Category Archives: Uncategorized

49ers one move to relevance: Hire Chip Kelly

Here’s a simple new year’s wish: May the dreadful San Francisco 49ers hire Chip Kelly as its next coach.

No, I am not sure Kelly would be a success. No, I don’t think he’s any more pleasant than Jim Harbaugh, and yes, I’m sure he would barely conceal his disdain for the foolishness of Jed York. So in short, this wish of mine is never going to happen.

Ironically, though, I’m not the only one thinking it. A report from this morning says Tomsula will likely take the fall for this season and a new coach who makes a splash will be sought. A name the “report” mentioned: Chip Kelly. Obviously, such reports are mostly garbage, stuff dreamed up to generate clicks on websites that are rarely accurate, but hey, it’s nice to know I’m not the only dreaming this New Year.

Kelly is a control freak and the bumbling leadership of Trent Balke and Jed York would never humble themselves enough to cede any power to a coach. Besides, Kelly got ran out of Philadelphia mainly because he didn’t play well with ownership and wanted control over the whole team. Harbaugh didn’t even want that.

Let’s be clear. Kelly was an awful general manager. His ego ruined a dynamic and entertaining Eagles team. He needed a good GM to get him the players he could succeed with. So I don’t want Kelly in charge of the organization, just the team (but hey, even Kelly could do a better job than Jed York and Trent Baalke.)

But let’s face some facts:

  1. The San Francisco 49ers are not only one of the worst teams in the league; they are the most boring. Their brand new billion dollar stadium is already an empty shrine to the idiocy and arrogance of the York family, who spurned the city of San Francisco and its deep roots to pander to Silicon Valley.
  2. The Yorks, especially Jed, can claim no part of the 49ers championship legacy. Ever since Jed’s uncle, Eddie DeBartolo had to sell the team to his sister, the team has been all sorts of lousy. The only sniff of excellence they had came under Harbaugh. Little Jed’s ego got hurt, Harbaugh got fired, and the 49ers quickly returned to the dismal years that are a trademark of the York regime.
  3. The stadium is an unmitigated disaster. Light years away from vibrant San Francisco’s downtown (especially in traffic, which is always) the team belongs now to San Jose more than City by the Bay. After one year nobody really gives a shit in either city.
  4. Current head coach, Jim Tomsula, seems like a genuinely good guy, a decent position coach, who is absurdly in over his head. His coaches are a joke because quality coaches refused to work for such an unprepared head coach.

So Chip Kelly as the team’s coach makes all the sense in the world. He would be interesting from the day he took over. He would energize the fan base. He would make Colin Kaepernick a potential star again in his high-powered offense and would probably also draft another athletic QB to ensure both depth and competition. In short, he would light a match to the collective ass of this lethargic joke of an NFL franchise.

Would he make the team interesting enough to endure the trek to Santa Clara to watch them in person? No way in hell. The stadium is that bad. But at least, loyal fans that go back to the 1970s would have something interesting to watch on TV.

The only move that would truly fix this franchise is the sale of the team (and an earthquake that toppled the stadium) forever ridding all 49er fans of the York nightmare. But if Jed isn’t the owner of the 49ers, he becomes just another silver spoon trust fund boy and less relevant than Paris Hilton. Selling? Ain’t happening.

Of course, Chip Kelly as the head coach won’t happen either, At least dreaming about it helps pass the time while ignoring the 49ers playing a meaningless, lousy game at the end of a meaningless lousy, laughingstock season.

 

Advertisements

Sustainable surf: Sharks warn of warming threat

What many call an Indian Summer, we call October.

San Franciscans know, summer comes late. In May and June you will be bundled in a parka at a Giants game and whipped by wind that seems to have come from the Arctic. But come October the sun’s warmth, relatively windless days and perfect skies greet you day in a day out.

But even for us, this year has been different. Never mind the drought and snowpack that is considered the worst in 500 years. Never mind the unseasonably warm winter.  Global warming can be seen in the Bay in too many ways to count, be it mosquito bites from the night before (I’ve never once closed my windows here, but recently I wish I had) to the sharks out on the bay.

Just how real is global warming? Too real. Case in point: Friday a friend of mine decided to go surf on Ocean Beach (a place known for terrifying big wave winter surf). The waves were big and pretty, more like the Southern California waves I’ve surfed than the Bay Area waves that scare me silly.

Only at the last minute did she tell me her plans were cancelled. As it turned out, it might have been for the best. That very day the Coast Guard spotted a school–no, make that a literal graduating class–of Great White sharks a football field’s length off Ocean Beach.

“This is the first I’d heard of near-shore aggregating in such an urban area,” Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, told SFGate.

Nobody, including my friend who avoided the surf that day, turned into dinner for wandering sharks looking for food farther north than normal. But one sea lion a few days earlier wasn’t so lucky. Captured on video (that I won’t show here) a great white devoured its prey near Alcatraz in front of many onlookers. A bay known for its brutal cold and myths about sharks is now inverted. The water is warm enough, and the sharks are not only real but hungry.

I spoke to a guy today who surfed nearby Stinson Beach Saturday and said it was beautiful. He hadn’t heard about the sharks but was glad he didn’t. A great surf day. Personally, I’ll wait until the sharks move on, just to be safe.

The sharks are just doing what they do. This is not to sound the alarm to go to war on sharks. Nor do sightings and threats create the need for silly politics to appease the worried humans as was the case a decade ago in Virginia when sharks started eating tourists. Then Republican Gov. James Gilmore responded with a multi-million dollar task force to figure out why the shark attacks were occurring. I wrote a column with the answer: They are hungry. I included a bill for $1 million for my services, huge savings on his committee. He didn’t pay.

Sharks create silliness and overreaction and all sorts of stuff that isn’t our finest moment. But in reality they are telling us something: Global warming is real, and our lifestyles are unsustainable.

So no, we don’t need a committee, and yes, we can probably still surf. What we do need is to recognize and support those doing things to make our planet better for both us and the sharks and all of us coinhabitants who depend on the health of this spinning blue, green miracle we call Earth. One such organization: Sustainable Surf.

Sustainable Surf is a California-based non-profit charity organization founded by social entrepreneurs Michael Stewart and Kevin Whilden.  Their mission is to “be the catalyst that transforms surf culture into a powerful force for protecting the ocean playground.”

The organization uses the best practices of systems approaches to leverage interest in the ocean toward sustaining it. It is a perfect example of those who love the ocean (or for that matter anyone who depends on it, which would be… hmmm…. everyone? right?) to best care for it and promote its health. Global warming is at the top of the list of concerns.

“Surfing is now seen as one of the leading ways to help society get stoked on solving major problems like climate change, sea level rise, and ocean acidification,” of the group’s blog stated.

It’s an organization I am yes, totally stoked about. October summer in San Francisco is the best, but sometimes too much of a great thing should get our attention. Do more than gawk at videos of killer sharks. Get involved in sustaining the oceans that sustain our life.

Touching others until the last day

I struggle with going to church. Even when I like my church, I often find better things to do with me time. When I go, it’s a bit like exercise. I drag my feet and look for available excuses. Once I go, I’m glad I went. So, I’ve been thinking a bit about why I don’t want to go. It all boiled down to one thing: the prayer time.

A lot of churches have an open microphone time where folks can get up and share their concerns and ask for prayer. It is a nice way to show care to every person in the church. Once in a while these times have been inspiring and moving. So why don’t I like it? Because most of the time it is not at all inspiring. Most of the time it’s a long litany and rarely it’s the actual person speaking. Far too often the person we are asked to pray for has at least two or three degrees of separation from anyone I even remotely know.

Then there is this other little problem and it’s a logistical one. The person says everything that’s wrong and even what they want in the prayer.

“Pray for Aunt Millie that she may be comforted during this time of healing from goiters,” The person with the microphone says.

That’s bad enough because I’m certain few of us in church know Aunt Millie, and in a world where two billion people don’t have water, it’s hard to work up much angst for goiters. But then the preacher has to go ahead and offer the prayer for Aunt Millie’s comfort and we hear it all again.

I can’t help but think God is as bored as I am during these times. She’s not a Genie in the Bottle for goodness sakes. If prayer is our way of spending time with the divine, something about this show-and-tell seems far, far from it.

This is highly, highly uncharitable. I know that. But it doesn’t change how little purpose I feel during this time, which far too often stretches far too long until I’m counting minutes of my Sunday I’ll never get back again.

Even writing about this makes me feel like a cad, but the truth is I don’t like the prayer time and I have strong doubts God does either.

Then again, every time I think I know what God might be up to I get a flying spiritual hammer-kick to the heart to remind me that I am not God and have no idea what He thinks and feels.

Example: The other day I reached out to a woman who years ago–decades really–was in my church. Last year, her son died of a heroin overdose and her mother’s day post on our Criminal U website was a wrenching, honest, powerful, must-read devotion to honoring her son and using her incredible grief to encourage others suffering from addiction (please go read this and like it and support it if you can. The more people who read it, the better).

I have thought of her often and simply dropped her an email to tell her so. She wrote back about how she’s learned grief is a marathon, not a sprint. Every time I try to offer her support, she ends up offering so much more to me. This was no exception.

She told me how she received a condolences card from a woman named Roxie. She and I both knew only one Roxie in our entire life. She was the woman who every single Sunday without fail got up during prayer time to ask for prayers for a host of strangers. More than that she would write these people notes of encouragement and enlist others to do the same. I never liked it when she stood up, but I came to appreciate her heart for every person under God’s great sky. Anyway, I’ll let my friend tell the rest of the story:

Mom told me that Roxie had passed away and that it must be from a different Roxie. I don’t know any other Roxies. I researched and discovered that Roxie had passed two days after Tyler. She must have written this sympathy note before she passed, and it was just now sent by whoever found it on her desk. The timing of this card was Divine and knowing that brings me the most comfort of all.

I read this and my heart just twisted into a knot. Roxie and Tyler are both ensconced in heaven but here her prayers and notes keep right on blessing others.

I opened the attachment and knew that handwriting as sure as I know my own. I had received my share of cards from Roxie in the day. I had been asked to sign even more, cards she wrote to any number of people and simply wanted me to add my name to in support and to show the person he or she was not alone during their time of hardship.

20150617_190238

I hadn’t thought of Roxie for so long, but she was one of the good ones. A rare gem with a heart so big she couldn’t not stand up every Sunday and ask for people to prayer for every odd distant person out there who was suffering. Her faith was so big she had no doubts that this was what the church was supposed to do and in doing it, God was alive all the more.

It pained me to think of her loss even though I am one of those so distant people in her life now. But it amazed me… knocked me stupid silly to know that to the day she left to go over to the other side, Roxie kept reaching out, praying, sending notes of God’s love.

I’m ashamed of my immaturity by comparison. I can’t say I’ll ever enjoy the church prayer time, but I know I’ll shut the hell when it comes to thinking I know how God feels about it.

I leave you with more wisdom born from the pain of a mother’s broken heart, the wisdom my friend left me in her email:

Blessings and Love to you and yours, and remember to hug your loved ones tightly.

Amen.

 

Opening Day: Red Sox ride again

Everybody sing now: The Red Sox don’t have AN ACE!

Yep, yep, we get it. No ACE. No Cole Hamels. No Jon Lester, or Max Scherzer or whoever teams paid way, way, way too much money to satisfy the ACE label.

Nothing with much ado about nothing — other than Kris Bryant’s three-week demotion to the minors this spring — have cluttered up the Internet and talk radio. It’s the one reason why the cool pick this year is not  to pick the Red Sox in the otherwise marginal American League East.

I seriously don’t get it. Do we really believe for a second that if, iifffff, the Red Sox hit July and still haven’t seen a dominate pitcher or two emerge from their starting five and deep minor leagues that they won’t simply go out and overpay just in time for the playoffs? Do we really think that this absolutely LOADED lineup at a time when offenses are dismal throughout the league is not going to mash its way to 90 wins? The Red Sox have SEVEN starting outfielders who could beat out anyone in the defending champs outfield right now. The Triple A team has so much talent it would top the Twins and Phillies right now.

So let’s stop all this nonsense. The Red Sox will win the East, just like Jason Varitek showing the doofus A-Rod who was really in a charge.

Tek

The Central is where it gets really interesting. The Tigers still have a great collection of talent and still have gaping holes in its bullpen, which means it is basically the same team that came oh so close to winning about three World Series the last few years. It’s also the same team that wasn’t good enough to win the World Series and its even older now.

But the Indians and White Sox are loaded with youthful talent. While the Tigers may start to decline, the Indians and White Sox will only get better. And in case you’ve forgotten, a dynamic team from the farms of America that came 90 feet and a Thor-like performance from Madison Bumgarner away from a World Series is back at mostly full strength. This division is awesome, so awesome they may likely pummel each other out of a deserving wild card slot.

In the West, things are just as batty as usual with Billy Beane’s A’s looking like a fantasy team that reworks itself every single week, fighting with the grossly overpaid Angels that somehow still wins thanks to one of the most brilliant managers not named Bruce Bochey to don a uniform in the last fifty years. Neither of these two teams are the best this year though as the Mariners have finally put together that special mix of a few high-priced talents supported by a cadre of young pitching arms. I think the M’s will rue the Nelson Cruz deal for most of that contract, but not this year, much in the way the Red Sox will despise the Pablo Sandoval deal down the road but ride his chubby talent to the playoff this year.

The American League is everything the National League is not, which means turbulent, unpredictable, and likely to come down to the last day before anything at all other than the Red Sox winning the East is decided.

So, my picks:

East: Red Sox
Central: Royals (I watched this team in the playoff last year absolutely find itself. It’s for real, just like the Tigers injury woes).
West: Mariners
Wild Card: Indians and Angels… nah…A’s, Orioles, A’s… Blue Jays??? EFF it: Orioles.

*I hate picking against Buck Showalter. I hate picking against Billy Beane. I hate picking against Mike Scoscia. I’ll go with Orioles because I don’t think the Rays or the Yankees will be very good at all.

National League picks are here.

NL Champ: Nationals. They are so good you have to think they finally break down.
AL Champ: Red Sox. They’ll get an ace. Enough said.

World Series Champs: This will be a great World Series, despite the Giants not being involved. The Nationals will be heavily favored, but the Red Sox and the aura of Fenway will cost the Nats at least one game. There’s a reason the Red Sox, Cardinals and Giants have won eight of the last eleven World Series. From top to bottom their organizations are proven winners. But the Nationals are about to enter their stratosphere. The strikeouts bother me, especially in the World Series. Everything tells me Sox in seven, but… gut feeling here. Nationals in seven.

nationals-articleLarge

Only 180 or more games to go!

Opening Day: Dodgers team to hate the most

The grass is Eden-like green. The first pitches have been tossed across the country. Bats smack, gloves pop, organs trill and life is good again.

Nothing like Opening Day to turn writers of prose into flawed fumbles of poetry. It’s just a lyrical game, far too often poorly described, much like romantic love that never quite reads like it feels. You just have to live it.

The two best words in my lexicon: play ball. Two other fun ones:

Prediction time.

I’ll leave the mashup that is the American League this year for a minute and get into the Senior Circuit, where truly great teams still exist and dominate the hopes of those trying to knock them off the pedestal. But the greatest of those teams likely won’t be among the playoff finishers this year. The Giants won’t repeat.

But the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals and maybe even the Pirates will. History tells us one of these teams will endure a bad rash of injuries and head-scratching slumps and maybe not live up to its potential. History tells us the Dodgers are the least likely to weather these types of turmoil. The stopgap solutions of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins are not as great as people think, especially Rollins who at 36 may be the worst leadoff hitter in the National League.

The Dodgers are on their way to building a similar perennial power, while temporarily playing the awful Yankee-like overspender to bridge the gap. They have spent gazillions to offer some competitive teams while rebuilding from the inside out to make franchise, which took a ton of money, but also a lot of baseball smarts. But I’m still not sure they are going to put it all together this year. I want to believe they won’t. They’ve been good, but they’re going to soon be great. I hate ’em (though the All-time Giants still kick the All-Time Dodgers arses). But I love Vin Scully and for him alone (and the sheer joy of listening to him call a ballgame, I’m predicting they win the division).

The Nationals and Cardinals may be two of the best run organizations in sports. They have built powerhouses. The Nationals have so far mostly underachieved while the Cards have proven they can overachieve when it counts the most, much like the Giants who seem to be the only team that has their number in recent years.

The Cubs are coming. Joe Maddon was a brilliant hire, perhaps the one guy Theo Epstein wanted more than Jon Lester and he ended up getting both. Maddon alone makes the Cubs a contender in my book. The downside is all that young talent will take some time to sort itself out. They will strike out … A LOT… and as much as during the steroid era strikeouts didn’t matter much, they are absolutely killing teams again (rightly so… not that real baseball skills like moving runner and turning over the lineup are back). I wonder if Maddon is great enough to offset the terrible dead spots the strikeouts will create. I can’t decide.

I can decide on the Padres. Everyone is excited about them much they way they were excited about the Blue Jays last year after its spending spree and the Marlins the year before that in its spending spree and so many other teams that suddenly grow sick of stinking up the joint and decide, EFF THIS, and start spending money like Bernie Madoff before his prison stint.

The problem is it never works. Ever. The only times big spending works is when it’s coupled with deep internal talent. The Yankees overspent for decades but only won four championships when Big Money George was banished and the team was allowed to nurture the likes of Derrick Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada. The Dodgers outspent everyone but didn’t have the chemistry the Giants develop with consistency through its organization.

The Padres didn’t spend as recklessly as its predecessors but it gave away years of accumulated talent. Justin Upton can hit it out of the cavernous Petco Park, but my bet is Matt Kemp looks nothing like his old MVP self and just looks old. The pitchers will be good, but they are always are and the offense can’t be as bad as its been, but it still won’t be great. I see a near miss for this team and then back to the depths where it has been.

The surprise team in the West, if there is one, is the Rockies. The team can mash, thanks in part to its mile-high park. In an era where everyone has pitching, few teams have hitting, so the Rockies could stand out especially because it may, just may, just just may may have enough pitching to make one of its once a decade or so runs. The Marlins are going to be good. They have sooo much talent, but again the Cubs problem of youth and strikeouts could hurt them. I see the Cubs and see the Marlins and see two similar teams, but I see Joe Maddon and the Marlins fade away.

There is little else in the National League that interests me.

So the predictions:

East: Nationals
Central: Pirates
West: Dodgers
Wild Cards: Rockies, Cardinals (or maybe the Giants and then God forbid the other teams in the playoffs, but I suspect that’s wishful thinking.

Check back tomorrow for the American League, the playoffs and the World Series predictions.

Sadly, Giants #everyotheryear pace will continue

It’s a day of worshp… tomorrow. We celebrated Easter on Holy Saturday (much like how Black Friday shopping leaked into Thanksgiving gluttony, which first seemed like an afront, but actually makes sense of what Thanksgiving has become if you think about it… bottom line, in this impatient culture we’d have never stood for Jesus in a tomb for three days. You get two-and-a-half and then get your live ass out here, thank you very much). I think God allows me a fair amount of sacriledge when it comes to baseball. She’s a fan too, and likely a Giants Fan. How else can you explain the 2014 playoffs? More on that to come.

No, the holiday I’m now focused on as we enjoy the other side of Easter today (chocolate, family, fun and a teaser night baseball game, which too is early and out of place, but we’ll take it!) is Opening Day!

Opening Day is something of a holiday for me, far more than the Super Bowl or even some of the three-day weekend holidays that crop up expectedly unexpectedly each year. When Opening Day finally arrives each year, I try to turn on the early day games and keep watching until the last one on the West Coast is played. After several months of absence I’m ready for the background music of baseball to re-enter my life.

I also make predictions each year though nobody but me has much invested in the picks. But writing about baseball while watching baseball is about as good as it gets. Come tomorrow as Opening Day launches, I’ll be happily doing both.

Before the pitch is tossed on this season, lets put the last historic and exhilarating season to bed, with a final look at my predictions.

My picks last year were a strange brew of very right and very wrong: I picked all five NL playoff teams only getting the Dodgers and Giants mixed up as division winner. The American League was more of a mess.  I got three of the five playoff teams in the Angels, A’s and Orioles, but none in the right place. The Indians pick was a year premature and the Rays a year or six too late. Eight out of ten is pretty strong but like the rest of the free world, I went 0 for 2 picking in picking the World Series teams and eventual champion. As a Giants fan, I’ll gladly admit I was wrong.

Here’s the rub though. I picked the Nationals to win it all. Had the Giants not pulled off what history will show as one of the great upsets in baseball, the Nationals would have been champs. This is the missing story from the 2014 season and deserves a book of its own to cement the legacy of that incredible turn of events that gave the Giants a third, #everyotheryear crown. They were, at best, the 8th best team in the playoffs last year. Yet they ran the gauntlet of three straight series as the decided underdogs and won by a single run in the 7th and final game. Shoot, I need to write that book.

The Nationals were the best team last year. They far outmatched the Giants at virtually every position. Had Bruce Bochey not schooled Matt Williams like an old Kung Fu master, my pick would have turned out correct. Had the Giants not somehow won an 18-inning game because Williams didn’t let the dominant Jordan Zimmerman finish the ninth, the series would have been over right there. Anyone seeing that lineup of five lefties against the Nationals Gio Gonzalez should know how badly the Giants were over-matched and outgunned. They had huge holes throughout and Triple A guys all over the bench, their highest paid pitcher and their lead-off hitter were injured and yet, they still won. Amazing. Move over ’69 Mets, I think the Giants will take that title now.

And let’s set the record straight over the shibboleth that great managers don’t impact the game in baseball? Look back the records of a Davey Johnson, Buck Showalter, Mike Scoscia, Joe Maddon, Tony LaRussa, Terry Francona and a handful of others who simply win where ever they go. None of this cast of greatness though can match The Boch come playoff time.

Bochey is simply a shaman. He’s the best, which is why the Giants have won a World Series #everyotheryear this decade.

But those holes, that mediocre lineup, the lack of talent on the field at AT&T Park, the lack of depth, the aging, overpaid guys, well their all mostly back which means sadly, the Giants are in no position to repeat. I blame Brian Sabean as much as I exalt Bruce Bochey. The Giants won’t win this year. That much I’ll bet the house on. Their will be plenty of room on the water this October in McCovey Cove.

As for my predictions this year… check back tomorrow. As I said, I love to write about baseball on Opening Day, so I’ll be writing all day as I watch the games that will add so much to the next several months of my life.

Brian Sabean is the worst HOF GM ever

Well it’s April. I know that not because of the fool’s jokes being played, but because I can’t stop thinking about baseball.

I also can’t help my blood pressure from rising over the smallest things, like this: Why the hell isn’t it Opening Day already when the World Series is already played into November??? Who are the mensa schedule makers that started the season even later this year? Fire them all.  Baseball should start by March 31 and end by October 20. End of story.

But the real story here is not these minor irritations but my massive, coronary defarctualizing, fury inducing, appal meter rising abhorrence of San Francisco Giants General Manager Brian Sabean.

Even as I write this I know it is pure insanity. The GM has brought us THREE world championships. He made mediocre teams around Barry Bonds perennial contenders. He deeply loves the team, the city and the character of all things that contribute to the San Francisco Giants.  I can’t help but admire him and respect he’s one of our great city’s leading citizens. He is also likely headed to the hall of fame someday.

But… I simply hate him. I think he’s awful. I know for a fact what he won’t and will do long before he does it and I hate it all. Yep, it’s April. Baseball’s back and with it my daily gnashing of teeth over Brian Sabean.

Why do I despise thee, let me count they ways.

1) He tried to give Pablo the Fat $90 million. Thank God Pablo is nuttier than a filbert farm and feigned insult so he could rush to Boston and join his buddies Big Papi and Hanley Ramirez. Still, Sabean wanted him back. Sigh.

2) He was willing to spend $125-$135 million on Jon Lester when the only thing the team has are pitchers. Does Sabean see just how awful the offense is? I’m reminded of Bill Simmons one-liner after Sabean gave creaky, old Edgar Renteria $18 million to play shortstop. “Does Sabean watch baseball?” Simmons cracked.

3) He overpays old guys (see Renteria, Tim Lincicum’s last contract, Barry Zito, the Jon Lester attempted signing, Jake Peavy, etc. etc.) and overvalues old guys (see Zach Wheeler in a Mets uniform for a few months of Carlos Beltran).

4) He ignores the obvious needs in the lineup by trying to find value in the scrap heap. It actually works sometimes for a few months like Brandon Hicks first couple of months, about half a season of Michael Morse, Pat the Bat and Cody Ross in 2010. But then we get stuck with contracts like Pagan’s $40 million for what will likely be about a season and a half of play, Marco Scutaro’s millions for nothing, the dude that came over from the Pirates before Scutaro, etc. etc. etc. We have no payroll space because Sabean squanders it and then we can’t get guys who can actually help, like say, ANY OUTFIELDER???

Which leads me to today’s vitriolic screed about what seems so obvious I can’t even imagine why it hasn’t happened yet. We are about two real games away from Angel Pagan’s next back pain layoff, which means we will have an outfield of Nori Aoki, Blanco and Justin (who?) Maxwell. Not in August when the season’s grind has set in, but in April when the GM’s plans are most evident. That outfield will hit less than Madison Bumgarner combined.

MadBum should be shagging balls because in this lineup he could hit fifth if he can play even a little left field on his off days.

Solutions abound, but all we hear is Sabean is content to wait it out. For what exactly, since we have no major league ready outfield talent in the minor league system anywhere?

Fact 1: His minor league system ranks among the worst in baseball. The Giants have exactly ZERO prospects in the top 75. Not a one.

Fact 2: The Giants system’s players that even have a sniff of being starters in the majors are pitchers (with the exception of Andrew Susac for some other team), of which he has impressively stockpiled many arms with future potential.

Fact 3: He has only three healthy outfielders so they’ve had to keep Maxwell, a 31-year-old castoff who has a lifetime batting average  of .224 and designate first round pick Gary Brown for assignment.

Fact 4: IF there is ONE thing the Giants HAVE NEVER during Sabean’s tenure its a bonafide lead-off hitter who draws walks, plays stellar defense and can steal bases blind. Since proven by Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, et. al. the leadoff hitter creates havoc from the game’s start and gets better pitches to hit for the power guys that followed. Angel Pagan, when healthy is a poor man’s leadoff hitter and yet the G-Men are much, much better when he bats lead off.

SO… Can someone tell me why Jackie Bradley Jr., who may be the best defensive centerfielder in baseball right now, who can steal 50 bases in a season without really trying, who draws walks like a veteran, and who appears to have corrected his long swing that killed his one shot at being a starter last year is NOT being acquired by trade? Anyone?

Sabean gave up TWO quality arms to the Red Sox last year for Jake Peavy. It will likely take only one and some parts to get Bradley, especially if they paired him with one of the Red Sox contractual problems like say Allen Craig, who could be a dynamic bat off the bench. The Red Sox have Bradley, Craig, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino not starting because their OF and 1b and DH are set in stone with all-star potential players.

The Red Sox love young arms like the Giants can offer. Any of the above mentioned players would RIGHT NOW beat out ANYONE in our OF other than Pence (who is hurt) and Pagan (who is already taking injections in his back). Conceivably we could take Bradley, Craig AND Victorino and ALL three could start games for us. Imagine Craig as simply as right -handed pinch hitter, first baseman. If we have one of those we may not have had to play five lefties against Gio Gonzalez (a lefty killer) in the playoffs against the Nationals last year (Thank God Gio couldn’t field his position allowing us to win on throwing errors, because that was the worst playoff lineup I’ve ever, ever seen). The hole in the bench was so obvious that it is unconscionable that Sabean didn’t fix it this off-season, and yet he still can!

But Bradley is the key. He is cheap, he can be controlled for several more years and if he doesn’t hit, he is still better than Blanco, Perez, Ishikawa, Maxwell or anyone in our system as a backup, defensive OFer who can steal a base. If you give up Zach Wheeler for three months of Carlos Beltran, you have no excuse for not giving up whoever for six years of JBJ even if he turns into nothing more than a better Gregor Blanco.

Yet, just as I knew Sabean would come up short in the bidding in all three of the recent Cuban all-stars who each could have plugged in as a starter for the Giants (Castillo, Moncada, Tomas), I also know Sabean won’t get the needed right-hand 1b/ph bat and even more won’t get a vital player in Jackie Bradley Jr.

Brian Sabean will be in the Hall of Fame someday. When that happens I will still think he’s the worst Hall of Famer ever.

My spiritual doppelgänger is (sigh) evangelical

I’m not a resident of Facebook, which means I miss out on 93.72 percent (I did a study and the math… well, no I didn’t. That’s a lie) of everything that is going on with my family and friends. Happily I might add. Note my T-shirt:

6012026251696591842

From afar I hear so much drama, strife and angst of Facebook insult and intrigue I remain blissfully unaware of all but 6.28 percent.

But one degree of separation — in that 6.28 percent — I saw an article that I can’t help but think might have been just a little teensy bit intended for me. My brother, a true champ of a brother and genuine friend, couldn’t help but sense the connection when he posted this story about his colleague on Facebook. (Well, in actuality it may have just been because in his job as a Veep at Fuller Seminary he posts everything in the magazine and he never gave me a thought, but I like to believe big brother was thinking of me. I’ll stick with that.)

The point? Is there one now 172 words into this blog? Simply this: I never knew it but my spiritual doppelgänger is an evangelical. She’s also a woman, and she’s also pretty cool in my brief reading of her story, and she’s also a whole lot of other things that frankly remind me of … me (yes, I am one of the cool kids, at least in my own mind). Aside from apparently missing out on my scandals, alcoholism, rehab and general bottoming out, Erin DuFault-Hunter is, like me, a liberal-Catholic-turned Anabapist. She even had an older brother who helped her see the life-changing nature of a relationship with Christ.

We are truly both Generation Xers it seems.

“Given my strong inclination to independence and perhaps even idolatrous desire to be ‘unique’ and authentic, I am not naturally a joiner. After all, I was born in the 60s and now I live in the age of selfies,” she writes.

I can relate to Dufault-Hunter’s admission of her cringing association with some aspects of evangelicalism. I think my evangelical friends believe this is why I am no longer counted among them. It is in part. The brand is so tarnished I see it doing more harm than good.

But like Dufault-Hunter, I can readily admit less noble reasons for my shirking the evangelical label.

“I also hoped I could be hip—rather than merely another religious moralistic freak. At bottom, I often still crave affirmation and belonging more than I want an abundant life that costs me, even if that cost is merely embarrassment,” she writes.

She gets it. I haven’t met my spiritual doppelgänger, but I connect with her story. In some ways I could have been her had I better learned the staying power of discipline doused with a tad more morality. I was accepted to go to Fuller’s doctoral program in 1989, after all.

But as much as I think folks want to think the cringe factor is the obstacle between me and my past evangelicalism, all I can say is I wish it were. My neurotic fixation on feeling misunderstood flares here most. If my objections were just lifestyle things I wouldn’t have them, I’m certain. I had those same objections for years. While an evangelical I felt wholly outside the sweet spot of orthodoxy. I never put good wood on the ball.

Only later, much later, when the fall was so great and the destructive ruin of my life so apparent did I realize that I did not fail despite of my evangelicalism but in part because of it.

Evangelicalism, with all its certitude, fostered a hubris within me that left me unprepared for life’s realities. It’s like the photo on this blog, all neatly headed in one direction, with guide rails to keep you on the “narrow” road, but in the end are we so sure it doesn’t just fall off into an ocean with us all casting about?

Evangelicals don’t think so, at least not how I was taught. It helped set a false standard and helped establish a belief system of morality that proved insufficient when challenged. I don’t blame evangelicalism. Like many schools of thought, it offered a framework.The blame is all mine.

The flaw is not the belief system, but the certitude in which it is expressed. It requires loyalty in the method that I can not adhere to myself, much less pass on to others. That is the rub: to be an evangelical is to in some sense accept the need to evangelize. No thank you.

Here’s the greater rub I think: Can I both cling to a lifesaving exchange with T
he Christ of cross and then not expect everyone else to experience God in the same way?

That guided prayer changed my life because I met a living God who would love me enough to follow me into the gutters of my coming failures. What followed, my introduction into the dogma of evangelicalism is when things slowly ventured down an errant road.

My reading of Scriptures calls us to serve, not sell. When I serve, I find my best me. When I serve, I know God better and see Her interact with others in a way I couldn’t conjure up no matter who hard I’d try.

When Jesus says the wages of sin are death, he means right here, right now. Just look all around you. So my focus is on the here now– on Earth, as it is in Heaven. God seems to have heaven wired. My help is not needed there. I’ll stick to Earth.

We are called to enter into a loving relationship  with the divine. How we do this, I suspect, we will spend this lifetime — a relatively brief glimpse of the life ahead — figuring it out to the best of our humble abilities. I can’t be an evangelical because I can’t offer anything other than love. But I am confident the more I do just that, the more God will fill in the gaps.

Which is why I’m completely OK that my spiritual doppelgänger is an evangelical (albeit a reluctant one, who like it or not is one of us cool kids, I suspect). In fact, I like it. Because in the end we both may be right. Wouldn’t that be great?

East Coast Bias unmasked, finally

Ever have one of those pet peeves that stay with you for years and years and years and you never really get to unleash the stored up venom?

As you might guess, I have several, but few that have historically and consistently bugged me for years as much as the East Coast Bias of sportswriters when it comes to College Football Polls.

It’s a scandalous era of sport that made the entire sport more of a mockery than Eastern Bloc judges during Communist Era Olympic Competitions. It was shameless.

I got so fed up I stopped watching all College Football other than my beloved Oregon Ducks. I never watched a BCS game other than when the Ducks played Auburn. I simply couldn’t stand it any longer.

Until now. Until this day, when finally… finally FINALLY I get to unleash the hounds!

Just a few weeks ago the Associated Press poll ranking the best college football teams had four of the top six teams from one division of the SEC.

Remember that?

How smart do those pollsters look now that we are headed into the first real national championship game to be decided with an actual playoff, AND, what a shock, it’s the first time in nearly a dozen years the SEC doesn’t have a team in the game.

Dick Cheney can’t spin like the backers of bowls and the old BCS who insist that a playoff would compromise the integrity of the regular season. It’s as inane a statement as GWs “Mission Accomplished,” yet it stood for years and years until the sport was virtually ruined.

Until now. Until the day when the vaunted SEC, the far-and-away “best conference in the country” for more than a decade, finally had to prove its reputation on the field. This day of reckoning came just a few weeks from when the division was so stellar its fourth best team was ranked sixth in the nation.

Polls2

How did it do? It bombed worse than Idina Manzel’s high note on New Year’s Eve. (Actually its a bad comparison. Manzel put on a great show in freezing weather and at least had the guts not too lip sync like so many other “stars” do these days, I retract the comparison. Come to think of it, that’s the SEC… the lip sync football teams.)

The vaunted four of Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Auburn lost all four of its bowl games. Alabama, the number one team in the polls for a better part of seven years and number one seed in the playoff tournament lost to Ohio State who played with its third-string QB.  Ole Miss got absolutely embarrassed by TCU. Mississippi State couldn’t compete with a three-loss ACC team that didn’t even win its conference, and Auburn lost to a Wisconsin team that was steamrolled, shutout and lost by 50 in the conference championship game against Ohio State. The SEC’s best turned out to be barely average compared to good teams outside its own division.

For decades of college polling West Coast teams took a beating from the so-called “East Coast Bias” of sportswriters. Ask any East Coast sportswriter and they’ll tell you Big Foot is more real than claims of bias. But I spent four years working in newspapers back East and I can tell you, without a doubt, not only does the East Coast Bias exist, it has basically made a sham of college football polls for decades.

The East Coast Bias wasn’t this back-room, cigar-smoke-filled room, conspiracy. It was group think at its finest. You couldn’t convince an East Coast writer to see West Coast teams in the proper light. The sheer density of cities in the East compared to the West meant far more writers in the East, watching East Coast games, writing stories about East Coast teams and building in a bias that became so outlandish few blinked when it became such a travesty that four of the top six teams in the country came from TWO states: Alabama and Mississippi.

ESPN’s Colin Cowherd (@ESPN_Colin) said at that time that the “eye test” proved those vaunted programs were simply so much better than all the rest. He thought it almost criminal that they were going to destroy each other and ruin their chance of all of them getting into the playoffs. He said any reasonable sports fan can simply watch a game and see the NFL talent on all four of those teams and know they were so much better than the rest.

Well they did beat each other up and lost a few others to mediocre opponents along the way as well. Yet they all got prime bowl games against decent teams. Then they all went out and simply stunk. So much for the “eye test” that a so-called expert like Cowherd claims as fact. That is not fact; it’s East Coast Bias at its best.

(Side note: Cowherd is such an “expert” that once on his radio show in Portland he interviewed strippers and then had his female co-worker strip with them in studio. Listeners could only hear Cowherd’s awkward attempt to act nonplussed. What strippers on a radio has to do with sports was never explained but I  guess they passed his eye test).

It took two things to unmask what will eventually be rightly viewed as one of the most corrupt eras of any sports at any time. 1) It took an actual playoff where teams had to win a championship against teams outside its own division, and 2) it took the extreme bias to simply grow to such foolish proportions that it could not longer be explained away. Four of the top six team from one division, much less conference, when few of those teams played anyone who matter outside of their conference? It was homerism to such an extreme, Kool-Aid slurping to such preposterous levels that finally the sham could be unmasked.

Thank God the time has come.

Now what does this have to do with anything? Nothing really, other than the fact that I got worked up enough to write 1,000 words on the topic suggests my spiritual slump may be a tad deeper than I want to admit. Much ado about nothing, the Bard wrote, and well I guess so do I.

Build a SF Dynasty: Quality over quantity

What would be off-season baseball without playing a little general manager. I don’t play fantasy baseball, but I do spend a ridiculous amount of wasted time thinking what I would do if I had the single best job in the world: General Manager of the San Francisco Giants.

This envy is probably why I am certain Bruce Bochey is the greatest living manager and yet Brian Sabean, who by all rights built this team from the ground up, rates barely above George Bush’s approval ratings. I try to be fair, but I can’t help it. I’d sell my soul to the devil to come back to this life in Sabean’s job.

Truth be told I’ve spent a fair amount of my life second guessing the great ones like Terry Francona during Boston’s historic run and Bruce Bochey during every torturous decision over the past five years. But right about the time Bochey put a lineup that couldn’t win a Triple A game, chalk full of lefties against a lefty flame thrower, against the powerful Washington Nationals and won is the time I realized the Bochey is a warlock, shaman and zen master rolled into one. I vowed to never again think I could do his job.

But Sabean… well, I truly believe I could do better so the second-guessing will continue long after both of us are gone.

We dispensed of the bad news in the last post: Sandoval has to go on to other adventures in other places. Take the pebble from my hand Kung Fu Panda and see you in ten years at a reunion where fans will give you the longest of standing ovations. Just don’t put on the uniform as a player again because I don’t want to pay you. No hard feelings.

That sets up the good news. If I was Brian Sabean today, I think I could actually build a team that would win a World Series in an odd number year. Next year in fact. Back-to-back. Remove all doubt about the Dynasty. Cement it.

Timmy

Here’s how:

First: do nothing. Let Panda go. Do not reach out to Jake Peavy (we already have him signed; he’s named Tim Hudson), Ryan Vogelsong, Sergio Romo or Michael Morse. Each played well, each is in line for a better pay day, and each will find suitors willing to over pay despite the flaws we saw in them over the season.

Thanks guys, see you at the reunion too. Romo is a tough one because he’s been such a staple for the Giants through this whole championship era. But he wants closer money and closer responsibilities and as we found out, he’s a right-handed specialists in closer camo and nowhere worth the $10 million a year his hometown LA Dodgers will give him. Say goodbye.

From the moment I heard Morse using the 1980s classic Ah Ha’s “Take on Me” I knew I loved the guy. His playoff at bats were probably more important than any other player on the roster not named Panda. But he’s lost in the outfield and went a better part of three months with fewer home runs than can be counted on one hand because teams busted him inside and he couldn’t adjust. His future is as an American League DH, so go forth my friend and prosper. We really will miss you.

Second, take all of that money, every last bit of savings and sign one guy. For once, go against the Brian Sabean grain to spread the wealth, win some and lose some philosophy of overpaying veterans trying to catch lightening in the bottle and find one true superstar. We absolutely need a cleanup hitter, and don’t say Nelson Cruz. We need a younger cleanup hitter. Think Giancarlo Stanton. Empty the minor leagues, load up the vault. Pay him the $25 million a year you saved by letting all those other guys go, give away your top three prospects, throw in an Andrew Susac or Matt Duffy (anybody but Joe Panik) and go get Stanton.

It’s exactly what Sabean should have done with Adrian Gonzalez four years ago but never tried.

If that fails try to raid the Kansas City Royals for Lorenzo Cain or go get Yoenis Cespedes from the Red Sox’ crowded outfield. Or if all else fails, open the check book and make sure you sign the next great Cuban, according to the USA Today:

Yasmany Tomas, Industriales in Cuba: Tomas is often compared to other Cuban outfielders like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, and Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman said body- and strength-wise he can hold his own with Puig. But Tomas’ plate discipline is even less refined than what the Los Angeles Dodgers star showed in his early days in the minors. And while Tomas, about to turn 24, throws well, he doesn’t match Puig’s arm, speed or zest for the game. Tomas’ size and athleticism, as well as the Cuban lineage, make him appealing – perhaps enough to garner a contract in the $60-70 million range – but he figures to need some time in the minors polishing his game.

I’ll give Sabean credit. He already signed one cheap alternative, Daniel Carbonell, who might become a great outfielder from Cuba. And folks think the Giants are going to make a strong push for Tomas, who baseball writer George King says is better than the Red Sox’ Rusney Castillo.

The Giants have lacked a true cleanup hitter since the retirement of Barry Bonds. One can argue the lead-off spot has been a decade-long problem, but when Pagan is healthy he may not be Rickey Henderson, but the team wins. Signed for two more years, we have to ride with him for now. That leaves the four-spot as the one glaring need that would make everyone else in the lineup fall in place.

Pagan, Panik, Posey, XXX, Pence, Belt, Crawford and 3b.

Admittedly replacing Sandoval will be tough, but this is what Sabean does best: bargain-basement signings. He found Cody Ross and Pat the Bat and even Morse on the scrap heap. He can find a 3b for this year or even let the dynamic Matt Duffy play there despite his absence of power. Or give Adam Duval a real chance to unleash his power. Regardless of who plays there that’s a team that can can dominate with bench players like Ishikawa, Arias, Blanco and Sanchez who are proven role players.

The rotation is just fine: You have to give Tim Lincecum one more chance. Matt Cain should be back and better than ever. Petit earned a chance and is a bargain. Bumgarner is worth two starters. Hudson at 40 is the best end-of-the-rotation guy in baseball. Finally, once the off-season signing hysterics play out, Sabean will find some talent off the scrap heap or some of the talent in the minors will rise just as they did this year.

We don’t need much. We simply need one highly quality linchpin to bring this fabulous team together from overachiever to true powerhouse.

There it is. April 2015 can’t get here soon enough but for now, it’s time I become like Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch, the normal winter guy who doesn’t obsess about baseball every waking moment. Let the baseball diet begin. Happy off-season.