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!

Thursday, January 29, 2015


The silly little childish game being perpetuated on all of us during Super Bowl week in suburban Phoenix has been the daily parading of Seattle's Marshawn Lynch to the microphone to fulfill his media obligations.

To refresh your memory, on Tuesday's Media Day (where over 100 players are required to make themselves available to the press), Lynch answered every question during his five-minute minimum appearance by saying, "I'm here so I won't get fined."  Yesterday, when he was one of the few Seahawks required to meet the press, he answered every question by saying, "You know why I'm here."  And this morning, when again he was told to appear, he spent nearly two minutes lecturing reporters who inexplicably showed up, saying, "I come to y'all event, and you shove cameras and microphones down my throat," even though Media Day is the NFL's event.  We reporters are just along for the ride.  So he's sticking it to the NFL, not to us.

It's clear Lynch would much rather spend his required five minutes in solitude, listening to music on his headphones or perusing his iPhone, while making it clear he won't answer questions, but he has become such a story by his non-compliance that instead of fewer reporters showing up each day, there have been more. 

But Marshawn Lynch has embarrassed himself, his university, the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL by his behavior this week, not to mention the fact that he's been a very poor role model for kids who look up to him.  Essentially, every time he refuses to talk, he's saying a big "f___ you" to the NFL, just as he did last week when he tweeted that he was "embarrassed" to work for the NFL.  Yes, the same NFL that has made it possible for him to earn nearly $37 million in nine years.

This opinion is shared by others with much more street cred than I have, including Arizona Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote, in an interview with a CBS radio station in Pittsburgh (he has spent 12 of his 14 NFL seasons with the Steelers):

Just to be clear, every player from both teams, along with the head coaches, is required to appear at Media Day.  The coaches and big-name players are typically escorted to podiums, where they sit and answer questions before big crowds of reporters.  The others--the overwhelming majority of players--simply wander the field, or outside the perimeter of the field, or find a place to stand or sit, and they're available for any reporter to approach for an interview.  The bigger names tend to draw bigger crowds.  The lesser names tend to be available for one-on-ones.  The point of Media Day is to designate a two-hour period for each team in which the 5000 or so credentialed reporters can approach any player in uniform, in quest of a story, whether he's first-string or on the practice squad.  It's a great concept, although over the years it's been hijacked to some degree by those non-members of the press who use the forum for their own PR stunts.  

So I think Marshawn Lynch should have sucked it up, and done what every other player did, and cooperate on Media Day.  It's five minutes out of his busy schedule, for god's sake.  Answer the questions, and make the best of the situation, even if you're uncomfortable with it.  Instead, he metaphorically stuck his middle finger out at the NFL.  Did I mention that he's made nearly $37 million,  running with the football, thanks to the NFL?  He should show some respect and some maturity.  Every other player does, even though (as John Madden estimated), more than half of them would probably not show up at Media Day, if they weren't required by the NFL to do so.  That's why he'd get fined for not showing up.  It's not rocket science.  

However, my gripe with the NFL is that it mandated that Lynch make subsequent appearances before the press on the two days following Media Day.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays of Super Bowl week, it's typically the head coaches, the quarterbacks, and a small number of selected players who are asked, i.e., required to make additional appearances.  The NFL, knowing that Lynch has no interest, nor any intention of cooperating, other than to show up to avoid being fined, should have taken the same high road that Lynch bypassed on Media Day, and not forced him to return.  As a result, it became the Theater of the Absurd, starring both the NFL and Marshawn Lynch.  Mandating that he show up on Media Day, which every player is required to do, is proper.  Mandating that he show up on additional days was a complete waste of time for everyone concerned, and did not cast the NFL in a positive light.