Tiger Woods/Arnold Palmer/Jack Nicklaus/Mitch Richmond/Billy Owens; Scott Kazmir/Bob Melvin/Jim Johnson; Hank Aaron/Bowie Kuhn
TIGER WOODS will not be at Augusta National for the Masters this week and, though his competitors might be happy not to have that competition, it hurts the game overall.
Golf has a built-in audience from the men who play the game but its appeal has been broadened greatly when there’s been a charismatic star player on board.
Arnold Palmer gave golf a real shot in the arm when he came on the scene in the ‘50s. “Arnie’s Army” dominated the galleries, excited to watch their hero go for every shot. Usually he made them but even when he missed, he was exciting.
At a time when there were top golfers who were woefully out of shape, like Billy Casper and Jack Nicklaus in his early years. Palmer looked like an athlete. It was easy to imagine him as a running back for the 49ers.
Golf interested me more in those years because I was trying to play it myself, adding to the list of sports I played poorly. So, I was excited when I was assigned to do “sidebars” on the U. S. Open when it was played at the Olympic Club in 1966. (Sports editor Art Rosenbaum did the main story and Art Spander also did sidebars.)
Palmer was always the most cooperative of athletes, too. I still remember him talking to a group of us huddled around him in the locker room. Ed Schoenfeld, a writer for the Oakland Tribune, pressed ever closer to Arnie – until ashes from his cigar dropped on Palmer’s nose. Arnie just brushed them off and continued the interview.
For the first 81 holes of the tournament, it looked like a triumphal march for Palmer. At that point, going into the final nine holes, the only question seemed to be whether he’d set a record for the lowest score in Open history.
But, Arnie’s go-for-it philosophy undermined him on that final nine. Even without the USGA tricking up the course, the Olympic Club course severely punishes those who don’t hit the ball straight – and that’s exactly what happened to Palmer as he blew a seven-stroke lead and fell into a tie with Casper, who beat him in a playoff the next day.
Palmer would never again win a major, as Nicklaus surpassed every golfer in history with 18 majors. Jack also lost weight in a vain attempt to win over galleries.
I knew from being at dinners at Pebble Beach with Palmer and Nicklaus that Nicklaus was a man who could tell a joke and appreciate one from somebody else. Palmer was good natured but you had to tell him a joke was coming so he could laugh. But those nuances were never obvious to galleries. Nicklaus won their admiration but not their love. So, Nicklaus didn’t become the same kind of charismatic personality that Palmer was.
The next charismatic personality was Tiger. I was at his triumphal march to the U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach in 2000 and it was astounding. I didn’t even attempt to follow him around the course but I was sitting with my wife and son at the porch of a building rented by The Chronicle for this event, on a small hill overlooking the sixth green. An absolute mob of spectators was following in his wake.
At that point, it seemed inevitable that Tiger would surpass Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors but his world came crashing down in 2008 when he got caught in a tawdry sex scandal.
Since then, he hasn’t won a major and it’s beginning to seem that he never will again. He’s had physical problems, with back surgery sidelining him this week, and he has the putting yips when he’s played.
None of that seems to have affected his popularity with fans. He still has the largest galleries following him. I’m sure the people running the Masters are very unhappy that he’s not there.
MITCH RICHMOND’S election to the basketball Hall of Fame reminds Warriors fans of what Don Nelson later admitted was his worst trade, when Richmond was traded to the Sacramento Kings for the drafting rights to Billy Owens.
Richmond had been part of the “Run TMC” offense with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin, a very exciting style of play. But in the postseason, the Warriors lack of defense was always fatal. Nelson thought Owens would bolster the defense but the spark the team had with Richmond was gone. So was much of the excitement.
THE A’S have discovered the flip side of their platoon-style: It seems impossible to keep all the players they want.
Their current problem is with Sam Fuld, who’s out of options but a player they want to keep because he’s a great defensive outfielder and looks like he’ll be a good hitter, too. One of their options is to send Josh Reddick down to Sacramento for a brief time.
Still, that’s a big improvement over the fallow period earlier when they didn’t have enough good players. Or, perhaps, they didn’t have that right manager because, as soon as Bob Melvin took over for the inept Bob Geren, they immediately improved.
It was quite a first week for the A’s who were almost rained out on Opening Night – with a sellout crowd in the stands – and then did get rained out the next night, so they had to play a day/night doubleheader with the Indians. Then, they lost a game in the Mariners series because the groundskeeper listened to the A’s “weather consultant”, who told him it wouldn’t rain overnight. Whoops. It did, and the infield was flooded. Maybe they should watch Channel 2’s StormTracker, which had predicted overnight showers in the region.
Probably the best news so far has been the two good outings by Scott Kazmir, who has had two solid outings as the veteran replacing Bartolo Colon. Overall, the A’s pitching seems sound. New closer Jim Johnson had a couple of bad outings and was booed by fans. I’d attribute the Opening Night boos to fans who were drawn to the opener but are not regulars because the A’s fans are extremely loyal. I’m sure Johnson will be fine as he settles in.
For the time being I’m watching baseball via TV, for reasons explained in the final item today, and there was a funny episode in the third inning of Sunday’s game. With two men on base, the Seattle pitching coach came out to talk to Erasmus Ramirez. The coach had hardly settled into his seat before Brandon Moss hit a pitch more than 400 feet into the football seats. I certainly hope that’s not the pitch the coach told him to throw.
IT’S FINALLY OVER: On Monday, when I was shopping at Market Hall, a man came up to me and asked, “Who do you like in the game tonight?” I told him the truth: “I don’t give a damn.” So, the Office Pools tournament is finally ended, greatly enriching the NCAA coffers. Can you tell me again why these players shouldn’t be paid?
HANK AARON is being honored for the night he hit home run No. 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s career record of 714, and I’m happy for him because he’s a first class gentlemen as well as player. And Bowie Kuhn, then the baseball commissioner, couldn’t be bothered to attend the game in which Aaron hit No. 715. He had something more important to do. Maybe it was a bridge tournament.
It’s been glossed over since but the fact is, there were many people who were not happy with this event because Aaron had made the mistake of being born with a black skin.
Like all the black players who came up from the south in that era, Aaron kept a low profile early in his career, but it wasn’t long before he began speaking out on racial injustices, which Willie Mays never did. Of course, despite the silly excuses he made, that was the reason Kuhn wasn’t there for the historic blast. I don’t believe he was a racist but he didn’t want anybody roiling the waters.
Aaron persevered, so he’s finally getting the recognition he should have gotten at the time. Of course, that’s because, in the eyes of commissioner Bud Selig, it’s because he’s the anti-Bonds, but that’s a story for another day.
THE NEW baseball replay system has drawn criticism for slowing the game down, but who are we kidding? What about batters who back out of the box after every pitch, or pitchers who take forever to throw a pitch when there are no runners on base? Umpires have the authority to stop this nonsense but never do.
Getting it right is what’s important, whatever the sport. Please don’t give me this “it always evens out” nonsense. Often, it doesn’t. Just ask the 1977 Oakland Raiders who lost a chance to repeat at the Super Bowl when officials blew a call in the AFC championship game. Denver’s Rob Lytle fumbled at the three – a play captured both on TV and by still photographers – but officials ruled the play dead, with Denver retaining possession and scoring the winning touchdown on the next play. That noncall was so blatant it spurred the NFL to adopt Instant Replay.
Baseball’s replay should be conducted by a retired umpire sitting in the press box and watching the replay. That would speed it up.
Meanwhile, about those stalling hitters and pitchers…
ON SUNDAY’S telecast, Mike Krukow told partner Duane Kuiper and those listening that 100 years ago, the Giants and Chicago White Sox had started the season with a series in Australia. Obviously, Kruk isn’t a student of history but whoever told him that had it all wrong, and the fact that there was no inter-league play then is only one of the clinkers. Here’s what really happened:
Late in the 1913 baseball season, Giants manager John McGraw and White Sox owner Charles Comiskey agreed to go on a world barnstorming tour, right after the World Series. McGraw thought the Giants would be going as World Champions but the Athletics won the World Series.
No matter. Picking up additional players – the Giants added Jim Thorpe, among others – the teams played a series of exhibitions as they traveled by train through the half of the country which did not have major league baseball. They finally reached the west coast and took an ocean liner to Asia.
They got to Australia after playing in Japan, China and the Philippines. After Australia, they played in Ceylon, then Egypt, then north to Paris and ending in London. They got home just in time for spring training!
I think you’ll agree this is a much more interesting story than a mythical season opener in Australia between the Giants and White Sox.
THE WARRIORS have been interesting more for what’s happening off the court than on lately, including the demotion of one assistant and the firing of another.
Mark Jackson is a notoriously thin-skinned head coach and he’s lost two assistants because he didn’t want to share credit. Mike Malone went to the Sacramento Kings as a head coach, a step up even if’s to a weak team. Recently, assistant Brian Scalabrine was demoted to the D League franchise because he and Jackson didn’t get along. (Another assistant, Darren Erman, was fired for something which had nothing to do with Jackson.)
I have mixed feelings about Jackson. On the one hand, he understands the NBA culture because he was a player and he’s apparently liked by his players. On the other hand, his hyper-sensitivity detracts from his leadership.
But, basically, it doesn’t matter. This Warriors team is an exciting one and it will make the playoffs but it won’t go far because big men Andrew Bogut and David Lee have serious physical problems. Lee, in fact, has a lower back problem that may cause him to miss at least some playoff games. Even if he plays, he won’t be the same.
Meanwhile, political writers think Proposition B will be overwhelmingly approved by San Francisco voters, , forcing the Warriors to give real details about their real estate scam that they’ve tried to disguise as an arena plan. Keep tuned.
NOT AGAIN: I was on my way to the A’s game a week ago when, while driving on Havenscourt and crossing Bancroft Avenue, I was hit by a driver who had run a red light. The collision drove me into the side of a restaurant, Genny’s Firepit, on the northwestern corner of the intersection, shattering the glass in a window that went all the way to the ceiling. This is the second time in just over a year and a half that I have been the victim of an accident for which I was blameless. What are the odds?
The owner of the restaurant, Virginia Roberson, got me out of the car and into the restaurant, sitting me down at a table. Her daughter had witnessed the accident while standing on the sidewalk and told me, “It wasn’t your fault. I saw it all.” In fact, she had talked to the woman driving the car and got all the relevant information, which she gave to me and the police officers who arrived shortly after.
This was the re-opening day of the restaurant and I would have thought they’d be more concerned about what had happened to it but instead, they were making sure I was all right. They brought in all the CDs that were scattered around the car and the information I had in my glove compartment to show to the police when they arrived. They even brought me some ribs, which were delicious.
Everybody but me in the restaurant was black, but there was no racial divide. They were just trying to help a man who had been in an accident and was clearly dazed by it. I was gratified by that because that’s the way I’ve always tried to treat people, not as a member of any race but the human one.
And, don’t worry about me. Once again, I survived an accident with no injuries, only a very minor cut on my nose. I have health issues because of diabetes but my body seems to be a sturdy one.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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