Harden Trade, NFL Wage Scale, Giants Moves, Canseco/McGwire
by Glenn Dickey
Jul 08, 2008

JUST A week after I wrote that the A’s wouldn’t trade Rich Harden, they did. I think I’d better turn in my crystal ball!

The trade shows that A’s general manager Billy Beane is definitely focused on 2009 and beyond, not this season. I think that’s realistic. The A’s chances of making the postseason were getting more and more remote.

The A’s never had more than a glimmer of a chance to win the AL West because the Angels are clearly a better team. I thought for a time they might have a shot at a wild card, but the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays has been a killer to their chances. The AL East now has three top teams, with the Rays joining the Red Sox and Yankees, and there will be at least one strong wild card contender also coming out of the AL Central.

Another significant aspect of the trade was that the A’s picked up a second baseman, Eric Patterson, a month after making a second baseman their first pick in the amateur draft, obviously a way of seeking protection if Mark Ellis leaves as a free agent.

Ellis says he wants to stay, and I hope he will. He’s the type of player who’s underrated, except by those who watch him on a regular basis. He’s almost flawless defensively, with great range, and his offensive stats would be considerably better if he played in another stadium; his stats on the road are much better than at the Coliseum. With Harden’s contract off the books, they’ll also have more money to give Ellis.

But the A’s have had to protect themselves because they’ve had no solid second base prospects in their minor league system. Now, they’ll have two.

NFL COMMISSIONER Roger Goodell has criticized the high contracts being awarded to top draft picks, who have millions committed to them before they even play a down in the NFL.

Goodell has suggested that a wage scale for rookies be part of the negotiations as the owners and players try to come to terms on a new agreement. Though I agree in principle, there are two points I’d make about this:

--Be careful what you wish for. The NBA put in a wage scale for players in their first three years and, while it’s accomplished the stated goal of making certain that a rookie doesn’t make more than a veteran star, it’s also had an undesirable side effect, increasing the flow of very young players into the game.

As soon as that “rookie wage scale” went into effect, high school players who might have considered playing on a college team for at least a couple of years suddenly decided that they might as well turn pro immediately and get the relatively low-salary years out of the way immediately, rather than delaying them for 2-3 years of college ball.

The NBA has since adopted a rule saying players have to wait a year after their high school class graduates to be eligible for the NBA draft, but that may even have made the situation worse. I’m told agents now control these players, signing them while they’re still in high school and then “assigning” them to a college, which is reportedly how Michael Beasley wound up at Kansas and O. J. Mayo at USC. As much as coaches love to have these great talents, it’s very disruptive when they’re only around for a year.

The NFL and college coaches now have an uneasy alliance, with stars staying three years before they leave. College coaches can live with that, and it’s better for the NFL because they’re not getting players who aren’t close to being ready for pro football.

2) The NFL has created its own monster with the draft, portraying it as the way the weak clubs can catch up with the best. In truth, a team drafting No. 1 gains only one (supposedly) star player over the team which has just won the Super Bowl and is drafting last. Even if the bad team guesses right on its pick – and that’s no guarantee – it will take many more players for that team to achieve equality with the best team.

Building through the draft is definitely the way to go, but that can take a period of years. The draft, though, is geared for the instant gratification that so many sports fans feel is their due.

When I first covered pro football, more than 40 years ago, it was a much simpler affair. The draft was in February, there were no tryouts at the “combine”, there were no mock drafts, no Mel Kuipers to advise teams on who they should pick and why.

Fans throw themselves into this game within a game wholeheartedly, stating their own opinions in e-mails and on blogs. So, there is tremendous pressure on a team to sign its No. 1 pick, especially, and get him into mini-camps right away. Remember the long saga of the holdout of JaMarcus Russell, who the Raiders picked No. 1 last year?

Agents make the most of the leverage this situation gives them, driving rookie salaries ever higher.

This isn’t the only time that NFL owners have been their own worst enemies. In the ‘80s, they fought the players union relentlessly on free agency. When Ed Garvey proposed a wage scale for all players, he was denounced as a Communist.

By the time their losses in court battles forced them into meaningful negotiations, they had to settle for an agreement that was more costly than Garvey’s plan.

Now, they have to convince the Players Association that any money they save on rookies’ salaries would go to veterans. If they’re just thinking what they save on rookies salaries will go into their pickets….well, lots of luck with that one.

TRADE BAIT: I’m amused by these recurring stories that some team might trade for Rich Aurilia, Ray Durham or Omar Vizquel as part of a pennant push. What do you think a team would give the Giants for any of the three – a used bat bag? The only veteran with any trade value is Randy Winn, and Giants GM Brian Sabean seems determined to keep Winn.

SHOW THE GAME: As I often do when I’m at AT&T Park, I was walking around the park Sunday, talking to fans and enjoying the day. When I got back to the grandstand section, I could watch on the TV monitors mounted throughout the area. As I did, I thought, “A game is going to break out here any moment.”

That’s all too typical of Giants telecasts. The game is an afterthought because there are constant crowd shots that the director thinks are cute. That really makes it difficult for announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, who have to constantly comment on these mostly silly shots, rather than the game. I think Krukow in particular has some meaningful comments – I often talk to him to get his evaluations of players, especially pitchers – but you have to listen to him on radio to get them. On TV, he’s evaluating kids in the stands.

And, I haven’t even mentioned Amy Gutierrez. Aaargh!

THE ULTIMATE: I thought major league baseball led the country in phony patriotism – the National Anthem before every game, playing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch, the “camouflage” uniforms the Chicago White Sox wore over the July 4th weekend – and then a reader, Al Streit, sent me a photo of the Fresno Grizzlies, whose uniforms looked like they’d been cut from the American flag. Words fail me.

BOOK REVIEW: The saga of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, from the power hitters who led the Oakland A’s to three straight American League championships, 1988-90, to the symbols of the steroid era, is told very well in “Bash Brothers, A Legacy Subpoenaed,” by area sportswriter Dale Tafoya. Using interviews from multiple sources who watched the two in various stages of their lives, as well as his own observances, Tafoya lays out the whole story.

There is one story which is an irrelevant sidelight to the main thesis but which nonetheless tickled my funny bone.

Canseco’s last year in the minors started in Huntsville, Alabama, whose mayor, Joe W. Davis, had earlier campaigned to get a Double A team in his city. That required a new park, and other city officials originally balked at the proposal because it was not alcohol-free. A compromise was worked out so the park could be built, with one section alcohol-free and a provision that more such seats would be added if fans wanted them.

Two tickets were sold for the alcohol-free section.

EARLY POSTING: I wrote this column a day early because I have jury duty, starting Wednesday. When I’ve been called before, one of the attorneys has always decided that he didn’t want my independent mind on the jury because he couldn’t predict how I’d react. Let’s hope that trend continues.


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What do YOU think? Let me know!

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