Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Just Quit, Baby!"

The Raiders denied a report Friday that owner Al Davis had asked Coach Lane Kiffin to resign.
Citing unidentified sources, ESPN reported that Davis had drawn up a resignation letter for Kiffin two weeks ago but that the coach had refused to sign it. Kiffin, 32, has two years left on the contract he signed in January 2007."There is no issue here," Raiders senior executive John Herrera said. "There was never an issue here. There's nothing to it."

Yes, unfortunately, there is an issue here. In fact, there are a ton of issues here. The Oakland Raiders have long been the laughingstock of the NFL. Their “Commitment to Excellence” has changed into a “A History of Incompetence.” There are entire generations of Raiders fans out there who have known only losing year after year. The team’s long list of bad moves and stupid decisions goes on and on.

And everyone knows what – or rather who – the problem is. His name is Al Davis. The once brilliant owner has deteriorated into an old, bitter, litigious geezer who is incompetent, overbearing, stubborn and just plain cranky. His beloved Raiders have been out-of-control for so long that putting them on the right track is probably going to take at least a decade.

Long ago, George Steinbrenner, owner of the NY Yankees, pulled this same kind of guano. But, even Georgie Porgie eventually figured out that it was a better idea to hire good people and let them run the team. When he did that, he won a lot more world championships, and even though he can still be obnoxious at times, the Yankees are a much better team when he’s in the background.

No one in their right mind will want the Raider’s job now if Kiffin does indeed get the boot. Who wants to work for a boss who is constantly up your derriere? Anyone with any talent who wants to have a future coaching in the NFL will run from this job like the plague. Remember – Davis fired Mike Shanahan and John Gruden couldn’t get away from the man fast enough.

Davis doesn’t want a coach. He wants a bitch, a yes man and a lackey who will do whatever he says without displaying a backbone or voicing an opinion.

Speculation about Kiffin's status began three weeks ago when reports surfaced after the season that he wanted to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Raiders dismissed those reports and announced that Ryan was staying on as coordinator.

There were also reportedly problems between Kiffin and Davis during the season. Kiffin was upset when Davis didn’t get JaMarcus Russell, the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, signed and into training camp. Instead, Al haggled with Russell and his agent, which meant the rookie was pretty much not available for the entire season. When Russell did get into a few games late in the season, he looked unprepared and overmatched. The team went 4-12 in Kiffin's first season in Oakland, doubling the team's victory total from the previous year.

Stand by to see how this plays out. The sad fact is that the Oakland Raiders will be terrible until Davis lets someone else run his team. The man should be forced to sell, but the NFL is afraid to get sued, so it will never happen.

The sadder fact is that you can fire a coach or cut a player. But, you’re stuck with an owner, whether you like it or not. And that is why the Raiders will suck until Al Davis decides to “Just Quit, Baby!”

(Portions of this article courtesy of

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

Things sure have been crazy, so I apologize for not blogging more often lately. Just trying to get everything together for our big move to Seattle next week.

But how could I not weigh in on the NFL Championship Games? In the AFC, I never thought the Chargers would make it to this weekend. I didn’t think they had it in them to beat Indianapolis and Peyton Manning last week. Of course, without LaDainian Tomlinson yesterday, they never had a chance against New England, although the Patriots probably got more than they bargained for against a banged up San Diego team. Now the Pats go to Arizona to face their biggest nemesis of the 2007 season in the Big Dance.

As for the NFC, I guess I was wrong all along, and I couldn’t be happier to admit it. Who could’ve guessed that the Giants would beat three division winners, all on the road (stretching their NFL-record road win streak for a season to 10 games), to make their first Super Bowl in seven years? I thought this year would be Coach Tom Coughlin’s death march, especially after the Giants’ 0–2 start in which they gave up 80 points combined to Dallas and Green Bay. Instead, somehow, Coughlin changed his coaching demeanor so that the team wanted to play for him, the defense bought into defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, and now the New York Giants are playing for all the marbles. After beating Tampa Bay in Round 1, the G-men got revenge, first on the Cowboys (who I said were the best team in the NFC all season), and then on the Packers, knocking both out of the playoffs and back to their homes, where they will be watching Eli and Co. on TV in two weeks. The Giants now try for their third measure of revenge, going after the 18–0 Patriots, who beat them by 3 on the last weekend of the season in a game the Giants could easily have won. Here comes yet another chapter in the epic sports rivalry between New York and Boston.

What about all those comparisons between the Manning boys, Eli and Peyton? Peyton has his ring, but it took him a lot longer in his career to play in the Super Bowl—nine years to Eli’s four. Archie Manning is the proud father of two Super Bowl quarterbacks in two years. It would be great if he could be the father of two Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks after February 3!

The Giants played like the best team in the NFC, beating the legendary Brett Favre in the third-coldest game in NFL history. Even though they made a number of mistakes—costly penalties, dropped balls, missed kicks—their heart could not be denied. Hey, Tom Brady threw three picks in the AFC game, and no one would say the Pats are not the best the conference has to offer. Now, seven years after the Baltimore Ravens crushed Big Blue in the Super Bowl, the two remaining holdovers from that era, Michael Strahan and Amani Toomer, will have one more chance to get the ring they both desire. How much better would Strahan’s Hall-of-Fame career look with a Super Bowl victory, especially against a previously undefeated team?

As a biased party where the Giants are concerned, I run the risk of going on and on and turning this into an even bigger puff piece than it already is. Let me just close by saying I’m totally psyched to have the Giants in the Super Bowl, and it would give me great pleasure to see them knock the Patriots off their pedestal in the last game of the year.

Go Giants!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

He Played With The Yankee Clipper: Dario Lodigiani

Dario Lodigiani enjoyed a 17-year baseball career from 1935-1954, playing parts of six seasons in the majors and 14 in the minor leagues, losing three years while serving in military from 1943 to 1945. Lodigiani played at Lowell High School in San Francisco, with his lifelong friend Joe DiMaggio.

At age 19, Lodigiani began his pro career with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and later joined the Williamsport Grays of the Eastern League. He entered the majors in 1938 with the Philadelphia Athletics, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the international League in 1940. He returned to the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1941 and 1942 and later served in the US Army Air Force during World War II (1943-45). After discharge, he rejoined the White Sox for one more season in 1946.

In a six-season career, Lodigiani was a .260 hitter (355-for-1364) with 16 home runs and 156 RBI in 405 games. Over 14 minor league seasons, Lodigiani hit a .301 average with 74 home runs and 589 RBI. His best minor league season was with the 1937 Oaks, when he hit .327 with 35 doubles, 18 home runs and 84 RBI.

Following his playing career, Lodigiani scouted for the Chicago White Sox, discovering or signing players such as Dave Frost, Rusty Kuntz, Jack McDowell, Rich Morales and Ken Williams. He also coached for the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Athletics, and eventually gained induction to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame in 2006.

At age 91, he is recognized as one of the oldest living major league ballplayers.

I interviewed Dario at his home in Napa, California.

On Joe DiMaggio’s competitive nature: “We were playing the Yankees when I was with Philadelphia and it was just a normal day, not a big game or anything. And I was playing second base when Joe came sliding in real hard, knocking me ass-over-teacups. Then, he got up, brushed his pants off a couple of times and never said Doo, hello, s—t, or nothing – he just ran off to the dugout. He had a real hard look on his face and was just staring straight ahead. You would never have known that we grew up together by the way he was acting.”

On playing baseball while in the U.S. Army: “It was a real piece of cake assignment, because all we did was play ball and drink. They shipped us off to Hawaii and we played games every day. All of the top players were out there playing – DiMaggio, Ruffing, Judnich, McCormick, Charlie Silvera, Joe Gordon, Bob Dillinger, the Big Cat Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese – he was just a kid then. It was a big party and we had a helluva time, let me tell you.”

On meeting Marilyn for the first time: “We were playing in a golf tournament at the Merced Country Club, and afterwards all of the guys went to a bar in San Francisco. Dominic DiMaggio was partners in this bar. And our buddy Reno Barsocchini was serving drinks – just to help out. ‘Hey, Dario!’ Barsocchini called out. ‘Go down that hall and turn left, the first door you come to. There’s a guy down there who wants to see you.’ So I walked down there and sitting in a chair was Joe DiMaggio. And sitting on his lap was Marilyn Monroe. I was shocked to see her there, I did not expect it. I said ‘Good Night! Oh my God!’ Talk about a beautiful girl!”

On nearly halting DiMaggio’s hitting streak in 1941: “It was when I was with the White Sox several years later and the Yanks came into Comiskey Park. I was playing third base and the first time Joe came up to bat, he hit a shot down to me and I fielded it on one hop and threw him out at first. The next time he came up, the Yankees had a guy on first, and Joe hit another hard shot to me at third and I threw the runner out at second base for the fielder’s choice. Then, he came up again in the seventh inning, mad as hell, kicking the dirt around home plate and cussing to himself, and he hit another rocket down to me, which I knocked down with my body and threw to first, where I beat him by a hair. But, the umpire called him safe. They did that a lot with Joe – he was such a huge star that they gave him the benefit of the doubt a lot, kind of like they did with Ted Williams on ball and strikes, you know? Anyway, that kept his hitting streak alive at 25 games, that one call. And, of course he went on to hit in 31 straight more games that season and set the record. Pissed me off like hell!”

On a fishing trip with Marilyn and Joe: “Joe asked me if I wanted to go out fishing with them. It was Joe’s boat, The Yankee Clipper – the one they gave him on Joe DiMaggio Day. We motored back and forth in the Bay all morning – nothing was biting -- and then Marilyn hooked a big one – a striper that grabbed her line and took off with it. ‘Hold on,” I told her. ‘When the fish lets up, that’s when you reel him in a little, see?’ That fish was just eating her up and you could tell she was getting real tired. She could barely hold on to her pole. The fish seemed to be twice as strong as she was. So, I told Joe, ‘You better help her, Joe. She’s having a hell of a time with that fish.” Joe said, ‘She hooked it. Let her bring it in.’ And boy, was Marilyn struggling. She had that pole jammed up under her arm and she couldn’t hold on to it because her hands were so tiny, so she was hugging the pole to her body with her left arm and trying to reel it in with her right hand. She had the pole pushing up against her bosoms real hard. It was pressing against her breasts quite a bit. So, I told Joe, ‘You better take that pole. She’s going to pop one of those things!’ Joe got a kick out of that. We all laughed and laughed. But, damned if Marilyn didn’t bring in that fish.”