Lew Wolff/Bud Selig/John Fisher; Mark Davis/Jean Quan/Nate Miley; Earl Robinson; Michelle Wie/Tiger Woods/Arnold Palmer
AS MUCH as I love Oakland, living here can be frustrating when I watch the inane wrangling of the City Council, as well as the clueless policies of the mayor.
The latest hassle is over the new contract negotiated by the A’s and the Coliseum Authority but which is now being disputed by some members of the City Council, which has to sign off on it. I’m no admirer of Lew Wolff but when a specific board is set up to negotiate contracts, it’s stupid for Council members who know little or nothing about them to want to make changes.
Much of this so far has been comic opera. Wolff got his old fraternity buddy, baseball commissioner Bud Selig, to say he had permission to move the team. No. 1: That’s not the commissioner’s decision. Any move would have to be approved by owners. No. 2: There is no suitable site in this country.
Several years ago, Selig asked a former club official, whom I know well, to survey cities and report on which ones could support a major league franchise. This official told me his report was that there were none. Baseball isn’t like the NFL, where so many teams (including the 49ers) basically sell out with season tickets. So, the audience has to be substantial. Sometimes, that audience is in a city itself, such as Los Angeles – if you can think of it as being an actual city. Sometimes, it’s territory; St. Louis had a population of only 312,000 in 2012 but the Cardinals draw from a large area because of their popularity. Oakland’s population is only 390,000 but it’s in the middle of a huge urban population from El Cerrito to Hayward, broken only by Highway 24, and the A’s also draw from every growing Contra Costa County.
A truly ludicrous suggestion was made by Matier & Ross in The Chronicle that the A’s could move to San Antonio and play in a domed football stadium – which would have a right field line of just 280 feet. A real nonstarter.
There has been one other suggestion: that the A’s could move to Montreal, where the Expos had some success before being moved to Washington D.C. to become the Nationals. But A’s owners Wolff and oh-so-silent partner John Fisher are Californians, so they’d have to sell and they have no motivation to do that. They’re raking in money and Wolff likes to go to games, watching his favorite team, the Dodgers. Once in awhile, he even stops by to see the A’s.
The worries expressed make no sense. One was that the A’s might decide to build a park at the Howard Terminal site – but Wolff has repeatedly said that site wouldn’t work, even when local businessmen have offered to pay for it. Another worry was that the Raiders might decide to build their own stadium. Are you not paying attention? Mark Davis has repeatedly said he wants the city and county to pay for a new stadium.
More proof of this came this week when a story broke that members of the city-backed Coliseum City group want the current Coliseum torn down and a new football stadium built.
I think Nate Miley, a county supervisor who serves as the chairman of the Coliseum Authority, best summed this up. Pointing out that the city and county taxpayers still owe about $180 million on the deal to re-do the Coliseum for the Raiders return, Miley said, “This is either smoke and mirrors or they’re on crack.”
Coliseum City attorney Zachary Wasserman said that, in the event a new stadium isn’t built, “The Raiders are making plans to play elsewhere.”
Where? On Mars? Nobody in Los Angeles wants them back, except for the criminal element which was a big part of their fan base. Nor is there a gleaming new stadium waiting for them there, or anywhere else. The Raiders are run much differently since Al Davis’s death but the stigma of his ownership remains. Nobody wants them.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jean Quan reminds in her dream world. The Coliseum City project looks good on paper but no business has committed to it, and my educated guess is that none will until she’s out of office.
THE FIRST two games of the Bay Bridge Series showed that the A’s are serious contenders for the World Series and the Giants are pretenders.
The one bright spot lately for the Giants has been that the starting rotation is looking better. Tim Lincecum has had a great three-game run, which included a no-hitter. Because of the scheduling, all of those games came against the Padres, against whom Lincecum has always had great success, but it does seem that he’s finally adjusted to the fact that he is no longer a power pitcher. Matt Cain is also making that kind of adjustment, more successfully than can be seen by his won-lost record.
And, of course, the Giants are in the weakest division in baseball (as measured by total wins and losses by all five teams), so they’ll probably end the season with a good record.
Earlier in the year, they had a swagger, a belief that they’d somehow get the job done. The A’s have had that swagger all season but the Giants have lost it. Too much depends on Angel Pagan, who can’t seem to stay healthy.
THE EARL OF BERKELEY: Earl Robinson, my classmate at Cal and longtime friend, died on the Fourth of July. As his good friend and former teammate Stan Morrison said, “Earl always liked the dramatic moment.”
I first met Earl when we were both juniors at Cal. He was a double-sport star, in baseball and basketball. I was on The Daily Cal and interviewed him for both sports, as well as on the Cal radio station. I covered the Cal baseball team that spring but not when they won the College World Series in the summer. I was working for the US Forest Service, earning money to continue my education.
After graduation, Earl signed a bonus contract with the Dodgers but, in a short time with the Dodgers and the Baltimore Orioles, he was only a so-so player.
So, he turned his focus to education and became an outstanding teacher and administrator in Oakland for many years before his retirement.
In that time, he lived in the Oakland hills, a few miles from my home, so we’d see each other with some frequency. The Lucky parking lot in Montclair was probably the one spot we encountered each other most frequently. We’d talk of many things, and the subject of Pete Newell came up frequently. He had played for Newell and, like all of Pete’s former players, revered him. So did I, having covered the Newell teams at Cal and talked to him often in ensuing years, when he was in the area.
Robbie also made a stirring speech at the 50th class reunion at the Claremont Country Club. That was a grand affair, organized by Roger Samuelson, who had been student body president in 1958 and, for those of you with long memories, is the son of Rube Samuelson, the famed Pasadena sportswriter.
None of us could know it but that was the last big moment for Earl. He and his wife moved to the Sacramento foothills and then to southern California, as his health sharply deteriorated. He had been in hospice care under the supervision of Dr. Pete Domoto, a former Cal football player who had been his closest friend since high school and had told him that he was ready to die. His death last week was merciful.
He was a good man who helped many people. He’ll be missed.
THE INCREASE in “Tommy John” surgeries, though pitchers are more strictly monitored with their pitch counts, has many people searching for answers. Increasingly, there are baseball people who think the problem is the strain put on the arms of pitchers in their teens – or even earlier.
While others have lauded the Little League program, I have been critical of it ever since I was a scorekeeper at Watsonville games in 1959. When adults organize youth sports, they do it to please themselves, not the youngsters.
Frankly, I’ve always been happy that Little League was not around when I was a youngster. We just played. Sometimes, it was in a city street, with baseballs whose covers had been ripped off and were covered by friction tape. For four years, when we were living in a small community above Fresno, our playing field wasn’t even level, rising up in right field, several feet higher than the infield.
None of that mattered. I just enjoyed playing, from morning to dinner time in the summer. My enthusiasm far outweighed my talent but I developed an interest which has lasted through my lifetime.
I wonder how many Little Leaguers will have fond memories of their youth. For many of them, the games can be terrorizing because of the disparity in the size of the players. One of the things that bothered me at the Watsonville games was seeing some poor kid, about five feet tall, cowering at pitches thrown by a near six-footer.
And the attention given them is way out of proportion. The Petaluma team that was runnerup in the 2012 U.S. Little League World Series, got a parade. Good heavens.
Prep football is equally out of control. I got an e-mail from a reader last week who told me he started as a high school football coach but gave up after five years because he didn’t like the way players were emotionally and physically driven. And, it’s gotten worse since then. Coaches at schools in Contra Costa County have told families not to expect taking their sons on summer vacations because they’ll be at eh facility, weight lifting.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL has also been out of control. The NCAA has issued a recommendation that colleges limit contact drills to two a week, to reduce concussions and other physical damage. The Pac-12 and Ivy League already have such rules in place.
Meanwhile, the NFL has agreed to a deal to compensate former players for physical damage and concussions – the deal has been approved by a judge – and you can be certain there will be more cases like this down the road. The NFL is only now starting to deal with its very real problems.
The real problem, of course, is that this country adopted football, instead of rugby, a similarly physical sport but much less damaging, or soccer. Now, many who have played the sport are paying for that.
THERE IS apparently a good chance now that Tiger Woods will soon be physically able to return to tournament golf, which is very important to the sport.
Golf has a steady audience of people who play the sport but to get the big numbers, in attendance or media attention, they need somebody out of the ordinary. For women’s golf, that’s Michelle Wie, who finally won her first major two weeks ago. In men’s golf, it’s Tiger.
I still remember watching the huge gallery following Tiger in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. That was when he was at his peak, winning by a 10-stroke margin. I had always enjoyed following golfers on the course, starting with Arnie Palmer and Ben Hogan in the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, but I wasn’t about to get caught up in that mob.
Some time later, the flaws in Tiger’s character were revealed as he became a tabloid favorite, with his trysts with women other than his wife. His marriage crumbled, and so did his golf game.
Tiger made it plain who was to blame for his problems when he had a media conference before the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club last year. It was writers, as he went into a long diatribe about how writers had been criticizing him since he was playing junior golf. Can we say paranoid?
GREAT EVENTS: I’m often asked about the great events I’ve covered, from Super Bowls to World Series, and I don’t know if anybody believes me if I tell them the truth: I’ve most enjoyed the regular events.
There are two big events I missed that I think I would have enjoyed: The Masters and the Kentucky Derby. I’ve always felt that the Masters was a better test of golfers because it wasn’t tricked up, as the USGA always does for the Open. If you look at the list of Masters champions, it’s like a Who’s Who of golf. If you look at a list of U.S. Open winners, it’s more like “Who’s he?” Jack Fleck? The Kentucky Derby has always been the showcase for horse racing, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it. But, there hasn’t been much that I missed.
At regular games, I’ve had the chance to talk to the players and the managers/coaches, which I’ve enjoyed on a personal level and also used to strengthen my stories. At the big events, there are many restrictions and massive news conferences. The Super Bowl is the worst. I probably could have gone to twice as many as I did, at the least, but the final three I went to were when the 49ers were playing, which is no coincidence. And the last two were by far the most enjoyable – because my wife was with me.
The Olympics was high on the list of events I did not want to cover, because it was all about sports I knew little about. When the 1984 Games were held in Los Angeles, I did not go on a press credential. I went down the first week and went to events I wanted to see – as a spectator. When the Russians turned back their tickets as they boycotted the games, they were sold at the betting windows at Hollywood Park, so I went out there and interviewed people buying the tickets. Overall, I had a very enjoyable week and then came home and watched the rest with my wife and son on TV.
If you want to call me a very unusual sportswriter, I’d agree – and I’d take that as a compliment.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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