Friday, July 16, 2010

Good Luck, Joe

Joe Lacob understands how to succeed against long odds. That's what venture capitalists do: they put money on the table (and sometimes double down), hoping for a big payoff. They're also known to fold 'em when they have a weak hand.

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

Blown Call at the All-Star Game

Tim Lincecum goes to the All-Star Game and doesn't play.

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

Rooting For Laundry

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, your sports heroes stayed put. Kids could roam the neighborhood wearing the hometown star's jersey for years with no fear of obsolescence.

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

The New New Kid

Madison Bumgarner got a beer shower in the Giants clubhouse last night, and if he licked his lips to taste the suds, he broke the law.

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.