Matt Schaub/Derek Carr; Colin Kaepernick/Aldon Smith; Donald Sterling/Adam Silver; Roger Goodell; Sonny Gray/Brandon Moss; Michael Morse/Angel Pagan
RAIDERS GM Reggie McKenzie understands that the first piece in rebuilding a team is getting a reliable quarterback. He whiffed last year with Matt Flynn – a mistake Seattle had made earlier – but I think he’s made a good choice this year by trading for Houston’s Matt Schaub.
Everything went wrong for Schaub in Houston last year, and there was no way he could return there. But before that, he’d been a good quarterback and I believe the change of scenery will enable him to return to form.
Now, the Raiders seem to be in a very good position with Schaub as the starter, Matt McGloin as the perfect backup, a quarterback who can come in when the starter is injured and do a respectable job. I never thought McGloin was the answer as the starter, and neither did the Raiders coaches, but he’s a battler and won’t let a game get away if Schaub is injured.
The Raiders also seem to have made a good pick with Derek Carr, who has a much stronger arm than his older brother, David, who was a flop. And, they even have former Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards on the roster. Watching him as a collegian, I thought Edwards had a shot at being a good pro, which only proves that I’m no better at judging quarterbacks than most pro coaches.
Schaub got his first opportunity to practice with the Raiders this week and the results were inconclusive. He’ll have to do a lot of work in training camp to learn his receivers – and vice versa – but he knows that and is prepared to do it.
This will be an interesting season for the Raiders, who have what seems to be the toughest schedule in the league. Writers covering the team seem to think McKenzie’s job is on the line, which is nonsense. Dennis Allen’s tenure, though, is more questionable. The team has to show some solid improvement or he could be fired. But, that will be McKenzie’s decision to make.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are juggling player contracts, apparently to get payroll room so they can extend quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s contract and give him much more money. I think that’s a mistake but it’s their money and, by extension, the fans who will be paying much higher prices to see games at the new stadium.
(I still see e-mails from fans critical of the 49ers for leaving San Francisco. They left, of course, because they got no cooperation from then mayor Gavin Newsom on plans for a San Francisco stadium. And, my guess is that the fans complaining are ones who couldn’t afford the ticket prices in the new stadium.)
The really serious problem facing the 49ers is Aldon Smith, whose legal fate is still hanging. Even if he’s not sent to prison, he’s certainly going to be suspended for a sizeable part of the season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The 49ers should have gotten him into a rehab program at the end of last season but they’ve tried only to find a way to keep him on the field. That’s going to come back to bite them.
SOMETIMES, GOOD things happen: Donald Sterling is apparently going to give up his fight to keep the Clippers and sell his half. His wife has said she might keep her half but when she sees the zeroes behind the first numbers in the sale price, I think she’ll change her mind.
Three-quarters of the NBA owners have to vote to eject Sterling, but commissioner Adam Silver has said he has the votes. I don’t doubt that. A long article on Silver in Sports Illustrated leaves no doubt how thorough he is. He made absolutely certain that Sterling’s voice on that tape recording was authentic and, as deputy commissioner (and former corporate lawyer) under David Stern, he knows everybody in the NBA power structure and he knows exactly what he can do. He’s played this whole situation perfectly.
Some have raised the question of the legality of the recording, since Sterling didn’t know about it in advance, but in this era of social media, it’s hard to know what constitutes a private conversation for public figures. And, Sterling already had the reputation of being brutal to people of color working for him in his other businesses. So, again, he’s not likely to bring a lawsuit against the woman with whom he’d been having a very open extra marital relationship – and who taped the conversation. There are no heroes in this little episode, only varying degrees of ugly.
The sale of the club will only make both Sterling and his wife much richer but I’ve long since given up on being upset by the accumulation of wealth by individuals who do not deserves it. Our system has been corrupted by them and the rulings of the Supreme Court and there seems to be no turning back.
SPEAKING OF rich men who are oblivious, Daniel Snyder continues to resist pressure to change the nickname of his Washington football team because of tradition. I think it might be better to consider another bit of history: The group this nickname insults were the first inhabitants of our country.
There are numerous nicknames reflecting the earlier times, such as the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves. They’re a little silly now but they’re not insulting. The term “Redskins” definitely is.
I confess that I sometimes talk of “Indians” because that’s the name that was common for Native Americans when I grew up, and it’s shorter. But Native Americans is accurate. Relatively few of the blacks who use the cumbersome term African-Americans can trace their lineage back to Africa. I’d have thought that phrasing would have died out by now but it’s still politically correct. I’m not, I guess, because I just use the term “black.” But I’ve had black friends since I came to San Francisco in 1963 and they seem to accept me, despite my lack of political correctness, and, of course, I’ve dealt successfully with any number of black athletes over the years and was the only Bay Area writer who pushed for the hiring of Frank Robinson as Giants manager in 1982.
Now, I think it’s past time for NFL commissioner Goodell to call for the dropping of the Redskins nickname. I can’t imagine Snyder has many friends among NFL owners, though his constant meddling keeps the team from being competitive often.
So, Roger, the next move should be yours.
SOMETIMES, READERS have the best ideas. After Tom Verducci asserted in Sports Illustrated that Mike Trout was the best 22-year-old in major league history, a reader pointed out that when Ted Williams was 22 in 1941, he hit .406 with 37 homers and 120 RBIs. And, BTW, he struck out only 27 times. Trout stuck out 58 times in his first 49 games this year.
I would like to think that baseball writers had a better grasp of the game’s history but their continued obsession with steroids “cheaters” ignores the fact that cheating is a common thread through all of baseball history. Keeping out Barry Bonds, clearly the best player of his generation, is so stupid it defies comprehension.
THE WILD improbability of baseball was demonstrated again on Monday when the A’s, who had scored only 13 runs in their previous six games, exploded with five home runs and a 10-0 win over the Detroit Tigers in the opener of a four-game series. To make it more astounding, many people regard the Tigers as the best team in the American League.
Pitchers are usually more consistent than hitters, which is why it’s so important to have a strong pitching staff. That’s certainly true for the A’s, and they have a great pitching coach in Curt Young, who is especially good with young pitchers. Curt doesn’t try to change a pitcher’s style, just to improve on what he does best. His star pupil right now might be Tommy Milone, a lefthander with a marginal fast ball but who has learned how to keep hitters off balance with other pitches. That would describe Curt when he was a pitcher for the A’s, too, so he’s well-equipped to deal with that kind of pitcher. But, he’s also successful with other types of pitchers, like young phenom Sonny Gray. Dan Strally struggled with the A’s but, following Young’s advice, he’s been lights out recently at Sacramento, so he’ll probably be back in the majors soon.
But again, proving the almost random way of baseball, in Tuesday’s game, with Gray against Tiger ace Max Scherzer, the expected pitchers’ duel evaporated quickly, as neither pitcher looked good. Eventually, the Tigers won, 6-5.
Much of the A’s success is based on the long ball, dictated by the park in which they play, as I explained last week. Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson especially have modified their swings so they hit fly balls. If they hit them hard enough, they go out. No matter which park you play in, that’s a good strategy. Many years ago, the aforementioned Ted Williams and Joe Gordon were arguing hitting styles. Gordon advocated hitting down on the ball but Williams pointed out that, the best thing that happens with that style is a ground ball through the infield. If a batter uppercuts a ball, as Williams did, the best result is a home run.
The hitter I’m really rooting for is Kyle Blanks, obtained in a trade recently that allowed the A’s to send Daric Barton to Sacramento. If Blanks keeps hitting – he had one of the five homers on Monday – we won’t see any more of Barton at the Coliseum. He never became the hitter Billy Beane envisioned when he first traded for him because his slavish dedication to “working the count” deprived him of his aggressiveness at the plate. He’s a good defensive first baseman but a team needs hitting at that spot.
With the Texas Rangers falling off – the season-ending surgery to Prince Fielder was the final blow – it seems to be a two-team race in the AL West, with the Angels showing better pitching than expected and a strong offense with Albert Pujols once again hitting for power. The A’s still look like a better bet, with deeper pitching, but we’re only about 1/3 of the way through the season, so it would be foolish to make predictions yet.
THE GIANTS have also been playing well, with the best record in baseball as of today, but I’m not confident about their chances of winning the NL West because the Dodgers are starting to make a move with, literally, the best lineup money can buy.
Clayton Kershaw’s return made a huge difference to the Dodgers’ confidence level because he is the most overpowering pitcher in baseball. He reminds me very much of Sandy Koufax, who was so overpowering before being forced into an early retirement by serious arm problems.
There’s another factor: The multi-talented Yasiel Puig is starting to play within himself now, though he still has the bat flip which annoys some baseball purists. It’s past time to realize that Latino players put much more feeling into the game. That’s the way they are, not a matter of not having respect for the old traditions. More importantly for the Dodgers, Puig is learning to swing at strikes, not pitches out of the strike zone. His potential is unlimited.
It’s important, too, for Giants fans to realize that their team and the Dodgers are basically where they were last year at this time – but that’s not the way the season ended.
This is not the same Giants’ team as last year, though. They’re not suffering from a long, tense postseason, as last year’s team did, because they had no postseason last year. Angel Pagan is healthy, and their decline last season came after he suffered a season-ending injury. They’ve added significant power with Michael Morse, and Pablo Sandoval is hitting like the Panda of old as he goes into an offseason where the demand for his services will probably be too high for the Giants to match. Brandon Belt was hitting for power when he suffered a broken thumb, and he will be back before too long.
The starting pitching hasn’t been as strong as hoped, except for Tim Hudson. Madison Bumgarner has started to assert himself again and he’s solid. Ryan Vogelsong has pitched well lately, though I remain skeptical about him. Matt Cain keeps falling victim to weird injuries. Tim Lincecum is good for 5-6 innings, nothing more, in most of his starts.
I can’t resist commenting on the injury of Santiago Casilla, which came because he was batting – and because the National League resolutely refuses to recognize what the rest of the baseball world does: The DH should be used. It simply substitutes an offensive specialist for a defensive specialist.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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