49ers, Giants, A's . . . and More
by Glenn Dickey
May 05, 2006

MIKE NOLAN road map for improving the 49ers is becoming clearer, and it’s a good one.

The latest move was to trade for veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer, who should be able to help Alex Smith’s development.

Dilfer was once in much the same situation as Smith, a first-round pick (though not No. 1) who was expected to become a star. He didn’t, for reasons which aren’t important to this discussion, but he was the winning quarterback in a Super Bowl. His varied experiences will give him the background to “mentor” Smith, and he’ll be a capable backup if Smith is injured. Unlike last season, they won’t have to replace one young quarterback with another.

Last season, Nolan traded Tim Rattay to make room for Smith, and he took some heat for that, but it was the right move. Rattay was not going to be the quarterback for what should be a better 49er team down the road, and he wouldn’t have been happy sitting on the bench.

This is a different situation. As a 12-year NFL veteran, Dilfer shouldn’t have any unreasonable expectations about his future. He won’t be competing for the starting job, as Rattay was, so there won’t be any hard feelings because he’s on the bench.

Ken Dorsey went in the trade to Cleveland, which will simplify the quarterback situation, giving Cody Pickett more chance to develop. Dorsey is an intelligent quarterback with great character, but his arm just wasn’t strong enough to make the throws when he was rushed and couldn’t step into the pass. Pickett, the fans favorite, has the physical tools.

Nolan’s first season as head coach had some bumpy moments, as he tried to weed out the players he didn’t think would fit with his approach. He lost some physical ability, a drain which continued with the loss to free agency of Julian Peterson and Andre Carter, but his moves to bolster the team have been good ones, as he acquired wide receiver Antonio Bryant and guard Larry Allen as free agents and drafted tight end Vernon Davis and linebacker Manny Lawson, both of whom should be starters this season.

None of these moves will make the 49ers a playoff team this year, but this never looked like an immediate turnaround. I think the 49ers will be an improved team this season, but we’ll have to wait until at least the 2007 season to see a true contender.

THE GIANTS record with and without Barry Bonds this season – 12-8 with him, 2-6 without him – is a grim reminder of how much he means to the team.

When Bonds is in the lineup, he changes the entire dynamic. He’s still the biggest home run threat, when he’s pitched to. When he’s walked, he presents RBI opportunities for those hitting behind him.

If Bonds misses a significant part of the season – a very real possibility, with his knee problems – the Giants won’t win even the weak NL West.

SAD NOTE: Bruce Macgowan, who is both a friend and a respected colleague, was fired Wednesday at KNBR. Cumulus Media Inc., which is known for its penny-pinching ways, didn’t officially take over as owner of the station until yesterday, but the firings at KNBR, which included nine off-air employes, was certainly done at the new owners’ urging.

Macgowan’s departure is a loss for KNBR listeners because he has been a tireless worker in the field, interviewing athletes, coaches, managers. Everybody likes Bruce, and they all were willing to be interviewed. Well, almost everybody. Bonds would never give him an interview. Surprise.

JASON KENDALL may be suspended because he charged the mound in Tuesday’s game at Anaheim but it was a welcome sign of emotion on a team which often seems to play without much. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence, but the A’s seem to be snapping out of a serious batting slump with 10 runs in that game and 12 in yesterday’s win over Cleveland.

There are a couple of candidates to replace him on the roster: Jeremy Brown, who was the poster boy for “Moneyball” when he was drafted in 2002 and is hitting .344 at Sacramento, and the better-fielding Kurt Suzuki, a 2004 draft pick. Kendall is in the sixth year of a seven-year contract and will certainly be gone when it’s up, if not sooner, so Brown and Suzuki may be auditioning for the starting position in the near future.

WHO’S BEST? The power in baseball seems to have definitely shifted to the middle of the country.

That’s especially true in the National League, where five of the six teams in the Central have records over .500 and division-leading Cincinnati, at .690, has the highest winning percentage in the league.

It’s tempting to call the division the best in baseball, but it is in the National League, which is definitely the weaker league, so their competition isn’t the stiffest. It’s also the most entertaining in the league because Cincinnati, Houston, Milwaukee and Chicago all have hitter-friendly parks. It appears the new park in St. Louis may be in that category, too. Albert Pujols certainly thinks so.

In the AL Central, the White Sox, reigning World Champions, are winning at a major league .714 best, while the Detroit Tigers are just 1 ˝ games behind. The Cleveland Indians, probably the best-hitting team in the majors, will be a factor if they can straighten out their pitching.

The losers in this competition are the Western divisions in both leagues. Though Texas has played well in the early going, I believe the AL West will be a two-team race that the A’s will win, because the Angels are probably weaker than they’ve been. Whatever, the AL West is weaker overall than either the Central or the East.

Yet, the AL West is a powerhouse alongside the NL West, which is nearly as pathetic as it was last year. It will take more than last year’s 82 wins to win the division, but not many. If anybody throws out 88 as the over/under, take the under.

BOOK BAG: I don’t review books, but I occasionally mention one I like. The latest is an offbeat one, Mad Seasons,” by Karra Porter, which is the story of the first women’s professional basketball league, 1978-81.

The league had a team in San Francisco, the Pioneers, and I saw some of their games and wrote about them, because I always believed in women’s sports, at a time when most of my colleagues disdained them. This book brings back the often zany memories of those days, and it also is a great reminder of how far women’s sports have advanced since then. We’re all the better for that advance.

LETTERS: I’m going to update this section later today.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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