Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Barry Bonds has four years remaining to convince the Baseball Writers Association of America to give him the necessary 75% vote for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, after he fell woefully short with 56% of the vote in the latest results, announced this afternoon.  He's failed to come close in his first six years of eligibility. He's gaining ground, but at this rate (up from 54% a year ago), won't even approach 75% in his 10th and final year.  

I would not have voted for Bonds.  Yes, he was unquestionably headed for the HOF 14 years into his 22-year major league career.  But then he became the biggest and most sophisticated steroid user the game has even seen over his final eight seasons.  If you've read Game of Shadows, and Love Me, Hate Me--the superb biography of Bonds, by Jeff Pearlman--you wouldn't question my assumption.  All the details are there.  All the names of the illegal drugs are there.

At a time when the numbers of every other mortal in the game's history are trending downward, his numbers went through the roof, from age 36 and up.  Four of his seven MVPs came while he was juiced.  He became a cartoon character, both in appearance and in production.  It was a farce, just as it was when McGwire and Sosa combined for 136 homers in the 1998 season.  Bonds disgraced the game, disgraced the Giants and disgraced himself.  And the Giants organization disgraced itself by looking the other way, for several years, until he broke Hank Aaron's career homerun record.  Then they let him go.  

Oh, I've heard all the sycophantic arguments for putting Bonds into the HOF:

1.  He was a HOFer before he began using steroids.
2.  Everyone was on steroids.
3.  Steroids were legal.
4.  He was never convicted of using steroids.
5.  He never tested positive for steroids
6.  What about the countless number of players who were on amphetamines?
7.  The Hall is full of other cheaters, like Gaylord Perry.  

My comeback:

1.  Character, integrity and sportsmanship are part of what all HOF voters are asked to consider before casting their ballots.  I'm not making that up.  It's in the voting instructions.  He failed miserably on all three counts.  He cheated willfully, flagrantly and defiantly for many, many years.  He would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he hadn't decided to become a drug-infested cheat.  
2.  Pleeeeeeez stop.  There is no way of knowing how many players tried steroids, but to suggest that everyone was doing it is tantamount to saying everyone cheats on their taxes, and therefore it's OK.  It's not OK.  That's a very poor lesson to teach our children.  Furthermore, I believe the overwhelming majority of players who dabbled in steroids did just that--they dabbled, some very briefly, like Gary Sheffield (again, read Game of Shadows).  
3.  Anabolic steroids were never legal.  Even baseball banned them in 1991.  MLB didn't test for them, until many years later, but they were still illegal.  
4.  This isn't a court of law.  Even so, let's not forget that a federal jury voted 11-1 to convict him of perjury, for lying about the use of steroids (a unanimous vote was necessary for conviction). 
5.  Bonds DID test positive, according to the Mitchell Report, but the results of that test (or those tests) were not supposed to have been made public.
6.  Get serious.  Amphetamines allowed players to stay more alert.  That's completely different from chemically enhancing one's body.  
7.  Get serious (again).  On the one hand, we're talking about a player who took a wide myriad of illegal drugs to artificially build his body, so he could hit balls further and harder, after having seen the pitches better, with HGH. Gaylord Perry was greasing up the baseball.  And please, don't bring up sign-stealing.  Is that cheating? Technically, I suppose, in a similar way that I'm breaking the law if I drive 30 in a 25-zone.  But we all do it.  I'm also breaking the law if I drive 120 on the freeway, but don't know anyone who does that.

The real victim in this HOF debate over whether Bonds belongs is a guy like Fred McGriff.  The Crrime Dog.  With every voter who does not vote for Bonds, I look to see whether he/she has voted for McGriff.  Some do, but not nearly enough.  McGriff's numbers would stand out much more if they weren't inevitably compared with the ridiculous drug-laced numbers turned in by Bonds, Sosa and McGwire:  He was a five-time all-star, with 493 homers, a .284 average, seven .300 seasons, ten 100 RBI seasons, and .303 in the post-season with 10 HRs in 188 at-bats.  McGriff's numbers compare very favorably with those of Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and Billy Williams, all of whom are in the Hall, and McGriff should be as well.  

Yes, Barry Bonds was a better player than Fred McGriff even before Bonds started using steroids.  But he made that choice.  And he should continue paying the price for it.  Every time a writer votes for Bonds and not McGriff, he's essentially telling the latter, "You should have used steroids."  

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner is not only one of the best pitchers in baseball today--and the best post-season pitcher of all-time, according to some statistical categories--but he's also one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history.

His home run last Friday night in Pittsburgh gave him nine homers in 122 at bats over these last two seasons.  That homer per at bat ratio is better than that of nearly every position player in the majors.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy recently used Bumgarner as a pinch-hitter in back-to-back games, the first time that's happened in the majors since Micah Owings did it for the Reds five years ago.

It's no secret that having a great hitting pitcher gives the Giants a significant advantage in nearly every game Bumgarner starts, because his counterpart on the opposing team is nearly always a marginal hitter at best.  Bumgarner even may be a more dangerous hitter than some of Bochy's other pinch-hit options off the bench.  And yet, I would prefer that Bochy err on the side of caution and not get carried away with the idea of using Bumgarner as a frequent pinch-hitter.

Did you see him swing through two fastballs thrown by Cards' closer Trevor Rosenthal last week, one at 98 miles an hour, the other at 97?  Bumgarner was swinging for the fences, but he couldn't catch up to either one.  When I see Bumgarner swing that hard, I immediately worry that he's going to pull an oblique muscle, which could sideline him for at least a month.  And when I see Bumgarner hit yet another fastball into the stands, I think that opposing pitchers are inevitably going to stop throwing him fastballs over the plate that he can extend his arms on, and instead throw off-speed pitches off the plate, and fastballs inside, where he runs the risk of getting hit on his left shoulder, left bicep, left tricep, left elbow, left forearm, left wrist, left hand, left thumb or one his four left fingers.

The Giants can't afford to lose their best pitcher.  It's great to see him hit when he's the starting pitcher, but I can't help but feel that the reward is not worth the risk when he's not.  In short, less is more for the Giants when Bumgarner is not pitching.  It's better to leave him on the bench, than unnecessarily run the risk of injury, unless Bochy is out of other options.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I was asked by the afternoon drive news team at KCBS this week to join them to talk about the state of the Oakland Athletics, and why more and more fans are wondering if the magic of Moneyball has totally lost its direction.  I jumped at the opportunity.

First, in obvious defense of Billy Beane, the A's ownership is not small-market, in terms of its ability to spend major dollars, and yet just doesn't have the willingness to spend, until it gets a new ballpark. They are convinced that they'll never get the revenue necessary from attendance at the Coliseum, so they're just waiting and waiting until that new ballpark gets built.  And I, like many, including MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, believe that if the Raiders move back to Los Angeles, that ballpark for the A's will get built.

In the meantime, Billy Beane has gone from a GM who trades his best players before they become free agents to a GM who trades his best players before they become eligible for salary arbitration. That's a huge difference.  A rookie isn't eligible for free agency until he's spent six seasons in the majors, but he's eligible for arbitration after three.  That's precisely why Josh Donaldson was traded last November.  So, Billy can collect all the class-A minor league talent he wants, but by the time these players reach the majors, Sonny Gray likely won't be around because he'll be arbitration eligible after next season.

There is no endgame to this strategy.  It can't work.  If Billy continues getting rid of his best players before they've spent three years wearing green&gold, he'll never develop a winning team again.

Just one year ago, he had the best team in the major leagues.  Then he began tinkering with it in a miserably failed effort to make it even better.  He traded his best minor league prospect, shortstop Addison Russell, to the Cubs for starter Jeff Samardzija.  Russell is now an everyday player for the Cubs, who love him.  Samardzija is now with the White Sox.  Then he traded his cleanup hitter--some say the heart of the A's offense--Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for starter Jon Lester.

The A's offense went in the tank after that trade, the Angels won the AL West, Oakland barely grabbed the second wild card spot, then lost that epic extra-inning thriller in Kansas City.  Cespedes is now on pace to finish with 28HRs, 98RBIs and a .290 average with the Tigers.  Lester is now with the Cubs.

Shortly after the World Series, Billy sent shock waves through the organization, and Major League Baseball in general, when he traded Josh Donaldson, the best third-baseman in the game, to Toronto. In exchange, he got three players, but the key to the deal was a 19-year old shortstop named Franklin Barreto, who's now hitting .298 with 12HRs, for their class-A California League farm club in Stockton.  Billy said last week that Barreto is doing better than he ever imagined.  One thing he didn't mention, though, is that Barreto has made 34 errors at shortstop.  That's eight more than Marcus Semien has made with Oakland.  Barreto has made 88 errors in 213 minor league games.

Beane then traded Brandon Moss to Cleveland for a second-baseman who's hitting .270 at AAA Nashville, with little power and no speed.  Within the last few days, he has traded Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard.  He's stockpiling more and more minor league talent, but no can't miss prospects.  And again, if he's going to continue trading his best players before they become arbitration eligible, it won't matter.  There's no endgame here.

Let's hope the Raiders move back to LA.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


I just googled "I hate Duke" just to see how many websites I could find that share an obsession with hating the newly-crowned NCAA Basketball champions.  Would you believe I found well over 100?  In fact, not only did I find more than 100, but I simply stopped searching after that.  There may be well over 1000 sites dedicated to the hatred of Duke.  The list I found includes I Hate Duke T-Shirts and Hoodies, I Hate Duke Songs, Puppies Who Hate Duke, The Most Hated Duke Players of All Time, The Anti-Duke Manifesto, The Top 10 Reasons We All Hate Duke, The Completely Evenhanded and Unbiased Investigation into Why Duke Sucks, 15 Reasons to Still Hate Duke (from Fox Sports) and, inevitably, The Fresh Face of Duke Hate--Grayson Allen.

I am both amused and appalled.  I'm amused because some of these sites admittedly make me chuckle.  I am appalled because, in all seriousness, I believe we should embrace what Duke basketball is all about.  And yet I am sad to say that the overwhelming number of college basketball fans that I've observed over the years do, indeed, hate Duke.

Is it because of head coach Mike Krzyzewski?  Let's see, he's a great coach (name me one other head coach who was able to harness the collectively massive egos of a roster of NBA all-stars for the common good of the team); he's a fine human being (unlike his own mentor Bobby Knight, Coach K has always treated his players--and the press--with complete respect); and he is highly regarded in both the fraternity of college coaches and the fraternity of young men who have played for him (senior guard Quinn Cook spoke emotionally after Duke's title game win over Wisconsin about his love for Coach K for not only being his coach the last four years, but also being his chief father figure following the death of his own father four years ago).  In short, what's not to like?

Is it because Duke's roster is always a collection of privileged upper-class white kids, who project a feeling of entitlement every time they take the court?  Uhhh, take a good look at the current roster.  Coach K consistently played a rotation of his eight scholarship players all season long, a group that included just two white players, one of them the aforementioned Grayson Allen.  Last year's roster? Similar deal--it included two first-round draft picks, Rookie-of-the-Year Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.  I could go on and on, but why bother?

Is it because Duke basketball wins too much?  I could understand that, to a degree, but I don't see the same antipathy directed toward Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, etc.  In fact, I admire Duke basketball more than any other because Duke takes seriously the notion of recruiting real student-athletes.  It's not easy to consistently field a winning team when your pool of available athletes is much smaller than your competition.  Jim Harbaugh figured out how to do that at Stanford--work your butt off to successfully sell your program to the limited pool of athletes you're trying to recruit.  Mike Krzyzewski learned long ago how to do that at Duke.

Personally, I love Duke.  I grew up loving Duke, because my father was captain of the Duke Soccer team in 1947 and '48.  My dad instilled a love of Duke in the hearts and minds of his three children, and I'm forever grateful that he did that.

For his 80th birthday, 10 years ago, my brother and I took him back to Durham, North Carolina, to watch Duke play Virginia Tech.  He hadn't been to a basketball game there since he graduated from Duke 60 years prior.  How did I get tickets for the game?  I called the university's Sports Information Office, told the kind individual at the other end of the phone about my dad, and what my brother and I wanted to do for him, and Duke took care of the rest.  We sat behind the scorer's table.  I asked the woman sitting to my left how she scored her tickets, and she said her husband was the Commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference.  She asked me how I scored our tickets, and I told her our story.  And she was kind enough to arrange for an ACC staff photographer to take photographs of the three of us at halftime.  He sent all the photos to me, free of charge.  My dad died two years ago, and I treasure those photos, and the memory of that experience.

Meanwhile, the USA Today is out with a story headlined, "Grayson Allen is the Duke Villain We've All Been Waiting For."  What egregious behavior is Grayson Allen guilty of?  Let's see, he's white, his face makes him look he's about 12 years old, and he's got serious game.  I call him the baby-faced assassin.  He's the guy who came off the bench last night, with Duke down nine with 13 minutes left, with its two top big men on the bench in foul trouble, to score eight straight points to single-handedly get his team back in the game.  He plays with such fire that he not only scored those eight unanswered points, but he visibly inspired his teammates to finish the job, which they did.  For that, he's apparently become the new Christian Laettner.  I get it.  Not really.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I couldn't help but notice the utter hypocrisy of baseball's premiere agent Scott Boras, who openly questioned the Cubs' "commitment to winning," in a q-and-a with reporters in Arizona Tuesday.  Specifically, Boras was referring to talk within Cubs management that their top prospect (and the number one prospect in all of baseball), third-baseman Kris Bryant, may start the season with the Cubs AAA farm club in Des Moines, Iowa, even though he was the consensus Minor League Player of the Year last season, when he hit .325 with 43 homers and 110 runs-batted-in, split between AA and AAA.  Needless to say, Bryant is one of Boras's clients, and Boras was particularly peeved because he had just watched Bryant club two homers, giving him six, in 23 at bats this spring, with a .435 average.  

So why would the Cubs be quietly entertaining the thought of sending Bryant back to AAA?  The answer lies in baseball's complex service time rules.  In a nutshell, if Bryant spends the first 12 days of the upcoming season in the minors, the Cubs would be guaranteed his services at the major league level for the next six seasons, whereas if he starts the season with the Cubs, they could lose him to free agency after five.  The folly in these rules revolves around what constitutes one year of service time--it's 172 days on the major league roster.  So if the Cubs keep him down on the farm for 12 days, even if he spends the rest of the season with the Cubs, he'll fall short of the 172 days necessary to constitute one year of service time.  Cubs ownership, and general manager Theo Epstein, would love to have Bryant starting at third base on Opening Day. However, they could guarantee themselves that extra year of having Bryant under contract, by delaying his major league debut for less than two weeks.  With no guarantee that they'd be able to prevent Bryant from eventually testing the waters of the free agent market, it's perfectly understandable why they'd be willing to do that.  It makes perfect sense.  Of course, if Bryant has a sensational season with the Cubs, and the Cubs fall one game shy of making the playoffs, the inevitable outcry from Cubs fans will center on the decision to delay his Big League debut for 12 days.  And yet, if I were a die-hard Cubs fan, I'd want Bryant to spend those 12 days in the minors, to ensure that he'd be a Cub for the next six seasons, rather than five.

What is absurd is Boras's suggestion that if the Cubs send Bryant to AAA to start the season (and you can bet that they will), it proves they are not committed to winning. Rather, it merely proves that they understand the business side of this equation, and they are making the best decision for the Cubs future.  Boras, of all people, despite his suffocating hyperbole, understands the business side of this as well or better than anyone.  He's all about business.  That's his job.  Hence, he's being a complete hypocrite when he accuses the Cubs of not being committed to winning.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Mark Purdy suggested in this morning’s San Jose Mercury-News that yesterday might go down as the worst day in 49ers’ history, unless today is even worse.   At least when it comes down to off-the-field news, he might be right.   Free agents Gore, Crabtree, Iupati and Skuta are gone, or presumed gone (hours before the free agent signing period begins); Patrick Willis confirmed that he’s retiring, amid an NBC report that Justin Smith will do the same; and Santa Clara police confirmed Bruce Miller was arrested last week on a domestic violence charge.

Niners’ owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke can’t be pleased, and it would be an understatement to say that for 49er fans, York’s popularity is at an all-time low, particularly the news conference announcing the team’s parting with head coach Jim Harbaugh, and his insistence that it was a “mutual parting,” because “that’s what it says in the press release.”  York comes across as smarmy, even to the most forgiving of Niner fans.

But York and Baalke could eliminate much of this pessimism by making smart decisions during this free-agency signing period, and during the college draft.  And the team itself could create a new sense of optimism and excitement by getting off to a good start to the 2015 season in September.  Could it happen?  Of course it could.  Darnell Dockett could effectively replace Justin Smith, if indeed Smith retires; Chris Borland effectively replaced the injured Patrick Willis last season, when the Niners statistically had the fourth best defense in the NFL; Carlos Hyde could effectively replace Frank Gore, and given his youth, may exceed what Gore would have produced at this stage of his career; and Torrey Smith could give the 49ers the deep threat they’ve long lacked, that after Anquon Boldin told CBS Sports, “it’s a done deal,” that Smith—his former teammate in Baltimore—is signing with the 49ers. 

This doesn’t address the potential replacement for left guard Mike Iupati, and a myriad of other questions.  But as much as I am turned off by Jed York public persona—and I definitely am—I know that he and the 49ers will have a chance this fall to eliminate the pessimism and cynicism surrounding the team.  Whether they succeed is a huge question that remains to be answered.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Major League Baseball today announced that it will implement four rule changes (or, in at least one case, the sudden reinforcement of a long existing rule) aimed at speeding up the pace of games.  The reason is obvious.  Too many fans (and non-fans) think baseball is too slow, i.e., the games take too long.  History supports that belief.  The average game last season lasted a record 3 hours, 2 minutes.  That’s a half-hour longer than the average game 23 years ago.

The most significant “change,” is the rule (never enforced before) that a batter keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout his at bat, except following swings, or if the hitter is brushed back by the pitch.  Will this, and other less significant changes actually make much of a difference?  That remains to be seen, but the foot-in-the-box rule, if enforced, will be interesting to watch.  Any serious baseball fan is well familiar with the all-too-common practice by most players of stepping out of the box after every pitch to adjust their batting gloves at the very least.  It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary and it’s time-consuming.  Simply banning this practice alone would put a serious dent in the length of games.

NPR did a story this morning on this, and included a video of ex-Giant Pablo Sandoval’s personal ritual, which he may be required to curtail, or face a fine and/or an automatic strike (penalties will be assessed beginning in May):  At the beginning of each at bat, Pablo steps into the box, does a side-step out of the box in the direction of the pitcher, faces the pitcher, taps his spikes with his bat, taps his helmet with his bat, returns to the box, steps out of the box, adjust his batting gloves, and steps back in.  This sort of dance has become so routine in baseball that I, for one, have seen Sandoval play countless times over the years, and yet never remembered the specifics of his routine until NPR prompted me to watch it more closely, at which point I said to myself, “Oh, yeah, of course, it’s Pablo!”  It’s extraordinary.  It’s also part of the reason why the 2 ½ hour games of 23 years ago now last three hours, because so many players have similar rituals that they are going to be loathe to surrender. 

I applaud the new commissioner Rob Manfred for doing what he can to speed up games.  But I am also concerned about his repeated assertions that we need more scoring in baseball.  More scoring?  Really?  I thought the balance between pitcher and hitter had finally been restored, after two decades of rampant illegal steroid use that turned guys like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa into cartoon characters. 

Manfred suggests banning the defensive shift, i.e., the shift many teams use effectively to deal with lefthanded pull hitters, where the second-baseman becomes an additional outfielder, the shortstop moves to the spot vacated by the second-baseman, and the third-baseman moves to the shortstop side of second, just across the bag.  It’s often effective.  Of course, the lefthanded pull hitter could offset this by learning how to hit to left field and left-center, except that Manfred wants to make it easy on him by banning the shift altogether.

Manfred’s second suggestion for adding more offense is to shrink the strike zone.  Really??  Are you freakin’ serious???  Shrinking the strike zone will, indeed, add more scoring, but more than that it will lead to many more walks, which will make the games drag even longer than the record length of last year.  Say it ain't so, Rob!