Bob Melvin; Bud Selig; Lane Kiffin/Al Davis/Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn; Colin Kaepernick/Frank Gore
IT’S AMUSING that A’s manager Bob Melvin is getting virtually no support for AL Manager of the Year, especially after watching Melvin expertly juggle his lineup daily, but it’s not surprising. With the majority of the population and the media east of the Mississippi, there will always be an East Coast bias. I’ve learned to live with that because I’m very happy in the Bay Area, which has been my home for 50 years now. I enjoy visiting the east coast but living there…forget it.
What is annoying is that they have scheduled the A’s second game for 6 o’clock, which requires the Raiders to play an 8:30 game Sunday night. That early start for the A’s-Tigers also means batters won’t be able to see the ball until the sun sets, about 45 minutes later. But, of course, it means the game will be in prime time on the East Coast. As I was saying…..
The good news is that the A’s have been overcoming problems all season and none of this will affect them. Just getting to the playoffs was huge for last year’s team but this team has had a winning record for every month of the season and essentially clinched the division by sweeping a three-game series with the Rangers in Texas. They’ll be ready for Detroit this time, and this should be a very exciting series.
MEANWHILE, the Giants signed Hunter Pence to a five-year, $90 million contract, just before the season ended.
I had an argument with a media colleague about a month ago about re-signing Pence. He argued that Pence was more of a “supplemental” player, not one you’d build a team around. I argued that the Giants absolutely needed to re-sign him because he hits home runs, a scarce commodity for the Giants recently, he’s a topflight outfielder and a great example for his teammates because he never gives less than his best.
The big question for the Giants will be pitching. Will they be able to re-sign Tim Lincecum? The Giants and San Francisco are a perfect fit for him because he’s, well, an unusual character. That’s no problem in San Francisco but if he went to a team in the Midwest or East, it would be.
Barry Zito will be gone, for which we can be grateful. Giants GM Brian Sabean said that, because of Zito’s contribution to the World Series run last year, he didn’t regret signing Zito to that horrendous $126 million contract. Easy for him to say. It wasn’t his money. But paying out that much money for a pitcher who was only sporadically effective limited what the Giants could do in the free agent market.
The Giants have been auditioning young starters the last month because there are serious questions about the starters beyond Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, either because of age or medical problems. It wouldn’t be smart to invest much money in any of them because, as I wrote earlier, the Giants need to be looking toward 2015, not 2014. They won’t be in contention next season, either.
One positive that came out of the season was the second half blossoming of Brandon Belt, who wound up hitting .289 (well over .300 for the second half) when he was moved up to the No. 3 slot. That included 17 home runs, 39 doubles and 4 triples. Pablo Sandoval, who was supposed to supply power for the Giants had 14 homers, 27 doubles and 2 triples and a .278 average. With his brother traveling with him and watching his diet, Pablo lost 20 pounds. I have no faith he’ll stick to that diet, even though he’s in the last year of his contract and will be a free agent in 2015. I believe his Giants career will end with next season.
Despite Belt’s blossoming, I’m still getting e-mails from readers who wonder why the Giants aren’t giving Brett Pill more of a chance. The answer: Because they know he will never be a good major league hitter. In the offseason, I expect them to designate him for assignment and, if another team shows interest, see if a trade can be worked out for a minor league prospect.
BUD SELIG announced that he will be retiring in January, which is very good news. Selig is popular with owners because he found new revenue streams for them but his overall impact on the game has been negative.
It is Selig, for instance, who is responsible for the World Baseball Classic, which has interrupted and extended spring training for no good reason. Major league baseball already has players from those countries that play baseball, notably Japan and the countries around the Caribbean. The baseball-playing countries in the Caribbean, Central America and the northern rim of South America have their own Caribbean World Series. Who needs another tournament?
We have our own problem in the Bay Area because Selig wouldn’t be honest with his old fraternity buddy, Lew Wolff. He should have told Wolff from the start that the Giants had the territorial rights to San Jose and that wasn’t going to change, so he should try to work out a deal for a new stadium in Oakland, when it was possible. Instead, he set up a commission to report on the situation and spent years ignoring its report. Now, because of his dithering, the sport is facing a legal challenge from San Jose to the 1922 Supreme Court ruling which gave baseball anti-trust protection. Nice going, Bud.
Meanwhile, he ignored the PED issue during the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa record-setting home run race and then overreacted with the current program which punishes an overwhelming number of Latino players.
My feeling is that PEDs are a real problem in the NFL, where athletes are dangerously big and fast and running into each other. They are not a problem in baseball. Those who object to them are the ones who worry about records, which means they’re not paying attention. Hank Aaron hit almost 100 home runs more than Willie Mays but even Aaron never thought he was Mays’ equal as a player.
Goodbye, Bud, and good riddance.
THE FIRING of Lane Kiffin was bad news for Cal fans because it made their chances of beating USC much more difficult.
You have to hand it to Kiffin: Wherever he’s gone, he’s alienated people. He started with Al Davis, who was really just an older version of Kiffin. Then, he went to Tennessee and jumped ship quickly to go to USC, which he described as his “dream job,” no doubt because it’s almost impossible to lose when you’re coaching the Trojans. Almost is the key word. The Trojans lost their opener to Washington State. When they got blown out by Arizona State, 62-41, on Saturday, USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin before it could get worse.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Kiffin next. He’s burned so many bridges, it’s difficult to see a big-time school wanting him, especially since he really doesn’t seem like much of a coach.
Maybe Al Davis was right to fire him.
SOMEWHERE, Jeff Tedford is enjoying the Cal season. He was fired and Sonny Dykes hired to bring excitement back to Cal football but the excitement seems to be primarily on the other side of the ball, especially after the blowout against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. It will be interesting to see how many of the seats are filled for the remaining home games, especially the inevitable night games.
Nearly 50 years ago, I was a college football writer for The Chronicle and on the “Skywriters” tour which took us around to the home campuses of what was then an eight-school conference.
When we were in Eugene, a writer asked Len Casanova how he was able to maintain a potent passing attack while often playing in the rain. His answer: It was easier in the rain because receivers knew where they were going and defenders had to adjust, often falling as they did.
Of course, for this to work, the quarterback has to hang on to the ball. That proved impossible for freshman QB Jared Goff, who twice fumbled as he tried to bring the ball up to pass. He was replaced by Zach Kline, not that it made any difference. To beat the Ducks, the Bears had to stop them and a seventh grade team could score against the Cal defense.
The Ducks, of course, have a potent offense, which is run at top speed. They’ve been doing this for several years now and it hasn’t changed with the departure of Chip Kelly, who had a great one-game run with the Philadelphia Eagles before the NFL caught up with his offense. Too bad about that, Chip.
Right now, it appears that the Pac-12 race will come down to Oregon-Stanford, and I like the Cardinal’s chances. Stanford has a very tough defense, one which can slow down the Ducks’ go-go offense. And, its offense is well balanced between running and passing.
When it comes to a battle between a great offensive team and a great defensive team, I always vote for the defense. That’s exactly what’s happened to Kelly and the Eagles; the much better NFL defenders have slowed his offense and then their offenses have taken charge. Peyton Manning, playing in a traditional NFL offense, gave the Eagles a lesson in how a good team does it. I hope their coach was paying attention.
THE RAIDERS lost a game they probably would have won if Terrelle Pryor could have played Sunday, but I think both general manager ReggieMcKenzie and coach Dennis Allen are on the right track.
That’s not just my opinion. In an NFL network show discussing which team is the worst in pro football, Bill Polian said, “Don’t even think of comparing the Raiders to Jacksonville. The Raiders have a good defensive pass rush and they have a lot of eager young players who will develop. Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen are definitely on the right track.”
I’ve thought this for some time, having witnessed other teams which were really bad which turned into champions. Bill Walsh’s 49ers and Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys are the best examples. It takes time because even the best coach has to have the players. Walsh was 2-14 his first year. Johnson was 1-15 which gave him a shot at Troy Aikman.
I’m not putting Allen in that category but I think he’s learning on the job. McKenzie is a solid front office man, recommended to Mark Davis by Ron Wolff, who saw his work with the Green Bay Packers.
Sunday’s game was frustrating because Pryor had played well in previous games and he presents a special problem to opposing defenses because he’s an excellent runner as well as passer. Matt Flynn presents no such problem. He’s a statue and apparently unaware of the pressure around him. Darren McFadden started well with five first quarter carries for 29 yards but then he got injured. Again. With no Pryor and no McFadden (and no Marcel Reese, also injured), the Raiders had no offense, so an early lead just melted away.
The game was an official sellout because the Raiders have tarped off sections of the upper deck, reducing capacity to a little over 52,000. That’s what it was originally when Al Davis claimed it was too small for him to compete. At the time, the Raiders had the highest ticket prices in the league and their overall revenue was fifth in the league. Well, nobody ever accused Davis of being truthful.
The fans were very noisy throughout, a fact which is much more noticeable in the Raiders press box because it’s close to the fans, as opposed to the 49ers box which is removed enough so that it feels like watching on TV.
Those fans had seen enough in the first 30 minutes and they saluted Flynn with a steady stream of boos in the second half. He’ll probably be just as happy sitting on the bench collecting his money for future games while letting Pryor do his thing on the field.
THE 49ERS rebounded nicely with a lopsided win over the Rams in the Thursday night game. And, BTW, if you want an excellent example of NFL greed, there is no better one. These are seldom good games because players don’t have enough time to recover from a Sunday game. But, money is everything in pro sports these days.
The Rams played the Niners very tough last year, beating them once and tying them in an overtime game. But, they’re not the same team without Steven Jackson, so they’ve resumed being the punching bag for the 49ers that they have so often been since Bill Walsh started coaching teams that won Super Bowls.
Much was made of Frank Gore’s big game but those who think the Niners can ride Gore’s back to the playoffs could be very disappointed. Gore is 30 and, though he’s a remarkable physical specimen, teams don’t ride 30-year-old backs to great success. The 49ers offensive coaches know this and they’ve tried to rest Gore early. If he has as many carries in future games as he had against the Rams, he’ll have nothing left for the second half.
So, Colin Kaepernick is still the crucial figure. It’s become apparent with just four games that, if a team can cover Anquan Boldin tightly, they can beat the Niners because Kaepernick always looks for him. Even Vernon Davis takes a backseat. As far as the other receivers go, who knows? Jim Harbaugh has said good words about their work in practice but Kaepernick usually looks only for Boldin – just as last year, he hardly ever looked beyond Michael Crabtree.
Not incidentally, when I wrote last week that Kaepernick wasn’t smart, I heard from readers that he had a 4.0 in high school. That doesn’t impress me because of an experience I had about 20 years ago.
I was talking to the Stanford dean of admissions about Stanford’s entrance requirements – then and now, Stanford judged athletes by the same standards, with no exceptions – and she told me they hadn’t used a student’s GPA in California schools for years because of the terrible grade inflation. Schools wanted to get as many students as possible into Stanford and Cal, so they inflated grades. That didn’t work for Stanford, because it’s a private school which can use its own standards. In this case, Stanford uses SAT and ACT scores, not grades. Cal has to take these students because it’s the primary public university in the state, but many of them wash out in their first year.
So, I’m sorry, but Kaepernick’s academic record at Turlock High doesn’t impress me.
NFL UPDATE: The Kansas City Chiefs are 4-0, the first team in more than 30 years to win its first four games after winning two games or less the previous season.
The Chiefs have a new quarterback, Alex Smith. You may remember him. Alex’s contributions are still being downplayed by younger, smart-alec writers, one of whom referred to his “aversion” to throwing downfield. Those quarterbacks who do often wind up throwing interceptions, which is why Walsh preferred shorter passes with receivers running after the catch.
There are, of course, quarterbacks who do throw deep. Maybe the writer in question would prefer to see Jay Cutler.
FINALLY, THE America’s Cup is over, the socalled American team – it had only one American crew member – won in a dramatic comeback. Yawn.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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