2

Barry bad

Had a family dinner at my mother’s last night, and no sooner had I walked in the door than I was greeted with, “Don’t you just love what happened to Zito?”

Full disclosure here. My mother is an East Coast transplant and adopted the A’s as her team when she moved out here in 1969. She has grown a bit disgusted with the modern game, with all the big money contracts, etc., and I think the constant migration of former A’s players to other teams has left her sour.

That said, I don’t get the whole, “Barry deserved it,” attitude that came out of Friday. The A’s made it perfectly clear they couldn’t afford (or wouldn’t choose) to sign him, and he shouldn’t have to apologize because the Giants chose to overpay him and give him $126 million over seven years.

Now, I will also say this. Getting $126 million means you better be pretty darned good in big games. It’s the neighborhood expectations when you get that kind of money. And for the most part, Zito stinks in big games. It was documented by columnist Cam Inman on Saturday morning, so there’s no use rehashing it. So if you choose to laugh at Zito, or jeer him, because he’s fallen on his face in another big game.

But rooting against him simply because he left the A’s and took all that money for the Giants is wholly unfair. There’s not a one of us out there who wouldn’t have done the same thing.

On a related note, by the way, is there anyone out there who would rather have Zito over Dan Haren these days?

4

Rickey

I may have touched a nerve with Sunday’s column that called out the A’s for their failure to retired Rickey Henderson’s jersey. One longtime A’s employee who I respect a ton said it was way off-base (I respectfully disagreed). Another employee sent me a letter that stated in part:

“Contrary to your comments, we have reached out to Rickey, but we have not been able to get him to commit. I wish you would have contacted us before you wrote the column so we could have given our side of the story. … As you you know, Rickey still hasn’t ‘officially retired.’ … We absolutely want to honor Rickey, but not until he is ready. We did honor Rickey last year by renovating a field in Oakland and naming it after him.”

(This same employee, by the way, had two opportunities to talk with me last night about this issue, and walked silently by me both times).

On those points:

1) I did try to talk to the A’s. Several weeks ago, Billy Beane excused my questions about honoring the team’s past and my one question about Henderson specifically with condescending statements that had nothing to do with the questions. Fine, that’s his perogative. I realize he has so much on his plate that issues such as this are way low on his totem pole. But he is the voice of the organization, and fans want to hear what he has to think. And in making an argument, I want to hear his opinion, not someone in the marketing department.

2) So what that Rickey hasn’t retired. If Roger Clemens can get $1 million per start and commute home in between, then a number can be retired when a player is still active. I’d consider such a gesture even more honoring, and you could convince said player of the same thing. Besides, as I stated in the column, even if Rickey makes a comeback, it’s become pretty apparent it won’t be with the A’s.

3) Kudos for naming a field after him. That’s not nearly in the same league as retiring a number.

4) As far as not getting Rickey to committ, I suggest setting a date (or dates). Then if Rickey doesn’t show, it reflects poorly on him. To me, the issue is simple. If the team really wanted to do something, it could. Also, folks I’ve talked to who are tight with Henderson have said the A’s are the problem. Don’t return calls, etc.

The bottom line is that it would close to impossible to convince me the A’s have the A’s have shown Rickey the appreciation he deserves. They haven’t asked him to be an instructor in camp or even during the regular season (a la the Mets, who have used Henderson to work with Jose Reyes). There is nothing to commemorate his record-breaking stolen base. He never shows up on the videoboard highlights (which by the way, show highlights of the 1970s champs every night).

In short, they present a picture to the outsider that Rickey is persona non grata in their organization. It’s certainly their perogative to do so, but they can’t be surprised when the are criticized for it.

Incidentally, I’d guess a lot of folks feel the way I do. For proof, check out this Web site.

0

Bartender, a Jack

Great story developing with the A’s, regarding the daily feats of designated hitter Jack Cust. The minor-league journeyman went deep again Sunday, and this one was a walk-off that capped a series victory over Cleveland. Cust homered in all three games against the Indians, and he’s going long-ball seemingly as often as Mark McGwire did in his rookie campaign of 1987.

Seems stories of this nature happen with the A’s every year. A year ago, Marco Scutaro emerged from deep on the bench to become perhaps the team’s Most Valuable Player. Two years ago, pitcher Kirk Saarloos had a stretch of five or six terrific starts, and Joe Kennedy and Jay Payton were fantastic after being acquired in trades. A couple of years before that, Eric Byrnes went nuts for a three-week stretch and flat-out carried the team.

The point is, it’s not sensible to expect Cust to continue this pace. A guy who has been in the minors as long as him has been there for a reason. That said, there’s no reason to think this can’t keep up for a couple weeks, or a month. And ultimately, that could make a huge difference in where the A’s stand come September.

One other aside: I wonder if Todd Linden has noticed any of this. Linden, unlike I theorized in an earlier blog, was not given a final opportunity to prove he could stay with the Giants, and he’ll likely find himself with another organization soon. What he should take from Cust’s heroics is that it’s never too late to have a moment in the sun. It’s often a matter of finding yourself in the right place at the exact right time. Linden, almost 27, is likely headed toward a career that mirrors Cust’s, but perhaps at some point, he’ll find that place, and that time.

0

A memory of Mom

Growing up, one of the favorite family stories involved my maternal grandmother. Seems she and a friend went to a nondescript Sunday afternoon Yankees game (or so we were always told), and they happened to see the major-league debut of Mickey Mantle. The story was always a source of great pride for her, completely understandable given what The Mick went on to do in his career.

I want my own mother to tell my kids a similar story when they get older. We were at the Oakland Coliseum on June 24, 1979, when Rickey Henderson made his debut against the Texas Rangers. Nothing about the day stands out particularly, besides the fact it seemed like we were joined by about only 50 other A’s fans that day (OK, so it was more. I said it seemed that way). Henderson had two hits and a double, which frankly I don’t remember. He also stole a base, which I do remember, because I had never seen someone so explosive on a baseball diamond. There was also a big group of folks sitting behind us at the time, and I think they were related to Rickey given the way they were cheering.

Anyway, my mom and I have probably attended more than 300 games together in my lifetime, and to this day, it remains a very special tradition. When I was a teen, and getting along with my parents the way teens do, enjoying a ballgame was always the one thing my mom and I could do together.

So on Mother’s Day, I’d like to thank her for, along with my father, for helping to instill the love of this game in me. It’s given us a lot of great memories.

We’re having lunch today, and I don’t doubt that we’ll talk about why Rickey’s number remains unretired. To re-iterate what I wrote in my Sunday column, the A’s ought to be embarrassed, because he’s the greatest player in Oakland history. Arguably franchise history, too.

I called A’s general manager Billy Beane earlier this season after attending Opening Day at AT&T Park and observing the Giants parade a bunch of former All-Stars in front of their fans. Blogged at the time that the Giants do a great job of honoring their history and the A’s don’t, and wanted to get Beane’s two cents regarding the subject.

“First of all,” he said, in that classic condescending tone, “I’m not in marketing …”

He then proceeded to talk about how the A’s have honored some of their 1970′s teams, and that is true. But the ceremonies was so colorless it’s difficult to remember them, and I’d guess that few A’s fans could recall them. And aside from Dennis Eckersley, they haven’t honored any of the players from their Bash Brothers days, either.

So if ineed Beane isn’t in marketing, he ought to make a call to the marketing department and exert some pressure.

I know Rickey was a colossal pain in the rump at times, but you can’t ignore his impact on the game or the A’s franchise. He was the brightest light during the Billy Ball years, he helped them win a World Series in 1989, and led them to the World Series in 1990. You just don’t ignore players like that.

Don’t forget to call Mom.

0

Curt the Jerk

It takes quite an effort to cast Barry Bonds in a sympathetic light, but lo and behold, Curt Schilling has done it. Bonds woke up Wednesday morning 10 home runs away from Hank Aaron, but all we’re hearing about are the obnoxious comments Schilling made.

Let’s get one thing at on the table before actually addressing what was said. Schilling is a jerk. He may not treat people as rudely as consistently as Bonds does, but believe me, I’ve seen the guy be an absolute bore. He also is wonderful at sticking his nose in business where it doesn’t belong, and the list of teammates he’s alienated is too lengthy to count.

I can tell you, too, that his act has worn thin on Red Sox Nation. Red Sox fan will remain ever grateful that Schilling helped them win the World Series in 2004, but don’t think for a moment that they’d like to tape his mouth shut. That probably goes for teammates, too, because whenever Schilling speaks, distractions seem sure to follow.

His latest comments are even more annoying than usual, because what he said wasn’t even true. Last I checked, Barry Bonds never has admitted to using steroids (flaxseed oil, yes). Nor has he admitted to cheating on his taxes (who in their right mind would admit that?). Nor has he admitted to cheating on his wife (obviously, he did, but that doesn’t exactly make him unique in professional sports circles).

In other words, Schilling basically slandered the man. This might be of some interest to him since a) he now fancies himself a responsible member of the blogging community and b) he ripped the general lack of responsibility among the media when the authenticity of his bloody sock was questioned a couple of weeks ago.

I realize that all Schilling did was answer a question posed to him, and kudos for his honesty. He also apologized on his blog this morning, but as he might tell the media in a similar situation, “the damage can’t be undone.” The moral of the story is that he needs to lose his holier-than-thouh mentality, because it’s that very quality that makes most people he encounters want to puke.

0

Linden on the spot

For years now, I have received myriad e-mails from Giants fans regarding outfielder Todd Linden. Save for the ones from women who’d like to know if he’s single, the general theme of these inquiries has to do with the Giants reluctance to give their longtime prospect a legitimate chance.

Well, that time may finally be at hand.

Starting center fielder Dave Roberts likely will land on the disabled list today, because of suspected bone spurs in his left elbow. That means Linden, at worst, should move into an almost-everyday role filling in for him. Roberts’ physical history suggests he won’t be back soon, so this might be the last, best chance for Linden to prove he belongs.

It’s been a tough road for Linden. He always has put up silly numbers in the minor leagues, but more often than not, he has appeared overmatched in the majors. Scouts have told me that his swing is just too darned long, and though Linden has worked hard to make adjustments, it appears he still can’t catch up to consistent major-league heat.

That said, he occasionally shows signs, as he did late last season, when he hit consistently and played stellar defense. The pro-Linden crowd has said the only thing he has lacked is a legitimate chance, and indeed, perhaps all Linden needs is the chance to face big-league pitching consistently rather than intermittently.

The point is, we may be about to find out. Linden may never have a better chance. For the Giants sake, he needs to seize it.

0

Timmy Time

Great atmosphere at China Basin last night for the unveiling of Giants prospect Tim Lincecum. No doubt the hefty showing of 38,738 was inspired, at least in part, by the prospect of folks telling their grandkids, “Hall of Famer Tim Lincecum, I was there when he made his debut.”

Of course, it’s a long way between a debut and a Hall of Fame, as the Phillies reminded those 38,000 and change last night. Lincecum showed a lot, most impressive of which was his 97 mph fastball. I’m not a huge radar-gun guy, because I think you can tell if a pitch has life without looking at a gun. But the explosion of Lincecum’s fastball harkens back to the great flame-throwers of any generation.

Talked to a buddy of mine during the game, and he said Lincecum reminded him of a young, drug-free Dwight Gooden. Thought that was a pretty good comparison. Gooden had the huge leg kick and amazing torque, and it seemed four of every five pitches were fastballs. Lincecum showed the same thing. He seemed overly reliant on his hard stuff last night (hard to blame him), but the true measure of a pitcher is how he’s able to spot his breakings stuff. Judging by his first start, this will be a work in progress for Lincecum.

Overall, though, it’s safe to conclude that there should be some wonderful days ahead for the kid. Don’t get me wrong, it only gets harder from here for him. Getting to the majors is one thing. Staying there is something else.

Some other Monday impressions:

— The A’s, as is their wont, have found a way to go 3-2 on an eight-game trip and keep hanging around .500. Pitching, defense, and contributions from folks like Jack Cust. This is how they roll.

Roger Clemens is returning to the Yankees. Funny, didn’t see anybody faint from shock.

— Once again, the Yankees are throwing money at a problem, which, given their budget, is fine. But one of these years, they’ll find that strategy doesn’t work, and Mt. George will explode.

— Very interesting poll by ABC News indicates that perhaps more people are rooting for Bonds than the media would care to admit, and that there’s a racial element to our support. As a media member who has been critical of Bonds, I’m insulted by any insinuation that I’d be more supportive of Bonds if he was white. Bonds has been exposed as a cheater, perhaps not in court, but through evidence that would be tough to ignore if it ever came up in court.

— My experience with Bonds goes back years. A childhood friend of the family roomed with him at Arizona State, and my first two exposures to Bonds came when I was a young teen. To watch him enter a function at a family member’s house and treat everybody so rudely turned me off to him immediately. He’s mellowed over the years, and on a couple of occasions, he granted me interviews in which he was pleasant, funny and insightful. But on the whole, it’s tough to wish good things upon people who have treated people so badly.

0

The Bonds factor

Barry Bonds has resumed hitting home runs like it’s 2001, and the other shoe _ names the bases on balls _ is starting to drop. And once again, we’re being reminded of the impact that Bonds can have just by standing in the batter’s box.

On Friday against Philadelphia, Jamie Moyer was cruising along with a 2-0 shutout when he walked Bonds to start the seventh. Moyer was clearly in control to that point, but it was clear from the way he pitched to Bonds that he wanted no part of him. He tried to put each pitch on the outside corner, and he really didn’t come close with any of them. It was a clear example of defensive pitching, and the net result put the Phils on the defensive. Moyer appeared to lose his rhythm, and the inning ended with Eliezer Alfonzo’s three-run double that erased Moyer’s lead.

An inning later, Bonds was issued an intentional walk with two outs, and the Giants eventually scored three more times.

The point is, it’s never a good idea for a pitcher to avoid the strike zone purposely, because it’s awfully easy for him to lose sight of the zone afterward. It also forces him to go to a stretch, which is completely different from a wind-up, and it causes the pitch-count to go up and makes for high-stress innings. That it also forces the pitcher to come into the middle of the plate (as opposed to staying on the corners) is an advantage to the hitters that follow Bonds in the lineup. Bengie Molina and Ray Durham already have been major beneficiaries, so far.

This is the reason we saw so many innings similar to the two on Friday evolve again and again when Bonds was in his homer-hitting heyday.

The downside for the Giants of having Bonds walked so much is the possible ramifications to Bonds’ legs. So far, they have held up nicely, and perhaps this won’t be an issue. But the more Bonds stays on his feet, the greater the likelihood he may tweak something.

So far, though, he’s healthy, and as a result, the Giants’ offense looks hearty, too.

0

Woe is the A’s

The temptation, as it always seems to be this time of year, is to write off the A’s. They suffered another major injury last night in Boston when Mike Piazza went down for at least a month, they fell back below .500 and stayed 2 1/2 games back of the Angels in the AL West.

But you know what? If I’m an A’s player this afternoon, I’m not anywhere near panicking. Injuries have ripped through the clubhouse like the common flu on many occasions, and always, somehow, the A’s manage to hang in there enough to make things interesting in August and September. That has to build an underlying confidence in the clubhouse, and that comes into play big-time at times like this.

The loss of Piazza is devastating, no doubt, but its impact should be lessened by the return of Nick Swisher and Milton Bradley from hamstring injuries (of course, how long Bradley remains back is a whole different question), perhaps within the week. The starting pitching remains solid, and the A’s continue to play good defense. That’s been their formula for years. Let’s face it, this is not a team that, even when 100 percent, will beat youhttp://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/standings?date=20050501 with its bats.

So onward to Tampa Bay they go. And don’t get me wrong. They can ill-afford to suffer through the kind of May they had in 2005, when they fell 15 below .500. But the key will be to hang as close to .500 or a few games below it, until the bodies get sound. Given the winners that have filled this clubhouse, I wouldn’t bet against it.

0

The W’s

Great scene out at The Big Phone last night, and it had nothing to do with that epic pitching duel between the Giants’ Russ Ortiz and Colorado’s Taylor Bucholz (6 2/3 innings combined, 14 earned runs).

Sometime around the fifth inning, I looked out at the pressbox, and it seemed like much of the announced attendance of 33,210 (it appeared even smaller than that) had left. Turned out most of the fans were in the concourses watching the Warriors erase the last traces of a 21-point deficit in Game 5 of their playoff series with Dallas and surge to a nine-point lead with about three minutes to go. Thus, periodic roars filtered through the park.

However, right about the time the Giants were showing Baron Davis’ lean-in 3-pointer on the High-Def scoreboard (great addition by the way), the Warriors had watched that lead slip away. So the folks who stayed to watch baseball were awash in glee, even as a collective groan permeated from the concourse.

By the time the Warriors game ended, the bad news had spread like wildfire among the folks still in their seats. And then, the funniest sight of all, appeared, as fans from the concourse returned to their seats in mass during the seventh-inning stretch. Betcha Dodger Stadium has never seen anything like that.

Incidentally, don’t anticipate that the Giants will yank Ortiz from the rotation because of one bad start. Manager Bruce Bochy seems to be a man of patience, and Ortiz has already given the Giants more than what most of us expected at the start of spring training. He deserves at least three more starts to show that what happened Monday wasn’t a sign that he’s returning to the bad days of 2006.

As for the W’s, you’d hate to think they’ll have their final-quarter meltdown to think about all summer.