A-Rod, Bonds and the HOF; A's to San Jose? Cal Women Making History?
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 11, 2009

HOF VOTING: Since the Alex Rodriguez admission that he took steroids, baseball writers are in a quandary. Many of them have decided they won’t vote for anybody linked with steroids, which gave them a handy excuse for not voting for The Man They Love to Hate, Barry Bonds. But now, even the densest of them (a competition with many entrants) realizes that most, if not all, of the game’s biggest stars will be eliminated by that criterion.

It seems to me that they’re going to have to bite the bullet and admit that steroid use in baseball is so widespread that, in a bizarre way, it’s created the “level playing field” they’ve longed for. So, they should just forget trying to separate the users from the much smaller group that isn’t using and just evaluate performance against their contemporaries. Because of the changed circumstances – steroids, smaller parks, juiced baseballs, overexpansion – the old power standards don’t have much meaning. But the numbers that Bonds and A-Rod have put up are so much better than their contemporaries that they should be easy choices for the Hall.

Writers should also realize that no testing system is going to work because the top players have the money to pay chemists who will always stay ahead of the testers. That’s why it’s absurd to say that the list of those testing positive in 2003 – as suggested by that great thinker, Curt Schilling – is absurd. Players were warned that they would be tested, and the Players Association warned them again before the September testing. You have to believe that the 104 players who tested positive either weren’t paying attention, didn’t have the right stuff or simply didn’t know what they were doing. They are just the tip of the iceberg of steroids users.

And, what does it really matter? Baseball is entertainment and attendance has greatly increased as the power numbers have gone up. It isn’t just “chicks love the long ball.” The guys do, too.

During the Bonds big home run years, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. When I went to the park, usually walking around to different sections in the middle innings, I found that the fans absolutely loved Bonds. They wouldn’t leave their seats when he was due to bat in an inning, and they left the park right after his last at-bat. Yet, I was getting a steady stream of e-mails from readers who thought Bonds was terrible and the Giants shouldn’t be coddling him. When I would ask these readers how many games they attended, almost invariably, they were fans watching via TV who hadn’t been to the park in years. The excitement that fans at the park felt (and that I did, too) did not come through the TV set.

It’s amusing to me that football fans haven’t reacted critically to steroids use in that sport, although it is clearly a more important factor because strength is such an important part of football. In baseball, with both pitchers and hitters taking performance-enhancing durgs, it is more difficult to say who’s getting the advantage. There’s no question in football.

There is also no question that the NFL’s drug policy is largely ineffective. Anybody who has been in an NFL locker room lately knows that. There are some fat bodies among offensive linemen – hello, there, Jason Jennings! – but there are also highly-toned bodies and 260-pound linebackers who can run the 40 in 4.6 seconds. That’s not the way nature intended.

Yet, when the NFL does dole out a four-game suspension, it’s a relatively minor story. The Chargers star linebacker,Shawne Merriman, was suspended for four games in 2007 and still made the Pro Bowl.

In baseball, though, steroids use has been elevated to a major story. That’s especially true of my former paper. When Phil Bronstein was editor, he thought the anti-steroids campaign would win a Pulitzer for The Chronicle. It didn’t, of course. Perhaps the jurors felt, as I did, that a campaign based on illegally linked grand jury testimony was not the finest example of journalism. Bronstein has since been banished to a basement office in the Chronicle building, but the sports section is still All About Steroids, as was evident yesterday. Only Bruce Jenkins among the columnist has any sense of balance on this issue.

In a way, it’s surprising that writers and broadcasters who have been hearing about steroids use for years can be so irrational on the subject, but the truth is, many of them are still at an emotional age of about 12 when it comes to sports. When they were actually 12, they believed sports were pure. Against all reason, they still think sports should strive for this purity – which, of course, has never existed, except in their imagination.

IS THERE ANYTHING more ridiculous than the three-month suspension of Michael Phelps (and loss of his Kellogg endorsement contract) because he was caught on camera taking a toke of marijuana?

I have never smoked marijuana nor taken any kind of hallucinogenic drug, though they became popular when I was a young adult. My drug of choice has been alcohol, almost exclusively wine in the last 25 years.

But I have never understood why marijuana has been criminalized. Legalize it, like alcohol and tobacco, and tax its use. The state can use the tax money, and it wouldn’t have to waste money trying to enforce outdated laws.

GREAT ORGANIZATIONS? At last Wednesday’s Raiders news conference, Tom Cable referred to what he called the three great organizations in U.S. professional sports: The New York Yankees, Boston Celtics and Oakland Raiders. Ohmigawd. Did he just fly in from the planet Jupiter? Did he fail to notice that the Pittsburgh Steelers just won their sixth Super Bowl, three more than the Raiders if you’re counting. Have the Yankees and Celtics gone 26 years without winning the World Series or NBA championship? Have they been below .500 since 1983, as the Raiders have been? Of course, Cable’s most important audience, Al Davis, lapped it up. That will give Cable a year before the next clueless candidate is brought in.

A’S TO SAN JOSE? I’m surprised by how many have jumped to the conclusion that baseball commissioner Bud Selig was giving A’s owner Lew Wolff permission to look for a San Jose site in a December letter saying he could pursue other areas. Actually, Selig was trying to give his friend some leverage in making a deal in the East Bay, hoping to scare fans into thinking the A’s might move out of the Bay Area.

If it were possible for the A’s to build a park in San Jose, Wolff would have put his plan into effect there from the beginning. The plan, with the mixture of housing and businesses, was modeled on the Santana Row development in San Jose. The plan would probably have worked well in San Jose, with an infrastructure already in place. It has always been doomed to failure in Fremont, which is a collection of small towns, not a city. I wouldn’t be surprised if Woolf officially declares it dead this spring.

A move to San Jose is not possible, though, because of the Giants agreement with MLB which prohibits another team in Santa Clara County (also, San Mateo and San Francisco counties). That can only be changed by a ¾ vote of the owners. National League owners would not vote for the change because they like the fact that the visiting team’s share of the gate is much larger now than it was at Candlestick. And new Giants managing general partner, William Neukom, has made it plain with his public statements that there will be no buyout, either.

Nor is there a site elsewhere that is more appealing than where the A’s are right now. Wolff should sit tight until the Raiders lease expires after the 2010 season. Al Davis wants a new stadium, which he certainly won’t get in Oakland. A developer in southern California has talked about building a new stadium, but the Chargers are first in line there. The one option for the Raiders might be San Antonio, which has a stadium with luxury boxes and would probably be willing to give the Raiders a much better deal than they could negotiate now with Oakland and Alameda County.

If that happened, the A’s could refashion the Coliseum into a nice baseball park, as the Angels did in Anaheim after the Rams left for St. Louis. Sure beats the Fremont fantasy.

END OF AN ERA: The men’s basketball battle between Cal and Stanford at Haas on Saturday will get most of the attention but the women’s matchup at Maples could make history.

The Stanford women have dominated the Pac-10 race for what seems like forever, but it is the Bears who are on top this year, with an 11-0 record and an earlier defeat of Stanford at Haas. If Cal wins this matchup, it will be all but official that the order has changed.

Joanne Boyle has done a remarkable job at Cal. She’s very honest. Asked this week, whether she thought the Bears, ranked No. 3 in the country, were actually the best, she said, “We are on some nights.” But she was very critical of her players in their last game, a 20-point win over Washington State, and she has been equally critical after other games. She will not accept anything less than her team's best.

It won’t be easy Saturday. Because attendance at women’s games is not usually high, playing on the road isn’t as tough as it is for the men, who face very hostile audiences at places like Tucson, Arizona and Eugene, Oregon. But the Stanford women draw much better than other schools, so it will be a strongly partisan atmosphere at Maples.

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