Giants Rotation in Shambles; Bruce Snyder, San Jose Giants
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 15, 2009

IT’S BEEN a very disturbing first week of the season for the Giants as what they thought was the reason for optimism – their starting rotation – has struggled mightily.

I talked of Tim Lincecum’s problems in yesterday’s Examiner column. His problems, basically a flaw in his mechanics, can be corrected, though it will probably have to come from working with his father, not Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti.

Matt Cain is the one bright spot so far. He had a strong game in his one start and will be going against the Dodgers again tonight. I’ve always liked Cain’s future, though he’s suffered from some growing pains – and even more, from terrible run support. If he stays healthy, he should have a fine season and career.

The rest of the rotation is problematical. I watched Monday’s game against the Dodgers on television and was struck by how little Randy Johnson has left in the tank. I fear that his signing is going to be another monumental mistake by Giants GM Brian Sabean – and, yes, I, too, wonder how Sabean keeps his job. Announcer Mike Krukow kept praising Johnson’s slider, but for that pitch to be effective, he has to have a good fast ball, and Johnson wasn’t even hitting 90 mph.

Johnson has always been a power pitcher but he’s closer to Kirk Rueter now than his younger self. Yet, he’s pitching much the same way. Sometimes, a once-great pitcher can still get hitters out for awhile because they’re looking for the pitches they used to get, not what he’s actually throwing. That probably happened to Johnson some last year with Arizona, but his grace period is gone. I think the only question now is whether Johnson hangs on to the end of the year or admits the reality of his situation and quits early. It probably depends on whether he can eke out those five wins to reach 300. Otherwise….well, it’s not easy to turn your back on millions but he surely can’t be hurting for money and it must sting his pride to go out there with his limited tools.

At the end of the rotation, Jonathan Sanchez was supposed to emerge this year as a legitimate starter, but he got lit up in his one start, too. Sanchez has teased the Giants for some time now, without really delivering. Part of the problem is that he was shuttled back and forth between starting and relieving, but last year, he was strictly a starter, with very mixed results. He started strong but lost eight of his last nine.

Of course, Sanchez wouldn’t be much of a problem if he were truly the Giants’ No. 5 starter, but he’s that only because the Giants can’t admit total defeat with Barry Zito, so he’s supposedly the No. 4 starter.

Zito started out disastrously last year, going 2-11 with an ERA over 7 in the first two months. He was yanked from the rotation and worked with Righetti in the bullpen. For the last four months, he went 8-6 but with an ERA in the mid-4s. That’s good only in comparison to what went before.

The truth is, Zito has been on a decline since his Cy Young year in 2002, which was recognized by virtually everybody in baseball – except the Giants, who gave him that ludicrous contract.

Amazingly, he still has his backers. One Chronicle columnist predicted he’d win 12-14 games this year, though he’s won only 10 and 11 in his two Giants season. Of course, this is the same columnist who predicted that the Giants would be at least five games better in 2008 because they’d let Barry Bonds go and had a more harmonious clubhouse.

The Giants have a couple of real studs at San Jose this year, righthander Tim Alderson and lefthander Madison Bumgarner. When they join Lincecum and Cain, the Giants should have a rotation they can really brag about.

But this year. . . not so much.

BRUCE SNYDER: We lost one of the real gentlemen of sports this week with the death of former Cal football coach Bruce Snyder.

You know the bare bones of Snyder’s story at Cal. He brought the Bears back to national promenince with his 1991 team. Cal was a big underdog to Clemson in the Jan. 1, 1992 Citrus Bowl because the Tigers supposedly had a fearsome defense, led by that slug, Chester McGlockton, but Snyder’s offense had McGlockton gasping for breath by the third quarter. Raider fans later became accustomed to the same kind of underachieving by McGlockton. Snyder never liked to run up the score, so he had the Bears play conservatively after they took a 37-13 lead in the third quarter, and the game ended that way. That is still the only New Year’s Day win for a Cal team since 1938.

That should have ushered in a golden era for the Bears. Cal athletic director Dave Maggard had a contract extension ready for Snyder, but it wasn’t signed before Maggard left for Miami. Maggard has since told me he regarded not getting that contract finalized as the worst mistake he ever made. Incoming athletic director Bob Bockrath would not honor Maggard’s commitment. Bockrath and Snyder sat together on the plane on the trip home from the Citrus Bowl. Snyder told him he was interviewing for the Arizona State job and expected to get an offer. Bockrath advised him to take it.

Snyder left, of course, but that was not his wish at all. Most football coaches I’ve known have had little interest in anything beyond the football field, but Bruce and his wife, Linda, thoroughly enjoyed life in the Bay Area. I remember vividly one time in the Napa Valley when I was sitting with Snyder and Bill Walsh for a barbecue the night before a tennis tournament in which we were all playing. Walsh diagrammed a play for Snyder – football coaches never totally get away from the sport – but then we discussed other subjects, especially the wine we were drinking.

When Snyder left, the Cal football program soon fell back into the abyss. Bockrath was followed by John Kasser, a great self-promoter who did nothing for the program. Of the three coaches who followed, only Steve Mariucci was competent, and he was there for only one year before leaving to become coachof the 49ers.

Finally, Steve Gladstone replaced Kasser and hired Jeff Tedford. Gladstone’s successor, Sandy Barbour, has made certain she’s kept Tedford happy – and has also hired good coaches for other sports, notably men’s and women’s basketball.

Snyder went on to have a successful coaching career at Arizona State, capped by the 1996 season when he was named national Coach of the Year. That team, led by Jake Plummer and Pat Tillman, went 11-0 before losing, 20-17, to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

Maggard felt that there was enough returning talent in 1992 to get the Bears to the Rose Bowl. But without Snyder, they didn’t make it – and Cal alums are still wondering if the Bears will ever again get to Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

SAN JOSE GIANTS: You don’t have to be cynical to see what’s going on when the Giants bought a 25 per cent interest in their San Jose farm club and then sent their best prospects there. It’s another way of saying to the panting Lew Wolff that, “No, we’re not going to give up our territorial rights.” It’s also a way of solidifying their hold on the San Jose market, which though split has always leaned more to the Giants than the A’s.

RADIO: I’ll be on with Marty Lurie at 11 a.. this morning on his “Right Off the Bat” show on KTRB, 860 a.m., before the A’s game with the Red Sox.

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