Mike Trout/Johnny Bench/Willie Mays;California Chrome/Secretariat; Pele; Mark Davis; Tim Lincecum; Brandon Moss
THE LAWSUIT by Northwestern athletes against the NCAA for not allowing them to make money off their reputations has already had an effect: The five major conferences, including the Pac-12, have formed an alliance to press for immediate changes within the NCAA.
The scholarship program for athletes was a good idea when it was started, a method by which athletes whose families had little money, could get a college education. But, it has long since been a failure.
The most obvious problem is that too many athletes get no real education at all. Even at what are thought of as good schools, there are often programs for athletes which do nothing but keep them eligible. For the vast majority of athletes who never play professionally, that is a cruel joke.
Even for those striving to get an education, scholarship money doesnít begin to cover their costs. Yet, if they try to capitalize on their reputations, they can be suspended immediately. There is no way to justify this.
The five major conferences want control over what they can do, which would certainly provide the athletes with more help and flexibility. One item I found interesting: If the NBA doesnít boost its minimum age requirement, these schools are debating making freshman ineligible for varsity play, which would eliminate the one-and-done players in collegiate basketball.
None of this addresses the main problem for intercollegiate sports: Football costs have gotten totally out of control. There are too many coaches making too much money and demanding very expensive training facilities.
It may be that the enormous cost of these programs will drive many colleges into the subdivision category, like UC Davis, or even to drop the sport. My thought has been that the end of football will start with the dropping of high school programs. It would be ironic if the start of the inevitable came on the college level.
CALIFORNIA CHROME: Itís been some time since Iíve followed horse racing closely, but like many people, Iím rooting for California Chrome to become the first Triple Crown winner in almost four decades with a win in the Belmont on Saturday. And, I was amused at how quickly the ban on nose strips was dropped. Could the fact that New York would have lost a ton of betting revenue with California Chrome out of the race have had anything to do with it?
Any mention of the Triple Crown brings back memories of Secretariat, who absolutely dominated in 1973, finishing with a 31-length win in the Belmont in world record time for the distance. Video shots of that race couldnít even include the second-place horse, Twice a Prince!
BEST EVER? A reader, Tom Ryugo, suggests another candidate for the best 22-year-old ever (SIís Tom Verducci anointed Mike Trout): Johnny Bench. In 1970, Bench hit .293 with 45 home runs and 148 RBIs. He won the MVP, the youngest ever to win that award, and led the Cincinnati Reds to the National League pennant.
Maybe, Willie Mays should get an honorable mention. At 22, Mays was busy defending his country by playing for the Fort Dix baseball team Ė he never went overseas. The next year, 1954, he hit .345 with 41 homers and 110 RBIs while playing a superb centerfield in the cavernous Polo Grounds. Mays was the league MVP and the Giants swept the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Could Mays have done this the year before? Well, consider that he was a regular at 16 in the Negro League and, as we discovered when the color line was broken in major league baseball, there were many outstanding players in that league.
WORLD CUP: Pele has scolded his country Ė Brazil will host both the World Cup finals and the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Ė for not providing more money for education for its citizens. He could have added sanitation.
Nancy and I visited Rio on our first stop on our South American trip in 2009, and we were often shocked by what we saw. We stayed at a hotel right on the beach, and that part was great. We had been warned about crime, even on the beach, but when we looked out the hotel windows, we could see families with young children walking there, so we werenít worried. We walked along the beach and enjoyed it.
Otherwise, though, we went on guided tours and, in addition to the sights, saw some poverty-ridden areas. We also saw how raw sewage was dumped into the lake where Olympic water events will be held. I hope they can get that cleaned up, but Iím not optimistic. The man who is in charge of monitoring the progress of Olympic sites said recently that Rio is further behind than any previous site.
Once again, weíre seeing how the senior officials make Olympic site decisions based on what theyíll get out of it. Most shamefully, that gave Hitler a perfect showcase in 1936. Thank you, Avery Brundage.
THE $2 BILLION sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer astounded everybody but it really meant nothing as far as the true value of the franchise, only that Ballmer really wanted the team.
The good news is that we wonít be hearing much more about Donald Sterling and his wife and girlfriend. Reportedly, Sterling is suffering from dementia and prostate cancer.
One reader feared that the huge sales of the Dodgers and Clippers might mean that the Raiders will be going south, too, but the Raiders situation has nothing to do with the other two. Both the Dodgers and Clippers have existing facilities and an established fan base. There is no stadium for the Raiders and their fans in the area can mostly be found through police blotters.
Mark Davis is completely unrealistic in wanting Oakland and Alameda County to pay for a new stadium Ė taxpayers are still paying for the improvements when the Raiders moved back in the Ď90s Ė but he canít commit to playing in the 49ers facility while his mother is alive. She wants that tribute to Al at the northwest corner of the Coliseum to remain. Itís an embarrassment to everybody but the Davis family, but until Carole dies, weíll see that silly tribute before every Raiders game.
I HAD some fun with my Tuesday column in The Examiner, speculating on another Bay Bridge World Series Ė but without the earthquake of 25 years ago.
The earthquake completely overshadowed the play on the field. I was in the menís room when it hit and didnít realize its magnitude. When I got back to my seat in the auxiliary press section of the upper deck, I had no connection with my laptop. While I was worrying about how Iíd get my column in, the TV we had in the area showed a shot of the Bay Bridge. At that point, I realized I would not have to write a column.
There was a lot of scrambling by MLB and civic officials after the game. One proposal was for the Series to continue at the Oakland Coliseum. Of course, nobody thought to call anybody in Oakland. I called George Vukasin, then head of the Coliseum, and he told me a Bill Graham concert was scheduled. I called Graham and he said heíd be willing to postpone it Ė but nobody had called him, either.
Eventually, it was decided Candlestick was not structurally damaged so the Series continued, with the Aís finishing a sweep. In many ways, Candlestick was an example of how not to build a stadium but it was structurally sound, so nobody was hurt. All of us there that evening were grateful.
TO GET to the Series, of course, both the Aís and Giants have to maneuver through the postseason jungle.
In earlier days, it was much simpler. There were two leagues and the champions of each met in the World Series.
Now, itís much more complicated. There are still two leagues but theyíre split into three divisions each, Plus, there are wild card teams.
The goal, of course, is to keep as many teams alive with postseason hopes, so their fans will keep coming to the games. The NFL does the same thing, but thereís a big difference. In an NFL season, every game is important because there are only 16 of them, so players are accustomed to concentrating on each game. Baseball is a totally different sport, with teams varying widely; the Aís came off a road trip in which theyíd scored only five runs in their last three games and won the first game at home, 10-0. So, baseball plays a regular season schedule of 162 games to let the highs and lows settle and then goes to a limited postseason. Itís almost an accident if the best team actually wins.
So, itís probably unrealistic to think that both the Giants and Aís can make their way through this thicket to
reach the Series, but itís fun to dream about it.
Both teams are doing well now. The Giants have the best winning record in MLB and the Aís are just one game behind, with the best record in the American League.
The Aís have a great pitching/power relationship and showed it off again in the first game of a three-game series in New York yesterday, with Brandon Moss hitting two homers, including a crushing blow in the 10th to beat the Yankees. As Iíve said before, any day in which the Yankees lose is a good one. Even better, this is shaping up as another season in which the Yankees arenít close to postseason glory.
The Achilles heel of the Giants is their starting pitching, and that showed up again last night when Tim Lincecum had another bad outing. The Giants signed Lincecum to a ridiculous two-year contract before this season and he remains a perplexing pitcher for them. San Francisco is absolutely the best place for him with his personal idiosyncrasies, but his future as a starter is very uncertain. I think heís best suited to being a reliever. Weíll see how the Giants handle this delicate situation.
NOTHING FRUSTRATES fans of my generation or even the one just before than the current atmosphere at baseball parks, and especially AT&T. My advice: Live with it.
Certainly, I preferred the way it was when I started out, when it was important to come early to watch batting practice and fans stayed in their seats unless they had to either buy a hot dog Ė not much else offered in those days Ė or go to the bathroom.
Now, at AT&T, there are multiple food options at locations around the park. Fans are often on the move, walking around, looking out at the bay, stopping at one of the food gardens. And, of course, always calling or texting friends, at the park or not.
The games, too, last much longer, so more merchandise can be sold on TV. Umpires donít enforce the time limits for pitchers when there are no runners on base, batters think they have to step out after every pitch.
But, thatís just the way it is Ė and the way it always will be. Whether itís sports or other businesses, theyíre aimed at the primary audience and, letís face it, there are far more 30-year-olds than 60 at ball games.
Iíve found it works much better to simply accept the changes instead of complaining. When I first came to The Chronicle, I was young and contemptuous of the older fans who were always complaining that the game wasnít as good as it was when they were younger. Now that Iím older, I donít want to be one of those lecturing. It does no good.
THE END: This will be the last year Iíll write this column. It will end some time in mid-August when Nancy and I are going back to Tennessee to visit friends and family, the only way she can see family members because theyíve never grasped the concept of planes flying from Tennessee to California. The last column before our departure will be it.
There are two reasons for my decision. One is physical. Itís become much more difficult for me to get to games and into stadiums. Climbing the hill to get into Calís Memorial Stadium is particularly difficult, and thereís no reward when I get there.
The other reason is that Iíve been writing sports for San Francisco newspapers for more than half a century, and I wrote in Watsonville for 4 Ĺ years before that. The ďsell-byĒ date is stamped on my forehead. Iím trying a different style of writing now, fiction for the Amazon Kindle program. Iíve already written one novel, which has nothing to do with either me or sports. As soon as Nancy gets it prepared in the Kindle style Ė as in so many areas, sheís far ahead of me in this Ė and Iím already thinking of another one.
I will miss the connection with my readers, because many of you have been with me for a long time, but Iím looking forward to this new challenge. Wish me luck.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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