Jerry Brown; Tim Lincecum/Juan Marichal/Tony La Russa;Babe Ruth/Don Mattingly; Shaun Livingston/Jeremy Lin/Kevin Love; Lew Wolff; Al Davis
EARLIER, I predicted that the death of football would start with the elimination of high school football because, without the high schools, colleges would have nobody to recruit and the NFL would not have colleges as its farm system.
As usual, California is a leader. A bill has passed the Legislature, awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, which would limit high school teams to two 90-minute practices a week, prohibit two-a-day practices on consecutive days and automatically sideline a player who has suffered a concussion for a week until he is medically cleared to return to playing.
Predictably, high school coaches are alarmed, claiming it will actually damage players to have restricted practices. Only in a coach’s world. I’ve known some high school coaches over the years and among them have been coaches who truly cared about their players. The first one I knew, Gene Johnson in Watsonville, was like that. But coaches are in their profession because they want to win, so they sometimes ignore other factors, like player safety. Coaches who claim restricted practices would hurt players are in that category.
There have been earlier signs of dramatic changes in high school football. One is that high schools out in the valley are demanding that parents pay $1,500 for their sons to play football, to cover possible medical costs and lawsuits. One former reader told me he’d paid that willingly so his son could play. When I told him his son played just to please him, he got very angry and stopped reading me because I’d made it “personal.” What I’d really done was to remind him of an inconvenient truth.
Football is so ingrained in American culture that it will take some time to die. It’s a sport I never played because I didn’t want to hit anybody and I really didn’t want anybody hitting me – and I never had pressure from my dad to play it. But as an adult, I’ve enjoyed watching it and writing about it, because of the strategy involved. Years ago, during a radio interview, my interviewer asked me if football had become the guilty pleasure, one which we enjoy but don’t feel comfortable about. More and more, that’s been the case for me. I doubt there are many fans who agree with that because they’re removed from the true violence of the sport, either watching from the stands or on television, but I’ve been close to the scene at practices since 1967, when I started on the Raiders beat, and I’ve been close to players who suffered serious injuries. And still, I was able to blot them from my memory when I’ve written about the sport, so I can hardly blame fans who see only the excitement, not the trauma.
I don’t know how long the change will take for this country to turn its back on football and go to a less dangerous sport like soccer, which is No. 1 in the world, or even rugby, which is a rough sport but much less dangerous for players. Whatever the change, it will certainly be after my death, even though I expect to live many more years, given the longevity on both sides of my family tree. Whenever it comes, the greatest benefit will be to the athletes themselves.
BRUCE JENKINS had an interesting column in The Chronicle last week when he chided young Giants fans for claiming that Tim Lincecum was the best pitcher in the history of the San Francisco Giants. Bruce made the case for Juan Marichal, who would certainly be my choice, too. But, it was hardly surprised at the feeling of young fans. There has been an enormous change in fans since Marichal’s time because of the visual arts, first television and now the myriad ways of getting information quickly.
When I was young, I read avidly about the history of baseball, so Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were as real to me as the stars of the current game. But I became vividly aware of the change when an interviewer asked Don Mattingly, when he was playing for the Yankees, about Babe Ruth. Mattingly said, “Who’s Babe Ruth?” Well, Don, if you’d walk out to center field at Yankee Stadium, you’d see his statue.
But, Mattingly was of a generation which learned all it needed to know from ESPN highlights on TV. Now, of course, they have even more visual aids. Who needs to read? Just go on Twitter and record your most inane thoughts.
Marichal came from an era when starters were expected to finish their games, and nobody was better. He had one season in which he completed 30 games, he pitched a complete game shutout for 16 innings, as Warren Spahn matched him inning for inning until Willie Mays hit a solo homer. For his career, Marichal had 243 wins, 244 complete games.
Marichal had a variety of pitches and he was content to let hitters hit them, knowing they’d usually be easy outs to his fielders. He saved his best fast ball for times when he had a runner on third with less than two outs and he needed a strikeout.
The only pitcher I’ve seen in recent years who was anything like that was Greg Maddox, who didn’t have the kind of fast ball Marichal always had in reserve but was a master at mixing up his pitches and always having some kind of break on the ball, so hitters seldom hit his pitches squarely.
Baseball fans have always liked to pretend that the game is unchanging but it’s changed dramatically over the years. Remember that it started with a ball so dead that it was hard to hit It out of the infield. The lively ball was introduced in 1911, but hitters were not accustomed to swinging for home runs, so there was no power surge, but batting averages rose dramatically. Joe Jackson hit .408 but was second in the American League to Cobb’s .420. It wasn’t until Babe Ruth came along that hitters started swinging for the fences.
Tony La Russa ushered in another era with the A’s in the late ‘80s when he established relief pitchers for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. There had been “closers” before but they often went more than one inning; Rollie Fingers pitched three innings in closing out a World Series game. Now, managers have relief pitchers who are setup men and a closer for one inning.
It’s not the game I remember from my youth, but that’s not important. I have a lasting memory of the old-timers in San Francisco who were upset with the ‘60s Giants for not bunting, when they had Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Jim Ray Hart. I’m not going to be like that, especially since baseball is setting attendance records and the Giants are selling out every game. Obviously, they’re giving the young fans what they want. My generation is usually watching on TV.
THE GIANTS have been in free fall for a month, as the fundamental problems that were always there have become more apparent. Everything went well for them through the end of May before June came up to knock them down. Baseball is that way, which is why it takes a long season to even it all out.
It was a real positive for the Giants when Lincecum followed up on his no-hitter with eight scoreless innings against the Cardinals last night, more impressive in that he was facing tough major league hitters, not the Padres. Lincecum seems finally to have made the mental adjustment from his power pitching days and Matt Cain also seems to have gotten his groove back, though he hasn’t gotten much offensive support.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean is constantly asked about possible trades and he’s fenced with writers about that, mostly because he knows there’s no reasonable move to be made. The mediocrity in baseball, along with a terribly expanded playoff schedule, means that only a handful of clubs are out of contention. So, nobody’s willing to give up a player who can help them.
Brandon Belt should be back soon, possibly this week, and he should help, though it will probably take time for him to get his timing back. Angel Pagan is a key to their success but he’s been plagued with injuries. Offensively, they’re not in sync when he’s not at the top of the lineup. Gregor Blanco can do the job defensively in center field but he’s not a major league hitter.
Pablo Sandoval is an interesting case. He came out of that devastating early season slump but he’s not hitting for much power, though he hit a homer last night that barely cleared the fence. He’s in the last year of his contract and his agent was expecting a big payday for him with his next one, whether the Giants or another team, but if he’s hitting around .275 with little power, I don’t think he’ll be a hot item, for the Giants or anybody else.
The one thing the Giants have going for them is their division, the weakest in baseball, based on total wins and losses. There’s nothing after the Giants and Dodgers. So, even if the Dodgers continue their rise, which is likely, there’s nobody to challenge the Giants for the second spot, so they should be in the playoffs.
The A’s, meanwhile, have been steady as you go in the first half of the season, emerging with the majors’ best record after 81 games, though they’re tired now and in a tough situation against the Tigers in Detroit. They may even have some recognition in the All-Star game with both Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes getting the fans attention; Donaldson is a cinch to make the team and Cespedes has been running third in the fans’ vote, with his amazing throws from left field catching the fans’ attention. They have three pitchers in the mix, too - Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Sean Doolittle, though Gray is scheduled to pitch Sunday, so he’d be ineligible.
The stadium authority, which includes representatives from both Oakland and Alameda County, reached a tentative agreement with the A’s on a 10-year lease deal, but now, the city wants to renegotiate the deal. How did we get so lucky as to get Jean Quan as our mayor?
The sticking point seems to be that Oakland wants to have protection if the A’s decide to switch to a new park at the Howard terminal site, just north of Jack London Square. But A’s owner Lew Wolff has consistently said he doesn’t think that site would work. Why would he suddenly change his mind?
At one time, I wanted a new A’s park downtown or in Jack London Square to attract fans from out of the area who would spend money before and after games. But, the Oakland economy no longer needs that. Jerry Brown’s plan to build apartments and condos to bring in young people downtown has worked. The restaurant business is thriving, with new ones going in frequently, and the overall business atmosphere is great.
So, the current location for the A’s is fine, accessible by BART and freeways. It’s complicated by the Raiders, who should move to be co-tenants in the new 49ers stadium. Why won’t they? Because Al Davis’s widow, Carole, wants that shrine to Davis in the northwest corner, where the eternal flame is lit before every home game. Of course, the 49ers wouldn’t allow that, and you can bet it won’t last at the Coliseum past Carole’s death.
As for those constant rumors about the Raiders moving back to L.A., forget it. The only ones who want them back are the criminal element. In fact, Angelenos prefer the situation as it is. They have their pro team, the USC Trojans, and can get any NFL game on their big television sets. The best of both worlds.
THE WARRIORS couldn’t make a trade to get into the fun on NBA draft day, no surprise because this was regarded as the best draft in several years, so they’ve agreed to sign Shaun Livingston as a backup point guard, as soon as the free agent market opens.
Livingston is a good choice, an excellent shooter and defender who, at 6-7, is big enough to guard big shooting guards.
That means the end to a tantalizing story, that they might sign Jeremy Lin. He would have worked for the Warriors, too, and he’s also local, from Palo Alto. But overall, Livingston appears to be a better choice.
I seriously doubt the Kevin Love trade will ever materialize because the Warriors would be foolish to give up Klay Thompson, and “foolish” doesn’t describe the decisions they’ve made recently
WHILE WASHINGTON owner Dan Snyder clings determinedly to hang on to the Redskins nickname, he got support from former coach Joe Gibbs, who remembers the name fondly from his youth.
Gibbs is of my generation so our memories are similar. The difference is that I realize that some of the terms I used in my youth are offensive, so I no longer use them. Gibbs obviously believes that nothing has changed since he was young. Only the world, Joe.
Snyder is a different person. He just believes that, because he’s rich, he knows more than anybody else on any subject. That includes whoever is unfortunate enough to be his coach, which is why Washington so often has a high draft pick.
If a nickname is offensive to a racial group, it should not be used, no matter how long it has been. More and more people are realizing that but I don’t think there’s any hope for either Snyder or Gibbs.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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