Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
But the way the locals reacted to the arrival of the San Jose Sharks' Dany Heatley, you'd think Ottawa had changed its name to Podunkville.
Heatley was traded from Ottawa to San Jose before the 2009-10 NHL season. Far be it from me to explain the whole situation, but suffice it to say Heatley wanted out of Ottawa (and away from coach Cory Clouston). He managed to enrage not only the fans in Ottawa for demanding a trade, but also the folks in Edmonton for refusing to be traded to the Oilers.
Last night's game between the Sharks and Senators marked Heatley's first visit to Ottawa since the ugly breakup. It happened to be the same night that LeBron James came back to Cleveland for the first time since jilting the Cavaliers, and King James of the Miami Heat didn't take any more heat than the Heater took in Ottawa.
Heatley got not only the ritual booing whenever he touched the puck (a common NHL fan behavior), but an earful of chanting and an eyeful of angry posters. Among the clever chants: "Heatley Sucks!", "Trai--tor!", and "F-U Heatley!" The posters weren't any better, and one enterprising group of Ottawans disrupted the game by heaving a bunch of Senators jerseys bearing Heatley's name and number onto the ice.
I guess I expected this sort of thing from Cleveland, a city with an inferiority complex wider than the formerly-flaming Cuyahoga River. But Ottawa? I thought you were a little above that sort of thing.
Oh, by the way: Heatley had an assist, drew two penalties leading to Sharks power-play goals, and had the last laugh in a 4-0 Sharks win. By the end of the game, the booing was not for Heatley, but for the home team. A perusal of the fan comments on Internet bulletin boards suggests the real anger in Ottawa is with the Senators, who are limping along, closer to last place in the conference standings than first.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
I've always been ambivalent when the arguments start about the need for a college football national championship playoff. It never really mattered that much to me; I was OK with the traditional bowls/polls approach.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
- Vida Blue Sorry, no. If there was a "most amazing year" wing in Cooperstown, Vida would be in for that 1971 season (24-8, 301 K's, Cy Young, MVP). But it doesn't work that way and despite 3 20-win seasons, I just don't see it for Vida (though I love the guy).
- Ron Guidry No again. And again, that year. In his case, 1978: 25-3, 1.74 ERA, 16 complete games, Cy Young. But Guidry had a number of middling years, too, and never got more than 8.8% of the BBWAA vote.
- Tommy John A prime example of baseball's fascination with pretty good players who hang around forever. Yes, he won 288 games, but there were only a few really strong years in there. Heck, John once gave up 287 hits in a season. It's enough that the surgery named after him has saved so many careers; leave him out of the Hall.
- Dave Concepcion Great team (Big Red Machine), solid player. HoF? Nope. He's been on the BBWAA ballot for 15 years and maxed out at 16.2%.
- Al Oliver At first glance, you say, "Wow!" 18 seasons and a career .303 batting average. And then you realize that "Scoop" never finished higher than 3rd in MVP voting, and only showed up once in the BBWAA voting (and with just 4.3%, at that). No.
- Ted Simmons Sorry, but I can't see "Simba" in Cooperstown, either. Another guy with a long career (21 years) and decent numbers (.285 career BA). Simmons spent many years catching. Extra points for that, but he wasn't even the best catcher of his generation (see Bench, Johnny) and thus we have another near-miss.
- Rusty Staub Ah, how I'd love to be able to recommend Le Grand Orange. But it's just not there. Staub did have some terrific years, but he had the misfortune of playing in an era with stars like Aaron, Clemente, McCovey, Rose, Bench and Santo (the last of whom probably should be in the Hall). Je suis desolee, mon ami, mais non.
- Billy Martin Oh, boy. 16 years as a manager (5 teams, some more than once). 1 World Series title, another AL pennant, and three other division titles. Aggressive, hard-nosed baseball. But can you really say he's Hall of Fame-worthy? I could be convinced, but I'm leaning "no".
- Pat Gillick They're trying to throw a bone to Canada here. No.
- George Steinbrenner Absolutely. You may not like The Boss, but the man changed baseball (for better or worse, depending on your perspective).
- Marvin Miller Same answer as above, only more so. Can you imagine someone touring the Hall in a hundred years and not learning about the free-agency era and the man behind it?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
- Aaron Rowand, CF
- Edgar Renteria, SS
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B
- Aubrey Huff, 1B
- Mark DeRosa, LF
- Bengie Molina, C
- John Bowker, RF
- Juan Uribe, 2B
- Tim Lincecum, P
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
He had just endured another painful Fox Sports production--Game 1 of the NLCS between the Giant and the Phillies. He wanted to know how he could delay the Giants' hometown radio broadcast so it would "sync" up with the Fox TV broadcast, which is delayed by several seconds.
And Dad hadn't even seen Fox's Game 2 effort yet.
Just a few of the moments that made me want to scream and throw something at my plasma panel during Game 2:
- The length of time it took Fox to notice that Placido Polanco was struck by a thrown ball while running inside the first-base line in the 1st inning. Despite multiple replays, Fox's longtime team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver never spotted the obvious: Polanco could have been called out for violating Rule 6.05 (k).
- The clumsy decision to play a taped dugout interview with Phils' hitting coach Greg Gross just as Giants outfielder Cody Ross was stepping in to hit. Ross, of course, homered while the audience heard Gross talk about something else.
- Buck's inexcusable rant at Giants' third baseman Mike Fontenot after an infield popup dropped between four Giants. "It's five feet in front of you. Just catch it!," said Buck. If he'd bothered to watch his own broadcast, he'd have seen Fontenot repeatedly calling for the ball before backing away--begging the (unasked by Fox) question--who called him off and why?
- McCarver's analysis of the 7th inning play in which Roy Oswalt overran a stop sign at third base to score when Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff cut off the throw. McCarver told us that Huff made the right play because the throw was going to hit the mound and be deflected. Huh? This is a former major league catcher speaking, folks. The rest of us saw a throw that would have beaten Oswalt to the plate by 15 feet.
I could go on, but what's the point? Fox has never shown much regard for the details of the game. In fact, it was bizarrely refreshing to hear Buck admit during Game 1 that he "wasn't watching" a play, asking McCarver (and I guess the rest of us, too), "What happened?".
I wish I had an answer for my dad. If I did, I'd set up the same thing at my house and listen to broadcasters who know what they're doing.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
Just make sure they win 92 games. Especially in the National League.
Over the last 10 years, just about every team that's won 92 games has made the playoffs. We're talking about a total of 80 playoff teams over that span (4 in each league each year). Only 5 teams have won 92 games and failed to make the playoffs, and only one of those was a National League team (the 2002 Dodgers).
2002 was a bad year for the "Rule of 92". Not only did the Dodgers get left out, but in the American League, both the Yankees and Mariners sat out the playoffs despite 93-win regular seasons. By the way--Seattle is the only team over the last 10 years to be denied twice with 92 or more wins--they also missed the playoffs in 2003 with 93 wins. The other exception to the rule is the 93-win 2005 Cleveland Indians.
Getting to 92 requires winning about 57% of your games. You don't even need to win every series. Split the 4-gamers, win most of the 3-gamers and you're in.
Just like the 2010 Giants, who made it into the playoffs on the season's final day with their...wait for it...92nd win.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Indeed. And it appears nobody's stopping them in places like Cincinnati and San Diego, where teams in the playoff hunt are playing to a lot of empty seats--or, in the case of the Padres, a lot of seats filled by fans of the opposing team.
The last couple of nights have seen an awful lot of Cubs fans at Petco Park as Chicago has badly damaged San Diego's playoff hopes. When the Giants played a key series in San Diego earlier this month, it sometimes sounded like a Bay Area crowd had taken over the place.
The Padres, who've led the division for most of the season, will end up drawing a bit over 2 million fans (up by 200,000 from last year). By contrast, the Giants will top 3,000,000 in a ballpark of roughly the same size.
What's going on here? Padres brass admit they're still trying to win over a fan base that may still be skeptical after years of cheapskate decision-making. But it might go deeper than that. San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Nick Canepa quotes Padres CEO Jeff Moorad as saying the fans are migrating toward less-expensive tickets.
In other words, even with a better product on the field, even with the prospects of a better team in the future, and even in the heat of a pennant race, Padres fans are watching their wallets. And they're apparently not alone. The New York Times reports overall MLB attendance will drop again this year, making it three straight down seasons at the turnstiles.
Sure, a few teams are up. But the fact that pennant-chasing franchises like San Diego, Cincinnati (which drew 12,000 fans for a recent game), Tampa Bay and even Atlanta are playing to less-than-full houses certainly ought to get the attention of the sport's moguls.
San Diego's Moorad is a smart guy. He's a former player's agent who knows the game from many angles. He's onto something. Baseball (and other pro sports) need to wake up to a new reality: the gravy train has ended. The Golden Goose isn't laying eggs any more. Fans are facing the reality of a re-calibrated economy and pennant race or not, they are watching their dollars very carefully.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
"The Braves and the Marlins," I replied, realizing as I said it how desperately stupid it sounded. Yes, I was hanging on every pitch, listening to the painfully-biased Braves TV announcers as though they held the keys to some inner truth.
I admit it. I've been sucked into the vortex of a pennant race. And I don't want out.
Hell, as soon as Omar Infante's base hit gave the Braves a walk-off win in the 11th, I was off to watch the Cubs-Padres game. I settled in with Len Kasper and Bob Brenly on WGN (a way better combo than the Atlanta bunch) as the Cubs nursed a one-run lead into the bottom of the 9th.
Kasper and Brenly told me Cubs closer Carlos Marmol was on the verge of setting a new single-season record for strikeouts per 9 innings (incredible: he's averaging more than 16 K's per 9 innings). Marmol's slider was electric and he quickly punched out the first two San Diego hitters.
And then the torture began. Yorvit Torrealba reached on an infield hit as the Cubs middle infielders botched the play. Pinch-runner Everth Cabrera, inevitably, stole second. A bounced slider to Chase Headley might have grazed the fabric of his baggy pants and he was sent to first as a hit batsman. Tony Gwynn Jr. coaxed a walk to load the bases.
And then Nick Hundley put a pretty good swing on a Marmol pitch that caught a lot of the plate. For a moment, I had visions of a walk-off grand slam that would have tied the Padres with the Giants for first place in the NL West.
That must have been when I shouted, "No!" That must have been when my wife walked back into the room and said, "I think you're taking this way too seriously."
She might be right. But when Hundley's fly ball landed safely in Sam Fuld's glove, I relaxed. Within minutes, I was sleeping like a baby.
See, pennant races are fun--at least when things are going your way.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Colvin was immediately hospitalized with a hole in his chest and a potential collapsed lung. He's going to be OK, but if that bat shard had caught him in the carotid artery...well, you do the math.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Go figure. The guy throws 1-hit ball for 5.2 innings against the Dodgers, gives up zero earned runs, and gets tagged with the loss. If you're keeping track, it's his 9th consecutive loss. He last won on July 16th. Since then, he's 0-9. There have been some very bad outings, but overall, Zito's ERA during that streak is 4.48--not great, but not 0-9 bad.
I've written before about the good Barry/bad Barry syndrome. You may have heard that his career record when the team scores 4 or more runs is 109-6. But when the team doesn't score--and the Giants have only scored 11 runs while Zito was in the game over his last 12 starts--you get the bad Barry.
I'm no psychologist, and maybe Zito would disagree, but here's a guess: when the team is rolling, Zito relaxes and lets it flow, and he's darned good. When the team isn't scoring, he tries to get too fine, and trouble ensues.
And then, there's the potential that this is all just a bizarre confluence of unexplainable forces, and Zito is the butt of some cosmic joke.
I'm going with the last one.
Monday, September 13, 2010
But after carefully watching the National League for the last couple of weeks, I'm going to go out on a limb here: Giants fans, start making your postseason plans.
The Giants' just-completed 10-game road trip (they went 7-3) was the sort of test a team has to pass to prove itself playoff-worthy. Taking 3 of 4 in San Diego was, of course, huge. But the real smackdown was the Sunday win, in which the Giants dismantled major league ERA leader Mat Latos while Tim Lincecum had the Padres bitching about ball/strike calls. And don't forget: the Giants won this game just hours after learning that sparkplug Andres Torres may be done for the regular season after an appendectomy. That's character, people. You can have your Yorvit Torrealba chest-bumps.
The Padres' long run atop the West now looks like a mirage. This is simply not that good a team; both the Giants and the Rockies will pass San Diego before it's over. Among other things, it's clear that there really is very little gas left in Miguel Tejada's tank, and the Padres outfield is, well, average at best.
So if San Diego's out, who's in? The Giants play 12 of their last 18 at home. They'll either win the West or finish so close behind Colorado that they'll be the wild card team. "But wait," you're saying. "The Giants are a game behind the wild card standings right now, so if they don't win the West, they're screwed."
Yes, but. They trail Atlanta by a game for the wild card slot (and Atlanta trails the Phillies by a game in the NL East). So it's really a 5-team race for 3 slots: Padres, Giants, Rockies, Phillies, Braves. And since I've already dismissed San Diego (and anointed Colorado), let me deal with the Atlanta/Philly situation.
Each team has 18 games left; 9 home and 9 away. They play exactly the same teams: 6 games against Washington, 3 against the Mets, 3 against Florida...and 6 against each other. Much is being made of the fact that the Phils' last 6 are on the road and the Braves last 6 at home (including the potentially-epic season-ending series against the Phils). But right now, I think the schedule favors the Phils, who have a 9-game homestand coming up while the Braves face a 9-game roadtrip.
Plus, Atlanta's rotation has been struggling lately (Tim Hudson has lost his last 3 starts and Tommy Hanson has one win since the All-Star break), while the Phils have the Roys (Halladay and Oswalt).
I say the Phils win the East by 3 games, and the Braves send Bobby Cox into retirement without a playoff spot.
What I'm not ready to predict is whether the Giants or the Rockies will win the West. My crystal ball isn't that good.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
But in recent seasons, the Broncos have been edging ever-closer to forcing their way into the BCS Championship game. Their 2010 season-opening win over Virginia Tech means this could be the year. Boise State was #5 in the USA Today coaches' poll going in; Va. Tech was #6.
It's not hard to see Boise running the table and winding up undefeated. They've dominated their mid-major Western Athletic Conference for quite some time. There's still a potential roadblock on September 25th (Oregon State, which might be a Pac-10 force this year). But you don't have to stretch too far to see an undefeated Boise State at season's end.
And then the fun begins. If Boise's the only undefeated team, its inconceivable that they'd be denied a slot in the BCS Championship game. But if one or more other big-time schools end up with no losses, look out, because the Lords of Football (in association with their pals, the Lords of TV) will start the machinations to keep Boise out of the Big Bowl.
The Big Boys love hanging out with the other Big Boys. The Oklahomas and Texases and Alabamas and Floridas hate it when the unwashed like Boise State crash their lucrative party. TV hates it, too, because despite the obvious David vs. Goliath storyline of a Boise appearance in a BCS bowl game, these "small" schools don't deliver the TV ratings.
For Boise State, the season now stretches out like a high wire with no net. Any stumble--even a close win against a San Jose State or a Fresno State--ends the dream. If you like seeing the rich get richer and the fat get fatter, root against Boise State. As the major conferences re-align, there will be fewer and fewer Cinderella stories (read this piece by fellow Alamedan Ray Ratto for a dystopian view of the college football future).
But it you're a real sports fan--if you like a world where the outcome isn't linked to pedigree--you need to hope for a perfect Boise State season ending in a slot in the BCS Championship game.
Just try not to watch too many of their home games. That blue turf is hard on the eyes.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
But the episode exposes a serious flaw in the way the PGA Tour does business. When Furyk failed to show for the 7:30AM shotgun start, he was DQ'd from the Barclays tournament itself. That's a serious matter, because the Barclays is part of a big season-ending series of tournaments that lead to the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus. Furyk was in 3rd place before his goof; now, he could fall as low as 19th.
Suddenly at issue is a PGA Tour rule aimed at preventing the pros from blowing off the Wednesday pro-am events. These hit-and-giggle "tournaments" are a big part of the Tour's marketing-and-money machine. Amateurs pay as much as $5000 to join a four or fivesome: one pro and three or four "ams", playing a best-ball round (with full use of the amateurs' score handicaps).
You can imagine how much a guy like Tiger Woods looks forward to staggering around the course with a crew of hackers. There are many stories of churlish behavior on the part of the pros: barking at amateurs to hurry up or play better. Worse, some pros have been known to give the eager amateurs the silent treatment--18 holes' worth.
A few years ago, the Tour imposed a rule requiring that pros who skip a pro-am be disqualified from the weekend tournament. The idea was to keep the PGA's money-and-marketing machine rolling: a fully-subscribed pro-am can generate well over $1 million in proceeds for charity, helping burnish pro golf's image.
Furyk's disqualification may be a punchline for comedians, but his fellow pros aren't laughing. Phil Mickelson, for one, is outraged. Lefty thinks the rule is, well, stupid: "I cannot disagree with it more. I have no idea how the commissioner let this rule go through. It's ridiculous."
Part of Mickelson's dismay is the inherent unfairness of a rule that only applies to the pros who have slots in the pro-am. In the case of the Barclays, that was 72 pros out of a tournament field of 125. It's refreshing to see a star like Mickelson stand up and speak out; he could easily have laughed Furyk's mistake off since it didn't impact him.
My colleague John Madden has no sympathy for Furyk; his view is that a pro who makes a commitment to play in the pro-am should be held to it. I agree with John--but only to a point. Punishments are only valid when they're proportionate and relevant. It's hard to see how depriving Furyk of the chance to play in the Barclays (and also deprive paying customers and TV viewers of the chance to watch him play) serves anyone well.
The PGA Tour needs to re-think its pro-am rules. Find a way to incentivize the pros to show without creating the sort of nightmare scenario Jim Furyk is enduring because he overslept.
Monday, August 23, 2010
It's hard to know. These games don't count, and it's dangerous to draw any conclusions from what you see. But: it's better to be undefeated than the other way around.
The 49ers' opening-series drive against Minnesota was impressive and clearly gave quarterback Alex Smith a shot of confidence. The Raiders defense went all sack-happy on Bears' QB Jay Cutler, led by Tommy Kelly and Kamerion Wimbley.
I happened to be in a favorite watering hole during that Raiders game and watched as Raider Nation watched. Remember, these are fans who haven't had much to cheer about in recent years. It started with Kelly's sack of Cutler on Chicago's second snap of the game, and as the Silver and Black built a lead, I kept hearing variations on the Butch Cassidy theme: "who are those guys?"
The Raiders seem to find ways to beat themselves in recent years, and huge questions remain about the offense. But it's not too big a stretch to see this as a team that can win a few 13-10 games and surprise a few people.
The blitz by the Niners' Patrick Willis that knocked Brett Favre out of the game is another of those meaningful moments in a meaningless game. The fact that San Francisco was blitzing Favre says coach Mike Singletary means it when he talks about toughness. The 49ers were an 8-8 team last year and it's not too far-fetched to see them as a playoff team this year.
Again, it's early. These games don't count. But there's a spring in the step of Bay Area football fans this week, and that beats the alternative.
Friday, August 13, 2010
That would be outfielder Pat Burrell, who's been reborn in his native Bay Area after his career cratered in the dismal confines of Tampa's Tropicana Field. Burrell signed with the Rays after spending 9 years in Phillies pinstripes. He was a steady source of Philadelphia power: over 9 seasons in Philly, Burrell averaged 28 homers and 87 RBI a year.
After the Phillies' World Series title in '08, Burrell was cast adrift. He headed south to Tampa Bay, and his career went south, too. His 14 home runs last year marked the lowest total of his career. And when he started this year with more wimpy numbers, he was gone. The Rays cut him in late May and the Giants grabbed him.
Since then, Burrell has been huge for the Giants. He's hitting right around .300, has homered once every 15 at bats, and has a whole slew of big RBI's. He's a capable outfielder and by all accounts, a good clubhouse guy. His old college buddy Aubrey Huff nearly decapitated Burrell with a smack to the helmet after Burrell's grand slam against the Cubs. That's how ballplayers show their love.
Who knows what went wrong in Tampa? It might have been the designated-hitter role. Burrell practically never played defense during his Tampa Bay stay. Sure, his nickname is Pat the Bat, but maybe Pat likes to use his glove, too.
At any rate, Burrell's emerged as an enormous piece of the puzzle as the Giants face a fascinating
final seven weeks of the season. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, Pat the Bat is back.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Sure, most big-league pitchers would be thrilled to be 11-6 with a 3.41 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 155 innings pitched. But none of them are The Freak, the frighteningly-gifted two-time Cy Young Award winner.
When I say Lincecum is in trouble, I don't mean to say he's finished. He may well be able to figure this out. But for now, his aura of invincibility has gone "poof" and vanished, and he knows it.
His most recent start (6 earned runs, 4 innings pitched in an AT&T Park loss to the Cubs) marked the third time in his last ten starts that Lincecum has failed to even pitch 5 innings. He's been fiddling with his delivery, even going to a windup he hadn't used since college. You can see the frustration etched on his face and hear it in his voice.
I've written this before and anyone familiar with baseball knows it: baseball is a game of adjustments. But usually, players have to adjust to external factors. A hitter learns to lay off inside fastballs. A pitcher learns to avoid a power-hitter's happy zone. A base-stealer studies that left-hander's tricky pickoff move.
In Lincecum's case, the required adjustments are internal. He's like a golfer trying to get his swing back. He's lost his groove, and as golfers know, it can be hell trying to find it again. Ask Tiger Woods, another guy who isn't having much fun right now (of course, he has other things on his mind, too).
What Giants fans can hope is that Lincecum is able to scuffle through this and find that groove again. At his best, he's dominant. Right now, he is well short of that. His epic success early in his career will mean nothing if he can't make the adjustments.
Friday, August 6, 2010
I'm talking about the call third-base umpire Bob Davidson made in the 9th inning of a Phillies-Marlins game. The ground ball off Gaby Sanchez's bat appeared to be fair, and the base hit would have given the Marlins a 5-4 win.
But Davidson called the ball "foul" and stood his ground against a furious argument.
Before you jump on the bandwagon calling for video replay, take a look at the play. And remember the rule: on a ground ball, the ball must cross the bag in fair territory to be considered fair. Watch this play a few times, and note where the ball hits just before crossing third base. It looks like it's in foul territory. The fact that the ball hits in fair territory behind the bag is irrelevant (though it's clearly what enraged the Marlins).
Davidson is a veteran umpire who was in perfect position to make the call. It's possible he got it wrong. It's also possible that the view we get from the television cameras is misleading (or inconclusive) and that Davidson got it right. Anyone who's watched the replays and is sure it was a blown call may be guilty of a little extrapolation.
Until baseball adopts something like the Hawk-Eye system used to arbitrate line calls in tennis (and cricket), these calls will be tricky. Video replay won't always settle the arguments; it's a comforting thought to those on the wrong end of a close call but it's no panacea.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Of course, by October, it was Dressen and the Dodgers who were dying a thousand deaths, as Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world" ended a playoff series. Back then, there were no divisions and no wild card slot.
Fast forward to now. The shoe is on the other foot (and the teams are on the other coast). The Giants have just swept the Dodgers and though you won't hear anyone in orange and black say it, let me write it: The Dodgers is dead.
I'm not alone in seeing a lifeless bunch of underachievers wearing Dodger blue. Read T. J. Simers in the Los Angeles Times. Or check out the hilarious (and often vulgar) rants of a hardcore and long-suffering Dodgers fan at DodgerBlues.com.
The just-concluded sweep of L.A. left the Giants 6 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers, who wallow in 4th place in the NL West. It's not just that they're losing. The Dodgers look lost. Outfielder Matt Kemp getting picked off right after plate umpire Joe West used Casey Blake's bat to remind Blake of the dimensions of the batter's box was a perfect capsule of the series. Kemp is a magnificently-talented specimen who seems to find a way to lose.
The Giants may or may not win the division or make the playoffs (I still think they're a better-than-even shot to do it). But put a fork in the Dodgers. They're done.
Friday, July 16, 2010
But the gambling analogy isn't perfect, because VC's don't just sit back and let their wagers ride. They get very involved in the companies they fund (Lacob sits on a number of corporate boards), actively working to arrange mergers or recruit executives.
Studying the VC way of doing business may help understand what kind of an owner Joe Lacob will be, now that he's pulled off a bit of coup by purchasing the Golden State Warriors for $450 million (it's not all Lacob's money; Hollywood mogul Peter Guber is in on the deal). Everyone was reporting that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was going to win the Warriors (and by his own admission, Ellison outbid Lacob), but a Sand Hill Road moneyman is now in charge.
One thing sacred to a venture capitalist is a business plan. Lacob has already said he has plans for the Warriors, and you can bet there's some PowerPoint in there somewhere. But let's hope he's ready for some surprises. Businesspeople (and those who invest in businesses) may think they know how to react and adapt, but what do you do when a significant asset like your first-round draft choice ruins his wrist and will miss most of his first season?
By all accounts, Lacob is a serious sports nut and a guy with deep Bay Area roots. He may not have Ellison's star power (though I believe those who thought Ellison would have been a Mark Cuban-like figure would have been sorely disappointed), but I'd be shocked if he treated his ownership role the way Chris Cohan did. Expect Lacob to be firmly in charge. Venture capitalists don't do hands-off very well.
Whether that will be enough to clear the bizarre curse that seems to have settled over the Warriors franchise is something we'll learn as time passes.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Are you kidding me?
There's no good explanation for Charlie Manuel's decision not to use Lincecum in the Midsummer Classic. The Freak is the two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner and the kind of player fans love to watch. Younger fans, in particular, gravitate toward the guy with the flowing locks and the skate-punk mystique. Plus, the dude can pitch a little.
Yet somehow, nine pitchers not named Tim Lincecum managed to get in some work. What was Manuel thinking?
Many people fault baseball commissioner Bud Selig for the "this time it counts" baloney, making the All-Star Game into a contest to decide home field advantage for the World Series. That's still a dumb idea, but the truly damaging aspect of it may now be coming to the surface. If baseball people like NL manager Manuel perceive the game as anything more than an exhibition game to showcase the sport's most popular stars, the fans lose.
Unfortunately, Giants fans will have to wait until next year to boo Charlie Manuel (the Phillies played their lone series in San Francisco two months ago). It's OK. I can wait, just like Lincecum did last night.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Poof! Your dream is over. That little slice of Never-Never Land is long gone.
We sports fans invest our emotions (and money) in multimillion dollar franchises, which in turn hire multimillionaire athletes. The athletes are interchangeable. With rare exceptions (mostly New York Yankees like Jeter, Rivera and Posada), these people move on every few years in search of greener pastures.
We fans want our teams to win so we can whoop and holler and go to the victory parade. We like to think the players share our desire for success. And they do--to a point. What they're really in it for is the money. Sometimes one leads to the other, but there is no absolute correlation. At the end of the day, the athlete is, understandably, motivated by economics.
The LeBron James spectacle forces us all to confront this dichotomy. Did he spend the last two years hyping his impending free agency so he could increase the odds of winning an NBA Championship? Or did he do it to increase the value of Team LeBron?
You make the call. And you decide whether to keep wearing that Cavaliers jersey with his name on the back.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Bumgarner can't legally order a brew for a few more weeks, but his teammates doused him in celebration of his first major-league win. He threw 8 shutout innings in Milwaukee to precipitate the locker-room precipitation.
Three years ago, Bumgarner was mowing 'em down for South Caldwell High School in Madison, NC. Last September, the Giants gave him a taste of big-league life. Last month, they called him up and tossed him into a nationally-televised start against the big, bad Boston Red Sox.
After 5 starts in the majors, Bumgarner is sporting a 2.53 ERA, that one win, and a very bright future. He doesn't throw wicked-hard, but he's a big, sturdy kid with a ton of stuff and a commanding presence. If you close your eyes when he talks, you hear a little bit of Roger Craig, the former Giants manager. The Humm Baby was also from the Tarheel State and also a pretty fair pitcher.
Bumgarner's arsenal includes a nice little bit of below-the-radar reality. While he was a first-round draft choice (#10, in 2007), he wasn't Number One (see Strasburg, Stephen under the heading of "Pitchers Under a Microscope"). Heck, he's not even the most-scrutinized starter on a staff that includes Tim "The Freak" Lincecum and Barry "Big-Contract" Zito. Staying out of the headlines can be a nice way to build a big-league resume'.
Bumgarner's way-beyond-his-years presence on the mound gives the Giants a very solid starting rotation, three of whom are lefthanders and four of whom are 27 or under. Given the economics of baseball, a young starting pitcher is truly money in the bank (money that can be spent on offensive players). Even if he doesn't spark the Giants into a playoff run this year, he gives their fans hope for next year and beyond.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Those who never played the game probably don't know how difficult this process really is. They see a guy like Pablo Sandoval or Tim Lincecum achieve early success and assume it'll always look easy.
But both of the young Giants stars are struggling right now. Lincecum is throwing too many pitches and while he's still good, he's not the kind of crazy-good that won him two straight Cy Young awards.
Sandoval is in the deepest down-phase of his young career. His batting average is down more than 50 points from last year. And he's hitting into double-plays at an alarming rate: in the first 787 plate appearances of his career, he grounded into 16 DP's. This year, in 314 plate appearances, he's hit into 17 (leading the free world in that category).
And then there are those two horrible base running gaffes in consecutive games against the Dodgers, the last of which had some fans booing The Panda as he left the field.
It's clear that Sandoval, still just 23 years old, is pressing. Hard. It's tempting to let him keep playing. But it's clearly time for the Giants to give him a break. It's not punishment; it would be an act of mercy to pull him out of the fray for a couple of days.
Let's hope Sandoval and Lincecum will adjust and bounce back. Both are serious about their craft, but baseball is a hard taskmaster and offers no place to hide.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
The unseeded Frenchman said it in the aftermath of the longest tennis match in history: "We played the greatest match ever."
More than 11 hours, stretched over 3 days, before John Isner finally hit the winner that broke Mahut's serve and gave Isner a 70-68 win in the 5th set of their match at Wimbledon.
Isner couldn't have been more gracious in victory. But it's Mahut who gives us all something to cheer. Why? Because he had to hold serve 65 times as the epic dragged on. His back was against the wall for hours on end, and yet he dug down to a place most of us can't even imagine and found will, resolve, and calm.
You had to feel for Mahut as the Wimbledon people and the media made an event of the match. He was forced to pose for photos and accept gifts in honor of the match, all while he was surely replaying those unforced errors that kept him from playing on.
Yet the same well of strength that got him through all those hours on Court 18 provided him with the grace to get through the aftermath. As he French often say in honor of a valiant effort, "chapeau, monsieur."