Oh, Armando

So, Giants fans, is this what you wanted? Armando Benitez has been lighting it up in the Cactus League, and while spring is spring, it would be certainly easier to stoke the anti-Benitez fire if he was being, well, typical, Armando.

Instead, he has left observers wondering if perhaps there is still a little bit of usefulness left in him. In which case, the case to deal him becomes all the more difficult to make, because if you read between the lines in another Andrew Baggarly story, it’s clear the Giants aren’t ready to trust the job to Brian Wilson. That said, the case to not trade him is just as difficult to make, because Benitez’s value may not be higher than it is right now. And the longer the Giants keep him, the more the chance he’ll slip into the patterns of the old Armando.

Makes me wonder if Brian Sabean doesn’t wake up cursing his job every now and then.

Anyway, while we’re on the subject, good column by colleague Gary Peterson today, and I must say, impressive job by Benitez if he already ranks a spot on the Giants’ all-hated team. Growing up rooting for the Bay Area’s other team, I still find it hard to believe that Johnny LeMaster inspired so much ill-will. I mean, if you’re gonna waste all that time and energy disliking somebody, wouldn’t you do it on a guy who actually had some skill?

Also was kind of surprised that Al Oliver was not mentioned in the column. I didn’t attend Giants games when I was growing up, but I do know that my buddy Buzz, the biggest Giants fan I know, had mentioned on numerous occasions that Oliver was the only Giant he ever booed. Something about a lack of even pretending he cared.


March Madness

I was extremely bitter on Sunday afternoon. My NCAA bracket was in real good shape after the first three days of the tourney, but then Texas, my pick for the national championship laid an egg against USC, and now I’m done. But by Sunday night, it had waned, largely because freshman sensation Kevin Durant morphed into a guy who could teach baseball players media relations.

Asked how he would evaluate his future over the next couple of weeks, Durant told the media “that’s not an appropriate question.” Geez, and the guy’s not even a millionaire yet. When an 18-year-old kid feels entitled enough to tell a group of veteran professionals what is and what isn’t appropriate, he ought to be sent to the corner.

Anyway, my A’s-Giants tourney played out over the weekend, too, the results coming from common sense, discussions with friends, flipping of coins and, unfortunately, a remarkable lack of reader participation (c’mon folks, I know you’ve got some opinions). Here’s a review of the first weekend’s action and the upcoming Sweet 16.
(1) Willie Mays d. (16) Jose Canseco
Note: Not even worth a discussion.
(2) Rickey Henderson d. (15) Bill Terry
Note: No contest
(3) Barry Bonds d. (14) Eric Chavez
Note: Even Chavez would admit this is another blowout.
(13) Will Clark d. (4) Jimmie Foxx
Note: Name a defining moment for Jimmie Foxx
(5) Mel Ott d. (12) Al Simmons
Note: Ott finished with more home runs, and edges Simmons
(6) Reggie Jackson d. (11) Jeff Kent
Note: Reggie was better in October, and even less of a jackass than Kent
(7) Willie McCovey d. (10) Jason Giambi
Note: “Stretch” didn’t need any extra juice in this contest.
(8) Miguel Tejada vs. (9) Orlando Cepeda
Note: Tejada’s energy and role in a 20-game win streak proves decisive.
(1) Willie Mays d. (8) Miguel Tejada
Note: Say Hey, he’s Willie Mays.
(2) Rickey Henderson d. (7) Willie McCovey
Note: Another blowout
(3) Barry Bonds d. (6) Reggie Jackson
Note: Reggie’s got him on titles, but Barry’s got him on everything else
(13) Will Clark d. (4) Mel Ott
Note: They didn’t call Ott “The Thrill.”

(1) Willie Mays vs. (13) Will Clark
(2) Rickey Henderson vs,. (3) Barry Bonds

(1) Catfish Hunder d. (16) “The Count” Montefusco
Note: No explanation needed
(2) Juan Marichal d. (15) Rick Langford
Note: Both had rubber arms; only one is in the Hall of Fame
(3) Lefty Grove d. (14) Kirk Rueter
Note: We love “Woody,” but Grove once went 31-4.
(4) Christy Mathewson d. (13) Rube Waddell
Note: A Christian gentleman always trumps a Rube
(5) Dennis Eckersley d. (12) Robb Nen
Note: A 5-12 blowout
(11) Barry Zito d. (6) Gaylord Perry
Note: They both won a Cy Young, but Zito (we assume) didn’t cheat to do it.
(7) Dave Stewart vs. (10) Mike McCormick
Note: A decisive mismatch
(8) Carl Hubbell vs. (9) Vida Blue
Note: Gotta be honest. Flipped a coin on this one.
(1) Catfish Hunter d. (8) Carl Hubbel
Note: Top seeds are gonna be tough to beat
(7) Dave Stewart d. (2) Juan Marichal
Note: Hey, Stewart dominated Roger Clemens, too.
(3) Lefty Grove d. (11) Barry Zito
Note: A dozen sensational seasons beats one sensational season
(5) Dennis Eckersley d. (4) Christy Mathewson
Note: Nobody ever made the final inning look easier, not even Mathewson

(1) Catfish Hunter vs. (5) Dennis Eckersley
(3) Lefty Grove vs. (7) Dave Stewart

(1) Connie Mack d. (16) Charlie Fox
Note: A typical 1-16 blowout
(2) John McGraw d. (15) Lew Wolff
Note: This would’ve been an intersting meeting of the minds
(3) Billy Beane d. (14) Dusty Baker
Note: Not as one-sided as you might expect
(13) Dick Williams d. (4) Leo Durocher
Note: Williams wins because he won two titles while working for Finley
(5) Tony La Russa d. (12) Roger Craig
Note: See 1989 World Series
(6) Bill Rigney d. (11) Walter A. Haas
Note: Rigney was as influential as any Bay Area baseball figure ever
(7) Charlie O. Finley d. (10) Peter Magowan
Note: Magowan’s treatment of Bonds makes the difference
(9) Sandy Alderson vs. (8) Brian Sabean
Note: Alderson’s stamp remains on the A’s organization
(1) Connie Mack d. (9) Sandy Alderson
Note: It’s tough to overcome a half-century of experience
(2) John McGraw d. (7) Charlie O. Finley
Note: This would’ve been an interesting meeting of the fists
(3) Billy Beane d. (6) Bill Rigney
Note: Our brain won out over our heart
(13) Dick Williams d. (4) Tony La Russa
Note: I love Tony, but Dick Williams did more with worse ownership

(1) Connie Mack vs. (13) Dick Williams
(2) John McGraw vs. (3) Billy Beane

(1) AT&T Park d. (16) Cisco Field
Note: Check back when Cisco Field actually exists
(2) 4 World Series Trophies d. (15) 3 All-Star Games
Note: It’s about winning, people
(3) Willie Mays’ Series Catch d. (14) Jose Canseco’s Series Slam
Note: Canseco will never beat Mays at anything, save for bloopers
(13) Russ Hodges d. Bill King
Note: This was a coin-flip, and the result pains us
(5) Kruk and Kuip d. (12) Ray Fosse
Note: Who’d you rather hear tell a baseball story?
(11) J.T. Snow’s 6 Gold Gloves d. (6) Eric Chavez’s 6 Gold Gloves
Note: Another coin-flip
(10) Mt. Davis d. (7) Candlestick Wind
Note: The Candlestick Wind wasn’t a daily occurrence
(8) A’s Elephant d. (9) Lou Seal
Note: The A’s elephant dates back to Philadelphia
(1) AT&T Park d. (8) A’s Elephant
Note: A bigger thrashing than Louisville-Stanford
(2) 4 World Series Trophies vs. (10) Mt. Davis
Note: The trophies are an appealing part of the A’s experience
(3) Willie Mays’ Series Catch d. (11) J.T. Snow’s 6 gold gloves
Note: But make no mistake, Snow’s glove work was just as nice to look at
(13) Kruk and Kuip d. (4) Russ Hodges
Note: Cinderella is alive and well

(1) AT&T Park vs. (13) Kruk and Kuip
(2) 4 World Series Trophies vs. (3) Willie Mays’ Catch


Bowie Kuhn’s legacy

Interesting to read all the comments regarding the legacy of former major league commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who died Thursday at age 80. For the most part, most of them are dead accurate, as are the obits of his passing. Kuhn, more than anything, was a product of his time. The game underwent incredible growth and endured incredible turmoil during his 15 years in charge, but it’s likely anybody who sat in that desk during that particular time period would’ve overseen the same thing.

Now, whether that makes him a good commissioner is an entirely different question. HIs combative nature led to a pair of in-season work stoppages, the initial one (in 1972) the first of its kind in professional sports and the second one (in 1981) a two-month hiatus that left a significant wound and eventually led to his downfall. And he fought with several oweners (A’s owner Charlie O. Finley), a couple of legends (Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle), a pioneer (Curt Flood) and a union leader (Marvin Miller), all to the game’s detriment. So clearly, baseball might’ve been better served with a leader more educated in the finer points of mediation.

It was also under Kuhn that night games at the World Series were introduced, including ones on the weekend. Over the long run, I’m not sure that was in the game’s best interest, but it certainly wasn’t in the fans’, especially those on the East Coast.

On the other hand, Kuhn also brought us the designated hitter, and an endless debate about what set of rules are better, the American League’s or the National League’s. He also oversaw the growth of baseball from 20-26 teams, creating more jobs for dozens of players who otherwise may have toiled forever in the minors. Salaries exploded, attendance records were set, and the game essentially moved into the modern era. Many of the staples of the modern game may not be here were it not for Kuhn.

What will always stand out to me is the way he at least made an attempt to show the game cared about the fans. I’ll never forget getting the call from a friend of my parents on that June night in 1976, telling me that Finley had just sold Joe Rudi (still, my all-time idol), Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue to the Boston Red Sox. I burst into tears, ran into my room, and told my mother through my sniffles that it couldn’t be true. I believe it was the next day that Kuhn voided the deal under the “best interests of baseball” clause. In my 7-year-old mind, Kuhn was as great a leader as they come.

Of course, Rudi and Fingers left that following winter anyway, as the forces of free agency started to gain steam (Blue eventually was traded to the Giants). Progress, if we can call it that, is a painful thing. And Kuhn, like most others, was probably powerless to stop it.



Bracket madness is in full swing this week, and nothing says happiness like picking that 12-5 upset. Anyway, in that spirit, I’ve put together my own bracket featuring the A’s and Giants.

A few guidelines: 1) I set up the seedings so no Athletic and Giant can meet in the opening round, and so that there will be as many Athletic-Giant matches as possible. 2) Any member of the franchises since their inception is eligible. 3) The four brackets are HITTING LEGENDS, PITCHING LEGENDS, LEADERSHIP LEGENDS AND MISCELLANEOUS LEGENDS.

The four No. 1 seeds: Willie Mays, Catfish Hunter, Connie Mack and AT&T Park.

Have fun with it: Your votes and my imagination will help determine the results (and a postscript: Go Texas).

(1) Willie Mays vs. (16) Jose Canseco
(2) Rickey Henderson vs. (15) Bill Terry
(3) Barry Bonds vs. (14) Eric Chavez
(4) Jimmie Foxx vs. (13) Will Clark
(5) Mel Ott vs. (12) Al Simmons
(6) Reggie Jackson vs. (11) Jeff Kent
(7) Willie McCovey vs. (10) Jason Giambi
(8) Miguel Tejada vs. (9) Orlando Cepeda
NOTES: Hated to include Jose Canseco, but his 40-40 season triumphed anything done in an A’s uniform by Mark McGwire.

(1) Catfish Hunter vs. (16) John Montefusco
(2) Juan Marichal vs. (15) Rick Langford
(3) Lefty Grove vs. (14) Kirk Rueter
(4) Christy Mathewson vs. (13) Rube Waddell
(5) Dennis Eckersley vs. (12) Robb Nen
(6) Gaylord Perry vs. (11) Barry Zito
(7) Dave Stewart vs. (10) Mike McCormick
(8) Carl Hubbell vs. (9) Vida Blue
NOTES: Vida Blue goes in based on his work as an Athletic. Love the old-time matchup in the 4-13 contest. Rick Langford gets in based on his record 28 complete games in 1980, and John “The Count” Montefusco is in, because he’s the last Giant to pitch a no-hitter.

(1) Connie Mack vs. (16) Charlie Fox
(2) John McGraw vs. (15) Lew Wolff
(3) Billy Beane vs. (14) Dusty Baker
(4) Leo Durocher vs. (13) Dick Williams
(5) Tony La Russa vs. (12) Roger Craig
(6) Bill Rigney vs. (11) Walter A. Haas
(7) Charlie O. Finley vs. (10) Peter Magowan
(8) Brian Sabean vs. (9) Sandy Alderson
NOTES: Impressive showing by new A’s owner Lew Wolff, who in just two full seasons displaced both Bob Lurie and Steve Schott. Leo the Lip’s high seeding (No. 4) due to the fact that he remains the last Giants manager to win a World Series.

(1) AT&T Park vs. (16) Cisco Field
(2) 4 World Series Trophies (15) 3 All-Star Games
(3) Willie Mays’ Series Catch vs. (14) Jose Canseco’s Series Slam
(4) Bill King vs. (13) Russ Hodges
(5) Kruk and Kuip vs. (12) Ray Fosse
(6) Eric Chavez’s 6 Gold Gloves (11) J.T. Snow’s 6 Gold Gloves
(7) Candlestick Wind vs. (10) Mt. Davis
(8) A’s Elephant vs. (9) Lou Seal
NOTES: This, of course, assumes Cisco Field wins the “play-in” game.


The DirecTV deal

Very good article by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times explaining some of the ins and outs of last Thursday’s announcement. Summing it up in the simplest possibly way, it essentially will leave thousands of willing-to-pay cable customers out in the dark in their bid to get out-of-town games.

There’s been quite an outcry about this, and understandably so. But what makes me laugh is the argument that “the fans aren’t being taken into consideration.” As if the fans are ever taken into consideration regarding anything a professional sports league does.

The bottom line is this a chance for the owners to gouge more money from it’s sucker public by limiting the options they have to watch games. “Hey, if you don’t have DirecTV, then sign up for MLB.TV” the thinking goes. And before you blame Bud Selig for this, keep in mind that the commissioner doesn’t wield the same power he did 20 or 30 years ago. His job is basically to work for the other owners and to forge a spirit of cooperation between them and the players. This generates more money for both sides, so naturally, it’s in Selig’s best interests for this deal to go through.

Obviously, it’s not in the best interest of, say, Joe from Florida, who wants to keep tab on his hometown Kansas City Royals (hey, anything’s possible, right). But then again, night World Series games, a postseason that ends in late October, and $15 parking aren’t in the best interests of the fans, either.

So please, Mr. and Mrs. Fan, stop operating under the assumption that baseball cares about you. It doesn’t. And until you show you start plunking down your money on other things, it won’t.


“Shut-up and pitch!”

OK, now Barry the New is starting to become irritating. And if you haven’t heard the latest, you will. Apparently, Barry Zito is so concerned about how the media treats Barry the Old, he is willing to blackball the media to make a statement.

In other aventues, isn’t this called extortion?

Anyway, Barry the New clearly has some good observational skills. The Giants haven’t been shy about declaring him the face of the franchise, and as Barry the Old has taught us, that brings with it the power to do whatever he pleases. But Zito’s energies are misdirected here.

It seems to me that Barry Bonds has always been able to take care of himself. I’ve dealt with both — Zito far more than Bonds — and Bonds has, on occasion, been wonderful to chat with. But 95 percent of the time, he’s a bore. He came up that way, and he’ll leave the game that way. To use the most overstated phrase in sports, it is what it is.

Zito, on the other hand, has always been professional. I wouldn’t call him a media darling, but he’s certainly not a bore. The point is, why change your basic personality to get involved in a fight that can only make him look terrible?

Friend of mine heard about this story, and his comment to me was this: “Geez! Just shuttup and pitch!”

Precisely. Barry, you’re making $126 million. You’ve got more to worry about than how the media is treating Barry Bonds.


Milton’s on the spot

Only two players really impressed me during the four days I spent at the A’s camp in Arizona (and yes, four days is a small sample size). One was Travis Buck, a giant of a man with a fearsome swing who probably will be on the A’s roster at some point this summer.

The other was Milton Bradley.

Now, I bring this up, because ol’ Milton is on the hot seat again, but fortunately for the A’s, not for the same reasons that he’s been there before. This time it’s strictly baseball. Bradley, until further notice, is the A’s center fielder, and how well he’s able to harbor that responsibility will go a long way toward determining the vibe of the A’s summer.

And based on what I’ve seen, that means there’s no reason for the A’s or their fans to panic.

I had a conversation with Bradley at a function for the team’s adverstisers in February, and it struck me that he seems far more aware of his importance to this team, and intent on making sure that some of his past problems don’t bite him. The addition of his 15-month-old son Jeremiah Christian clearly has mellowed him and seems to have reinforced to him how important it is that he stay out of trouble’s way. Thus, I think concerns over what happens to Bradley off the field or in his interactions with fans, while justified, are a bit overplayed.

As for between the lines, Bradley seems ready to fulfill the promise he’s always had. In the clubouse _ during business hours _ he still has an edge, and from what I can tell, that’s a good thing. He played his first few Cactus League games as if it was the middle of July. His bat-speed was phenomenal, just about every ball he hit was on the screws, and he handled center field with aplomb. In one game, he went 3-for-3 with a double, snared a low liner in center and threw a runner out at third base.

The big question is whether he can stay healthy, and I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude there. Bradley told me he worked hard this winter on preventitive measures, and they may work. But the bottom line is that he’s played more than 101 games only once in six full seasons, and center field doesn’t lend itself to being easy on the body.

But as long as Bradley can stay on the field, I have no doubt that center field will be held down just fine until Mark Kotsay can get back.


Surgery for Kotsay

Just learned from our beat reporter Joe Stiglich that A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay will have surgery on his back Tuesday. Don’t know yet the scope and exact outline of the procedure, but Kotsay said he expects to miss 8-12 weeks.

In one sense anyway, that would qualify as good news for the A’s and Kotsay. A 12-week absence would get Kotsay back on the field approximately the first week of May, and it would probably take him three weeks to get ready. So count on him missing two months, assuming the worst-case prognosis. Assuming the best, he’s back in early May. Either way, the A’s probably can sustain for that long with Milton Bradley in center field. It also will likely give them additional time to make a final decision with regard to Rule 5 pick Ryan Goleski.

This, of course, assumes Kotsay’s recovery goes according to hoil, and backs are much too unpredictable to call that a sure thing. Thus, general manager Billy Beane will probably be monitoring the market for a veteran center fielder. I know Aaron Rowand of the Phillies is available, but I haven’t talked to any A’s folks yet to gauge whether he might be the kind of player they’d look for. Kotsay signed what amounted to a two-year extension in 2005, is under contract through next season, and is one of the team’s highest-paid players.

Haven’t talked to Kotsay, either, but I have to imagine he’ll say surgery was the only real option at this time.Sometimes, rehab and prevention can do only so much, and clearly, Kotsay reached that stage. He turned 31 in December, so his career still has some length to it provided he gets healthy. More important, he has two small children. As a papa, you get only so much time to scoop up your kids, and a bad back shouldn’t deprive him of that gift.


Home sweet home

Well, back home after two weeks of touring various spring training camps in Florida and Arizona, and have to say, what a headache. Not going, mind you, but returning. Two separate airlines, two separate terminals, two trips through the security line, luggage lost — all just to get from Phoenix to San Francisco. Yeah, traveling sure is glamorous. Speaking of which, if anything can be done about the rude attitudes showed my most airline employees these days, let me know.

Anyway, thanks for the rant, and sorry for brief break in my entries. Internet is tough to come by in Arizona and couldn’t connect to blog Sunday, spent all day Monday traveling, and well, tomorrow was a day off. So back to it today, with some brief observations.

Brace yourself for bad news regarding A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay.
His many meetings with various doctors in California, and the lack of information released despite three opinions on his MRI are awfully fishy. My guess is that he’s been told he needs surgery at some point. Now when that surgery would need to be probably needs to be determined, and perhaps that’s what’s going on right now. Let’s face it, if these doctors were telling Kotsay to rest and rehab, he’d be back in Arizona by now.

— So far, so good for shortstop Bobby Crosby. But it’s hard to believe he’ll be ready to go by Opening Day. On Sunday, he was swinging at 75 percent effort (his words, not ours), and not until he works his way up to 100 percent, then takes a day off after reaching 100 percent, will he play in a Cactus League game. Opening Day is only 3 1/2 weeks away, so even if Crosby is physcially ready by then, he probably won’t be game ready.

— So far, go great for Boston Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K is living up to the hype, impressing in bullpen sessions, and exhibition game against college kids and then in his Grapefruit League opener against Florida (three scoreless innings in that one). He pounds the strike zone, and clearly trusts his stuff. It’ll be interesting to see how the Red Sox handle him, because in Japan, Matsuzaka was not coddled with a pitch-count. In fact, he threw 103 pitches in a bullpen session at the outset of camp.

— Heard an interesting question on the radio the other day: Who will play more games? Crosby or Barry Bonds. The answer on the radio was Bonds, and at this point, I tend to agree. Nothing against Crosby, but backs are a tricky thing, and until he shows he can play a couple of months without incident, then I’m assuming his status is fragile.

— By the way, Marco Scutaro is quietly raking again.

— Also, fantasy leaguers, you should scoop up Milton Bradley. He looks like he’s ready for a monster year.

— Meanwhile in the Bonds vs. Zito debate, Bonds is the early winner. He was far more into his role as Paula Abdul during Giants Idol than Zito seemed to be in Giants Idol 2.

Finally, this question, for the readers: Who would you rather have hitting fourth in your lineup? Alex Rodriguez or Gary Sheffield?


Rite of spring

In my opinion, much of spring training is an exercise in boredom, especially when you hit a camp like the A’s, where much of the roster already has taken shape. I mean, veteran players know how to get ready, and they do so at their own pace. Pitchers don’t pitch the same way they do during the regular season. And the high skies and hard infields make defense awfully difficult to play.

That said, there are moments worth remembering. Mostly, these involve players you may never hear from again. Perhaps it’s a moment in the sun for an aging veteran whose seen the majority of his time in the minors. Other times, a young, faceless guy you’ve never heard of dazzles.

Saturday was just such a day for right-handed pitcher Mike Mitchell, a 25-year-old non-roster invitee to the A’s camp. MItchell, who saw time at all three levels of the A’s organization last year _ posting 18 saves and a 3.22 ERA in the process _ pitched two scoreless, hitless innings to close out a 5-5 tie against the Chicago Cubs. He showed mighty good stuff too, enough to make an impressoin on manger Bob Geren.

“He had a good live fastball,” Geren said. “Good sink, too. Impressive.”

Hearing such praise, of course, is pretty much the name of the game during the spring for those in Mitchell’s position. It doesn’t matter if fans don’t remember you. It only matters that the manager does.

In this case, the fans will probably remember, too. I know I will.