A place for me to talk about San Francisco Bay Area sports.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Catching up on Bay Area Sports, Part 2

I thought I would catch up again after reading my last post, and still being sick (been about two weeks now).  Plus the Niners are going well.

Warriors Still OK by Me

I still like the new ownership.  Putting in the ex-agent as the assistant GM, to learn the business as the heir apparent, was a move that I really liked.  So was recruiting Jerry West to their board of advisors/directors, I especially liked that one, that one was a long time coming, I thought, but Cohan didn't have the balls to do it back when we had a chance to get him (before Memphis did).

Putting in Mark Jackson as the coach, not so much, but at this point, I'm willing to try anything.  I would have been OK with Rick Barry put in there, but that probably would have brought more backlash to the new ownership.

So far the team is flailing again on the courts.  Doesn't help that Steph Curry is reinjuring his ankle over and over again.  Especially don't help that they just spent $7M on Kwame Brown and he's already out for the season, but he was actually a good acquisition, good defensive presence in the middle, about 6 points, 6 rebounds per game averages.

I don't have a good feeling about the team right now, mainly because the Curry issues.  The Warriors last season was actually OK:  they were around .500 if you subtract out the losing skein when Lee was bit by another player then lost all those games due to a deep infection, then lost all those games while he tried to return to game playing shape.  I assume the owners knew this, but fired Smart in spite of that, thinking that would give the new coach a "free" year this season to look good even while the team was basically like last season.

Best laid plans, first with Monte missing due to his Nana's passing, then Curry's recurring injury problems, then Brown's season ending injury.  Well, Jackson got, what, a five year contract, so I don't see him getting fired for at least two seasons.

I'm still hopeful about Jackson.  A point guard as good as he was during his career is like a coach on the court.  He's also a minister, so he knows how to give inspirational speeches and how to motivate the audience to his view.  I thought he had a gimme season to look like he's providing progress (when it was more of the same), but he's in the frying pan now, so I guess we'll see how he handles the heat sooner than later.   I still think he'll be OK, and maybe after all these seasons, OK is good enough, but with other Bay Area franchises doing well and years of Cohan mis-management, as a Warrior's fan, I was hoping for more, I was hoping to Believe.  But it looks like more years of hoping and wishing.

49ers Re-Birth, Indeed

When I wrote that title in my last post, I did not think that we would see the championship teams to be reborn, I just thought that they were headed in a great direction, and like Walsh, would need a year or two to get the team up to his speed, particularly with the lockout.  But just like the start of the good 49ers teams with Montana and Lott, I bought into the new Niners early in this season.  Both were very similar, to my mind, just 30 years apart.

My belief in the 1981 49ers kicked in with the Washington game when the defense scored two touchdowns, one on a fumble return, the other on an interception.  I had been a fan from the Nolan days of getting into the playoffs only to be stopped by the Cowboys, then suffered through the horrible mid-70's teams, with the nadir of losing all those picks for the Juice, who by then was pretty squeezed out.

I wasn't a football expert, and I'm still not, but what I realized with the 1981 team is that no matter how good your offense may be, in football, you really need a good defense to be a big winner in the league.  And Walsh's defensive additions that season, starting with Lott, was a big difference maker, that much was clear to me.

It clicked to me that a good defense brings a number of good benefits to the team.  First of all, most games will be close enough that the offense is never that far out of it, keeping the pressure down to score big.  Things can get very bad once you are down 21-0, but if you are only one TD away, you still have a lot of hope and less negativism.  Second, a good defense keeps the ball closer to the goal, meaning that the offense didn't have to be that great to score.  Less chains to move, makes it much more likely to at least score a field goal or three or more per game.  Third, and perhaps most important, a good defense gets a lot of turnovers.  Turnovers cut short long scoring drives of the other team, frustrating them, plus sometimes puts your team very close to the goal, easing the difficulty of scoring, and in any case, it means that the other team don't score and gives your team another chance.

I also saw that teams with great offenses, like Air Coryell, might run up scores, but could never seal the deal.

Both the 1981 and 2011 teams exhibit the great defensive abilities that winning teams need.

The 2011 team, however, while also benefiting from a rookie Wunderkind linebacker in Aldon Smith, already had a great defensive core built up over the past few seasons.  Though Smith helped greatly, as did the signing of Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner, it was not like they didn't have some help this season, as they did lose a number of defensive starters over the off-season.

The offense, meanwhile, had a great player in Frank Gore, and while many didn't think much of Alex Smith, I thought he showed some skill at the position when he had a QB mentor in Norv Turner and that he had stagnated due to the constant changes in offensive philosophies plus lack of talent in the offensive side.  I was very hopeful with Harbaugh taking over, particularly given his Walsh influence.

One underrated Walsh talent was his ability to maximize the talents of his players.  He would not make players do what they couldn't, he focused more on maximizing on their strengths.  One great example of that was him letting Steve Young run, which was a great talent of his, instead of making him into another Joe Montana.

I think Harbaugh showed this talent with his handling of Alex Smith this season, he didn't give Smith a lot to do early on, other than focusing on not making mistakes that turn over the ball, while maximizing use of Frank Gore to move the chains and get a score.  Then as Gore wore down, plus this was probably the plan since Smith had an abbreviated pre-season to learn the whole playbook, Smith did more and more, as he learned more and more, until he busted out in the game this weekend and led the team to victory (which he did many times this season in the fourth quarter, BTW), TWICE coming back to score the TD the Niners needed to take the lead, until taking it for good with little time left.

Now the team is perfectly lined up to make the Super Bowl again, a thought that hasn't passed through Niners' fans minds in what seems like forever.  Not that the NY Giants are not a formidable opponent, but I think it is a huge difference getting to face the Giants in SF versus having to play Green Bay at Lambeau Field.  I like the Niners chances of making the Super Bowl.

And wouldn't it be great if Harbaugh's brother leads the Ravens to the Super Bowl too?  Then it would be brother vs. brother and their parents will have to be neutral again (they faced each other this season and he lost to his brother as the Ravens won that matchup), though I expect them to show up for the game and cheer for each team.

Cal Baseball Re-birth

Well, not quite a re-birth, but a reprieve, now that I think of it.  Wealthy alumni and former players led the fundraising drive and established a fund to keep the team around indefinitely.  Which was probably the plan by the Athletic Director in the first place, but until this happened, the AD had to put the team on the chopping block and scare everyone to move.

2012 Giants

As we all know, the Giants did not defend their title, heck, they didn't even make the playoffs.  But unlike most other Giants fans, I give the Giants a break, most teams do not recover from losing their best position player, which they experienced by losing Buster Posey, and not only that, but it is a huge drop from Posey to Whiteside/Stewart offensively, making the loss that much greater.  Had they lost a player at a more offensively minded position, like the corners, they probably could have replaced that production much easier and at lesser asking price from other teams, but most teams do not recover from losing a great hitting catcher.

So I give the 2011 Giants credit (mostly to Bochy for his management) for staying close to playoff action most of the season (and returning to it with a great run in September).  It look an Arizona team that played above its head for the season (6 games over Pythagorean) to keep the Giants out of the playoffs.

I like the 2012 Giants, I like the Giants makeup for the next half decade, assuming Giants ownership don't screw it up.   Dumping Neukom did not make me happy, but if he was expecting a big paycheck for his work (reportedly $10M!), well, I would rather have Baer in charge.  But they better not screw up signing Lincecum and Cain to 4-6 year extensions this off-season.  Those are my main goals for this off-season.

With the current offense, the Giants should win 90-95 games due to our great pitching and fielding.  That should be good enough to make the playoffs and then we will be set up to make hay in the playoffs again, with four great starters in Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong.

Go Giants!

Sharks Still Impressing Me, But This is Taking Too Long

The Sharks again impressed me with their off-season moves to add good young players to the mix, while older players leave/move on.  But win the Stanley Cup already, they have been like the Giants of the 60's, always coming close but never good enough that particular season to beat out the team of that season.

Still, I stand behind Doug Wilson and his handling, plus the coach, McClellan, so I will try to patiently wait for them to put it all together.  Finally...

Raiders:  Still Meh!

The best move was a non-move:  the passing of Al Davis.  He was a football great, but he didn't learn from Bill Walsh's example and step out a year or two before his decline, he stayed to the bitter end.  They were still being run like it was in the 60's and 70's but that model doesn't really work anymore, heck, the Niners model of the 80's and 90's don't work today either.  And the constant changes in coaching personnel, plus the players' understanding that Al had all the authority, not the coaches, made coaching the team that much harder, undermining their authority, making the players more in command than the coaches, really.

But I don't know about their new GM that they just hired from Green Bay.  His background sounds great, I especially like that he comes highly recommended by Ron Wolf, but I was not terribly impressed with him at his first press conference.  He clearly lacked skill in speaking to the press.  He was very hesitant, I found it hard to understand him, and he flubbed his first chance in handling hot potatoes, with regard to the firing of Hue Jackson.  He hemmed and hawed, unsure of his wording, until he finally said that it basically came down to him wanting to move on, wanting his own man in there.  Well, he could have said that first thing and it would have been over, why did it take him that long to spit that out, unless, that is, he was just making it up, that Mark Davis had decided that and had the new GM own that decision.  Perhaps, like father, like son?

In any case, that can be fixed with training and tutoring, so to me the biggest news out of that press conference was that the Raiders are still looking to move, LA, anywhere, so the changing of the guard didn't change the owner's sentiment towards staying in Oakland, where they are loved by many, they still would rather seek the filthy lucre that are available elsewhere.   I don't see how Oakland can keep them around long-term, they have larger municipal problems that they need to take care of first.

A's:  Still Double Meh!

One year after getting touted as the second coming of the 2010 Giants, that era is already over as Billy Beane dismantled the team, trading off two good starting pitchers and their closer, basically because of poor choices he had made previously, including signing Eric Chavez while letting go of Giambi and Tejada for basically nothing, trading Andre Ethier, trading Tim Hudson away for nothing, trading Carlos Gonzalez, trading for Matt Holliday and ending with nothing, signing Ben Sheets for $10M, and not taking a real go at rebuilding the team by losing big time, he has been waffling between competing and rebuilding, unsuccessfully and ruinously for the team. Teams consistently in the middle end up being mediocre (see the Giants in the 70's and 80's).

They cry about being poor, but then are pocketing roughly $20M each season for the past 6 seasons, which would have bought a lot of competitiveness had they decided to use that money.

I now suspect that the delay by Selig to make a decision had nothing to do with the blue ribbon committee created to study this situation but more with Wolff wanting more time to drain money from the A's in order to fund the move to San Jose.  As a Giants fan, I'm hoping a large portion of that $120M ends up going to the Giants as reparation for moving into their territory in the South Bay.

The A's moving to the Bay Area really cost the Giants big time, and they had never paid for that intrusion into the region.  Them paying the Giants something along the lines of what the Nationals paid the Orioles would be great (I'm hoping that these payments help the Giants fund signing extensions with Lincecum and Cain).

Here are some of the inaccuracies supporters of the A's moving to San Jose have been spouting:

  • A's gave the territory to the Giants long ago, so the Giants really should just give it back:  the Giants should have owned this territory without any doubts once they moved to SF.  The A's paid nothing to move into their territory.  Them paying to move to San Jose would right a historical wrong.
  • A's are moving further away from the Giants, opening up a closer territory for them to draw fans from:  this is the same city where fans still pined for the LA Raiders and still traveled to games down in LA, so I think this is overhyped as a benefit.  I think that mainly the only fans the Giants would get are the same fans they have had for years now, those fans wearing the split Giants/A's caps, those fans were probably Giants fans when the A's moved in, and they kept their allegiance to both teams.  And maybe the south bay fans will do the same and wear those caps.  But I don't see many A's fans changing to Giants fans just because they move to San Jose, they would just go to less games (which, by the way, they have already done in recent years, while they are still in Oakland).   In any case, this all just obscures the fact that the Giants have the rights to the South Bay, and the A's need to pay for that.
  • The A's are poor ...:  they are crying poor but have been pulling in over $20M in EBITDA for the past 6 seasons (roughly average), which is roughly 30% higher than the average $62M their payroll has been the past few years.   That would have bought a lot more competitiveness the past few years.  Heck, they could have afforded to sign CC or Cliff Lee to a contract at that level of money (though they probably would not have signed with them; the point is that they had enough money to do that).  
  • ... and need to move to a better city:  That's debatable.  If they were spending that extra $20M, they would have been roughly 15th (potential tie with 3 other teams), in the middle somewhere, in total payroll (roughly $82-84M).   Even if they spent a little more than $10M of that, they still would be in the middle third of payrolls in the majors. They just chose not to be in the middle, so they ended up near the bottom in payroll.  Plus, I don't see how tarping the top level in order to have less seats available to sell is a good way of marketing the team.  Plus, sure, moving to SJ is better financially for the team, but they are well off enough financially where they are now, they are just choosing not to do better.  
  • Wolff never wanted to stay in Oakland:  There is probably some truth to this one.  He grew up in the South Bay and has been a part of other schemes to move a major league team to San Jose.  But the fact is that the prior owner did want to stay in Oakland, and as this Mark Purdy column showed (sorry but the Merc's links often expire), the City of Oakland, time after time, showed the A's no love, no concern for losing them as a team.   Why would Wolff waste his valuable time trying to convince Oakland to ante up, when the prior owner wasted a lot of time and money trying to do the same and got nowhere?  At that point of ownership change, it was up to Oakland to make the first moves to keep the A's.  And they whiffed on that one.  Sure, the Giants owners wooed the public to get AT&T Park built, but that was with backing from the political powers that be.  In fact, the Giants were sold to move to Tampa Bay and SF politicos rallied the rich folks and got a new ownership together for the express purpose of keeping the Giants in SF.  The goal of that group was always to keep the Giants in SF.  Oakland could have done likewise, as Schott must clearly have been frustrated dealing with trying to do something in Oakland and was ready to sell, much like Lurie was.  As noted, the powers that be in Oakland were more concerned about getting the Raiders (spending $190M on bonds which they are still paying $20M per year on; and by the way, the Raiders are already looking to leave) and keeping the Warriors (authorizing $100M in bonds to renovate Oracle Arena) than about keeping the A's.  And when the A's went to Oakland for help, instead of putting out $100M in bonds to help the A's build something, the A's owners were told to propose something.  The Oakland politicos basically told the A's owners to take a walk, they couldn't even be bothered to rally financial support for owners who wanted to keep the A's in Oakland, it was clear from the beginning to me that Wolff was eventually going to bring the A's to San Jose if nothing was done to persuade him otherwise.  Nothing was done to try to keep the A's.  Poole also noted that there is a southern portion of the parking lot that Wolff conveniently ignores, but if that lot was that good, why doesn't the City of Oakland publicly announce how they would use that southern property to build something for the A's?  If it were that good, that is.  There must be something wrong with it if even the City cannot muster up any economic enthusiasm over that site.
  • Wolff could have stayed in Alameda County:  Another complaint is that if he really wanted to stay in Alameda County, he would have considered building near Dublin, where there is freeway access to two major interstates (Monte Poole column, covered southern parking lot noted above).  Really?  Dublin?  I've lived around the Bay Area (SF, East Bay, San Jose) and frankly, cities to the East of those hills are like they are in another state, another land.  Also, have they ever travelled there on 238?  It is a horror getting into and out of there on weekends, adding a park in Dublin would not improve that, and the state has made numerous improvements to that route over the past and it has stayed bad no matter what they did.  And expansion would be nigh impossible or very expensive, as it would require adding lanes where there is no land to add lanes, making the cost to fix up very high.  And I doubt that Dublin and the region have the monetary and political muscles to help get a stadium built there.  Fremont, a much larger city with more businesses, couldn't, even with Cisco backing the stadium project.  

Of course, it doesn't help that the City Of Oakland counts them third on their priority list, after the Raiders (getting them back ruined a good baseball venue, and they are still looking at LA) and the Warriors (improved their venue and still they want to move back to SF).  If Oakland does not watch out, they can go from three major league teams to none within 2-3 years.

With Selig moving on the Oakland to San Jose issue now on the burner, per all the great reporting by Mark Purdy on the situation, there will probably be a resolution before the start of the 2012 season.  It is just a matter of negotiating the terms of relinquishing the Giants South Bay rights.

And by the way, what happens to the East Bay rights then? Do the A's keep it?  Most probably, because giving it to the Giants would reduce the money they get, which I don't see the Giants wanting to do.  So the Giants might get more fans there in the East Bay, but the A's will be the ones with stores there in that territory, supporting the A's fanbase there, as it would be their territory.

What also could happen is that the Giants and A's might agree to split Santa Clara County, giving the A's San Jose and most of the east cities, while the Giants keep rights to the peninsula part of the county, down to maybe Mountain View/Cupertino/Los Altos.  That would also reduce the payment, but perhaps such a symbolic territory ownership might be valuable in the minds of the Giants ownership.

I also wonder what happens to the San Jose Giants as well.   They have a long history here, and they will be pushed out, much like the Phoenix Giants were pushed out when the D-backs moved into Arizona.  They could move to Oakland and be the Oakland Giants but that would just seem weird.  Not sure what historic name that can be used by a minor league team in Oakland, but there must have been one.  I suppose they could also move to Hayward, they have a university there in the hills and presumably a baseball field that the baby Giants could use.   Chabot has a field, but that would probably require a lot of renovation to make it usable (I first got to hit regularly on a hitting machine there, learned so much about hitting via that summer class, so I'll always have fond memories of Chabot).

Maybe they can follow up on that Dublin idea and add the Giants A-ball team somewhere in the region (Livermore?).  That might build up interest in baseball in that region and get more fans going to the A's in San Jose or Giants in SF.

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