Curt Young, Lew Wolff vs. Oakland, Barbara Boxer e-mail, Herman Franks
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 01, 2009

BILLY BEANE has put the team together and Bob Geren is the manager, but the key to the A’s season right now is probably pitching coach Curt Young.

Young hasn’t produced revolutionary philosophies, like his predecessor, Rick Peterson, but in his quiet way, he’s been just as effective. In his five years, A’s pitchers have allowed the fewest home runs in the league and have held opponents to the lowest batting average, while compiling the league’s third lowest ERA. He has nurtured young pitchers like Dan Haren, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton and kept the staff producing as All-Stars Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Haren were traded away, along with closer Huston Street, 2005 Rookie of the Year.

This year, he faces his biggest challenge. His one veteran starter, Justin Duchscherer, has been sidelined with still another surgery, so his Opening Day starter is likely to be Dallas Braden, who has been up and down the past two years with a combined mark of six wins, 12 losses and a 5.44 ERA. Young has been working extensively with Braden this spring and the 25-year-old is reportedly much improved.

Sean Gallagher, who came over in the Harden trade with the Cubs last summer, showed real possibilities. He got lit up Monday, so he’s not there yet – but he’s only 23.

The potential stars, though, are Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill. Both 21, they were not even on the 40-man roster going into spring training but Cahill is scheduled to start the second game of the season and Anderson the fourth. Anderson is left-handed, Cahill right-handed, and both have been regarded as potential stars by scouts from other teams, but first, they have to prove they can be dependable starters. That’s where Young comes in.

The A’s bullpen should be strong, which will take some pressure off the starters, but if a starter blows up and gives up five runs in the third inning, that will strain even the best bullpen.

The good news is that the A’s should score some runs this year, with Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi added, and the possibility that Eric Chavez will contribute substantially. Geren will have to do some juggling to bet the bats of Giambi and Jack Cust in the lineup while limiting the use of their gloves.

But ultimately, it’s going to come down on Young’s shoulders. If he can mold a decent starting rotation out of the hand he’s been dealt, the A’s could challenge the Anaheim Angels, who are currently hobbled by injuries to their starters. But if the starters consistently give up big numbers, it will be a long year.

BUD SELIG has appointed a committee, which includes former Giants vice president Corey Busch, to look at the potential Oakland sites for a new A’s park. Selig did not mention looking at a San Jose site and Busch, at least, would be skeptical because he was with the Giants when they failed in two attempts to build a park in the South Bay. Sen. Barbara Boxer sent an e-mail to Selig on Tuesday, urging him to do everything possible to keep the team in Oakland.

The other piece of good news for Oakland is that Don Perata has declared he would run for mayor in 2010. Perata realizes the importance of the A’s to the city. Jerry Brown actively opposed building a new park and current mayor Ron Dellums is totally ineffectual on any issue, including this one. The bad news is that A’s managing general partner Lew Wolff has agreed to meet with Dellums, which will only intensify his desire to leave Oakland. Dellums’ chief of staff, David Chai, said the mayor wants to keep the A’s in Oakland but “it would have to be under the right circumstances. We’re not giving away the store.” Ohmigawd. Further proof that incompetent leaders hire incompetent aides.

Wolff spent very little time looking at Oakland options. He looked at one site, on the other side of 66th Avenue from the Coliseum. When that didn’t work out, he dropped it and went to the Fremont Fantasy, which was supposed to be his entrée to the Silicon Valley.

Thankfully, that nonsense is behind us. Wolff still wants to go to San Jose but he’s blocked because of the Giants territorial rights. (When I wrote last week that the Giants had held up their end of the agreement, by building a park, and now it was up to the owners to hold up their end, a reader scoffed at the thought that owners might take the moral position. But it’s not a matter of morality. just practicality. Any owner who voted to take away something from the Giants would have to understand that he would be setting a precedent for the same thing to happen to him.)

There are other sites in Oakland. Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente proposed one just north of Jack London Square, on land already owned by the city. A private citizen, Larry Jackson, has been looking at this project for years and he has just written another letter to the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors urging them to look at a site just south of the current Coliseum.

Oakland has supported the A’s well in the past and would do so again – if Wolff would quit kicking sand in the fans’ faces.

BASHOF PROGRAM: The latest Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame dinner raised $230,000 for youth programs throughout the area, which is especially important at this time when all school programs are getting squeezed. Overall, the BASHOF program has raised $4,200,000 in its 30 years of existence.

Unlike many charity programs, the money all goes to the youth programs. Lou Spadia, founder of the program in connection with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, resisted using money for a hall, putting plaques instead at airports, schools and stadiums. And Spadia always had a gift for getting people to work pro bono, including me; I’ve written the bios on inducted athletes for almost all the 30 years. Ken Venturi once said that Spadia’s nickname should be Crime. “Crime doesn’t pay,” said Venturi, “and neither does Lou Spadia.” Venturi also knows from experience; he’s run golf tournaments to raise money for the program.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Is this tournament really an athletic event, or just a vehicle for betting?

I don’t mean the kind of betting associated with Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but the millions of office pools around the country. The most asked question in March seems to be, “Have you filled out your brackets yet?” Even the President was asked that question, on national television. Obama knows his basketball – he still plays and his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is the Oregon State coach – but many who have only a fleeting knowledge of hoops get involved in office pools.

Sports historians like to pinpoint the time the tournament became big time as the first pitting of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who would continue their rivalry for years in the NBA, but I think it’s probably when office pools became a big factor. They brought in people who would never have otherwise been interested in college basketball.

The irony is that the rise of the NCAA tournament, and the downgrading of the NIT, came because of betting scandals. Earlier, the NIT had been by far the more important tournament, but when the 1951 scandals broke, the NCAA executives, from their comfortable bubble in Kansas City, convinced fans that the problem was with games in Madison Square Garden, where gamblers supposedly proliferated.

The solution proposed by the NCAA wooly-heads was to play games at college sites. Of course, 10 years later, there was another big scandal but by that time, the NCAA tournament was firmly ensconsed as the major tournament, as it has remained. The NIT is an after-thought. I had a first-hand experience with that in 1999 when I went back to cover the Cal Bears for The Chronicle as they won the tournament. The arena was perhaps half-full, only reaching that level because of a sizeable contingent of Cal alums, and the tournament was covered with stories on pages 4-5 of the sports sections of the New York papers.

HERMAN FRANKS REMEMBERED: When Herman Franks was manager of the Giants, 1965-68, I was doing dressing room stories on the Giants with some regularity. In those days, those stories were called “side bars” and had some merit because the beat writers wrote game stories which were like reviews of plays, so the sidebars were the only way readers could get comments from players and managers. Now, this kind of reporting has been so overdone that the comments have become predictable, yet lazy columnists will use these comments and call them a column. Progress is indeed a wonderful thing!

Franks was a handful in those days. He was extremely profane and would explode at virtually every question asked. Harry Jupiter of The Examiner, the rare beat writer who actually talked to players and managers, once wrote a story quoting Franks verbatim; most of it was (expletive deleted).

All this was mainly an act by Franks. He later claimed he was diverting attention from the players but it actually did the opposite. Those of us writing these stories couldn’t fall back on quotes from the manager, so we had to talk to the players. Most of them were cooperative, with the conspicuous exception of Willie Mays, because they weren’t inundated by questions in those days.

Many years later, in spring training in the early ‘80s, I met a totally different Herman Franks. He was out of baseball at the time and just enjoying himself. We had a couple of long, cordial conversations, and neither of us mentioned our meetings when he managed the Giants.

Even later, when I was working on my 40-year history of the Giants, we had interesting conversations about his time with the Giants. He had an interesting viewpoint on why the Giants of his time couldn’t get to the World Series: They lacked a quality shortstop. Others, including me, thought they were usually one good starting pitcher short – and they also faced formidable opposition from the Dodgers, Cardinals, Reds and, briefly, the Phillies. The ‘60s might have been the peak time for National League baseball.

Franks was an intelligent man who invested wisely, and he was also an excellent poker player. One story I heard at the time was that one of his most successful stocks was one he won in a poker game.

When I had to deal with Franks as Giants manager, I had a very low opinion of him. I’m glad I was able to meet and talk with him later to see that there was so much more to the man than I realized in the ‘60s. He had a long, rich life, dying in his sleep at 95. We should all be so lucky.

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