught. Yawn.
JERRY RICE: I was interviewed yesterday at my home for an NFL Films piece on Rice which will air in November, and my interviewer kept pressing me for details on the relationship between Rice and Bill Walsh, who drafted him and coached him for the first part of his career.
In fact, there was none. Walsh never had a relationship with any of his players. Dwight Clark feared him and others had no feeling for him. Walsh didn’t fully realize that until he retired. He thought he’d play golf and have lunch with his former players but they had no desire to do that. So, Walsh spent a lot of time mending fences and eventually did become close to some of the players, especially Montana, who spoke very kindly about Walsh and his sense of humor at the ceremony honoring Walsh after his death.
As for Rice, the one thing I noted about him (as others did, too) was his determination to be the best ever at his position. In one trainng camp interview with Ira Miller and me, he admitted that he measured himself against the best receivers of the day, checking to see their latest stats every week. He and Roger Craig had an offseason training program that was so rigorous that other players who tried it quickly quit.
It was well known that the first 49er reception of a game had to go to Rice. After he came back from that fearsome injury early in the 1997 season, he had lost some speed and quickness. Terrell Owens had become the go-to receiver and Jerry bitterly resented that. When he left to play two years for the Raiders, he had no history with them so he was content to be a possession receiver and he had two good years.
Rice’s goal was to be known as the best receiver in NFL history and he put the career marks out so far that I doubt they’ll ever be equaled.
My interviewer yesterday asked me if I thought Rice were obsessed. My answer: yes.
THE GREATEST: I’m going to break my rule and say that Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest basketball player ever. There was nothing Wilt couldn’t do. He was such a great athlete, he could run a competitive quarter-mile in track. He played guard for the Globetrotters in the year between his college career and coming to the Warriors. When he was asked to be the big scorer, he was the best ever. When he was asked at the end of his career to play defense and get passes out on the fast break, he excelled at that.
I’ve never forgotten the first time I saw Wilt. I was working in Watsonville when the Warriors trained at Cabrillo College in nearby Aptos. Wilt was late to camp, of course, and he arrived in his custom-made Bentley, whose front seat extended all the way to the rear seat. He was wearing those iridescent pants that were in favor at the time and it was a crescendo of color rippling across his body as I watched him unfold himself.
That was Wilt. He was always the dominant person in any gathering. Once, I took part in a toast/roast of Rick Barry at the Fairmont and at the pre-party, Wilt made Nate Thurmond, all 6-11 of him, seem like a boy. Everybody there was clustering around Wilt to talk to him.
And, of course, on the court he set scoring records that will never be touched. Years later, when I was on a road trip with the Warriors, Rick Barry scored 50 points in a game in San Antonio. When I talked to Bob Feerick, by then the team’s general manager but the coach when Wilt had his season of averaging more than 50 points, he said to me, “I just got so accustomed to that kind of scoring, 50 points seems like nothing to me.”
Writers usually rated Bill Russell higher because of his titles, without seeming to realize that Russell had a much stronger supporting cast. When Wilt got teammates like that, with the 1967-68 Philadelphia 76ers, the team was rated the best of all time – and Wilt became the first center to lead the league in assists. When he played for the Lakers at the end of his career, they set a record which still stands of 33 straight wins.
He was a man among boys, and the best of all time.
UMPIRES REDUX: Watching Sunday’s A’s-Red Sox game on TV, it was clear that the plate umpire was calling strikes on the outside corner against righthanded hitters but not against lefthanded hitters. How long will it take Selig to realize he has a serious problem here? Oh, I forgot. He’s too busy making sure all the Latinos taking drugs get caught.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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