Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Dysfunctional Organization

The Warriors are one of the most dysfunctional organizations in all of professional sports (along with the Raiders), and yet, the fans have apparently been guzzling kool-aid from the late Jim Jones, because they seemingly have no clue as to why this team has failed to make the playoffs in 15 of the last 16 years. It starts with Chris Cohan, it continues with Bobby Rowell and Don Nelson, who is in this merely for the money and for 21 more wins which would make him the winningest coach in NBA history (and close to being the losingest, as well), and who began this 16-year disaster when he couldn't get along with his rookie franchise player Chris Webber, and ignored passionate advice from Al Attles and Ed Gregoy, among others, and traded him. It continues with GM Larry Riley, who is merely Nelson's lapdog, along with Cohan. It's embarrassing, to say the least.

And yet, beginning with Webber, the Warriors fans haven't a clue. They blamed him for tearing apart the Warriors, when all he wanted was to be treated with a little respect and decorum, particularly publicly, when Nelson (in those days) loved to ride and ridicule his rookies, with rare exceptions. Cohan, who had just completed a hostile takeover of the franchise from Finanne and Fitzgerald, could not have come on board at a worse time, because Finnane&Fitzgerald, had they still been in power, would have told Nelson, "Get your ass in a room with Webber and work things out, or you're outta here!!" Instead, Cohan did whatever Nelson wanted, and the dye was cast.

Since then, the fans have dumped on Webber, with vitriol, they've dumped on Antawn Jamison (who never complained in the slightest), they've dumped on Gilbert Arenas (whom Cohan wouldn't pay), they've dumped on Baron Davis, whom Chris Mullin wanted to re-sign, and on January 29th they'll be sure to dump on Stephen Jackson, even though Jack is merely a symptom of a much deeper disease that permeates this franchise, and starts at the top. Soon, Monta Ellis will get traded, and then the fans will dump on him.

Collectively, these fans are the biggest morons of all. What they should do is stop buying tickets until Cohan sells, and until Nelson is gone, along with Rowell and Riley. Only then will the sad, embarrassing and disgraceful fortunes of this franchise start turning around.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Define Patriotism

You might have missed what happened at a small minor-league ballpark in Newark, New Jersey, earlier this summer. During the seventh-inning stretch, the crowd was asked to stand for a rendition of "God Bless America." Three teenage boys declined to stand, and were kicked out of the stadium by the president and co-owner of the Newark Bears, Thomas Cetnar.

Those three teenagers are suing the Bears, claiming their constitutional rights were violated.

While I assume that most Americans would scoff at the claim, I believe those boys have a great case.

Personally, I have never failed to stand for our National Anthem, or for God Bless America. But I would vehemently defend anyone's right to remain sitting.

In fact, it reminds me of an incident surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' Duane Thomas, in 1970, when he failed to stand at attention for the National Anthem before a game in Buffalo. He was booed loudly by the fans, all of whom were apparently watching Thomas, rather than saluting the flag. The next morning newspapers around the country called for Thomas's suspension. My high school buddy and I, though, sent a letter to the Chronicle sports section, defending Thomas's right to sit, and for questioning Americans' support of blind patriotism. The Chron printed the letter, sandwiched between two other letters calling for Duane Thomas's scalp. I cut out the Letters section that morning. And I still have it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Al Davis Embarrasses Himself Yet Again

I have been a KCBS Sportscaster for more than 18 years, and worked at KNBR for seven years before that. And I lost track long ago of the number of bitter, childish and vindictive press releases I have received over the years from the Raiders. More specifically, from Al Davis, because he's the only person who could have possibly written these horribly embarrassing missives, in which he invariably feels the need to strike back, on a very personal nature, at someone he feels wronged him or his precious football team. It is beyond absurd. It is beyond embarrassing. And it has happened yet again.

This time, the target is Lane Kiffin. You remember Lane Kiffin. He's the guy Davis hired away from the USC staff to coach the Raiders. Kiffin won 5 of 20 games with the Silver&Black, a record not unlike all the other coaches Davis has hired since he let Jon Gruden get away. In the process, of course, Kiffin had the temerity to speak out publicly when he felt Davis was stipping away whatever independence Kiffin thought he deserved to have as head coach. It was hardly a match made in heaven. And, not surprisingly, when Davis fired him, he announced in a bizarre (even by Davis's standards) press conference that went on seemingly forever that he would not pay Kiffin the balance of his contract because of alleged insubordination. To which Kiffin sued Davis.

Segue to this week: Kiffin's new employer, the University of Tennessee, revealed that it was looking into a possible recruiting violation by Kiffin, for allowing ESPN to be present during a meeting he had with a pair of recruits. "The Raiders" (a euphomysm for Al Davis) immediately released a statement, saying, "Lane Kiffin is a flat-out liar. He lied to the team, he lied to the fans, and he lied to the media. He will try to destroy that university like he tried to destroy the Raiders, and he will eventually clash with Summit and Pearl," the latter a reference to the school's two basketball coaches, Pat Summit and Bruce Pearl.

Nasty? Yes. Vindictive? Yes. Totally unnecessary? Yes. Helpful, in any remote fashion? No, not at all. Typical of Al Davis? Absolutely.

For the record, Lane Kiffin never lied to KCBS Radio. I wish I could say the same for Al Davis.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Letting Lincecum Hit

Last Saturday Bruce Bochy made a managerial decision that had play-by-play announcer Dave Flemming scratching his head on the Giants' radio broadcast. The Giants and Diamondbacks were locked in a scoreless game in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Giants had two on and two out, with Lincecum due up. Lincecum had thrown 82 pitches through seven innings, with 11 strikeouts. Flemming said, essentially, that it was a no-brainer, that Bochy had to take Lincecum out for a pinch-hitter, that he had to go for the win when he had the chance.

I was sitting in my car at the time, having just parked at an Alameda soccer field, looking forward to coaching my U19G team on a gorgeous afternoon at Hornet Field. But I had to wait to see what Bochy would do. And I remember, at the time, thinking that I did not agree with Dave, that I would let Lincecum hit, and here's why: Lincecum was pitching a fabulous game, and probably could have thrown two more innings. And who knows--the kid has such a flair for the dramatic, and he is such an incredible competitor, that he might even get a hit. He's certainly improving as a hitter. He hit .093 as a rookie, and .157 last season. Not only that, I still have vivid memories as a child of seeing a Giants starting pitcher removed from the game while in the midst of a masterpiece, and how it would upset my mother. In those days it was Marichal, more than likely. This day it was Lincecum.

Sure enough, Bochy let him hit, and Lincecum groundout out to short to end the threat. Lincecum then pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two more strikeouts, and Bochy removed him from the game after eight innings, 98 pitches and 13 strikeouts. But that's where I now find myself questioning Bochy. In other words, if I had known that Bochy was going to limit Lincecum to eight innings, then I'd have taken him out for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. In other words, I think it was right to let Lincecum hit, but only if you, as the manager, were fairly well committed to letting him pitch two more innings, as long as he stayed sharp. But to let him hit and then take him out an inning later? I have a little trouble with that.

Segue to the Sunday game. Randy Johnson was taken out of the game after seven innings of one-hit ball and just 73 pitches, with a 1-0 lead. Fortunately, the Giants won 2-0, but I wondered why the Unit could not have thrown another inning, and possibly even two, given how dominant he was. After the game Bochy said 73 pitches was enough for a 45-year old pitcher, and maybe he's right. The only hit Johnson gave up was a leadoff double in the seventh, which prompted a reporter to ask Bochy if he would have considered removing Johnson after seven innings if he still had a no-hitter going. Bochy said he'd have asked Johnson first. Can you imagine Johnson's reaction? I'm guessing he would have respectfully insisted on staying in the game. A younger Unit may not have been so respectful.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

World Baseball Classic

Yesterday, while recording our weekly KCBS Sports Fans Podcast with my esteemed colleague Stan Bunger, I asked him if he had any interest in the World Baseball Classic, which began this week.  Without hesitation, Stan said no.  None whatsoever.  Not in the slightest.  He'd rather watch grass grow.  

Knowing that Stan loves baseball like I do, I can safely say that he doesn't know what he's missing.  

Earlier today, the Netherlands beat the Dominican Republic 3-2, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Think about that for a moment. The entire Big League experience on the Netherlands roster can be condensed into two words: Rick VandenHurk.  The big right-hander threw 14 innings for Seattle last season, allowing 12 runs, 20 hits and 10 walks.   That's it.  And this team beat the mighty Dominicans, a team of Major League all-stars, including David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Miguel Tejada.  When the game ended, the winners celebrated on the mound as though they'd just won the World Series.  The losers were stunned.  And that was just the opening game of the WBC for both teams.  

Next up was the U.S. against Canada.  Nearly 50,000 fans, in the middle of hockey season, filled the Rogers Centre in Toronto.  The Canadians have some great hitters, including Justin Morneau, Jason Bey, Russell Martin and Joey Votto.  But their two top pitchers, Rich Harden and Ryan Dempster, are out with injuries.  In fact, they have just two starting pitchers with Big League experience:  Scott Richmond, with 27 innings last season for the Blue Jays; and Mike Johnson, who has a career ERA of 6.85 in 218 innings, mostly with the Expos.  That's right, the Expos.  He hasn't pitched in the majors in seven years, and spent the last two in the independent Atlantic and Northern Leagues.

And yet, Johnson had his moments of glory against the U.S. today, and the Americans barely won, 6-5, when Jason Bey flied out with the tying runner at second in the 9th.  Votto had doubled with one out, not only bringing the fans to their feet in a collective roar, but the scene in the Canadians dugout far more resembled the excitement of a World Series game than a spring training affair.  The players were going nuts. As I watched the drama unfold, with the electric atmosphere in both the stands, and on the field, I had to pinch myself with the realization that this was baseball in early March.  Awesome.

As one who went to see the semifinals and the final, at the inaugural WBC in San Diego three years ago, I can honestly say that if you're a baseball fan, and haven't given the WBC a chance, you're really missing something.  Three years ago, I was totally caught up in the excitement of walking the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego, surrounded by baseball-crazy fans from the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Japan, along with Americans of Cuban descent.  They had all gathered in southern California to watch those four nations battle for the first WBC title, which Japan finally won, led by a brilliant right-hander we would all come to recognize shortly thereafter--Daisuke Matsuzaka.  

Meanwhile, back to 2009:  The mighty Dominicans are one loss away from elimination.  The top two teams from each of the four four-nation groups advance to the quarterfinals, in San Diego and Miami, with the semifinals and final at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.  The fact that both the D.R. and the U.S. failed to reach the semifinals three years ago was an embarrassment to the players on both rosters, and serves as a major motivating factor for them this year.  But it won't be easy.  The Dominicans already discovered that, today.  The Americans, barely victorious, did as well.  

I'll be watching.  

Friday, January 16, 2009

ESPN vs. Al Davis

The latest in the continuing spat between Raiders owner Al Davis and ESPN's chief NFL correspondent Chris Mortensen is that Mortensen has apologized for declining to ask the Raiders to comment on a January 4th story he was about to run, saying that Davis&Company was negotiating to sell a minority interest in the Raiders to a billionaire investor who wanted to eventually move the team to Los Angeles.  The Raiders denied the story, and noted that Mortensen hadn't even bothered to ask whether the report was true, before running the piece. Mortensen later said he had decided to no longer run stories by the Raiders for comment, because they have a history of denying stories that are eventually proven to be true.  And he said the Raiders had "lost the privilege" of having him check with the team beforehand.

When an ESPN ombudsman looked into Mortensen's comments, at the request of the Oakland Tribune's Jerry McDonald, Mortensen apologized on both counts--for not asking the Raiders for comment prior to the publication of the January 4th story, and for saying the Raiders had lost the privilege of hearing from him beforehand.  

When the Tribune ran a McDonald story this week on Mortensen's apology, a close friend of mine e-mailed me and said in the subject line of the e-mail that Mortensen was a "crappy journalist."

I respectfully disagree.  Chris Mortensen is an excellent journalist who did a crappy thing.  He let his own bitter disgust with Al Davis and the Raiders cloud his professional judgement on what he (and every reporter) should do before running a story--give the subject of the story an opportunity to respond.  Remember, Mortensen is a reporter, not a columnist.  His integrity and credibility as a reporter is compromised if he doesn't fact-check, and in the January 4th story in question, he admits he didn't.  

At the same time, everyone in the business of reporting knows that Raiders management can not be trusted for a second when asked to comment on a pending story.  It's common knowledge.  And it's apparent that while Mortensen shares the same frustration with this reality that the rest of us feel, the reason he made such a mistake in judgement--or did such a crappy thing, if you will--is because he's understandably still stinging from an unprovoked and irrational attack on his character perpetuated by Mr. Davis himself. Remember, it was Big Al who called Mortensen a "professional liar" during that embarrassing and rambling press conference announcing the dismissal of Lane Kiffin as head coach.  Certainly, if there's a professional liar in this case, it's Al Davis, and by professional association, anyone who has the unfortunate responsibility of speaking on his behalf.  

And while we're on the subject of the NFL, I would like to take this opportunity to agree 100% with my esteemed colleague Stan Bunger, in stating my unequivocal opposition to the current NFL rules governing overtime periods.  It is outrageous, totally unfair, and completely illogical for an NFL playoff berth to be decided by a coin flip.  Which is, essentially, what happened in San Diego on the final night of the just-concluded season.  The Chargers and Colts went into OT, you might recall, the Chargers won the coin-flip and drove for the winning touchdown.  The Colts never got the ball.  And Peyton Manning said afterward that when the Colts lost the coin-flip, he assumed the game was over, that he'd never get a chance to run another play.  He was right.  

Detractors to Stan's and my position (John Madden included) say the Colts had a chance to stop the Chargers, but that their defense failed to do its job, and that's why the Chargers won.  True enough, but then why not give the Colts an opportunity to score a touchdown, and see if the Chargers defense can stop them?  The fact is that more than a third of the games that go into overtime are won on the first drive by the team that wins the coin toss.  When one analyzes the amount of money, blood, sweat and tears that is spent at each and every game, not to mention an entire season, the fact that the NFL allows games--including the Super Bowl--to be so heavily influenced by something as arbitrary as a coin toss is beyond belief.  

Like Stan, I am not recommending an adoption of the collegiate rule, which gives both teams the ball starting at the opponent's 25-yard line.  That's absurd.  Let's bring special teams into the equation.  Have teams kick off.  Allow teams to punt, when necessary.  See if one team can drive down for a go-ahead touchdown or field goal.  If so, then see if the other team can match the score, and extend the game, or win the game by scoring more.  In other words, beginning with the second drive of the OT (when both teams have had a chance to score on offense), then the first team that goes ahead wins the game.  

Thus, taking the Chargers-Colts game for example, if the Chargers won the overtime coin toss and drove down for a touchdown and a PAT, then the Colts would get a chance to do the same. If they got the TD, then they could extend the OT by kicking the PAT, or they could go for the win with a two-point conversion.  If they tied the game, they'd kick off back to the Chargers, and at that point the next team to score would be the winner.  I predict that such a rule change--or something similar--will be adopted by the NFL in the not-too-distant future.  And shortly after that, once he's had a chance to see it in action, I think even John Madden will agree it's for the better.  

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Andruw Jones for the HOF???

I have always regarded ESPN's Buster Olney as a Peter Gammons wannabe.  Sometimes I can't exactly put my finger on just why I feel this way, but more often than not it's simply because when I watch him on SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight, I feel that he is trying too hard to make us take him seriously.  

In other words, if he were more confident in what he was saying, he wouldn't feel the need to try so hard.  It's his body language, basically.  It's the excessive seriousness in his eyes, and from the lines on his face, rather than the relaxed manner in which Gammons invariably communicates his love of baseball as much as what's detailed in his reports.  When I watch Gammons, I feel as though he would be wonderful to hang out with over a beer, just talking baseball.  When I watch Olney, I feel no such attraction.  Rather, I feel his insecurity, and his need to be validated.  

Occasionally, Olney breaks stories, which one would expect of any chief baseball correspondent on ESPN.  That's what ESPN does, more than any other sports network, hands down:  ESPN breaks stories.  But Olney is wrong far too often because, again, he tries too hard to be right. As a result, he jumps the gun more than Gammons ever did, and sometimes lays an egg.  Case in point:  The Mark Teixeira free-agent signing.   Olney had Teixeria going to the Red Sox or the Nationals right up until the end, when Teixeira signed with the Yankees.  OK, I'll cut him some slack.  We all make mistakes, breaking stories.  Sometimes our sources turn out to be less reliable than we thought.

But, again, ESPN had near-constant Olney updates on the inevitable Teixeira signing, and it turns out he was wrong from the beginning.  It wasn't just one incorrect article.  He had Teixeira going to the Red Sox, Nationals, Orioles or Angels.  Then it was the Red Sox, Nationals or Orioles.  Then it was the Red Sox or Nationals.  Then he had the Red Sox clearly the favorites.  Then Teixeira signed with the Yankees.  Then, ESPN had Olney explain why Teixeira chose the Yankees.  Hey!  At that point, I think anyone else at ESPN should have taken that assignment.  Anyone other than Buster Olney, who had lost all credibility on the Mark Teixeira story.

Finally, we have Buster Olney's latest column for, which came out today (1/4).  He actually suggests that if Andruw Jones' major league career is finished, at age 31, after hitting .158 with the Dodgers last season in 209 at-bats (and a lost glove in center field), he deserves serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.  Folks, I'm not making this up.    

Read for yourself:

Olney's suggestion that a guy who let his career disintegrate after getting fat at an age when he should be entering his prime, may then--in five years--get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame is beyond laughable.  He compares the career statistics of Misters Sosa, Kaline, Bench, Santo and Murphy at age 31 with Jones, and notes they are comparable.  But those guys weren't forced out of the game at age 31, which reduces Olney's argument to pure nonsense.  Again, he's trying way too hard.  Does he actually believe this crap?  

Olney concedes that his original column the day before, suggesting Andruw Jones as a borderline HOF candidate, generated a considerable reader response, most of which suggested that Buster Olney is an idiot.  In Olney's column today (referenced above), he admits he may be an idiot.  

I rest my case.