A's Park, Montgomery vs. Dawkins; Selig vs. Rodriguez
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 18, 2009

AFTER VIRTUALLY ignoring their Oakland fans last year, the A’s are making nice so far this year. The cynic in me thinks the collapse of their fantasy plan for a park in Fremont is behind that change.

They haven’t admitted that their park plan is dead, but they announced that the tentative opening date for the park, once April, 2011, has been shoved back to 2014. And Keith Wolff, son of managing general partner Lew Wolff, warned everybody that even that date is not written in stone. “It’s an endless process,” he complained.

As everybody knows, it’s very difficult to build any kind of sports stadium in California. But Lew Wolff has made his money in real estate projects and he was pivotal in the building of the HP Arena in San Jose, so he knows how it’s done. But this has been a flawed plan from the beginning.

If Lew Wolff had been able to build in San Jose, which was obviously his hope, the original plan, which called for a “ballpark village” with houses and retail operations surrounding the park, would have been fine, because there would have been an infrastructure in place. The original Fremont site, though, was an industrial wasteland with none of that infrastructure in place.

Te other problem was the pricing for the proposed new park, which would have been higher than at AT&T Park – or Fenway Park in Boston. Again, if the park were in San Jose, the A’s would have been able to tap into the Silicon Valley people. That is the last thing the Giants want, which is why they’ve blocked a possible A’s park in San Jose. The A’s wouldn’t have been able to lure those people with a park in Fremont, and their fan base otherwise doesn’t have that kind of disposable income.

When the original plan was opposed by businesses in place, including Costco, the A’s shifted to a site near where the Warm Springs BART line is proposed. But 700 residents turned out to protest that because of the added traffic it would bring to the area.

And now, the economy has further derailed the project. Lew Wolff and I are about the same age and we’re both in good health, but I don’t think either of us will live to see this project done.

So, the A’s have done some things to woo back their Oakland fans, starting with putting a team on the field which will be worth watching. General manager Billy Beane traded for Matt Holliday to add some punch to the lineup and then brought back Jason Giambi at a bargain rate as a free agent.

They’ve switched to a 50,000-watt station, which will reach areas where A’s broadcasts have been just a rumor in recent years. Hopefully, they’ll drop those commercials for Cisco Field – and perhaps return the money of the suckers who actually bought tickets for the future. They’ll have about 90 per cent of their games on the Comcast California station. The station is based in Sacramento but it’s available anywhere in the Bay Area for those who have it in their TV package.

The one thing they haven’t done yet is to make plans to re-open the upper deck. The closing of this area is the single biggest complaint I hear from A’s fans. If the A’s want to cut the capacity of their park, they could do it by closing off the bleacher areas except for games against teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. The views from those seats are not very good, but they’ve always been great from the upper deck.

IT WAS fascinating to watch the duel of coaches in last Saturday’s Cal-Stanford game, and it was also an example of why I much prefer the college game to the NBA, where strategy is almost non-existent these days.

Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins made the first move, putting big men Landry Fields (6-7), Lawrence Hill (6-8) and Will Paul (6-9) out on the perimeter, shooting three-point shots. Caught by surprise, the Bears didn’t defend those shots very well and Stanford shot to a 22-point lead in the first half, shooting at a 75 per cent pace from the floor for most of the first half. When the Cardinal shooters can get off uncontested shots, they are deadly, which is why they are 11-0 against weaker nonconference opponents this season.

Then, Cal coach Mike Montgomery countered with a smaller lineup, with high energy freshman Jorge Gutierrez replacing 7-foot Jordan Wilkes. The Bears started to play aggressively against the perimeter shooting, getting in the face of Cardinal players, and suddenly, Stanford didn’t shoot so well. An 11-3 Cal run closed the margin to 14 points at halftime, and an 8-0 run to start the second half made it a six-point game.

Even though they’ve had a 15-year stretch with winning conference records, Stanford teams have long suffered from a lack of quickness because the school’s high admissions standards restrict their recruiting pool dramatically. In his last two years, Montgomery couldn’t fill his scholarship quota and that was one of the reasons he left for the Warriors. (A much larger salary was the more important one, of course.)

Admissions standards were relaxed to get the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, into school because they were a great story, sons of a Stanford alum who had been an athlete herself. The two seven-footers produced a 13-5 conference record last year and got them to the third rounds of the NCAA tournament. But coach Trent Johnson, seeing how much quicker Texas players were as the Longhorns won that third round game, redefined his “dream job” and left for LSU, where he’s been quite successful.

That lack of quickness showed in the second half of Saturday’s game, too, especially with Gutierrez, who darted around Stanford players as if they were standing in cement. And overall, Stanford was stymied by the pressing Cal defenders in the second half, scoring only 25 points after their 50-point romp in the first half.

It has too be frustrating for Dawkins, who is trying to put in a fast-paced offense with players who can’t really run it successfully against high-calibre opponents. Whenever Stanford gets in a tight game – twice against Washington, against Washington State on the road, against Cal this time – it loses because the Cardinal doesn’t have the kind of player who can make game-winning plays on his athleticism.

The Bears have their flaws, notably a relatively weak inside game on both ends of the court, but they have some great athletes in Gutierrez, Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson who can make those game-winning plays.

So, the Bears, at 8-4 in the conference, 19-6 overall, are in good position to grab an NCAA tournament berth. Stanford’s overall record, 15-8, looks good, but a conference record of 4-8 exposes the Cardinal. Their most likely conference finish is 6-12, as they battle Oregon State for the No. 8 slot in the conference standings.

That’s exactly where Cal was last year, under Ben Braun. If there was ever any doubt what a difference a coach can make in college basketball, Montgomery has sealed the deal this year.

A DIFFERENT SORT of book has been produced by Jim Finks Jr., son of the former NFL executive and quarterback: “Colors, Pro Football Uniforms of the Past and Present.

Finks has collected stories on how each NFL team selected its uniforms. This was a labor of love for Jim, who has been working on it for years. One example: I wrote the piece on 49ers uniforms, and it was turned in so long ago that I’m identified as a San Francisco Chronicle columnist!
BUD SELIG is looking more and more ridiculous as the steroids story continues to unwind – or unravel.

In the wake of Alex Rodriguez’s admission that he took steroids In the 2001-2003 period, when he was with the Rangers (after his steroids use had been revealed by Sports Illustrated), Selig said Rodriguez had “stained” baseball and that he was considering suspending Rodriguez. He quickly backed off because he had no grounds to suspend Rodriguez. During the period Rodriguez admitted to taking steroids, they weren’t banned in baseball. And, the test when he tested positive was supposed to be secret.

Then Selig talked about dropping Rodriguez’s stats from the record book, which is another “What the f….” moment. There were 103 other players who tested positive in 2003. Given that every player in baseball knew he’d be tested that year, it’s obvious that the 104 who still tested positive are only the tip of the iceberg.

Among those we know were taking steroids or similar substances are Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Selig publicly cheered them on in 1998, because their home run race – and the booming power numbers in baseball – were accelerating attendance and bringing baseball out of the slump caused by the 1994 strike.

That strike, of course, was brought on by Selig’s hard-line stance in negotiations with the Players Association. Not a surprise. With Selig in charge in Milwaukee, the Brewers were mostly mediocre. . As we’ve learned from another more prominent example, failure at running a baseball franchise doesn’t translate into success at a higher executive level.

EXAMINER COLUMNS: Sometimes there’s a problem in posting my columns on the Examiner website. Any time that happens, just type my name into the Search box on the Examiner web sports page and my column will come up.

LETTERS: I’ll update this later today.

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