A's Hitting, Warriors, NFL Greed
by Glenn Dickey
May 16, 2007

THE A’S live and die by the home run, usually winning when they hit home runs and losing when they don’t, but this has long been true. Why? Because their home park virtually dictates their offensive philosophy of home runs and walks.

It is very difficult to string together a series of hits in games at the Coliseum because batters lose so many at-bats with the huge foul areas. Players often foul out on balls which would be in the seats in other parks, particularly the Giants park, which has virtually no foul area.

As an example of what can happen to a hitter, check the stats for Johnny Damon. In his last two years with Kansas City, Damon hit .307 and .327. He was considered a rising star when the A’s traded for him, but in his one year with the A’s, he hit only .256. Going to the Red Sox, he had two .300-plus years out of four, and he hit .285 with the Yankees last season. When you look at those stats, you can see why Damon was so eager to get out of Oakland.

The Coliseum is not a difficult park for power hitters, though. Mark McGwire complained one time about his towering fly balls being knocked down by the wind, but that factor has been largely eliminated since Mt. Davis was erected for the Raiders.

So, it makes sense for A’s hitters to “work the count” to get on base, so the home runs that are hit bring in multiple runs.

None of this is new. Anybody who has ever played baseball remembers the cry, “A walk is as good as a hit.” But, younger writers with no sense of baseball history sometimes write as if Billy Beane invented this philosophy. They are also confused about the “Moneyball” term which is an economic policy – getting the best value in obtaining players – not a baseball philosophy.

In fact, this philosophy has been around for decades. Baltimore manager Earl Weaver used to preach the virtue of the three-run homer, which was often preceded by walks. Weaver had at least as much disdain for the stolen base as Beane has.

Close to a quarter-century ago, I was sitting in the upper deck with Sandy Alderson as he showed the almost direct relationship between on-base percentage and runs scored – and the lack of such a relationship between batting average and runs scored.

Beane played briefly with the A’s at the end of his career, then went into scouting and finally worked under Alderson in the A’s front office, being promoted to general manager when Alderson left. He is continuing the legacy.

The philosophy seems counter-intuitive to many observers. I often hear grumbling in the A’s press box that the A’s hitters should be more aggressive and go after pitches early in the count.

But more and more teams, even strong-hitting teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, are going with the philosophy of working the count, making pitchers throw more pitches. The A’s ran into that themselves against Cleveland on Saturday, when the Indians hitters took so many pitches – or fouled them off – that A’s starter Dallas Braden threw 75 pitches in just three innings.In this era, when the pitch counts are so closely monitored, the “work the count” philosophy often has the added benefit of getting the starter out of the game early.

So, don’t expect the A’s to change their offensive philosophy any time soon. And, they shouldn’t. It’s the best one for the home park they play in.

HITTING COACHES: There may be no more useless coach on a major league staff than the hitting coach.

Pitching coaches can have a positive effect on their pitchers by working on mechanics, because a pitcher starts the action. Fielding coaches can help, as Ron Washington famously did with the A’s infielders. But hitting coaches can’t do much because hitting is all reaction. Sometimes, coaches will work on a hitter’s swing or stance, but as soon as that hitter goes 0-for-4, he reverts to his old, comfortable ways.

Once in a while, a hitting coach gets a reputation because one of his hitters does well. That happened with Harry Walker, who convinced Matty Alou he should just try to hit the ball to all fields instead of trying for home runs. That was an eminently sensible idea for Alou, who won a batting title, but when Walker tried to teach the same philosophy to hitters who were capable of hitting home runs, it was not a good idea.

Charlie Lau got a reputation for his instruction because his star pupil was George Brett, but was it Lau’s instruction or Brett’s natural ability? Brett’s ability would be my choice.

Joe DiMaggio used to contend that you can’t teach a player to be a good hitter. He was a good example. No coach would ever teach a hitter to have the wide stance that DiMaggio used, but it certainly worked for him. Likewise with Stan Musial’s stance. Or, Ichiro Suzuki, who seems to be already running toward first as the pitch gets to the plate.

WARRIORS EXCITEMENT: Fans caught up in the Warriors’ playoff run sometimes acted as if this were the most exciting moment in Bay Area sports. Not even close. It wasn’t as exciting as the Warriors run to their only NBA title since they’ve been in the Bay Area, after the 1974-75 season, and it’s left in the dust by these two events:

1) The first 49ers Super Bowl season, 1981. This started building when the 49ers demolished the hated Dallas Cowboys, 45-14, in the sixth game of the season, pushing their record to 4-2, and just kept going. The highlight was actually the playoff win over the Cowboys, variously known as “The Catch” game or “The Real Super Bowl,” and huge demonstrations and a rally with 500,000 people in downtown San Francisco followed the Super Bowl win.

2) In 1962, baseball was king in San Francisco. People walked down the street with transistor buttons in their ears to listen to the Giants games. When the Giants won the last game of the playoff series against the Dodgers, it was pandemonium. At the airport, there were so many exuberant people ready to greet the team when it came home, airport security hustled Willie Mays out a side door. When players boarded the team bus, fans focused their attention on Carl Boles, a reserve outfielder who was a Mays look-alike. Meanwhile, in downtown San Francisco, Market Street and streets leading off it were closed to traffic because there were so many people in the streets.

Compared to those two events, the Warriors run was a tea party.

LARGEST CROWD: The attendance for Sunday’s Warriors-Jazz game was called the largest to see a basketball game in California. Perhaps for an indoor game, but one-time USC star Ken Flower recalls a bigger one.

“In 1953, when I played with the College All-Stars against the Globetrotters in an outdoor night game in the L. A. Coliseum, as part of the World Series of Basketball national tour, we had over 36,000 fans,” writes Flower.

Flower, who first came to basketball prominence at Lowell High in San Francisco, is a member of the USC Hall of Fame. Now retired, he lives in Marin County and is active with the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame program.

NFL GREED: The scheduling of another regular season game out of the country, this one in London, is another example of the NFL’s greed. These out-of-country games boost sales of NFL merchandise, and if it has a negative impact on the regular season, who cares? Nobody in the NFL offices, for sure.

ROGER CLEMENS: And, speaking of sport executives, baseball commissioner Bud Selig was MIA with the Clemens’ contract. In effect, this contract simultaneously demolished the idea that baseball is a team game and the notion that baseball has any real parity. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s money, which largely comes from the Yankees cable-TV sports network, makes it possible for him to pay Clemens a ridiculous amount as a part-time player. No other team could do that.

GIANTS ANNOUNCER Mike Krukow, presenting Will Clark for induction into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame at the BASHOF dinner, had an amusing anecdote which showed Clark’s competitive spirit.

When the two were teammates in the late ‘80s, teams still had infield fielding practice before games. Clark came off the field after one such session before a game in a rage. “We lost infield!” he shouted in his chirping voice.

As Krukow noted, that was the first time anybody realized there was a competition. “But I’ll tell you,” Krukow said, “we never ‘lost infield’ again!”

RADIO: I’ll be a guest on Marty Lurie’s show, “Right Off the Bat,” at 10:45 a.m. tomorrow on KCYY, 1550 a.m. It isn’t set yet but I may also be on the Gary Radnich show on KNBR between 9:30-10 a.m. Friday.

SPORTS, CONCERT TICKETS: Tickets for The Police concert on June 13 at the Oakland Coliseum, and the various appearances of Diana Krall – June 20-21 at the Mountain Winery in Saratogo, August 14 at Harvey’s at Lake Tahoe and August 15 at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco – are available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link on my Home Page. Tickets are also available for the All-Star game at AT&T Park, the Jersey Boys, playing in San Francisco through August, and for hot summer concert tours featuring Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Kenny Chesney, among others. Click on the Bay Area or national links below and the whole list will come up.

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