49ers Lust for Leinart, Bonds/Giants Problems and More
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 23, 2005

THE LOSS of Eric Johnson for the season leaves 49er fans with a hard choice: Should they hope for the best or root for the worst?

Had USC quarterback Matt Leinart opted for the draft this year, he would have been an easy choice for the 49ers. Leinart was rated much higher than either Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers by scouts, and he was rated as a true “franchise player” pick, comparable to quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman and John Elway, all the first picks in the drafts in which they were eligible.

Leinart chose to play his senior year with the Trojans, because he wanted to be part of a team which could win its third straight national title. Let’s be honest, too: I’m sure he looked at a dysfunctional 49er organization and thought he wanted no part of that.

The organization seems to be shaping up, as Mike Nolan has taken charge. The 49ers future looks bright, but the present doesn’t.

Johnson was virtually the only bright spot last season, leading the team with 84 catches. The tight ends on the 49ers roster now have zero catches. Trent Smith came to the team after the last cuts, so he doesn’t know the system yet. When he does, he should make a contribution, but who knows when that will be.

Without a tight end to open up the field, with no real No. 1 receiver, with an offensive line that still needs work and with a virtually non-existent running game, the 49ers are seriously challenged offensively.

The team will continue to play hard and win as many games as possible, but 49er fans have to have the thought at the back of their minds: What if the Niners have the No. 1 pick again?

There’s no doubt in my mind that Nolan would go for Leinart, who will be more ready for the NFL as a rookie than Smith will be in his second season. Leinart is truly a quarterback a team could build around, as the Dallas Cowboys rebounded from a 1-15 team to a team which won three Super Bowls with Aikman at quarterback.

So, if 49er fans are ambivalent about this season, I would certainly understand why.

END OF AN ERA: The Kings X sports bar in Oakland has been sold, taking an important bit of history with it.

Under the original owner, Andy Mousalimas, the Kings X started the Fantasy Football craze. I wrote about this in the Nov. 11, 2004 issue of The Chronicle, but if you want to read this, you’ll have to access it through the subject on SF Gate, My name no longer appears on the writers’ list. I’ve become a non-person to The Chronicle.

Mousalimas once told me that Reggie Jackson said he liked to come to the Kings X because he was ignored, but I think Andy misunderstood Reggie’s remark. Knowing Reggie, I’d say that was a complaint.

BLAME THE MEDIA: In talking of Randy Winn’s reputation as a mediocre center fielder, Giants assistant general manager Ned Colletti said, “We trust our judgment more than the media’s.” In fact, the Seattle Mariners made the judgment on Winn, moving him out of center because they didn’t think he was doing the job. As for the Giants’ judgment, I give you another name: Alex Sanchez.

WRETCHED EXCESS: In a sidebar to the complimentary review by Steve Kroner of “Viva Baseball,” the engrossing documentary on the Latino history in baseball, another Chronicle writer criticized it for not mentioning steroids. Only a Chronicle writer could think that was important, but The Chronicle is 24/7 on the steroids issue. Sometimes, it seems that's almost all you can read in the sports section. Meanwhile, most of their readers have moved on, but Chronicle editors are seldom concerned these days about what their readers want.

BONDS RETURN: The importance of Barry Bonds has been emphasized in the past week as the Giants went on a five-game winning streak – and then got shut out when he was out of the lineup. But, there are still many questions surrounding Bonds.

The Giants still don’t know how much they can get out of Bonds next year. I think 120 games would be a very optimistic projection. So, do you try to build your team around Bonds, knowing that he won’t be there for at least a quarter of the season? How do you market the team? Since it’s obvious that the team is painful to watch when Bonds is not in the lineup, will Giants fans buy season tickets, knowing they’ll have to dump tickets at below their price when he’s not playing?

Meanwhile, the Giants still have a chance for a dubious double: Winning the NL West with their first losing season since 1996. Be still, my heart.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES: Brett Tomko has apparently inherited the role of beat writers’ favorite from Kirk Rueter. For months this year, beat writers made excuses for Rueter's poor performances. I don’t know who that fooled. Certainly not other clubs. When Rueter was released, nobody picked him up.

Now, Tomko is continually referred to as a hard-luck pitcher because he hasn’t gotten much run support – by writers who apparently have forgotten that he was put in the bullpen because of an earlier ERA over five. Now, Tomko is pitching well, but he has a history as a pitcher who looks great at times but can’t be consistent over a season. If the Giants re-sign him, it should be at a relatively low price, with the expectation that he would be no more than the No. 4 starter. Let’s have no more of this “he’s finally found himself” talk we got this year from Brian Sabean and, yes, Ned Colletti.

A’S PROBLEM: If the A’s lose the division to the Anaheim Angels, A’s manager Ken Macha is going to face questions about why he chose to use Joe Kennedy as a starter when Rich Harden went down, instead of using Juan Cruz.

The A’s thought of Cruz as a reliever when they traded for him but then used him as a starter with Sacramento. Cruz has pitched poorly in relief for the A’s, before and after his time in Sacramento, but he was lights-out as a starter for the River Cats in a famed hitter’s league. Kennedy has been valuable in long relief because he can pitch up to three innings, but he had an ERA of more than six runs as a starter in Colorado and hasn’t done much better with the A’s.


NOTE: I’ll be a guest on Marty Lurie’s “Right Off the Bat” pregame show for the A’s Saturday, 11:30 a.m. on KFRC-AM, 610, and a taped interview I’ve done with Bruce Magowan will air Saturday night on KNBR, 680 AM.

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