When you see Chris Coghlan, think Ben Zobrist

Chris Coghlan had a five-minute drive to get from the Cubs' camp to the A's camp Thursday, and on Friday said he hoped to be the kind of versatile player Ben Zobrist was last yea.

Chris Coghlan had a five-minute drive to get from the Cubs’ camp to the A’s camp Thursday, and on Friday said he hoped to be the kind of versatile player Ben Zobrist was last yea.

The A’s tried it the Ben Zobrist way 12 months ago. Now they’re trying it the Chris Coghlan way.

Zobrist is the dean of baseball’s utility players, as at home in right field as at shortstop or second base. As Coghlan, who looks up to Zobrist, says, “there were others before Zo, but he was the one who made it look sexy and cool.’’

Oakland traded Zobrist to Kansas City at the trade deadline last July, and he wound up with the Chicago Cubs in free agency, meaning he and Coghlan, another jack-of-all-trades, were teammates this week for the first time. Then the A’s traded for Coghlan Thursday so `it was cool to play with him … for two days,’’ he said

Coghlan said he can’t wait to step into the role of playing here, there and everywhere that Zobrist had last year with the A’s. And while not everyone embraces the phrase “utility man,’’ he does.

“When I was younger, I was like ‘I want to play one position,’’’ he said. “But as you grow, to be able to play different positions really helps the team so I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s funny, they always compare me to Zo, and finally playing with him….that was the dude I always tried to model myself after because he helped the team in so many ways.’’

Zobrist, who got a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cubs, texted his congratulations to Coghlan on the move, although he’d been hoping they’d play together. Coghlan said the Cubs’ Zobrist, Addison Russell, Jason Hammel, Jon Lester and former Cub and current Giant Jeff Samardzija all got in contact to tell him how much he’d enjoy playing for A’s manager Bob Melvin.

Coghlan doesn’t have the same contract aspirations in next year’s free agency as Zobrist, but he’d like to fill his shoes in Oakland.

“Zo set the bar,’’ Coghlan said. “Before (being a utility player) mean you weren’t an everyday guy. Now it’s the cool thing. So mad props to him.’’


–The A’s had their first live batting practice of the spring Friday, although for many of the hitters, they chose to keep their swings to a minimum and mostly worked on tracking the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the plate.

Through it all, Melvin said lefties Sean Manaea and Sean Doolittle and right-hander Ryan Dull stood out among the pitchers.

Of the rookie Manaea, Melvin said “it feels like he gives hitters a real uncomfortable at-bat, while he said Doolittle was throwing “with a certain style’’ that was reminiscent of Doolittle at his best.

“It was night and day,’’ Melvin said. “He looks like the Sean Doolittle of the past.’’

The manager gave high marks to Doolittle for using this time to work on adding a split-finger pitch he can use as a changeup. The idea is to give hitters (and the scouts who tell hitters what’s coming) something new to think about.

And then there’s Dull, who came up last year in September and did not allow a run in his first 11 innings.

“Dull threw really well, which is no surprise,’’ Melvin said. “We didn’t know much about him before he came up last year and we had a chance to see him. He came to camp in great shape, and he’s way ahead of the curve now.’’



–One of the hitters Melvin threw batting practice to was Khris Davis, of whom the manager said “the ball comes back to you in a hurry’’ when Davis connects.

–Catcher Stephen Vogt, who is being held out of BP after having elbow surgery late in January, is taking lots of soft toss swings, and he’s impressed the coaches and medical staff. “It’ll be us trying to hold him back,’’ Melvin predicted. Vogt is due to be held out of games for the first half of the Cactus League season, give or take.

–Melvin was impressed by how smoothly the first full day of camp went with bench coach Mark Kotsay in charge. “If you’ve done that job, you have sleepless night before hoping everything will go well. But we were on four fields, and all four ended at the same time, so that was impressive.’’

–Movie buff John Axford has taken time from his bullpen work with the A’s to take part in ABC’s Good Morning America Academy Awards predictions panel. You can check it out at: abcn.ws/1XPSBju 

–For his annual first-full-day-of-camp talk, Melvin used a prop, Matt Foley, better known as Stephen Vogt. The catcher has a career in standup or improv, and Melvin has used him two years’ running now to lighten the mood a little.

–The manager also broke out the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie’’ to introduce owner Lew Wolff. Before the meeting Wolff said for him, his talk “is always upbeat. I just want them to know our expectations are all about playing hard.’’ Wolff said that his one-time fraternity brother Bid Selig had a bit of advice for him when Wolff and John Fisher bought the A’s. “Bud told me once never to fall in love with your players, because it will break your heart when they leave. But these are good guys and I really like them.’’

–Double-A pitching coach Rick Rodriguez, the Castro Valley High product who has spent three decades in spring training camps as player and coach, isn’t too held back by the complete right knee replacement he had three months ago. He takes a break every now and then, but then soldiers on. And while he hasn’t, at doctor’s orders, thrown batting practice yet, that should happen in a week or so.

–Jed Lowrie had a goatee his last time through with the A’s in 2013-14. As he returns for this season, however, he’s clean shaven. And with a reason: “I’m on the wrong side of 30. I have a baby face. It’s time to look younger.’’



A’s: Visit with Braves underscores Oakland stadium issues

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum complex

With the selection of Rob Manfred as Major League Baseball’s next commissioner, the plight of the A’s and the prolonged saga of their search for a new stadium is once again the subject of review.

And it comes into the sharp focus with Oakland’s three-game series in Turner Field this weekend.

Turner Field is the Braves’ second home in the last two decades, having moved into the facility originally built for the 1996 Olympic Games in 1997 after three decades in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

And in three years, the Braves will move into an as-yet unnamed new park in the northwest suburbs of Cobb County, a private/public partnership. The new park will cost $622 million, of which the Braves will be fronting 230 million.

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Selig appoints committee to study Oakland’s stadium situation

 Bud Selig and Major League Baseball are going to do some fact-finding to determine what the next move should be for Lew Wolff’s Oakland A’s. Here is the text of the press release from MLB that was just handed out:

“After meeting with ownership and management of the Oakland Athletics in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday, Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced today that he has appointed a committee to thoroughly analyze all of the ballpark proposals that have been made to date, the current situation in Oakland, and the prospects of obtaining a ballpark in any of the communities located in Oakland’s territory.

Oakland’s current lease expires in 2010 with three one-year club options beyond that date.

The committee will be chaired by Bob Starkey, a stadium expert and financial consultant for Major League Baseball. It also will consist of Corey Busch, a former baseball executive, and Irwin Raij, a lawyer with Foley and Lardner who worked extensively on both the Washington and Miami ballpark proposals. They will work with MLB President & Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy and will provide a written report to the Commissioner at the conclusion of their analysis.

“Lew Wolff and the Oakland ownership group and management have worked very hard to obtain a facility that will allow them to compete into the 21st Century,” Commissioner Selig said. “To date they, like the two ownership groups in Oakland before them, have been unsuccessful in those efforts, despite having the significant support of their corporate partner Cisco. The time has come for a thorough analysis of why a stadium deal has not been reached. The A’s cannot and will not continue indefinitely in their current situation.”




On Leyritz and more

The holidays are generally a slow time, but darn if there isn’t some dolt to provide material. Jim Leyritz, step up and face the music.

Leyritz’s incident is no joking matter, obviously. A family has been left in mourning, and the former New York Yankees World Series hero has seen his life altered forever. It’s tragic on all ends.

That said, Leyritz’s car accident two nights ago serves to show just what the professional baseball is up against in its bid to ban the sport of all things ill. Perhaps I’m off base on the analogy, but it seems that if ballplayers are still loading up on alcohol and then driving home (as Leyritz was alleged to do), then there’s simply no way to prevent any of them from sticking the odd needle in their behind.

Think about it. The campaign to curtail drinking and driving in this country goes back to 1980. I was in junior high school when Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver, the result of which caused her mother, Candy to form Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The formation of MADD created a fundamental change in how we viewed drinking and driving; the evils of it were preached in the classroom as early as elementary school, and the societal view of it gradually changed.

And yet, the problem still persists. And it’s unlikely ever to be eradicated completely.

So it will be with performance-enhancing drugs at all levels. Three decades worth of education might stem the tide, but it won’t ever be stopped completely. In my experience, professional athletes have a unique sense of self-confidence; it’s likely one of the key traits that gets them to that level in the first place. It’s that trait that seems to give them a sense of invincibility. We all have it when we’re in our teens, but most of us grow out of it. I’d argue that most professional athletes do not.

Anyway, it’s this trait that leads one not to call a cab but rather to hop in a car and defy the odds, just as it leads one to ignore the health hazards and stick a needle in his behind. Which is why we’ll probably be unearthing players as performance-enhancing drug users from now until forever.

Meantime, some other quick thoughts:

Interesting comments by Rep. Christopher Shays regarding Bud Selig’s responsibility for the rise of the Steroid Era. I agree with Shays completely, but I think his comments could be extended to any number of corporate CEO’s. The almighty dollar trumps all else, and our country has suffered for it.

— So now Roger Clemens’ lawyer has hired private investigators to discredit Brian McNamee? That’s it, blame the messenger.

— Got the following e-mail from a Cubs fan labeled mjtracy1226@comcast.com, regarding the last two lines of of my column Friday. “You can go to hell for your remark about the Cubs. … I hope something terrible happens to you this year.” Two things about that: 1) Shame when you can’t laugh at yourself or your team (and if you can’t laugh at the Cubs’ futility, then you might as well cry). 2) Wishing ill upon others is, in a word, sick.


Baseball goes on

Received quite a bit of e-mail over the weekend regarding my column that suggests it’s time at least to discuss whether performance-enhancing drugs should be legalized. I was somewhat surprised that several of those e-mails either agreed with what I said or stated that I had opened their mind to the issue.

I don’t say that to brag. I do say it, because I think it speaks a lot to what fans think about this ongoing issue (they’re sick of it) and to the general hopelessness many of us have that a leader in any profession (be it President Bush, a CEO of a major company, a pro sports commissioner) will stand up and do the right thing.

The right thing, in this case, would be to ban for life all athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Never gonna happen, of course, because of the lawsuits that would follow, and because _ assuming the testers ever moved ahead of the cheaters, and we got a full, accurate sample of the number of users _ no players would be left.

At any rate, it’s interesting to hear both sides of the debate. Honestly, I’d love to see a pro sports world that’s clean as a baby’s bottom after a bath. But in my opinion, it’s simply not a realistic goal.

What do you, the reader, think?

Anyway, promised some early winners and losers for you last week, so here they are:


1) Stan Conte: The former Giants trainer was trying to the do the right thing by reporting his concerns about Greg Anderson being in the clubhouse and by reporting that some player on the Giants approached Conte about using steroids. Nice to see that some folks in baseball still have the courage to speak out, even if nobody is listening.

2) Jose Canseco: Unbelievably, he continues to be one of the most credible voices in the steroids scandal. Just about everything he wrote in “Juiced” has been borne out to be true.

3) The Boston Red Sox: Not one current player was linked. But there was no conflict of interest regarding George Mitchell.


1) Roger Clemens: The Rocket fuel was artificially enhanced, no matter what he may scream from now until the end of time. Incidentally, from the time Brian McNamee reportedly made his first injection into Clemens’ behind, Clemens has won 136 games. Take half of them away, and Clemens would still be 14 wins shy of 300, and one behind non-Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven on the career list.

2) Brian Sabean: We all knew Barry Bonds ran the Giants’ franchise, but the Mitchell Report showed us to what extent. And the extent to which Sabean went to avoid dealing with Conte’s concerns about steroids provides a “how-to” on why baseball’s cultural ill was allowed to go unchecked. One more thing: None of this figures to cost Sabean his job.

3) Bud Selig and Donald Fehr: Again, another embodiment of why accountability has become a foreign concept in our country. Selig took no responsibility for the rise of the Steroid Era, even though the Mitchell Report takes him (lightly) to task. And he didn’t even offer up an, “I’m sorry.” Fehr did acknowledge that testing should’ve arrived sooner, but his inference that that the owners hurt their relationship with the players, because they didn’t deliver the report in a timely manner was weak.

And incidentally, on the same subject, am I the only one who doesn’t believe Alex Rodriguez? 


Next up, Donald Fehr

OK, the ball is now in the court of the Major League Baseball Players Association and its head, Donald Fehr. Commissioner Bud Selig told the media that on the points where he has unilateral authority, he will adopt the Mitchell Report’s recommendations for eliminating the steroid culture from baseball. And on a subsequent interview on ESPN, deputy commissioner, Bob DuPuy said he’s hoping to hear that Fehr and the MLBPA react the same way.

Not sure I’d bet my house that he will. As ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said, the union likes to fight more than anything else, and its darn good at it.

Meantime, Roger Clemens’ attorney have put out an emphatic denial. Won’t matter what they say. His reputation is permanently damaged, and at this point, no player deserves the benefit of the doubt. Sorry if they don’t like that, but they can point the finger at all the other players and at the MLBPA, who for years resisted any kind of testing. They also can blame themselves for not testifying. Denials in the report wouldn’t have been a bad thing for them.

(Not to mention this: If these guys had nothing to hide, then why not speak?) 

Meantime, waiting to hear if the A’s and Giants will comment. The Giants look horrible in the report, by the way, particularly general manager Brian Sabean. The A’s don’t look a lot better. More on that in a bit.

 Anyway, hearing lots of talk about how many of the names dropped in this report are as a result of heresay, and after skimming it from beginning to end, I have to agree. So clearly, this is not an iron-clad document, though nobody should have expected it to be. As I wrote in today’s column, it’s just as likely to be remembered as baseball’s version of the Warren Report, because it no doubt would have a ton of holes.

More later, but in the meantime, here’s the list of players.


Bud Selig’s knowledge

Just came across something very interesting during my skimming of the Mitchell Report, so you can scratch what I said earlier about commissioner Bud Selig being absolved of all blame.

Selig consistently has said that he was unaware of the problem in baseball until 1998, when the AP reported that Mark McGwire was using androstenedione (which was legal at the time). But there are several annotations in this report, some of them pointing to stories as early as 1989. So Selig’s stance that he couldn’t have known is bunk, and Mitchell seems to call him on it.

Can’t wait to hear Selig’s response.