Kevin Hogan; Jared Goff/Zach Kline; Sonny Dykes/Sandy Barbour; Yasiel Puig; Bum Phillips/Bud Adams; Ted Williams
HIGH SCHOOL football is dangerous to the health of young athletes and now, it turns out that junior baseball is also a problem.
Recent studies have shown that boys who have been pitchers in Little League are also showing arm damage because theyíve been pitching too often and under too much pressure. Good grief.
Iíve been an opponent of Little League since I first saw it up close, as a scorekeeper for Little League games when I was working for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian at the start of my career. I began in September 1958 so my first exposure to Little League was the following June. I was appalled.
The problem with high school football is all those teenagers who are playing to win favor with their dads. It is the mothers who are the problem in Little League, yelling at the umpires, yelling at managers who donít play their sons. The first time I saw that behavior, I wrote about it in the R-P, which generated many angry phone calls and letters (no e-mail then) but didnít change either the mothersí behavior or my writing.
The other problem I saw is that the youngsters donít grow at the same pace, so you can see a pitcher who is already six feet tall pitching to a terrified batter who is almost a foot shorter. The batters are right to be terrified because if they were hit by a pitch, it could do serious damage. At the very least, it would really hurt.
The biggest problem, though, is that these games are being taken much too seriously.
Iím not saying that my childhood was perfect but at least it wasnít organized by adults. I played baseball in the streets in San Diego, with balls whose cover had been ripped off and replaced by friction tape. When my dad was transferred to a community called North Fork, about 50 miles north of Fresno (my dad was in the Forest Service and was often promoted, which always meant a transfer to another forest) I played with friends on fields that were entirely dirt and not even level. We had no uniforms, just the clothes we wore the rest of the time.
But, you know what? I had a lot of fun. Weíd play sometimes from early morning until it got dark. No parents there to tell us what to do. And, I have a lot of good memories from those days.
It seems no youngster ever plays ball that way now. Itís all organized by adults, so they have uniforms, strict times when they can play Ė and theyíre under intense pressure from parents, especially their mothers. They never get to enjoy baseball just as a game.
When the Petaluma team won the Little League World Series, I was on the Comcast sports shows and at the end, the panelists were asked their opinions. The others all said complimentary things about the Petaluma team. I said, ďItís outrageous!Ē That broke up everybody on the show but I wasnít joking. I think itís outrageous that 12-year-olds are in a position where theyíre fawned over by adults, just because theyíre good at playing a game.
I would hope the day will come when all these youth programs will collapse because some sanity arrives with all the bad news about the physical damage. I think all these organized programs, whether itís Little League or Pop Warner football, should be dropped. Put that money into after-school programs where youngsters can play on their own, with just enough adult supervision to take over if a player gets hurt. Let youngsters enjoy their childhoods without having to fulfill their parentsí dreams.
DEFENSE HAS been a big part of Stanfordís success and that showed again as they beat the UCLA Bruins, 24-10, in their Homecoming game on Saturday.
This game was a nice bounce back from their upset loss in Utah the previous week and it sets up a showdown in two weeks at Stanford with the Oregon Ducks, ranked No. 2 in the country. The Ducks put tremendous pressure on opposing teams with their hurry-up offense and will no doubt be favorites. I donít know enough about either of these teams to make a prediction.
Stanford had some problems with offensive consistency against the Bruins, but quarterback Kevin Hogan kept his composure even when the points werenít going up on the scoreboard and that patience finally paid off in the second half when the Cardinal scored three touchdowns. One of them was a sensational catch by Kodi Whitfield, who leaped high between two defenders, grabbed the ball with one hand and pulled it into his body. Not incidentally, Whitfield is the son of former Stanford great, offensive tackle Bob Whitfield.
For those watching the Stanford-Oregon game on TV, I can only hope that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott doesnít schedule it for 1 a.m.
Meanwhile, the Cal Bears went down to another lopsided defeat, 49-17, and it wasnít even that close. Oregon State was ahead, 42-10 in the third quarter before the Beavers took their foot off the throttle. And freshman quarterback Jared Goff fumbled twice. Redshirt freshman Zach Kline replaced him and threw two touchdown passes, so once again, thereís a question about which quarterback will be leading the suicide mission on Saturday.
The Bears will actually be playing another afternoon game on Nov. 2 against Arizona and, yes, Iíll be going, even though I know Iíll see them take another beating. Iíve been watching (and writing about) Cal football since the fall of 1956 and Iíve seen many more losses than wins in that time. Watching Cal football is not for sissies.
After a respectable loss to Northwestern in the opener, the Bears have been losing badly. Their one win was over Portland State, a bowl subdivision (formerly Division 2) team and that only by 37-30. Ohio State was ahead, 21-0, after just six minutes of the first quarter. Subsequent losses have been from 22 to 39 points. Weíre talking Tom Holmoe futility here.
And, arenít you glad Cal fired that terrible Jeff Tedford?
Supposedly, athletic director Sandy Barbour fired Tedford and hired Sonny Dykes to get the alumni fired up and ready to contribute to paying for the huge stadium renovation. That isnít happening, and Barbourís job may be on the line. She lost her security blanket when Robert Bigenau, the man who hired her, resigned as Cal chancellor.
The worst thing about Tedfordís firing was that Barbour listened to the younger alumni, who have no sense of history and arenít going to be making big contributions, either. The older alumni are already upset by the steady stream of night games and the TBA schedules. Theyíre certainly not seeing anything this season to make them unzip their wallets.
So, it may be that both Dykes and Barbour will be gone next year. I like Dykes as a person but I think heís overmatched in a conference that some now think may be the best in the country. Barbour has done a good job overall but sheís a cold fish. I doubt she has a lot of supporters, and she lost some of those when she floated that ridiculous idea of playing the 2014 Big Game at the 49ers new stadium. If she were fired, Calís new chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, wouldnít have to worry about a groundswell of support for her.
THE ANTICS of Yasiel Puig when he celebrated what he thought was going to be a homer and then celebrated again when he reached third upset many Cardinal players because they thought he was ďdishonoring the game.Ē
Can we please have a dose of reality here? First, Puig is only 20 and 20-year-olds are not noted for their maturity. Puig is immature but he should modify his behavior in the future.
But, it wonít be a wholesale change. The fact is that Latinos are much more expressive than whites in their daily behavior, so itís understandable that the players are that way. Iíve never seen the Caribbean World Series but those who have say itís a riotous event.
What I do know is that Latino players have brought a verve and excitement to the game which I relish. Sports are meant to be fun, not just a cold-blooded exercise.
So, Iím looking forward to Puig refining his game physically but retaining the emotional charge which sets Latino players apart.
THE 49ERS are in the soft part of their schedule, and it becomes even softer Sunday when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. If they win by fewer than four touchdowns, it will be because they got bored.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell keeps talking about putting teams in London, which I think is a very bad idea. Thereís a reason teams get a bye the week after playing in London: It takes them much longer to recover from that trip, especially if theyíre coming from the west coast. I know from experience, having traveled to London three times, twice with my wife and son, the last time just with Nancy. Itís a favorite city of ours so, when I got an e-mail from the NFL asking if I wanted to receive pictures of the 49ers visit, I agreed. The first ones yesterday were shots in Heathrow airport, which I quickly deleted. Iíve seen all I want to see of Heathrow, thank you very much. Iím hoping Iíll enjoy future shots more.
The Tennessee Titans didnít put up much more of a battle on Sunday than the Jaguars will. Jake Locker returned at quarterback but he wasnít fully recovered from his leg injury and could not run, an important part of his game, nor evade the pass rush. The Titans also shot themselves in the foot with penalties, one of them wiping out an interception.
The 49ers did an excellent job of preparing for the game. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and coach Jim Harbaugh noted that the Titans defense was vulnerable to quarterback runs so, for the first time this season, Colin Kaepernick had a big game running. Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin again made big catches, Boldin with a couple of highlight reel receptions.
The 49ers probably wonít be seriously tested until they play the Saints in New Orleans on Nov. 17. They also have the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick on Dec.8, a game that will probably show whether they have what it takes to go far in the postseason.
The Raiders, idle last week, also have a chance to improve their record, now 2-4, with only two of their 10 remaining opponents having a winning record. Those two are both in their division, the undefeated Chiefs and the one-loss Broncos. The Raiders will not make the playoffs but theyíve shown improvement in recent weeks and should continue to improve. I still expect next season to be their breakout year.
HOUSTON HEROES: During the 49ers-Titans game, the NFL had a moving tribute to Bum Phillips, who died at 90 last week, talking to his players in the locker room before a game. I thought it was appropriate because Bum was one of those guys everybody instinctively liked, the good olí boy in the guise of a coach.
Bum was primarily a defensive coach with ideas about offense on the same level as Mike Singletaryís. But his teams always played hard for him simply because his players liked him.
There was one unforgettable incident with Bum when he was promoted to general manager. Running the draft bored him so, after making his first round pick one year, he traded off all his other picks and went home.
The death of the man who hired Phillips, Bud Adams, was announced yesterday. Like Bum, he was 90.
Adams is a very important figure in pro football because he and Lamar Hunt, both very rich because of their oil companies, were instrumental in forming the American Football League in 1960. Hunt originally put his team in Dallas, Adams in Houston. Then as now, the NFL did not want competition, so it quickly put a team of its own in Dallas, the Cowboys, and the competition drove Hunt to move his team to Kansas City, but Adams had secured exclusive rights to the one suitable stadium in Houston, so the Oilers stayed there until they moved to Tennessee in in 1997 to become the Titans.
The AFL was scorned by the NFL and the media, which bought into the story line that it was much inferior but it was kept afloat by the money of Hunt, Adams, Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills and Barron Hilton of the Chargers in the early years. When Sonny Werblin bought the New York Jets and signed Joe Namath, the league got the national television deal it needed. When Al Davis, as AFL commissioner, convinced NFL quarterbacks to jump to the new league, the NFL quickly negotiated a peace and started the process for one league with separate conferences.
With labor peace, the NFL became the behemoth it is now.
THE WARRIORS are negotiating for a contract extension for Andrew Bogut and, though there are some risks with that, given his injury history, itís also vital that they get him signed before he becomes a free agent. A true center who can defend, rebound, pass and score is very difficult to find these days. Even though he spent a lot of games on the sidelines last year, when he played, Bogut showed he can be a true force. The Warriors have been looking for that kind of center since, well, since they traded Nate Thurmond in 1975. Maybe itís just fate balancing the books after they had Wilt Chamberlain and Thurmond back-to-back in the early years in the Bay Area.
On a related subject, Iíve mentioned earlier that there are alternative San Francisco sites for the Warriors planned new arena. That information comes from articles written by John King, The Chronicleís architectural critic, who mentioned that the two best sites are both in the Mission Bay area, just west of AT&T Park. King is very much opposed to putting Joe Lacobís project on the waterfront, pointing out that it is much bigger (and uglier) than anything else. I agree, and I still hope it can be stopped.
D…Jņ VU: Seeing the Red Sox and the Cardinals in the World Series reminds me that they were in the first World Series that caught my attention Ė in 1946. We were living in San Diego, so my dad and I listened on the radio because TV was in its infancy. My fifth grade teacher had gone to school with Ted Williams and she talked about him constantly. So, I became a big Williams fan and, by extension, a Red Sox fan. The Cardinals became my National League team because I thought their uniforms were great. I still do.
The entire sports scene is much different than it was then, when baseball was called our National Pastime and the World Series was the biggest sports event of the year by far. Now, baseball has ceded the national and even international stage to the NFL, whose Super Bowl is a huge event nationally and is telecast to other countries as well.
As always, television is the primary reason for the change. The NFL televises games nationally and increases its audience with the ďred zoneĒ feature which allows Fantasy Football fans to check on their ďplayers.Ē Meanwhile, baseball has only one ďnationalĒ telecast on Saturdays, and that usually involves the Red Sox and/or the Yankees.
The result: The World Series is of great interest to the fans in the cities involved. Elsewhere, most sports fans are watching NFL games.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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