Mark McGwire, Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin, Andy Dolich
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 13, 2010

McGWIRE CONFESSION: The republic is saved! Mark McGwire has come clean. Could we all just now take a deep breath and ask ourselves, “Does it really matter?” If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll say no.

Future generations are going to look at this whole issue and wonder why so much was made of it. Steroids use is rampant in baseball and has been for many years. For all the talk about the new testing system, the fact is that what McGwire was taking, human growth hormone, is undetectable in urine tests, which are all that are used.

Moreover, there are many factors involved in the increase in power numbers, including overexpansion, a juiced baseball and homer-friendly parks. To put it all on steroids, when pitchers are also taking them, is ludicrous.

If you’re talking about the Hall of Fame, the solution is simple: Measure the players against others of their generation. By that standard, McGwire doesn’t belong; he had some great years but too many when he was unproductive and/or injured to have an impressive overall career.

Just don’t base your vote on the fact that he took steroids.

The hypocrisy of baseball commissioner Bud Selig in this matter is breathtaking. Selig and the owners were well aware that players were taking steroids in the ‘90s and they didn’t care. They had promoted offense with a livelier ball and smaller parks to bring fans back after Selig and the Players Association played chicken and shut down the 1994 World Series. The home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 was the biggest single reason for baseball’s surge in popularity.

The fact is that fans in the park don’t care about the circumstances; they want to see balls going over the fence and runners going around the bases. Cardinal fans at the park loved McGwire. Giants fans at the park loved Barry Bonds. Those fans who rail against steroids are almost always those who get their baseball on TV. Understandably, owners are more concerned with the opinions of those actually buying tickets.

Now, Selig has found religion. He made a statement in the wake of McGwire’s admission that “the socalled steroids era is clearly a thing of the past.” Oh, please. And what is your position on the Tooth Fairy? In fact, the players being caught now are mostly Latinos who probably don’t understand the rules (and who can get steroids over the counter at home) or the terminally dumb. Hello there, Manny Ramirez. Selig doesn’t care. He simply wants to throw a curtain over everything.

As for Maris’s son saying his dad’s mark of 61 homers should be recognized as the record, put a lid on it. Maris was the beneficiary of special circumstances, too, hitting against pitchers who would have been in the minors except that it was an expansion year. He never hit more than 39 any other year. That same year, Norm Cash led the American League with a .361 average, but he had never hit more than .288 before and never would again. Jim Gentile hit 46 homers, up from 21 the previous year, and that represented more than a quarter of his career total of 171. It was that kind of year, and Maris’s record was always a fluky one.\\\

GIANTS MOVES: Does anybody have any ideas what Brian Sabean is doing? Does Sabean? Now he’s brought in Aubrey Huff, another one-time power hitter who has fallen into what is probably a terminal slump. A word of caution: Always be cautious of players with good power numbers who have played in those hitter-friendly parks. Their numbers will plunge at AT&T. Case in point: Aaron Rowand.

What Sabean has done is assemble a group of players who should be reserves but will be in the mix for starting positions. Manager Bruce Bochy calls that flexibility. I call it mediocrity.

USC PROBLEMS: At one time, I thought Pete Carroll would stay at USC for the rest of his coaching career. But the situation changed drastically. The revelations that Tim Floyd had paid O. J. Mayo to come to USC forced the school to put a ban on NCAA tournament play this season for the Trojans. The football program has been under NCAA investigation because of allegations that Reggie Bush was given money by a booster, and now, there are similar allegations about Joe McKnight. I’m sure Carroll feared that the NCAA would apply sanctions to the football program.

He’s also stepping into a great situation. He’s always wanted to have complete control of the program, and he’ll have that with the Seahawks. Club president Todd Leiweke is a long-time NFL operative but he’s not a football guy. Not to mention that Pete will get $2 million more from the Seahawks than he was getting at USC.

There’s a deeper problem in college basketball, though, than the Mayo case. I mean, who’s kidding? Athletes have been paid to come to specific schools for a very long time – when I was young, I remember the jibe that Hugh McElhenny found his way from Compton JC to the University of Washington by following a trail of $20 bills – and basketball is the sport most often corrupted because one star player makes much more of a difference in basketball than in football.

But, Mayo represents a different type of problem. Call him the designated player. Agents sign players out of high school and then decide which school they’ll go to because they want their players to be the top player on the team, rather than just one of two or three, to give him a shot at a better NBA contract. So, Mayo was sent to USC.

Of course, these players only stay one year before going to the NBA, often leaving the college program struggling.

This is all because the NBA adopted a rule that players must be at least 19. I agree with the principle – the NBA has suffered because the league is too young – but it’s caused serious problems. I think the NBA should drop it and put in something like baseball has: If a player goes to a four-year college, he can’t turn pro until after his junior year.

Maybe that would mean a return to more 18-year-olds in the draft, but at least, it would en the hypocrisy of players pretending they wanted to play collegiate ball when they’re only prepping for the NBA in another year.

LANE KIFFIN: When Kiffin was announced as the Raiders coach in the spring of 2007, I wrote that he probably reminded Al Davis of himself as a young man, a bright, ambitious USC assistant.

Kiffin is looking more and more like the young Davis, who got USC put on probation for his recruiting. Like the young Davis, Kiffin isn’t weighed down by ethics. He was apparently campaigning for a college job while he was still with the Raiders. Now, he’s made the shift from Tennessee to USC, leaving a trail of allegations about his recruiting tactics behind him.

49ERS MOVES: In the front office and on the coaching staff, the 49ers have taken backward steps since the end of the season.

In the front office, the 49ers have dropped Andy Dolich while making Jed York the operating head of the franchise. Dolich is supposedly going to be a “senior advisor” but that’s just code for “Good luck in your new job.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think Jed York is a bright, young man who is a huge improvement over his father. Jed is a very hard worker and has learned on the job. He will be fine as the chief executive.

But he can also use help, and Dolich has a world of experience in sports marketing and running a franchise. His expertise will be missed.

On the coaching staff, Mike Singletary made the surprising decision not to renew the contract of special teams coach Al Everest, who had done an exemplary job except for one problem this last season: Kick returns. The 49ers had nobody who could do a consistent job on either kickoff or punt returns once Allen Rossum was released.

And, whose decision was it to release Rossum? I’m guessing it wasn’t Everest’s.

CONTRARIAN: My opinions/evaluations often run contrary to my colleagues. Beyond the fact that I often don’t follow what passes for conventional wisdom, the reason is that I have always approached my job differently.

Many writers watch the games, talk to coaches/managers and players after the game and feel they’re doing their job. And, of course, they talk with other writers, who often have the same opinions.

The problem with that approach is that it bears out the old axiom: He doesn’t have 30 years experience, he has one year of experience 30 times.

There are writers who buck this trend. Among the local columnists, I particularly like Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury and, most of the time, Monte Poole. My long-time friend, Lowell Cohn, is always provocative with his column in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Bruce Jenkins is very informative because he watches so much on TV, but he doesn’t know football and his evaluations are too emotional to be reliable.

I take The Chronicle at home, so I don’t see the work of beat writers from other papers on a regular basis, but I’m impressed with the work of Matt Maicocco of the Press Democrat, which I’ve read online. David White does a great job on the Raiders and I like both Chronicle baseball beat writers, Henry Schulman on the Giants and Susan Slusser on the A’s.

When I first came to The Chronicle in 1963, I thought I knew a lot about sports. I continued in that mistaken frame of mind until I took over the Raiders beat in 1967. The first time I talked to Al Davis, who was sane at that time, I realized how much I had to learn. From that point on, I have made it a practice to find people who know more about a subject than I do and listen to them.

In baseball, I learned a lot from Alvin Dark when he managed the A’s; I was too inexperienced and too low on the totem pole to get much from Dark when he managed the Giants. I loved talking to Frank Robinson and Al Rosen with the Giants because they could explain from experience how great players react in given situations. Talking to Tony La Russa was often an educational experience. La Russa hated general questions – “What do you think of your team, Tony” – but if you asked him specific questions, he’d give elaborate answers. Since Billy Beane has been general manager of the A’s, we’ve had many informative one-on-ones; Beane has specific knowledge from playing in the majors and being a scout that I can’t duplicate.

In football, Bill Walsh was by far my biggest influence in the 30 years I knew him; I learned even more from him (and Guy Benjamin, who worked with us) when we collaborated on a book. I also loved talking to Sid Gillman after he retired. It seemed every time I called Sid, he was looking at film/video. He loved the game and he loved talking about it – and he was an unabashed admirer of what Walsh did with the 49ers.

From Walsh and Gillman, I learned how to evaluate quarterbacks, which brings me to my latest controversial take, on Alex Smith. Almost all my media colleagues disagree with me on Smith (on a Chronicle Live show before the start of the season, though, both Kawakami and I said Smith should start for the 49ers.).

I’ve also talked to 49er offensive coordinators Norv Turner and Mike Martz. Turner thought Smith could be a great quarterback. Martz also thought Smith had the ability (he completely dismissed Shaun Hill when we talked in the spring of 2008), but Smith was never healthy enough to win the starting job.

With the help I’ve gotten from these coaches, I don’t worry about disagreeing with my colleagues. I won’t always be right, but you can be assured that my opinion will be my own, not a consensus.

COMPUTER PROBLEMS: I must have made the computer gods angry because I’ve had nothing but trouble lately. We had no internet access over the weekend. Now, my wife’s computer has access, so we’re sharing that, which means I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time checking my e-mails. If you haven’t gotten a response on something you’ve sent, that’s why. I’m hoping to get that taken care of soon.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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