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What did we learn in April?

We’re a month into 2007. Too soon, generally speaking, to come to any definitive conclusions. Doesn’t mean we haven’t learned anything. To wit:

Barry Bonds will be spending a lot of time on his feet. Bonds has blasted eight home runs, and that can only mean that a parade of walks, intentional and not, are coming. If I’m an opposing manager, I wouldn’t give him anything to hit. It appears the only thing that can slow Bonds and his pursuit of Henry Aaron are tired legs. What better way to do that, if you’re an opposing manager, than to make sure he rarely gets off them.

— Ray Durham has not flopped. Durham has responded to his new two-year deal by playing great defense, hitting consistently and staying in the lineup. And if he continues to hit behind Bonds, he’ll get a ton of pitches to hit.

— No reason to hold off on the Tim Lincecum Era. Lincecum is destroying opponents at Triple-A Fresno. Imagine Lincecum and Cain heading a rotation that suddenly would have one starter expendable. Could bring a needed hitter come July.

— The Giants weren’t as bad as they were during a 2-7 start, and they’re not as good as they showed during an eight-game winning streak. The guess here is that they’ll win a couple, lose a couple until they acquire an extra hitter and/or some bullpen help.

Before you bury the A’s, remember this: They lost three straight to the Angels heading into the All-Star break and had a daunting 10-game trip to Boston, Baltimore and Detroit. They seemed done. Then they went 6-4, steadied themselves and ended up in the ALCS. The point is, the A’s seem to be a sinking ship at some point every year, and every year, they righten themselves. No reason to think it won’t happen again.

— That said, it would behoove Milton Bradley to stay healthy for the rest of the season. He gets his first shot at free agency this winter, and other teams won’t want to go crazy over a guy who’s a sure bet to be sidelined for a significant stretch.

— ESPN’s Buster Olney raised the possibility of Billy Beane trading Rich Harden. Very intriguing. Nothing Beane does would stun me anymore, but since Harden is not making huge money yet, I’d bet the A’s try to get through 2007 with Harden (provided they stay in the race). I could see the A’s moving him this winter, though, especially if the Devil Rays offer Carl Crawford among a group of hitters.

— Gotta feel for Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. No human should have to go through such a stunning tragedy twice. Just imagine that phone call to Josh Hancock’s dad.

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Answering some e-mails

Was surprrised to get several e-mails this week regarding the demotion of A’s catcher Adam Melhuse to Triple-A Sacramento. Melhuse must be a popular player among the fans out there, because I’d never imagine such a fringe player creating so much interest. Other e-mails concerned Bob Geren, and whether he has what it takes to be a successful manager.

My thoughts:

1) I’d be patient with Geren. The truth is, he probably has a little more power than Art Howe and Ken Macha did, because general manager Billy Beane probably has a greater comfort zone with Geren. I don’t think it’s fair to judge him until he has a healthy team under him. I do wonder about his use of the bullpen, and whether he’ll overuse guys. I also think he needs to do a better job of stretching his starters a bit. The players seem happy with him.

2) I doubt the A’s will trade Melhuse. I also wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he does not return. Melhuse is a classic 4A player, meaning he’ll always be very good at Triple-A but never an impact guy in the majors. He’s a good hitter, and he could probably make a National League team very happy as a pinch-hitter. But he’s not a good defensive catcher, he doesn’t call games well and his lack of versatility hurts him on a team that is so concerned about money.

Which brings me to a point I empahsized when Brad Halsey popped off in another paper last week. The A’s make their decisions with business the top priority, and the human part of it the second priority. Which makes them the same as probably 90 percent of the corporations that now exist. Beane told me once that Bill Walsh was an executive he admired, and Walsh had no qualms about getting rid of even the most legendary players when the time came.

Speaking of football, I was very happy to see the Raiders take JaMarcus Russell. I’m not an NFL expert (but I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express), and if all the commotion about Russell is true, then it seems to me the Raiders got themselves a franchise quarterback. I don’t see how you could pass up that chance.

Anyway, blog any questions you might have regarding the A’s and Giants and I’d be happy to post them here and answer them the best I can.

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Barry’s bashing again

Three-plus weeks into 2007, and it’s clear (no pun intended). Barry Bonds has found the fountain of youth. As to where he discovered it, we’ll let you reach your own conclusions.

Bonds went deep again on Wednesday, leading the Giants to their seventh straight win in the process. He’s 14 shy of Hank Aaron now. And at his current pace, Bonds will need only six more weeks to catch and surpass him.

That’s quite the interesting time-table. In five weeks, the Giants will be moving through New York and Philadelphia, and you can only imagine the reception he’ll receive from those adoring fans. After that, the Giants go to Arizona, before coming home to play the Bay to face the A’s. So Bonds, conceivably could tie Aaron (or even surpass him) against the same team
he faced while tying Ruth last season.

Who knows, maybe the A’s could call up pitcher Brad Halsey to serve up the honors. Halsey served up No. 714 and given his stature in the A’s organization after his critical remarks in another paper last weekend, can’t think of a better man for the job.

By the way, don’t get carried away with the Giants’ hot streak. No team goes through a season without one. The Giants have been impressive while winning seven straight, and their starting pitching is silly good. But until I see the Giants pound pitchers consistently for three or four weeks, I’ll hold to my argument that its not nearly good enough for the Giants to hang with the Dodgers.

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So long Brad

Don’t know if you got a chance to read the comments made by Brad Halsey over the weekend, but if not, give it a read. It’ll provide some amusement.

Halsey, a fringe pitcher who will someday be most remembered for giving up Barry Bonds’ 714th home run, wants everyone to know that the A’s are a “mom-and-pop organization.” He’s angry that he pitched through arm pain in spring training and in early April, then was by-passed by the A’s when they needed a starter to take Rich Harden’s place in the rotation. Says he got “f—–,” because by taking a start in the majors, then having to go on the disabled list, he’d have to paid major-league money. Said that was one of the reasons the A’s recalled prospect Dallas Braden and not him.

Can’t say I disagree with any of what he says. The A’s are a mom-and-pop organization, they do watch their nickels and dimes very closely, and they take financial impact into account whenever they make a decision. Been that way for years, and I doubt Billy Beane would deny it.

But —- and here’s the most important point — he’s BRAD HALSEY!! And the other guy is BILLY BEANE!

Anyway, Halsey has done a wonderful job solidifying his standing as one of the most idiotic players ever. He’s clearly trying to get himself traded, but Beane is far too shrewd a general manager to give Halsey away for nothing. And by admitting that he’s hurt, Halsey just lowered his own trade value; thus, making the likelihood that Beane will be able to move him all the less likely. Have fine hanging in the minors, Brad.

Oh, and by the way mom-and-pop shops were once commonplace in our country, and it was a far friendlier and less violent place when they were.

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Monday rundown

Late blog entry this afternoon (the wonders of travel). But, better late than never, some observations of the past week:

— It appears the Giants might not be nearly as hideous as they made us anticipate. But just as we shouldn’t have been too quick to bury them after a 2-7 start, let’s not anoint them world-beaters after a 5-0 homestand. Bottom line: The Giants will get very good starting pitching on a lot of nights. But their bullpen and offense remain liabilities. Therefore, there will be stretches in which the Giants surge, and other stretches in which they sag.

Rich Harden and Milton Bradley have gone on the disabled list for the A’s. I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked! Starting to wonder if we ever will see Harden make 30 starts. No need to wonder anymore if Bradley can stay healthy for an entire season. The good news for the A’s is that this is a mediocre division and no team seems capable of taking off. The better news is that these injuries seem to be short-term issues (at the moment).

Guess all of New England can relax (or, for what passes for it out there) now that the Red Sox swept the Yankees. The whole Yankees-Red Sox hysteria is really overblown. Both teams are rich. Both are obnoxious. Can’t we just put them in their own division and let them play 162 games against each other. The rest of the baseball world could start paying attention in September.

— When it comes to matter of the Yankees, the Red Sox no longer need to be green with envy. Now let’s hope they never find the need to be green, period. The green uniforms they wore in salute to Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach were hideous.

George Steinbrenner must be getting ready to blow his top.

The Big Hurt is off to another slow start (A’s fans can relate), and he was dropped out of the cleanup slot in the Jays’ lineup. And on a related note, Frank Thomas’ replacement in Oakland, Mike Piazza, isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, either.

— Best story of the early season: Cincinnati’s Josh Hamilton.

— Most overblown story of the early season: The slow starts by Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield. Both will be fine come September.

3

Looking back

Trying as hard as I can to get caught up in the buzz that is the Golden State Warriors right now, so I decided to look back at May 4, 1994, and see what was going on in the majors on the day the Warriors last hosted a postseason game. Charles Barkley went for 56 points in the Phoenix Suns’ 140-133 win that night, eliminating the Warriors in three straight games from the first round. Meantime, in baseball:

— The A’s were in the middle of a free fall. Dennis Eckersley, his best days clearly behind him blew a save, and the A’s fell 4-3 in 10 innings to Baltimore. It was their 14th loss in 15 games and dropped them to 8-19 early. They never recovered. Mark McGwire was still playing for them then, but he sat out with what I presume to be his plantar fascia problem (replaced by the truly forgettable Scott Hemond. The lineup that day: Stan Javier (CF)-Steve Sax (2B)-Rickey Henderson (DH)-Ruben Sierrea (RF), Angel Berroa (LF)-Terry Steinbach (C)-Mike Bordick (SS)-Scott Brosius (3B)-Hemond (1B). Todd Van Poppel started.

My initial reaction: Wow, were they bad. I had completely forgotten about Steve Sax every playing with them. By the way, Mike Bordick, with his professionalism and glove-work is one of the few players who I’d still pay to go see. Mark Ellis reminds me a lot of him.

— The Giants were in considerably better shape. At 14-13, they were a game ahead of the Rockies in the NL West. But they lost to the Mets 7-4 at Shea that night. Barry Bonds went 1-for-1, scored a run, drove in two. Hit twice by pitches, and collected home runs No. 7 (for the season), 53 (as a Giant) and 229 (for his career). The immortal Bryan Hickerson got a no-decision en route to a 7-5, 4.26 in 47 appearances, 15 starts.

Initial reaction: Don’t even remember Hickerson. Bonds was 30 percent of the way to Henry Aaron. Bonds finished the year with 37 homers, 81 RBI, 29 stolen bases and only 74 walks.

You’re NL division leaders: Giants, Braves, Reds
You’re NL wild-card: Cardinals
You’re AL division leaders: Red Sox, White Sox, Rangers (at 11-14).
You’re AL wild-card: Orioles

You’re individiual leaders:
NL Average: Ellis Burks (Rockies) .420
AL Average: Paul O’Neill (Yankees) .446

NL Home Runs: Matt Williams (Giants) 12 [en route to 43]
AL Home Runs: Joe Carter (Blue Jays), Cecil Fielder (Tigers) 9, Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners) 9, Rafael Palmeiro (Rangers) 9, Frank Thomas (White Sox) 9

NL RBI: Andres Galarraga (Rockies) 30
AL RBI: Joe Carter (Blue Jays) 34

NL Wins: Bob Tewksbury (Cardinals) 6
AL Wins: Wilson Alvarez (White Sox), Ben McDonald (Orioles) 6

NL ERA: Greg Maddux (Braves) 1.12
AL ERA: Ricky Bones (Brewers) 1.11

NL Strikeouts: Andy Benes (Padres) 42
AL Strikeouts: Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks) 42

NL Saves: Mel Rojas (Expos) 8
AL Saves: Lee Smith (Orioles) 12

Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Randy Johnson are the only players on this still playing actively, and the Big Unit is just about done. It’s amazing how I remember almost none of this. Funny what a canceled World Series does. Well, that, and falling in love with your soulmate.

2

Was Cain able?

So let me get this straight? Giants starter Matt Cain had a two-hitter through seven innings and Giants manager Bruce Bochy elected to take him out of the game in favor of Vinnie Chulk?

Welcome to the new world of Giants baseball. Didn’t see the Giants last night, because I was out chattering my teeth at the A’s-Angels, but according to the game story by Andy Baggarly, Bochy chose to err on the side of caution.

Can’t say I disagree with him entirely. A large portion of the Giants’ future rests on the right arm of Cain, who for all his talent is still only 22. And playing baseball in bitter cold weather is additional stress on the body, which is already involved in an activity (throwing overhand) that isn’t natural.

Keep in mind, too, that Bochy must find out what he has in the bullpen. We’ve been watching the Giants suffer in relief for the past couple of seasons, but Bochy hasn’t. And one thing Bochy is reputed for is molding bullpens. So why not see what the ‘pen can do? One trend early in the season is that Bochy is letting his relievers pitch out of the trouble they cause. So my guess is that Bochy wanted to see what his bullpen can do when asked to protect a two-run lead in the eighth. Certainly, it won’t be the only time Bochy needs them to do so.

As for Cain, he’ll get plenty of chances to take a two-hitter into the eighth inning. The guy is going to pitch a no-hitter eventually.

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Bonds and Aaron

Seems kind of silly to blog about sports this morning. Stayed up deep into the night Monday catching up on the coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre, the kind of event that makes you wonder if there’s any hope for mankind and one, unfortunately, that is happening all too often.

But of course, life goes on elsewhere, and wouldn’t you know it, Barry Bonds is in the news. Last night in Colorado, Bonds blamed the media for trying to stoke the feud between him and Hank Aaron. Nothing Bonds says should surprise anybody anymore. He’s in such an isolated place relative to the rest of us that I’d like to ask him someday what color the sky is in his world.

For the record, the media has nothing to do with this issue. Aaron, the home-run king, made it known last week that he will not be in attendance if and when Bonds breaks his record. That is news. So, too, is Bonds’ reaction to it. Poor example, but it’s the equivalent of a Nobel Prize fwinner from three decades ago giving tacit disapproval for the way the current Nobel Prize winner achieved his honor.

The bottom line with Bonds is that he’s already a great loser in this race, even if he does wind up with the record (and at this point, there’s no reason to think he won’t). Hank Aaron was on hand to throw out the first pitch (along with Frank Robinson) on Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium on Sunday night, the kind of assignment given only to the game’s great luminaries. Bonds deserves to be seen as such, but given how MLB and its luminaries (i.e. Aaron) are giving him the cold shoulder, it’s impossible to imagine that he will.

And, of course, when that happens, No. 25 will blame it on the media.

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Remembering Branch Rickey

Happy Jackie Robinson Day everyone. Hope you all get a chance to take some time out of your Sunday to read some of the wonderful pieces on Robinson today, many of which I’ve linked below. And while you’re at it, take five minutes to remember the man who paved the way for Robinson to break the color barrier, and ask yourself what he might think of the progress (or lack thereof) baseball has made in the 60 years since.

To me, Branch Rickey is what true heroism is all about. I popped in the “Sixth Inning” of Ken Burns’ wonderful PBS documentary called, “Baseball” because it deals with Robinson’s integration, and a story told by the late Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber sums up Rickey in a nutshell.

Rickey was a coach at Ohio Wesleyan University in the early 20th century, and his best player was a black man. Rickey’s team was scheduled to play Notre Dame in South Bend, and upon trying to check his team in, the hotel registrar told him no blacks were allowed. Rickey talked his player into the hotel, agreeing to the condition that he would share his room. He then later found the player in the room, crying and tugging at his skin, saying, “It’s my skin, Mr. Rickey, if I could just tear it off, I’d be like everyone else.”

“Mr. Rickey told me,” Barber recounts to Burns about the day in 1945 when Rickey told Barber of his plans, ” ‘All these years, I’ve been hearing that (kid) cry. Now, I’m gonna do something about it.’”

Again, this is true heroism. Seeing a wrong and trying to right it, especially against a raging current of dissent, takes a character and integrity that all of us should so be so privileged to encounter. Not to say Rickey was a perfect man — he had his eye on the gate as well, when he picked Robinson — but that’s about as close as you’ll see.

One other quick note, pertaining to Saturday’s blog. Heard an interview last night with Jackie Robinson’s daughter, and she said that the choice by more than 100 players to wear No. 42 today in honor of her father did not water down the event at all. Torri Hunter, who was one of those concerned, will be happy to know that.

Here are some of the other links.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/jackie/news/story?id=2838231

http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/columnists/bharvey/stories/MYSA041507.01C.COL.BBOharvey.robinson.3572c86.html

http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070415/SPORTS08/704150323/1004/SPORTS

http://www.latimes.com/sports/baseball/mlb/dodgers/la-sp-plaschke15apr15,1,1290351.column?coll=la-headlines-sports&ctrack=1&cset=true

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Watered down?

Gonna throw one out to the readers today, because I’m really not sure what to think about this one. The tribute that several players are planning to give to Jackie Robinson by wearing his No. 42 today on the 60th anniversary of his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, is now being criticized.

Minnesota’s Torii Hunter and Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia are two of the most outspoken critics, and their words shouldn’t be taken lightly. Hunter is one one of the most socially aware, thoughtful players you’ll come across. And recently, Sabathia rightfully called the lack of blacks in baseball a “crisis.” Clearly, these are two guys who didn’t just pop off with a mindless answer to a question.

That said, is it really possible to take the luster away from what Robinson did by having too many people wear his number? Blacks, whites and Latinos will be wearing Robinson’s number today, and by wearing it, they’ll be forced to contemplate who Robinson was and what he stood for. Isn’t that the definition of honoring somebody? I would think Robinson would be proud that so many players want to share in recognizing him.

Have a big package coming out in Sunday’s paper, so I’ll be blogging more on this subject tomorrow.

In the meantime, there are some great think pieces on the Web tonight. USA Today asks if Robinson’s legacy is being watered down? ESPN.com ran a simulation, and found that Robinson would be competing for the batting, doubles and RBI crowns. Jon Weisman of SI.com reviews Jackie’s first day, and Yahoo reviews how his debut with Brooklyn was covered.