Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Fans Are Idiots

Here we go again.

The first returns are in for baseball's All-Star Game (oops, sorry, that would be the Monster All-Star Game), and they prove once again why the fans should not be the ones choosing the All-Star starting lineups.

Sure, it's a seductive argument: "it's the fans' game, and they ought to choose". Except it really doesn't work out that way. What happens is that rabid fans in a couple of cities (can you say Boston and New York, kids?) dominate the process.

Right now, the American League results have 7 of the 9 slots in the batting order filled by Red Sox or Yankees. Somehow, Vladimir Guerrero and Ichiro Suzuki managed to sneak in (though neither is really having a great year), but keep an eye out for Yankees Bobby Abreu and Melky Cabrera, who lurk within striking distance.

It's another example of how baseball says it cares about the fans, but really only cares if you live in a big market. I can just hear the conversations at baseball's Park Avenue offices: "What? There's still a team in Kansas City?"

50 years ago, the Lords of Baseball faced an All-Star scandal: the good people of Cincinnati voted their Reds into every slot in the starting lineup except first base (apparently, they mistook Stan Musial's Cardinal red for their own guy). Commissioner Ford Frick stepped in and pulled two of the Fraud-legs from the lineup, subbing in Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

And then, baseball took the vote away from the fans for the next dozen years. But then, in 1970, they gave it back. For a while, the sport tried to avoid another 1957 Reds mess by limiting the number of printed ballots distributed to each big-league city.

But then the Internet came along, rife with opportunities for ballot-stuffing. And here we are.

What can fans do? You can do what I do: claim the moral high ground by refusing to vote. Or you can go a step beyond that and join the millions who don't watch the All-Star Game on TV anymore.

Maybe then, the Lords of Baseball will get it right and let the players and managers (who know the game best) choose the All-Star lineups. But based on baseball's track record, I wouldn't bet on it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Daniele Bennati and Me

Haven't heard of Daniele Bennati?

Don't worry. You're in concert with approximately 99.8% of the world's population.

I, on the other hand, am a big fan of Daniele Bennati. And why is that, you ask? Because we ride the same bike.

Well, OK, not exactly the same bike, but I have a damned fine replica of the Cannondale that Bennati and his Team Liquigas buddies ride on the pro cycling tour. And Bennati is having a fine Giro d'Italia, winning his 3rd stage today (more about the Giro on the KCBS/ La Dolce Giro podcast).

So while my shiny new carbon-fiber bike is, well, maybe just a bit over the top visually, right now it looks like a winner's bike. Just like all those baseball caps and basketball jerseys and college-logo T-shirts sports fans love to sport. Just look around. Lots of Kobe jerseys and Red Sox caps and USC T-shirts. Not so many people wearing the Zito jersey these days.

"Showing your colors" is part of being a fan. You either back the home team, or you pick another player or team to adopt. In the case of Daniele Bennati and me, it was sort of an arranged marriage (the bike shop just happened to have only one Cannondale Synapse in my size, and it was the Liquigas livery version).

But by golly, now I'm 100% behind those Liquigas boys. Forza Bennati!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thanks, Peter

I just got the e-mail from Peter Magowan. No, we're not on each other's buddy list; I'm a Giants season-ticket holder and everyone got the same message.

Instead of hitting the "reply" button, I'm using this forum to say, "thanks".

It's been fashionable in some quarters to bash Magowan and Giants management for a) signing Barry Bonds, b) letting the team descend into mediocrity the last few years, or c) whatever else bugs you about the franchise.

But though the Giants never won it all under Magowan's stewardship, he (and the rest of the long list of minority partners) not only kept the team in San Francisco, they pretty much guaranteed its future in the Bay Area. Let's not forget: in 1993, there was a very good chance that this team was bound for Tampa Bay. Every attempt to get a new stadium to replace the clearly inadequate Candlestick Park had been rebuffed. Magowan and Company not only kept the team in SF, but they also penciled out a way to build that terrific ballpark.

And as part of the whole package, we got Barry Bonds. I am not here to defend Bonds' churlishness or to protest his innocence, but when the Giants acquired him, everything changed. The team became instantly respectable, and it's not too great a stretch to argue that Bonds' presence helped the organization work the numbers for the new ballpark.

Has Magowan made some mistakes? Sure. Most notably, he overpaid Bonds, costing the team the ability to hire a few other key pieces. He helped create the toxic atmosphere in which Bonds operated.

But Peter Magowan also saw the game from the fan's point of view. Sure, a way-richer, way-more-connected fan, but still, a fan. For that, Giants fans owe him their deepest thanks.

After all, we could have been commuting to Tampa.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sharks: Will This Help?

So the Sharks have followed their latest second-round playoff exit by showing coach Ron Wilson the door.

The move obviously doesn't do anything for fans who thought this would be the year for the Sharks. We'll have to wait 12 months to see if it makes any difference in the only thing that really matters to an NHL team: its performance in the playoffs.

Wilson was reportedly startled by the decision (to say the least). He's a veteran coach who knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup and has hinted broadly that the Sharks remain short of what's required. His boss, G.M. Doug Wilson, obviously thinks otherwise.

There's a tendency, I think, for people to generate unreasonable expectations for a team's playoff prospects based on its regular season numbers. But there's a reason NHL oldtimers call the playoffs "the second season". Everything changes (including, it often seems, the rules).

The question is whether the Sharks are really built for the second season. To be sure, it's a team full of exciting players, but the nagging question of whether all the pieces are there to dominate in the rarefied air of the playoffs lingers. That's on the G.M., not the coach.

One thing's for sure: if the Sharks don't go deeper into the playoffs next year, it won't be Ron Wilson's fault. It might be Doug Wilson's.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I'll confess: I am a bit of a know-it-all. But I'm generally not big on showing off with 4-bit words when I can sling the 2-bit variety.

That's why I was shocked when I tossed off the word "chicane" this morning and my KCBS colleagues didn't know it. I used the word to describe a mess on the Bay Bridge, where a traffic accident had blocked a couple of lanes and forced drivers to do a little right-left-right evasive maneuver. (If you, like my colleagues, are baffled by the word, here's a full write-up.)

To me, "chicane" is just part of the sporting landscape. As a kid, I was always captivated by the exotic drama of Formula One racing, where chicanes are commonplace. It's not just F1, though--you'll find chicanes on all sorts of racetracks as a way to keep speed under control.

Check out the photo I borrowed from a sports-car racing club--the Corvette is leading the Audi through the chicane.

To those who say being a sports fan is a waste of time, I say, "never!" Imagine what it can do for your vocabulary.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Savor It

If you stayed all the way until the end--through all the intermissions, all the shots on goal, all the icing calls--congratulations.

If you didn't--well, you missed something special.

Sure, the Sharks lost, ending their season in disappointment. But it was a hell of a loss, truly a game for the ages.

I've grown weary of the people (some Bay Area columnists come to mind) who want to beat the Sharks up because they haven't won the Stanley Cup. I don't buy the whole debate about their "heart" (or lack thereof). Let's leave it at this: this is a good hockey team, and there are other good hockey teams, and sometimes you win. Sometimes you don't.

Ask anyone on the Dallas Stars if the Sharks are underachievers. They'll tell you the truth.

It's a shame the Sharks flew into the Bay Area in the wee hours of the morning after this epic 4-overtime loss. Someone should have been there to strike up the band, for even in defeat, they did themselves proud.