Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Blowup of Armando Benitez

Last night we witnessed the complete and total meltdown of a relief pitcher. Armando Benitez, the controversial, unpredictable closer for the San Francisco Giants blew a game in a fashion so embarrassing that it hurt to watch. It reminded me of all the other horrible meltdowns in sports history, like the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers; the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl and Greg Norman in big golf tournaments.

If Benitez can bounce back after such a devastating collapse, God bless him. But, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if his decline rapidly gains momentum from this point on.

With the Giants leading by one run in the bottom of the 12th inning against the New York Mets, Benitez (0-3, 4.13 ERA with 9 saves in 17.3 innings do far this season) walked the Mets’ leadoff hitter, the speedy Jose Reyes. Giving the first hitter a free pass is never a good move, obviously, but this situation was made even worse, because runners steal on Armando like they’re crossing the street. To make matters worse, Benitez then balked Reyes to second, and then two outs later, balked him home for the tying run. It was the first time since 1988 that a pitcher balked twice in the ninth inning or later.

Then, obviously rattled, Armando gave up a game-winning home run to Carlos Delgado. Game over, Mets win 5-4. While the Mets went crazy, Benitez walked off the mound with his head down. As Delgado crossed home plate, he threw his glove in disgust.

It was the fourth straight loss for the Giants, but the effect of this one will linger for the rest of this season, because it revealed to the rest of the league one huge vulnerability with this squad. If you can get into the late stages of the game and the contest is close, you can beat the Giants’ closer. He is easily rattled and has the propensity to blow up faster than Rosie O’Donnell at a buffet.

Armando is done, in my opinion. With all of the great young starting pitchers that the Giants have on their roster, it’s a complete waste and a losing proposition to have a liability like Benitez trying to close out games. Blowing leads and walking batters is not what closers are paid to do. It’s time to come up with a Plan B, Giants, and the B doesn’t stand for Benitez.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

Okay, this AP article cracked me up—especially because Ed wrote about the very same thing a few months ago! That’s how it goes here at Sports on the Street—we try to keep ahead of the curve! As for the article’s subject, all I can say is that it sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen—enjoy the game!

All-You-Can-Eat Seats a Hit with Dodgers

.c The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP)—Luis Serrano is working on his second Dodger Dog and the game hasn’t even begun. “On a good night, I’ll eat seven,” he said, smiling. That’s how it goes in the new all-you-can-eat seats way out in right field at Dodger Stadium, where fans wolf down as many Dodger Dogs, nachos, peanuts, popcorn, and soda as their bellies allow for one price.

Bring your own antacids.

“You get your money’s worth, for sure,” said Serrano, a slender 33-year-old from suburban Glendora who likes to bet his buddies how much they can chow down.

“I’ve won almost all of them,” he said, balancing a paper tray loaded with two more Dodger Dogs, nachos, and peanuts on his lap.

His friend, Michael Latta of Alhambra, chomped on a mustard-and-onion-slathered Dodger Dog in the right field pavilion, sponsored by, naturally, a chain of convenience stores.

“We’re more prone to eating more since we’re in here. We wouldn’t have done this over there,” Latta said, gesturing toward the rest of the stadium.

There’s another eat-up-a-storm section in this venerable place—the Dugout Club behind home plate. But at $400 a seat, which includes traditional fare delivered by a wait staff and a high-end buffet, it’s out of reach for many in the bust-a-gut section.

Launched this season, the outfield eat-a-thon opens 90 minutes before the first pitch and lasts until the start of the seventh inning. Ticket prices range from $20 for group sales to $40 for day-of-game walk-ups. Some games are $25 during designated promotions.

“The fans love it,” said Marty Greenspun, Dodgers executive vice president and chief operating officer.

“It was an isolated area that we could really focus and test,” he said. “No one has done this big of a seating section for this price in all of professional sports. It’s been a hit since day one.”

Some items aren’t in play—beer ($8 and $10), ice cream, and candy are sold from carts at regular prices. But they are included at some other major-league ballparks, which do versions of the eat-til-you-drop concept in smaller seating areas.

The concept was tested three times last season before being launched in April.

Since then, the Dodgers say the section has sold out eight times in 24 home games, with attendance averaging 2,000 in the 3,000 seats.

The Dodgers have ranked second in attendance in the majors for three consecutive seasons, but the right-field pavilion often sat empty in the 56,000-seat stadium. It opened only if the left-field seats, which cost $10, sold out or for large groups. Last season, right-field seats cost $6 to $8.

“Even with our great attendance, there’s still seats that go unsold,” Greenspun said, explaining that this model was a way to offer fans a defined price.

Greenspun said a handful of other professional sports teams have contacted the Dodgers about copying the idea, including the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. The Milwaukee Brewers sent their stadium operations chief to check it out.

Fans are allowed four items per trip to the food counters under the stands. Soda stations offer unlimited drinks and bottled water is free.

“Before, no one wanted to work here. It was a hassle,” said Joe Herrera, a 10-year stadium employee. “We used to have the registers and a lot of angry people backed up. Now, the lines go fast and customers don’t complain.”

At times during a recent game against the Brewers, lines were eight-deep as workers quickly handed over fistfuls of grub. The only registers are at the merchandise counter and beer carts.

“Who can turn down an all-you-can-eat?” asked Lori Nelson, who settled into the bench seats with her two children and her daughter’s 18-year-old boyfriend. “It’s like going to Vegas.”

The boyfriend, Joe Grable, started his evening with two hot dogs, two sodas and nachos. “Right here is probably $30 worth,” he said. “This is awesome.”

In the rest of the stadium, Dodger Dogs sell for $4.75 and small sodas are $4.75.

Stadium vendors, including Coca-Cola, California Pizza Kitchen, and Kraft, want to test their products on the right-field crowd, Greenspun said. Baby Ruth has already passed out free candy bars.

Liz Roseman of Gardena had one complaint.

“The only thing I’m missing is the chili,” she said, picking up a cheese-slathered nacho chip.

Greenspun doesn’t even try to spin the food frenzy so that it jibes with the nation’s increased emphasis on eating healthy.

“This is really not about gluttony,” he said. “This is really about offering a new fan amenity. It’s all up to individual choices.”

On a recent night, the right-field seats were two-thirds full of fans merrily munching away, washing it all down with sodas and trotting back for more.

“It’s a trend that’s here to stay,” Greenspun said, “and is going to grow.”

Along with waistlines and cholesterol levels.

05/24/07 19:45 EDT

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Living Baseball History: My Interview with Gus Triandos

Gus Triandos was a very decent catcher during the 50’s and 60’s. He hit 167 career homers, and although he was not fleet of foot (he stole one base and holds the record for most consecutive games played without being thrown out: 1,206), Triandos had a great arm and was known as one of the top-fielding backstops in the league throughout his years with five major league teams. He now lives in San Jose, California and runs a postal company. He was wearing a neck brace the morning I met him, the result of a recent car accident. Gus was a part of a lot of baseball history. A 2-time all-star, he caught Jim Bunning’s perfect game in 1964, used the big oversized mitt to catch knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm during his no-hitter in 1958 and was the opposing catcher when Ted Williams hit a home run in his final plate appearance in 1960.

A long shot to make the bigs: “Sad fact was, I had a tough time getting signed. I wasn’t that sought after. Hell, I wouldn’t even be signed today. No way I’d be signed now. They had D, C B, A, AA, AAA teams – they had a jillion ballplayers out there and I think that it, I don’t know. They just wanted to sign bodies back then. But, even when I was playing minor league ball, every scout that ever came through town and the local sportswriters would ask him and they’d say I didn’t have a chance. But, it never pissed me off, because I thought I didn’t have a chance. My feet were so bad I knew I wouldn’t last. The best thing that happened to me was going into the Army. Those military issue boots straightened my feet out. Don’t ask me how, but they did.”

High school: “My senior year, we had 11 guys sign professional contracts. Mission High was the baseball school, Polytechnic was the football school and Lowell was the basketball school in San Francisco at that time. The only one who really made it for any time in the majors was me.”

All-star appearances: “I played in two all-star games. I hit a 2-run double in one of them, off Elroy Face, in 1958. I probably would have been the MVP had we won.”

The 1957 all-star game: “That prick Stengel didn’t even put me in that game. Was that in St. Louis? Yeah. Didn’t even put me in. That Stengel really hated my guts.
And then the next year it was in Baltimore. That’s when they let the players pick the all-stars for the first time. And I got in because I was elected by the players. And Casey still didn’t want to play me, but he had no choice.”

Players he liked/disliked: “I never got to where I disliked a guy. There were a couple I ended up disliking, but *#@!, life’s too short. I stayed away from them. You see them now, and you never get a chance to talk. Maybe for a minute at some dinner or event or something. But, there were very few people -- players and managers -- that after it was all over, I disliked…Stengel was one of them. I wasn’t his type of ball player. You know, I couldn’t run. I couldn’t hit to the opposite field. And for some reason he just didn’t like me and it was patently obvious. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was him disliking me. He also made the right pick. He decided that he liked Elston Howard better than me. And that was a helluva pick.”

The baseball life: “Gave me a helluva life for 12 years. I really enjoyed myself. It was kind of a psychological thing, you know. Like you have a little bit of a low opinion of yourself. And then you get to where you can do something well and get a little recognition. It was good. I wouldn’t have a chance to do it now. In this day and age, I don’t think I could get signed. When those 11 guys from my high school got drafted, I never thought I’d be the one to make it to the majors. I wouldn’t trade what I did in baseball for anything, but there was a lot of stuff that was irritating too. But, overall – most of it was on the plus side.”

“I had a lot of liabilities. I couldn’t run. I was a good catcher and all that other happy horse*#@$! The one thing I could do well for at least the first half of my career in the majors was I could throw. It was one of the few things I had. Most good base stealers stole off the pitchers. But, offensively, I could be pitched to. I’m just thankful I was able to do what I did. I don’t look at the game now the same way I did then. I can’t watch it anymore. I haven’t been to a MLB game in more than 15 years.”

Umpires: “You almost have to be an asshole to be an umpire. You have to take so much *#@$! You start the season out real good friends with them by the end of the season guys were salivating, hell, saying they hated each other’s guts. The only reason the umps liked me is I didn’t show ‘em up, and I never argued with them. Stayed off them so that the fans wouldn’t get on them.”

Appearing on the TV show, “Home Run Derby”: “That was one of the most embarrassing things. I got bounced out the first time. Dick Stuart and I embarrassed the whole *#@$! thing. They did it the middle of winter, when guys hadn’t been to Spring Training, so we were both so out of shape.”

Steroids: “What, do they think people are stupid? When this guy goes from 175-180 to 220 and nobody says anything? Of course, I always thought they had ‘em, but I didn’t give a *#@! I still don’t.”

Players today: “The way things are now, the kind of money these guys are making, it’s messed everything up. In our era, there was more integrity and more love for the game. Look at these *#@! guys, they buy 2-3 million dollar homes; some of them have six or seven kids with five different women? It’s crazy.”

Playing in the Astrodome: “The Astrodome was a theater, it was an architectural wonder at the time. Then, they figured out they couldn’t grow grass in there.”

HOFer’s: “Any Hall of Famer who thinks he’s so wonderful because he did all these great things in baseball is full of crap. He was able to do it because he was blessed by God with natural ability. He didn’t necessarily have to work that hard to be a star. I’ve seen .220 hitters work a lot harder than a lot of Hall of Famers. There were some good ones, but there are also a lot of bad guys who are Hall of Famers. That’s why I never really idolized Hall of Famers, because I thought they were blessed.”

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Oldest Living Major Leaguer

At 100, Rollie Stiles is the oldest living former major league player. He is one of only five people left on the planet who either played with or against Babe Ruth. He pitched for Oklahoma State University and played for almost ten years in the minors and majors. He was a middle reliever, a spot starter and an occasional closer for the St. Louis Browns in ’30, ’31 and ’33. His career won-loss record was 9-14. He completed 9 games, threw one shutout and gave up 16 home runs (including one controversial HR to the mighty Babe that he says may not have happened, although he can’t be sure.) His lifetime ERA was 5.92 and he wasn’t a bad hitter, batting .270 in 1930. In 1931, Stiles finished 15 games for the Browns, which ranked 8th in the AL for that season. At 100, his long-term memory is excellent, although he does have problems recalling things that happened within the last few years. When I asked him about a speech he gave last November to around 300 people at a St. Louis Browns reunion, it came as a surprise to him. He has no recollection of the event.

Pitching to Lou Gehrig: He was the best hitter I ever faced. That’s what I thought about it. I couldn’t throw a ball anywhere where he wouldn’t hit it. He was just happy to see me go in there. I think he could hit anything I threw. If he could reach it, he could hit it.

Managed by Rogers Hornsby: “Yeah, that has to be the darkest part of my career. He was a great ball player -- I’ll say that for him. He was a great second baseman. He was a good hitter. But, his personality was altogether different. I don’t really want to say anything more on that subject. I can’t ever remember anyone being happy that they played for Rogers Hornsby.”

Playing against Babe Ruth: “ I am proud to say that I got the chance to pitch against the man. They say he hit a home run off of me, but I don’t remember it. Well, now wait a minute. I know one of the games when I was pitching against the Yankees, he hit a ball right down the right field line, and, of course, the right field bleachers was pavilion-like and there was a screen that there was there to protect the right fielder that went about halfway down over that pavilion. So, he hit a high fly ball and I believe it hit the foul pole and bounced down on the roof of that pavilion. I know this happened. Now, whether that was a home run or not, I don’t remember. But, I know he did that and it could have been a home run. I don’t remember how it was scored.”

Pitching against the good teams: “Well, it just seemed to me like every time I went in to pitch, either Ruth, Gehrig or some of those players from the Athletics was up at the plate. At that time, the Athletics had the best ball team baseball. When you went in to pitch to those fellas, you had to struggle all the time. And it wasn’t just the good hitters with the Athletics, it was their infielders too – the second baseman, third baseman, like that. When those guys got on a good team they became great hitters. That’s the way it was with everybody on that team, the Athletics. They had Simmons, Foxx, Cochrane, Dykes – you had to struggle with everybody on that club. You couldn’t look at any one hitter and say I’m gonna get this dood out. If you wasn’t careful, he’d slam one out between the outfielders somewhere, and you’d be in big trouble. It was murder having to go out and pitch to the Athletics.”

Throwing illegal pitches: “I have an idea that back then some pitchers did things to the ball that they weren’t supposed to be doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if at that time there were more spitball pitchers than there ever were before. Now, I could throw a pretty good knuckleball, and sometimes I’d throw that. But, that was a legitimate pitch. But, I know there was cheating going on back then, with the spitball and things like that. There weren’t that many complaints about it. Once in a while somebody would squawk, you know, but officially there were never any complaints. At least not that I knew about.”

When informed that he’s the oldest living major league baseball player: “Am I really the oldest? Are you sure about that? You’re kidding? I didn’t know that.”

Why he thinks he lived so long: “Hell, I don’t know. I was sick all the time when I was going to school. I would miss at least a week of school every term with the flu, or something like that every year. I had nearly every disease you could have as a kid. I was always sick. I always drank a little bit and I smoked cigarettes during my whole baseball career. So, I can’t tell you why I’ve lived so long.”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

One of the saddest things about old baseball players is that they die!

One of the retired ball players that I interviewed a few years back died the other day. It's always sad when one of these guys passes away. Here is an e-mail I got from SABR ( about the career of Bill Wight:

Bill Wight, 85, scouting great & former major-league pitcher dies

He discovered and signed some of baseball brightest starsBill Wight, a well-respected major-league pitcher and scout and an influential figure on Sacramento baseball, died Thursday morning from a heart attack in Mount Shasta. He was 85.Wight, a resident of Carmichael since 1969, was vacationing with his wife of 60 years, Janice. In addition to his wife, Wight is survived by his son Larry Wight, a professor at Sierra College, granddaughter Susan Walters of Seattle and grandson Bill Wight of Orange County.Funeral services are pending.As a left-handed pitcher in the American League, Wight played from 1946 through 1958 for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.In 1953, he battled for a spot in the Indians rotation that featured future Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Feller and Early Wynn. In 1958 with an aching arm, he wound up in the National League with the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. His career major-league pitching record was 77-99 with a 3.95 earned-run average.Wight debuted with the Yankees in 1946. His best year was 1949 with the White Sox, when he was 15-13 with a 3.31 ERA.Born in Rio Vista, Wight grew up in Oakland. He was signed to as contract with the Yankees by Joe Devine in 1941, according to a story published by The Bee in 1984. He broke in at Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League, pitched the next year for Binghamton, and in 1942, he entered the Navy at St. Mary's Pre-flight School where his manager-coach was future Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.After the war he made the Yankees' big-league roster as a reliever.
He had one of the best pick-off moves in the game, catching dozens of off-guard base runners during his career. Even as a young pro, he was so proficient with his move, he was asked to work with Yankees pitchers and base runners before the 1941 World Series."He had the best move I've ever seen," said longtime friend Ronnie King, who scouted for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies.
Wight played with Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra. He met Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig."He always kicked himself for not getting their autographs," said Bill Wight, his grandson.Wight sold real estate after his playing career ended before becoming a professional scout with the Houston Astros in 1962.Wight spent the next 37 year peering through backstops and filling out scouting reports, with the Astros for five years and with the Braves for the remainder of his scouting career.With the Astros, he signed Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and as the person overseeing regional scouts for the Braves, he signed two-time N.L. MVP Dale Murphy. He also signed Bob Horner and Sacramento-products Dusty Baker, Jeff Blauser, Rowland Office, Taylor Duncan and Andy Finlay.
Throughout his scouting career, he expended a lot of bonus money. "It has to be in the millions," he told Bee columnist Bill Conlin in 1984. "I've spent it in about every state in the Union."Conlin wrote: "When you spend that much of the bosses' money, you have to enjoy their confidence, which Bill plainly does."Wight was named Scout of the Year in 1992 and in 2005 was inducted into the San Diego Padres Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame. His plaque is next to Ted Williams at Petco Park in San Diego."Bill is one of the nicest guys I've ever met in the game," King said.
"He was some scout, too." --------------------------------------------------------------------------------By Mark McDermott - BEE SPORTS STAFF
Published 2:49 pm PDT Friday, May 18, 2007
The SABR Scouts Committee credits Bill Wight with this list of player signings:
1962 Houston Astros Ernie Fazio

1962 Houston Astros Joe Morgan

1963 Houston Astros Larry Howard

1963 Milwaukee Braves Walt Williams

1965 Houston Astros Keith Lampard

1967 Atlanta Braves Dusty Baker

1970 Atlanta Braves Taylor Duncan

1970 Atlanta Braves Rowland Office

1970 Atlanta Braves Jack Pierce

1974 Atlanta Braves Dale Murphy

1975 Atlanta Braves Glenn Hubbard

1977 Atlanta Braves Bob Porter

1978 Atlanta Braves Bob Horner

1980 Atlanta Braves Ken Dayley

1980 Atlanta Braves Brian Fisher

1984 Atlanta Braves Jeff Blauser

1984 Atlanta Braves Drew Denson

1985 Atlanta Braves Tommy Greene

1985 Atlanta Braves David Justice

1986 Atlanta Braves Kevin Brown

1986 Atlanta Braves Kent Mercker

*SABR member Ed Attanacio did an oral history interview with Bill on 9/11/2003 and I'll post a link to that later this weekend.

Wight, an unproven youngster in 1948, was halfway from California to the Yankees' spring training camp in Florida when he heard he had been traded to the White Sox. Chicago trained in Pasadena, CA; Wight had to turn his car around and head west. He became manager Ted Lyons's number-one starter but went 9-20 for the last-place club, walking a league-high 135 batters. He rebounded for his best season in 1949, going 15-13. In 1950, he went 0-for-61 at bat, an AL record for futility. Traded to Boston after the season, he pitched for six teams in the next seven years, never again winning more than nine. (RL)

FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY» February 24, 1948: In a key trade for New York, Ed Lopat goes to the Yankees from the White Sox in exchange for C Aaron Robinson, Bill Wight, and Fred Bradley. Lopat will star for seven seasons in pinstripes, winning 21 in 1951 and going 16–4 in 1953. Robinson's main value to the Sox will come at the end of the season when he's swapped for another lefty pitcher, Billy Pierce.

» August 20, 1948: The Indians draw record 78,382 for the largest crowd to attend a night game. The Indians go on to beat the Chicago White Sox, 1–0, at Memorial Stadium as Satchel Paige blanks the opposition on three hits for the 4th consecutive shutout by Cleveland hurlers. Bill Wight is the hard-luck loser. Besides Paige, Gene Bearden, Sam Zoldak, and Bob Lemon fired shutouts.

» May 15, 1949: White Sox hurler Bill Wight coasts to a 10–0 win over the Indians, and Al Gettel follows with a 2–0 whitewash of the Tribe.

» April 17, 1951: Rain cancels yesterday's presidential opener in Washington, washing out the debut of rookie Tom Morgan. Morgan would have been the first Yankee rookie ever to start an opener. Clad in an army uniform, Whitey Ford tosses out the first pitch today at Yankee Stadium, and Vic Raschi scatters six singles to shut out the Red Sox, 5–0. Bill Wight gives up all the Yankee runs, including a two-run homer to Jackie Jensen in the 3rd inning. Mickey Mantle, making his debut before 44,860, has one hit and scores a run. Also debuting is public address announcer Bob Sheppard.

» May 30, 1951: In a doubleheader loss with Boston, Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle strikes out three times in the opener, and twice more to start the 2nd game: Casey Stengel lifts the slugger in the middle of the game for Cliff Mapes. In the opener, Ted Williams scores from 2B on a sacrifice bunt, and then ties the game with a home run. Vern Stephens 15th inning homer off Spec Shea wins it for Boston, 11–10. Williams then ties the nitecap with a double and Stephens' single drives him home with the game winner as Boston triumphs, 9–4. Ray Scarborough and Bill Wight are today's winners. The loss drops the Yanks into 2nd place, where they'll stay for a month.

» September 7, 1951: The A's split a pair with the Red Sox, losing 8–5 to Bill Wight, before winning, 11–4. Billy Hitchcock has two triples and double in game two good for five RBIs. Bosox reliever Ellis Kinder makes his 54th appearance in the opener, breaking Wilcy Moore's club record set in 1931. Boston slips in the American League race to four games back.

» June 3, 1952: In a blockbuster trade between Detroit and Boston, the Red Sox send Walt Dropo, Don Lenhardt, Johnny Pesky, Fred Hatfield, and Bill Wight to the Tigers for 3B George Kell, Hoot Evers, Dizzy Trout, and Johnny Lipon.

» May 5, 1953: Pitcher Bob Porterfield of the Senators hits his first ML homer, a 4th inning grand slam off Bill Wight of Detroit, and the Nats add six more in the 8th to roll to a 14–4 win.

» July 13, 1955: The Orioles deal OF Hoot Evers to the Indians in exchange for P Bill Wight.

» August 31, 1955: Lefty Bill Wight of the Orioles gives up five runs in the first and then no-hits his former Indian teammates for eight innings. He loses 5-1.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

So I went to the Royals-A’s game on Monday night. That was a chilly one, made all the more so by the A’s utter inability to muster up any kind of offense as they fell to mighty Kansas City 2–0. Since then, the Athletics dropped three of four to the putrid Royals and won’t be going anywhere this year unless they can perk up their limp, listless bats.

I took my cousin to the game. She and her husband just moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Boston, where she attended law school, becoming a Red Sox fan in the process. She is originally from Virginia and never attained loyalty to a team growing up there. It was fun to give her some of my history at McAfee Coliseum (which everyone still just calls “the Coliseum”), where I’ve been attending games for the last nine years and have shared a season-ticket package for the last three. My cousin is just the same age I was when I moved to California from the greater New York area. She was very excited to go to the A’s game—only her second baseball game ever, after a game at Fenway this past season.

I had nine years of stories, facts, and information to relate regarding all the A’s games I’ve attended. Not sure what the total is, but figure I never have gone to less than 15 games a season, and my maximum for one year was 28 games, counting playoffs. Maybe I’ve been to 150 or 175 games? Fortunately for my cousin, I was restrained and didn’t babble on and on. Not to wax nostalgic, but talking to her made me realize how much the A’s, and the rest of baseball, have changed in the last decade or so.

Just think about who was on the A’s in 1998—the only player still on the team is third baseman Eric Chavez, who played in 16 games that year as a rookie. He’s their big money guy now, making $66 million over 6 years. In 1999, he made just $200,000 a year.

Kenny Rogers and Tom Candiotti were part of the A’s starting pitching staff in 1998, and the Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito had never been heard of before—now they are all gone. Miguel Tejada and Ramon Hernandez had yet to have their big years for Oakland. Jason Giambi was on the A’s, but he was known solely for his hitting, not for steroids or grand juries or pituitary tumors or any of that. I mean, for goodness sake, Rickey Henderson was still on the A’s when I went to my first game at the Coliseum! Other names that have passed through over the years: Terrence Long, Matt Stairs, John Jaha, Ben Grieve, Frank Menechino, Jim Mecir, Chad Bradford, Scott Hatteberg, Cory Lidle, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Ricardo Rincon, Billy Koch, Eric Byrnes, Frank Thomas…it’s hard to believe. I saw the last five of Art Howe’s seven years as A’s manager, and then three years of Ken Macha before the current manager, Bob Geren, was installed this past off-season.

Nine years ago, the great Bill King was still alive and broadcasting A’s games on the radio. Ken Korach, who is very good in his own right, was the #2 guy next to King. No one had even heard of Vince Cotroneo, Korach’s current partner in the radio booth.

Since my first A’s game, I’ve seen a lot of big games in Oakland. I saw Roger Clemens pitch his first game as a Yankee, on Opening Day 1999 in the rain, when the Coliseum was Network Associates Coliseum. I’ve seen playoff games that made history, including the infamous 2001 defeat to the Yankees in Game 3 of the division series, in which Jason Giambi’s brother, Jeremy, failed to slide at home plate and was subsequently thrown out by Derek Jeter. I saw victory over the Twins and defeat at the hands of the Yankees and Red Sox and Tigers. I lived through The Streak in 2002, when the A’s had the third-longest winning streak in baseball history: 20 wins in a row to break the American League record. I was at the last three wins of that run, all coming on game-winning hits in the bottom of the ninth—as exciting a stretch of games as anyone could see and not be watching the playoffs.

Moneyball had yet to be written, and no one knew what kind of general manager Billy Beane would be since 1998 was his first season in that role. Turns out he’s been pretty good: the A’s have earned 4 AL West titles and a wild card spot in Beane’s nine full seasons, even though they have only advanced in the playoffs once, getting ousted by Detroit in the ALCS in 2006.

Some of the vendors at the Coliseum have become familiar to me, but one has stood out over the years, if only because I seem to see him at every sporting event I attend, no matter where it is. I’ve seen him at Sharks games in San Jose, Warriors, A’s, and Raiders games in Oakland, Giants games over in San Francisco…. What can I say? The guy is everywhere. I’ve seen him sell soda, sno-cones, ice cream, kettle corn, cotton candy, hot dogs, lemonade—you name it. He was there Monday night. He’s been a steady presence through all the changes on the team over time.

Besides the A’s changing roster, things have changed around the ballpark, too. There was a time when anyone could walk up to the box office and purchase day-of-game tickets in the upper deck for all but a handful of games (Yankees, Red Sox, Giants) for only $6. They became $8 for a couple of years, but who cares? Here were inexpensive seats that were regularly available—they cost less than a movie does now. Wednesday tickets in the upper deck were a dollar. Parking for all games was just $6. It’s up to $15 on some days now.

For the past two years, upper deck tickets have no longer been made available. In order to drive up demand (and ticket prices), owner Lew Wolff, who took over in 2005, decided last year to stop selling tickets for the upper deck. Now there are probably over 10,000 seats that sit covered with tarps for each and every game. On Wednesdays, you can get bleacher seats in the outfield for $2, but otherwise, the cheapest seats are $22. (The web site also offers “standing room only” tickets for eight bucks.)

Used to be that the Coliseum held 44,000 people or so, and when a big game—for example, against New York—was sold out, the ballpark would open up Mount Davis, the monstrous set of upper, upper level football seats. Sure, home plate might as well have been 50 miles away, but at least you were AT THE GAME. Now, the Coliseum holds about 34,000, and if a game is sold out—TOUGH! You should have gotten your tickets in advance, dummy!

Of course, more change is coming this way. Wolff plans to abandon Oakland for a new site slated to open in a few years—in Fremont! Never mind that no one has heard of Fremont! What will the team be called? The Fremont A’s? The San Jose A’s of Fremont? The mind cringes at the possibilities. And while there is something to be said for a new, state-of-the-art ballpark (although the personal TV monitors at each seat might be going overboard), there is also something to be said for attending ballgames in a major city that is easy to reach. I’m sure I will not be the only one to be inconvenienced by driving the extra 20 to 30 minutes to Cisco Field. And driving that distance in traffic will take much longer—it will be murder!

Baseball has changed since 1998, as well. Back then, there was no rally monkey, and the Angels were always bad. Thunder stix did not yet exist in the United States. The highest payroll belonged to the Yankees, but it was a paltry $74 million, crackers compared to today’s Yankees payroll of $200 million. September 11 had not happened to cast a shadow over our nation and world—it had not yet made everyone aware of the potential for catastrophe any time 20,000 or 30,000 people get together, even for a sporting event.

Likewise, the steroids issue was just a whisper, and though it was later discovered that some of the greatest perpetrators came through Oakland, at the time, everyone was believed to be innocent, and the fans applauded madly for every home run. Now such applause is accompanied by skepticism, and all the fans watch with indifference instead of ebullience as Barry Bonds across the bay marches toward Hank Aaron’s home run record.

I can only muse on what the state of the A’s, their park, and baseball in general will be in another nine years. I hope the games are still enough fun that I want to take my wife—or my cousins or my buddies or my kid (if there is one)—and just go spend a sunny day or nice evening at the ballgame.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What's the Story with Robert Horry?

The Phoenix Suns' 12-1 run to end Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals gave them a 104-98 victory Monday night that evened the series with the San Antonio Spurs. But, the big news of the evening was what Robert Horry did late in the fourth quarter.

As Steve Nash started to bring the ball up the court after Manu Ginobili missed the Spurs' fourth straight shot, San Antonio's Robert Horry hit him with a forearm that knocked him into the scorers' table and had players from both teams rushing to the scene.

Phoenix's Raja Bell tried to get at Horry, as did Nash after he jumped to his feet.

Horry was given a flagrant foul and was ejected. Bell was given a technical foul. A free throw by each team made it 101-98. The Suns kept possession and Nash added another free throw with 16 seconds to go.

The Suns, who trailed by as many as 11 points, had taken the lead for the first time in the second half on consecutive behind-the-back feeds from Steve Nash to Amare Stoudemire that made it 100-97 with 32 seconds to play.

"He just body-checked me out of bounds," Nash said. "I understand he's frustrated, it happens but he did body-check me."

Shawn Marion added two free throws with 7.4 seconds to go.

The cheap shot that Robert Horry laid on Steve Nash last night is a disgrace. Horry should be suspended for the rest of the playoffs.

It was a classless move intended to injure Nash.

There’s no other explanation for it. Horry was frustrated because his team blew the game, so he decided to level Nash as retribution. Whenever I see this type of goon mentality, it makes me ill, because it goes against everything that’s good and still unadulterated in sports – like sportsmanship and fair play. What kind of message does this send to kids who happened to be watching the game?

Shame on you, Robert Horry. As a veteran of the league, you should know better. You pulled a punk move and deserve whatever punishment the NBA decides to give you. If I were the Phoenix Suns, I’d be eagerly anticipating your return. I don’t condone violence in any way, but payback’s a bitch!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

Okay, fans, as Ye Olde Steroide User approaches Hank Aaron’s hallowed home run record, AP columnist Tim Dahlberg, who writes a mean column, has this to say about the latest poll regarding “Bonds—Barry Bonds” and what many consider to be the greatest record in sports. Enjoy!

Nothing Black and White about the Latest Bonds Debate

.c The Associated Press

The kid who caught home run No. 714 off the bat of Barry Bonds a year ago scurried out of Oakland’s stadium with his valuable souvenir without bothering to see what Bonds might want to offer for it.

Before he left, Tyler Snyder had just one thing to say:

“I hate that guy,” Snyder said.

The kid, of course, is not alone. When Bonds was on the verge of passing Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, he was booed in Milwaukee, mocked in Philadelphia, and jeered in Houston.

And hate might be too nice of a word for the reaction he gets every time he sets foot in left field at Dodger Stadium.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to see a new poll that basically confirms what other polls have shown in recent years. According to the latest survey, baseball fans in general believe Bonds took steroids, think he cheated the game, and don’t want to see him break Henry Aaron’s record.

Walk into any ballpark outside the Bay Area and you’ll hear much the same thing. Away from AT&T Park, Bonds is viewed mostly as a pariah, someone who has tainted the game and made its most sacred statistics seem meaningless.

There’s little doubt now that he’ll pass Aaron, sometime next month at his current pace, and become the greatest home run hitter ever. But that will do little to endear him to the majority of baseball fans who despise both his arrogance and the things he might have done to help himself along the way.

According to the ABC News/ESPN poll, three out of four baseball fans believe Bonds knowingly used steroids, despite his reported claims to a federal grand jury that he thought the “clear” and the “cream” were flaxseed oil. Fans as a whole also believe he’s a cheater, even if baseball wasn’t testing for steroids at the time he hit so many of his home runs.

And 52 percent of them say they are rooting against him breaking Aaron’s record of 755 home runs, while just 37 percent say they are pulling for him to become the home run king.

There’s not much new there. Only one in three fans in an Associated Press poll last year said they wanted Bonds to break the record, and half said they had an unfavorable opinion of him.

What is new is that the latest poll suggests that black baseball fans are far more inclined to root for Bonds than white fans. While just 28 percent of whites say they want Bonds to break Aaron’s record, three out of four black fans are rooting for him to do it.

Now, I’m not a sociologist, so I can only guess at the reasons Bonds still has credibility among black fans while he has little among whites. I do know that a similar sort of division existed in polls taken a little more than a decade ago about the guilt or innocence of O.J. Simpson.

Don’t forget that Bonds has been known to use the race card himself, as he did last year when he blamed some of his problems on the fact he was chasing a white legend at the time in Ruth.

“Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever, and Babe Ruth ain’t black, either,” Bonds said. “I’m black. Blacks, we go through a little more.... I’m not a racist though, but I live in the real world. I’m fine with that.”

I’m fine with black fans supporting Bonds, too, just as I’m fine with white fans rooting him on. Actually, I’ve gotten past the point of even caring about Aaron’s record because it doesn’t seem Major League Baseball cares much about what the use of steroids has done to the sport.

But I don’t believe the reasons Bonds is disliked by so many white fans has much, if anything at all, to do with race. I’d like to believe that this is 2007, not 1957, when Aaron was already a star and yet he and other blacks were forced to endure the terrible indignities of segregation in spring training.

Today, the most revered and celebrated basketball player of his time is black. The best golfer of any time is black, and when he’s not playing, millions of white fans turn off their televisions because they don’t want to watch without him.

Yes, Aaron received death threats and hate mail from bigots when he was chasing Ruth’s record. But that was 33 years ago, and a Harris poll at the time found 77 percent of sports fans rooting for him to break a record set by a mythical—and very white—figure.

People liked Henry Aaron. They still do.

Bonds, by contrast, wasn’t a popular player even before his body grew large, his head ballooned to cartoonish size, and his home runs started splashing with increasing regularity in McCovey Cove. From the beginning of his career, he treated fans and the media with contempt, and they responded with growing contempt for him.

The poll numbers are interesting in a number of ways, and debatable in even more. People will make what they want out of them on both sides of the fence.

Not open to debate, though, is that Bonds will soon pass Aaron and stand alone with the biggest number of all.

There’s nothing black and white about that.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

Without further ado, here’s the update!

SEASONINGS: I am still tickled by the baseball standings. The Yankees haven’t yet found a way to get out of last place, despite sweeping Texas this week. But of course, they are statistically tied for last with everyone in the AL East except the Red Sox! What’s with this division? I still think New York will right itself, but they’ve got to get some guys off the DL first. In the meantime, the Red Sox are doing just fine at 19–9—that’s 6 1/2 games in front of the rest of the pack.

In the AL Central, the Indians rule, though Detroit and Minnesota remain in striking distance. Cleveland has baseball’s best record as of right now, and I bet no one would’ve picked that going full speed into May. Even though the White Sox are 5 games out, I expect they’ll get it going soon. Poor Kansas City might as well hang it up for the season—they’re already 9 games out and 10 games below .500!

The AL West also has three teams bunched up at the top, while the Rangers are starting to fade. Anaheim looks good, but Seattle is only a game out and the A’s are 2 back. They are keeping it competitive, so I expect two or three teams will fight it out here until season’s end—whoo, what else is new?

In the NL East, the Mets and Braves are tied for first and starting to pull away a little, with the next-closest team, the Marlins, already 4 games back. I realize the Fish could jump back in it in a heartbeat right now, but expect the Mets and Braves to keep putting up wins.

The NL Central continues to hold my attention as the “what the heck is going on here?” division. The Brewers remain in first with a 19–10 record! Wow! Meanwhile the Cubbies, even though they are 5 games back and a game under .500, have moved into second. The other teams are closely bunched up behind them, with the Cards back in last place. Milwaukee is clearly the class of the division. I mean, is that weird, or what?

In the West, the Dodgers are in first again, and everyone else (except the Rockies) is within a game or two. On the Giants, Barry “Steroid Boy” Bonds creeps inexorably toward Hank Aaron’s home run record…. Oh, it makes me so upset I can’t even talk about it right now!

Still well over 100 games to go…!

Moving on, how about those NBA playoffs? I have to admit they have become a little more intriguing, what with the Bulls bouncing the Heat, the Suns eliminating the Lakers, the Rockets and Jazz going to Game 7, and of course, the Warriors thumping the Mavs right out of here! Congrats to the Warriors, who pulled off what some are calling the biggest upset in NBA playoff history!

A Special Message to Michael Vick: Dog Fighting is Dog----!

Does anyone want to buy an authentic Michael Vick Atlanta Falcons NFL jersey? I paid about $200 for it, but you can have it cheap. Please respond soon because if I can’t sell it quickly, I’ll burn it. When I found out the other day that Vick is very likely involved in the so-called “sport” of dog fighting, I suddenly lost all interest in the man and his spotty football career.
Already a problem child, Michael Vick, it appears, is a member of a sick segment of our society that thinks it’s cool to watch innocent, helpless animals attempt to kill each other. I have never seen the attraction to something like this and I never will. Dog fighting is a demented, uncaring and inhumane form of entertainment for sick, twisted people who, if there is any justice in this world, should be put to sleep themselves. Or at the very least – fixed.
This appeared on the other day. I am so happy that the NFL is taking action:
“A prominent animal-rights group called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to ban players who are involved in dog fighting, saying it was especially troubled that evidence of the deadly activity was allegedly found at a home owned by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
The Humane Society of the United States sent a letter to Goodell on May 3, calling on the NFL to "collaborate with us in an organized effort to eradicate animal cruelty and illegal animal fighting activity from the ranks of the NFL."
"We believe that the current situation involving Michael Vick is indicative of a larger subculture within the NFL of dog fighting and other forms of violence against animals," wrote Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society.
While conducting a drug investigation last week, Virginia authorities raided a home owned by Vick, though he wasn't the one being targeted. The investigators reported finding dozens of dogs, some injured and malnourished, and evidence of dog fighting.
The Humane Society has alleged that veterinary supplies, blood-soaked carpeting, treadmills used for training, scales for weighing the animals and tools used to pry apart a dog's jaws were confiscated from the property.
Pacelle said his group "tracks 10 underground dog fighting magazines and a laundry list of Web sites, and we can assure you that this is a major underground criminal industry." He also repeated the group's claims that it suspected Vick was involved in dog fighting long before last week's raid.
The NFL has said it is investigating the case, and Goodell summoned Vick to a private meeting while the quarterback was in New York last weekend for the NFL draft. An after-hours message left on the cell phone of league spokesman Greg Aiello was not immediately returned.
Falcons spokesman Reggie Roberts said the team had no comment on the Humane Society's letter. Vick has maintained that he never visited the home, even though he owned it and allowed a cousin to live there. He blamed family members for taking advantage of his generosity and said he felt like a victim too.
The Humane Society is skeptical of Vick's explanation.
"The problem of illegal animal fighting and other forms of animal cruelty is widespread, but they have a particular significance where high-profile sports personalities are concerned because of the influence the behavior and habits of these athletes have over fans," Pacelle wrote.
Vick isn't the only player facing the wrath of animal-rights advocates. Defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux is facing felony charges in the death of his girlfriend's dog. The player has denied responsibility.
"We hope you will collaborate with The HSUS to combat animal cruelty and animal fighting in order to send a clear message to the public that the NFL does indeed intend to hold its players to the highest standards," Pacelle said in his letter to Goodell.
"By setting an example of compassion for the public, the NFL has the chance to tackle the problem of animal cruelty and animal fighting from the top down and to truly make a difference for our communities."
While Vick has denied involved in dog fighting, he does have an apparent interest in breeding animals such as pit bulls and Rottweilers. A Web site for "Mike Vick K-9 Kennels" includes a disclaimer that any of its dogs are used for fighting, which is banned nationwide and is a felony in 48 states including Virginia and Georgia.
Another Web site for an Atlanta-area breeder, Sanders Kennels, shows a picture of Vick holding a Presa Canario puppy, an animal that it says is "bred for loyalty, protection, guarding, and peace of mind. They can and will protect."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Barkley Bashes the Bay Area

TNT broadcaster and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley dissed the Bay Area recently, saying that he would rather live on Alcatraz than reside in either Oakland or San Francisco. He went on to say that he likes Sacramento more. Locals are fuming and want The Round Mound of Rebound’s large head on a platter.

“I love it when they give me a hard time,” Barkley said. “I know that I’m getting a lot of love there now.”

Bay Area radio and TV stations have received numerous complaints about Barkley’s remarks. People have created amusing photo shopped pictures of Barkley in a rowboat on his way to Alcatraz, in a jail cell or hanging out hugging guys in the Castro. The Cities by the Bay are mad, but what they don’t realize is that they’re playing directly into Barkley’s plans with their reactions.

Barkley makes his money saying outrageous things. By shooting from the hip and going against the grain, he has established a reputation for being irreverent and controversial. That’s how he gets his name in the press. TNT loves it, because Barkley takes the heat and they get the ratings.

Let’s face it -- the NBA playoffs this year aren’t as exciting as they’ve been in the past. Without the Golden State Warriors, it’s a fairly ho-hum lineup of games. Sure, King James is fun to watch, and the Chicago Bulls are an exciting team young with a promising future, but other than that, it’s a bunch of the same teams we see in the postseason year after year.

So, Barkley decided to spice things up a bit. By insulting the Bay Area, he’s put himself right in the spotlight, which is where he’s comfortable. Now fans all over the country are going to be rooting for the Warriors. He’s made them America’s Underdog with his comments.

Good job, Charles. You could teach our President a few things about spinning the media to your advantage. You’re in the NBA Hall of Fame for getting points on the court and rebounding well. And now you’re doing the same thing from the broadcaster’s booth.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Alyssa Milano: She's All Blue!

Alyssa Milano is every guy’s dream girl. She’s super smart, incredibly beautiful, a savvy business woman AND (maybe best of all) she’s an LA Dodger fan. She has a great baseball web site called “Touch ‘em All ( where she has some very well-written, highly insightful postings about the LA Bums. Milano also has a new clothing company called “Touch,” featuring a lot of baseball apparel.
There’s just something so sexy about a woman who knows her baseball. I always enjoy talking to women who know their stuff. Alyssa has obviously been a baseball fan for a long time, and it shows.
And to top it off, she’s just signed to do a new film. This press release appeared on her web site (
Milo Ventimiglia, one of the stars of NBC's "Heroes," has signed on to Topline Lakeshore Entertainment's horror thriller "Pathology." Alyssa Milano, Lauren Lee Smith and Johnny Whitworth also have been cast in the movie, which is being directed by Marc Schoelermann.
"Crank" filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are producing with Lakeshore's Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi.
Written by Neveldine and Taylor, the story centers on a young intern (Ventimiglia) who is studying pathology at Philadelphia's University Hospital and encounters an attractive but murderous group of colleagues who have devised a deadly game to see who among them can commit the perfect murder, while the others compete to determine the cause of death.
Milano will play Ventimiglia's fiancée, while Smith ("Trick 'r Treat") and Whitworth ("3:10 to Yuma") are the med students.
The film is being released by MGM in the U.S., and Lakeshore will be introducing the film to international buyers at the Festival de Cannes market in May. Production is scheduled to begin in May.
Ventimiglia, who plays the power-absorbing Peter Petrelli on "Heroes," was most recently seen on the big screen in "Rocky Balboa." He is repped by CAA.
Milano, who starred in the long-running television series "Charmed," recently completed production on the indie feature "The Blue Hour." She is repped by CAA and attorney Bill Skrzyniarz.