Giants, Jeff Tedford, Trent Johnson, Roger Clemens
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 13, 2008

SOME STRANGE THINGS are happening on the Giants front.

In a Chronicle story by Henry Schulman, reliever Tyler Walker took an obvious shot at the departed Barry Bonds, while talking about having everybody on the same level. “If stretching is at 4 o’clock, you’re out there or it’s a fine, so nobody feels like somebody’s getting preferential treatment. Everybody’s accountable for his actions. If you go out to stretch late, what’s that saying about your attitude that day?”

Meanwhle, manager Bruce Bochy keeps talking about “gritty” players. A Chronicle columnist said the Giants were putting together a team of “gamers.”

What is this, tryouts for a high school team?

Walker’s slap at Bonds was totally unwarranted. Whatever else anybody might say about Bonds, nobody doubted his commitment. If he had his own stretching routine, he had earned it. Walker wouldn’t know this because he’s never done anything to merit star treatment, but the best players in the game often get special treatment. Does he think Willie Mays was just one of the boys?

Second, team chemistry in baseball is irrelevant. Sometimes, winning teams have a pleasant clubhouse, as apparently the Boston Red Sox did last season, but that’s not a requirement, as we know just from Bay Area history. The A’s won three straight World Series in the ‘70s while fighting in the clubhouse. Within the last 10 years, the Giants won with Bonds and Jeff Kent glaring at each other. Kent has been as divisive a figure in different clubhouses as Bonds, but his playing skills have also helped teams win.

And, that’s the bottom line: Skilled players win, not harmony in the clubhouse. The Giants will have togetherness this season, all right, because too many of them are on the same level of mediocrity. A sunny personality doesn’t drive in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

The hope is that the Giants will finally plug some younger players into the lineup but to do that, Bochy will have to get past his natural attitude of preferring veteran players and the front office will have to swallow hard as high-salaried veterans sit on the bench.

Specifically, that means Ray Durham and Dave Roberts. Durham slumped badly last season and, at 36, it would be unreasonable to think he’ll be significantly better this season. He’s hit the wall in his career. Kevin Frandsen will never be a star, but he’s better defensively than Durham (who isn’t?) and a much better bet now.

Roberts, who is really a backup kind of player, was nonetheless signed to a big contract by the profligate Giants before last season. He was embarrassingly bad in center field before the Giants traded for Rajai Davis. Now, they’ve signed free agent Aaron Rowands, so center field is in good hands.

But Bochy is still talking about playing Roberts in left field. That means Davis, Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz, who seems to have more hitting potential than the others though he isn’t as skilled defensively, will be fighting for playing time as reserves. At least one of them will probably spend time in the minors, which is ridiculous. Roberts should be relegated to pinch-hitting and pinch-running – or just released entirely. His baserunning skills won’t help this team get out of the NL West cellar, and his presence impedes the development of the others.

The one young player who is going into spring training as a starter is Dan Ortmeier, who is projected as the first baseman. The Giants are high on him, but there’s nothing in his record to support that optimism. Ortmeier had 2,217 bat-bats in the minors, which is certainly enough to get a good idea of his value, hitting .272 with 61 homers, about one in about 36 at-bats. In a full major league season, that would be about 15-16 home runs in a season, not nearly enough for a first baseman.

There have been times when players have improved over their minor league figures, but that kind of improvement generally comes from hitters who get to the majors no later than 23-24. Ortmeier will be 27 in May, so he’s already entering his prime, without yet proving he can hit for either average or power. Todd Linden was both significantly younger and had much better minor league statistics when he came up, and you know how that turned out.

GIANTS HISTORY:

One thing the Giants do very well: Honoring their great players from the past. They did it once again last week with their 50th anniversary luncheon, with Hall of Famer Willie McCovey and Eddie Bressoud, who played with the Giants in both New York and San Francisco, in attendance.

Asked what his fondest memory is, McCovey said, “It would be hard to beat my first day, when I went 4-for-4 against Robin Roberts. When we went into the clubhouse, Willie Mays told me, “They’ll want you to go on the radio. Ask them how much before you do.”

Mays, of course, knew that players didn’t get paid for postgame interviews, so he was just having a little fun, but McCovey dutifully asked “how much” of show producer Franklin Mieuli. “Franklin told me he’d give me a book of Green Stamps,” laughed McCovey.

Mieuli and McCovey soon became close friends and have remained so over the years. They were together at the luncheon.

Bressound said he was struck by the difference between the last game in New York and the first one in San Francisco. In the old Polo Grounds, players had to walk to the center field fence, 505 feet from home plate, and then climb stairs to the clubhouse. “As we started to walk toward centerfield, fans came out of the stands to hug us, crying because they were so sad to see us go. Then, that first game in San Francisco was just euphoria. People were so excited to get major league baseball out here. For me, it worked out perfectly because I’m from California.”

Overall, it was aa very enjoyable luncheon, with laughter as the different generations exchanged stories. Matt Cain spoke briefly and said that he was thrilled to hear about the great players of 50 years ago. “We’re starting our own tradition,” he said. “Fifty years from now, I hope you’ll be talking about us the same way.”

Sorry, Matt, but some of us won’t have that opportunity!

The next day, I read in the Chronicle that, even on this day, the Giants couldn’t escape the steroids controversy. The reason they couldn’t, of course, was that the writer, John Shea, asked Giants owner Peter Magowan about it. Nobody else broached the subject, privately or in the group sessions.

But, don’t blame Shea. He was just following orders. For the Chronicle, a day without a steroids story is a day without sunshine.

TEDFORD ASSAILED:

After my Examiner column of last Friday, which talked of Cal football recruiting, I heard from several angry Cal alums, asking how Jeff Tedford could be “pleased” as the headline on my column said.

Headline writers look for something that will attract readers, but that headline did not accurately reflect my column. Because there had already been quite a bit written about Cal’s recruiting being down, I thought I’d give readers a look at what actually goes into recruiting.

The larger point, though, is this: Why have some alums become so dedicated to savaging the best coach the Bears have had since Pappy Waldorf was in his prime? In the past, we’ve often laughed at how seriously the followers for the football schools in the Southeast and Southwest take the sport, but it turns out that just a few good seasons can turn Cal followers just as rabid.

I’ve written that I thought Tedford made the wrong decision on his quarterback, and that cost him dearly, in both the season record and his recruiting. But overall, most of his decisions have been good.

And, just consider this: As disappointing as the final 7-6 record was last year, in the 55 years since Waldorf’s last winning season, there have been only 16 better seasons – and five of them are Tedford’s teams.

If we support him as we should, I’m hoping Tedford will be one of those college coaches who stays in one place for his whole career and builds a consistently successsful tradition. If he decides, instead, to leave because of criticism, well, be sure to look in the mirror and congratulate yourselves on the second-rater who will follow him.

WEBBER MISTAKE: I hope I’m wrong, but the early returns on Chris Webber’s return are not promising. The worst thing is that he’s taking minutes from Andris Biedrins, who is not Webber’s equal as a passer but is a much better rebounder and defender. At this point in their careers, Biedrins is also better offensively. He doesn’t have much of a shot, but his quickness inside allows him to score off put-backs and loose balls around the basket. Given enough minutes, he’ll score in double figures.

I had hoped that Nelson would stick to his original plan and start Webber, bringing Al Harrington off the bench. I don’t think much ot of Harrington, but apparently Nelson does.

COACHING PERSONALITIES: When I was talking with Stanford basketball coach Trent Jones this morning, he lamented his public image. “Everybody thinks I’m just this tough guy who’s always berating his players.”

Which indeed he is – at games. In between, he’s a quite different person. There was a great deal of laughter as we talked about his team, the conference and life in general.

“A student aide told me, ‘If you saw me when I was getting ready to take a final, you wouldn’t think I was a pleasant person to be around,’” he said. “I thought that was a very interesting perspective, but I told her, ‘I don’t think the public is watching you take your final.’”

Indeed. Public perceptions on coaches (and athletes) are a combination of what fans see at games and how personalities are filtered through the media.

If Johnson is misjudged by the media, he wouldn’t be the first Stanford basketball coach to be in that situation. Many in the media though Mike Montgomery was a sarcastic SOB. He was, and is, sarcastic, and he often turned that sarcasm on me when we talked. But I’ve always loved Montgomery because he was so candid. At least with me, he never held anything back.

Johnson and Montgomery have had a long relationship, because Johnson played for Montgomery and later served as his assistant. Now, Montgomery is still working in the department as a fund raiser, with an office maybe a hundred yards from Johnson’s, and he often pops into Johnsons office to make, yes, a sarcastic remark. “I was recruited by Mike when I was 17,” said Johnson, laughing, “so there’s nothing he can say I haven’t already heard. He’ll say something and I’ll think, ‘Yep, I heard that in 1982.’”

STRAIGHT ARROW ROGER:

Roger Clemens is really a piece of work. He told a Congressional committee today that he was “Just trying to help y’all” by talking to his former nanny before she could testify.

Clemens said he told the woman to “tell the truth.”

Just like you, eh, Roger?




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