Derek Carr/Ken Stabler/Jim Plunkett/Rich Gannon; JaMarcus Russell; Pablo Sandoval/Brandon Belt/Tim Lincecum; Bob Ladouceur/Jim Hines/Bob Lurie/Tony La Russa; George Atkinson
THE RAIDERS drafted Derek Carr of Fresno State last week, and we can all hope he breaks the run of bad to really bad quarterbacks who have been drafted by the Raiders.
It’s always puzzled me why so many smart football people are clueless when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. You can include Al Davis on that list. When I covered the Raiders, Ron Wolf talked him into taking Ken Stabler on the second round, after he’d drafted Eldridge Dickey on the first round. Dickey had a very short career while Stabler thrived, but Davis still didn’t like him because he didn’t have a cannon arm.
He got lucky with Jim Plunkett, whom he picked up when Joe Thomas put him on waivers. But that was just a case of Davis wanting to get guys who had won big awards. Remember when he picked up Larry Brown because he was a star in the Super Bowl? Brown could only play in a zone defense and the Raiders under Davis played man-to-man. Oops. Davis got another break with Plunkett when Dan Pastorini, the quarterback Davis really wanted, was injured, so Plunkett had to play – and led the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins.
In Los Angeles, Davis drafted Marc Wilson and Todd Marinovich. When the team moved back to Oakland, he brought in Jeff George, who threw very well but was absolutely hated by his teammates. Not good. Jon Gruden finally convinced Davis to bring in Rich Gannon, who got the Raiders to their last Super Bowl.
And, then, finally, the topping on the whole cake: JaMarcus Russell. Not incidentally, the Raiders could have had Calvin Johnson.
The current Raiders GM, Reggie McKenzie, also made a mistake when he signed Matt Flynn (the Seahawks had earlier made the same mistake) but he quickly realized that and got rid of Flynn. Now, he’s brought in a solid veteran, Matt Schaub, who had to get out of Houston because of bad vibes but has been a good quarterback. Carr can learn playing behind Schaub for one year, maybe two, before taking over.
McKenzie had a solid offseason signing veterans to shore up the defense and followed that with a good draft. Maybe the naysayers in the media will finally shut up.
One of the prevailing themes has been that McKenzie is on a short leash because of comments by Mark Davis. In fact, Davis said when McKenzie’s hiring was made that he wouldn’t interfere with the football because he didn’t know anything about it. When he says he’d like to see more wins, that’s a fan talking. For his part, he’s talking to Wolf and John Madden, and they certainly aren’t telling him to fire McKenzie.
McKenzie is in the position of a man moving into a building that has totally collapsed. He’s had to get rid of all the garbage before he could move forward. He’s at that point now. He’s made good decisions, both in free agency and in the draft. The Raiders are playing in probably the toughest division in the AFC and they have what some people are saying the NFL’s toughest schedule this year, so it’s impossible to predict their record. But, I can say that they’ll be worth watching this year and there haven’t been many seasons since the last Super Bowl when that’s been true.
WHEN THE Rams drafted Michael Sam, who will be the first openly gay player in the NFL, it was a feel good moment. He was drafted by a team playing in Missouri, where he played college ball, so many fans will already have seen him – and rooted for him.
But not everybody was pleased. Miami safety Don Jones tweeted, “OMG. Horrible.” That got him fined and suspended, and it makes you wonder what’s in the water down there. That’s the same team that harassed Jonathan Martin into quitting. No wonder they’re losers.
On a personal note, I wrote a column for the Examiner a few weeks ago saying that the 49ers would be a good home for both Martin and Sam. One of those young Examiner readers who greatly overestimates his knowledge sent in a comment saying, “Martin is through in the NFL and nobody will draft Sam.” Martin, of course, did sign with the 49ers and Sam has been drafted, so that yahoo is 0-for-2.
WHEN PABLO SANDOVAL got three hits in the win over the Dodgers on Sunday, everybody rejoiced that he’d broken his slump. Maybe, but I’d like to see a lot more proof than one good game.
Same for Tim Lincecum, who had his best start of the season against Atlanta last night, giving up just two hits and one run in 7 2/3 innings. But, don’t get giddy about that. He still has an ERA of 4.78.
Last fall, the Giants signed Lincecum to a two-year extension worth $35 million that seemed inexplicable, considering his problems of the last two years. I can only think that it was more because of Lincecum’s popularity than his performance. He fits well in San Francisco with his off-beat personality. It’s hard to think of another place that would be such a good fit for him. The Giants no doubt had their collective fingers crossed that he’ll recover at least most of the form that made him dominant earlier in his career. I doubt it, but I hope he does.
Countering the good news, the Giants have lost Brandon Belt to a broken thumb. Belt can’t seem to catch a break. He’d started strong, got elevated to the No. 3 spot in the order, then fell into a terrible slump. He was just battling his way out of that when he got hurt again.
The plan is for Michael Morse to play first in Belt’s absence, if Morse can find his first baseman’s glove. First base has often been a position where managers put a player whose bat they want in the lineup, and Morse is no doubt in that category; he booted a ground ball in his Giants debut at first. But, when you watch Belt on defense, you see him making plays that others don’t make. He’s just a tick behind J. T. Snow, the best I’ve seen at the position. (The late Leonard Koppett, whose experience went back before 1920 in New York, said Snow was the best he’d seen in all that time.)
So, the Giants will miss Belt, but this seems to be a resilient bunch and the Dodgers, who were supposed to steamroll everyone, can’t seem to get it together. I suspect Don Mattingly is a big part of the problem. Great player, nice guy but doesn’t seem to have a clue as manager.
Meanwhile, the A’s are back in gear with a five-game winning streak that has put them at the top of the division. They still look like the most likely winner of the division because Texas isn’t as strong as in the last four seasons and the Angels still lack pitching. Seattle has played better than I expected but, even with Robinson Cano, they still lack the overall hitting to reach the top of the division. Not incidentally, did you see that Yankee fans chanted “sold out, sold out” at Cano when the Mariners played in New York. The fans obviously think only the Yankees should be allowed to pluck free agents from other teams. As they were booing Cano, the Yankees’ lineup had five players signed as free agents after they left their original teams.
THE CHANGE in baseball with deeper pitching staffs because starters seldom pitch complete games, has left teams with depleted benches.
Two changes should be made:
1) Rosters should be expanded to 27 players. There’s nothing sacred about a 25-man roster and, in this era, teams can easily pay for two more players.
2) The National League should adopt the Designated Hitter. It’s ridiculous that NL teams have resisted this change, which is not only used by the American League but by minor league teams, college teams, high school teams. When everybody else is doing one thing and you’re doing another, who’s the crazy one?
BASHOF: It was a very long evening last Wednesday because the first inductee, Bob Ladouceur, the La Salle coach who set a record for high school wins, went on…and on….and on…and on. In vain, I prayed for the music Lou Spadia had played to let inductees know they had to curtail their speeches. There were no doubt some in the audience who loved Ladouceur’s seemingly endless monologue. One of them, my good friend Sam Spear, was sitting next to me. But probably more had the same reaction I did. As successful as Ladouceur was, he was still first on the agenda because the BASHOF people always schedule entrants in reverse order to their popularity, saving the best to last.
The rest of the enshrinees were much more interesting. Sprinter Jim Hines talked about his great performance in the 1968 Olympics, when he set records, but he also talked about how proud he was of his family. His son, an attorney, introduced him. Sharks legend Owen Nolan talked about his trade to the Sharks and said he didn’t even know where San Jose was at that time. Welcome to the club, Owen. He explained further that, when he had played against the Sharks before, they were playing at the Cow Palace, before the current arena was built.
The real highlights, though, came from Giants owner Bob Lurie, who showed a sense of humor I never knew he had. Of course, in many of our encounters when he owned the Giants, I told him what he was doing wrong. Tony La Russa had fun going back and forth with his presenters, former players Dave Stewart and Carney Lansford.
Lurie gave a blow-by-blow of the negotiations with Bud Herseth to form a partnership to buy the Giants when Horace Stoneham made a deal to sell the team to Labatt’s Brewery in Toronto. Attendance had dropped to just over half a million because Stoneham knew nothing about promotion and the team had declined. The Lurie-Herseth relationship was short-lived because Herseth was a beer drinker who liked to ride out in the desert and shoot rattlesnakes. So, Lurie bought him out, but having a partner allowed Lurie to save the Giants for San Francisco.
I was glad to see Lurie get his due because so many people came down on him when he was negotiating a deal to sell the team to Tampa businessmen, to play in St. Petersburg. He had done everything he could to get a new park built. He probably would have succeeded in 1989 but after the earthquake, the people who had been working to sell the idea of the park left to join the earthquake relief crew while the anti-ballpark people claimed that money from earthquake relief would be diverted to the ball park, which was not true.
Lurie was very happy to see a San Francisco group spring up to save the Giants and eventually build the ball park, and the one in charge of the park project, Larry Baer, had worked for Lurie in the ‘80s.
La Russa was very different from other managers. Lansford remembered one time when he came in and told players he was to blame for the loss because of mistakes he had made. “That was the only time I’d heard a manager do that,” said Lansford. When his turn came, La Russa jokingly said, “I was probably waiting for the players to take the blame.”
I’ve never known a manager as intense as La Russa, and I also learned a lot from him because I’d ask specific questions about strategy. When I called him to tell him I was writing the bio for his BASHOF plaque, he got excited by one of my questions and went on for some time before he stopped and said, “You asked a good question, but you always did.”
THE OLD DAYS: Observing the NFL draft last week, I couldn’t help thinking how times have changed. When I covered the Raiders, 1967-71, the draft was in February, and then teams closed down until training camp. Now, there is the Combine in Indianapolis and numerous days when players perform before coaches and scouts at their own schools. There are tons of mock drafts. Everybody is an expert until the actual draft, which has only a slight resemblance to the many predictions.
I’ve always kept away from saying things were better when I was younger because I know what was really better was that I was younger and the various body parts worked a lot better. But I can say that, when I was covering the Raiders, I was very close to the players, even sitting with them on the planes going to away games. The writers now are much more removed from players. Now, when I see a former Raider from my era, he’ll greet me warmly. One of them, George Atkinson, used to tell me about the progress of his son, who was a running back at Notre Dame and was signed by the Raiders last weekend as an undrafted free agent.
THIS COLUMN is early because I wanted to see the Giants game tomorrow. I’ll be back on the Wednesday schedule next week.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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