Hank and Stretch: Telling them goodbye

San Francisco Giants fans knew, as soon as the final out of the 2018 season was made, that it was going to be a long offseason.
A couple of weeks in, the biggest question is, can we have a do-over?
It’s looking mighty grim out there, thanks mostly to the ol’ Grim Reaper.
We, as fans, have lost a pair of legends with the passing of announcer Hank Greenwald and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.
Can they be equated? You betcha.
While basketball and hockey are like someone you see every few days and football is the weekly gathering of the tribe, you invite baseball into your life every day, from late February to (hopefully) late October/early November.
The sights and sounds of the game, as well as the players, become as familiar as family, with the broadcasters painting word pictures whether you’re at home, stuck in traffic or at work, or just checking in to see if the rain delay is over.
From 1979 to 1996, save for that two-year stretch with the Yankees, Hank Greenwald was our Rembrandt.
Granted, there weren’t a lot of great moments for the Giants in that era – the 1979 NLCS and that epic 1993 NL West race come to mind quickly – but despite some of the wretched baseball of the era, Hank kept it interesting, and kept us listening.
The 80s may be the last decade when most of us consumed baseball via radio, and game after game, we’d tune in not only to keep up with the team, but to hear what Hank had for us next.
Maybe it was a bit of baseball history we didn’t know about. Or a one-liner he’d pull off flawlessly with that dry wit. Or maybe this would be the day he didn’t mess with the disclaimer? Or he’d tell us about the Alou brothers other than Felipe, Jesus and Mateo. (For the record, there was Toot, Bob, Skip, Skip and Walleib as well as a sister, Hullub.)
And, of course, in his first two seasons with the Giants, he got to tell us the story of the final days of Willie McCovey’s career.
And what a career it was! 521 home runs, including 18 grand slams. 1,555 RBIs. 2,211 hits. 1959 National League Rookie of the Year. 1969 National League MVP. 1969 All-Star Game MVP. A World Series-ending liner to Bobby Richardson that merited not one, but two mentions in the comic strip “Peanuts.” Cooperstown Class of 1986.
No hitter was more feared in his time. And in the mind of 9-year-old me, he was a threat to take one deep every time
There was the McCovey Shift, first attempted by the Cincinnati Reds, I believe. And we will always have McCovey Cove, thanks to the efforts of the San Jose Mercury’s Mark Purdy.
And you just know, as soon as he arrived at Pearly Gates Park, he was rushed into the game and hit a home run, causing another HOFer, Lon Simmons to get him on the heavenly post-game show. And whatever question he asked, Willie answered “That’s right, Lon.”
Rest in peace, gentlemen. We’ll carry on somehow.

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Monday buffet: Which way will it be?

In our constant quest for understanding, information and a reasonably-priced Cabernet, we present the Sunday night/Monday version of the luau buffet brunch (because brunch isn’t just for breakfast anymore). As always, the traditional rules: Use a clean plate each time, eat all you take and consume all alcoholic beverages on the premises, please.
• So, the same Arabs the president accused of dancing in the streets as the World Trade Center came down are suddenly, at least the ones in Saudi Arabia, among our most important allies in the Middle East? Something smells in Washington, as usual. Or maybe we just need better friends, like Canada, Germany, France, the British … remember how nice they were?
• You wonder at times, what Obama (or either Bush or Clinton or Reagan or Carter) would have done in this situation, but there’s just no precedence for the type of situation we’re in here. Especially with someone as unpredictable as the current resident of the White House. I’d like to think past presidents would have sent their own investigators in, though.
• In the same vein: The president said Kavanaugh was being considered guilty until proved innocent during his hearings, but the thousands of Guatemalans trying to cross the border into Mexico and, presumably, enter the United States are “criminals,” without the benefit of a trial?
• Bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … but only if they’re the best people, right? Emma Lazarus, and the rest of us who still cling to the ideals that hunk of copper in New York Harbor stands for, weep.
• I think the last rioting I saw in California was … oh, hell, I don’t know. Maybe over the last avocado, or someone trying to snag one of those $22 Dodgers NLCS tickets.
• And there goes the 82-0 season for the Warriors. That’s it, trade them all. Call up the kids from the Santa Cruz Warriors, at least they’ll try!
• Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home of your San Francisco 49ers, just south of Great America, is downwind from a one-time dairy ranch. Which explains a lot about the 49ers in the “Life Without Garoppolo” era.
• The only thing worse? Whoever dressed the Rams on Sunday. Stockholder in a mustard company, or someone trying to remind us to slow down before the light changes?
• And finally, this public service announcement: Monday is the last day to register to vote in the midterms in California. Not just the national and state office are up for grabs, but plenty of local boards that may impact your life more are up for grabs. Not to forget all those propositions the California ballot is famous for, from water and hospital bonds to how much space farm animals should have. If you haven’t yet, register at https://registertovote.ca.gov/

Winning the battle, but losing the war

No matter what happens this week in the world of politics, mark this down.
Everything is pointing toward a revolution on Election Day, and the Republicans are not ready.
There are too many angry groups in the opposition that not only will not be silenced, but are emboldened by each news update and are using social media as their platform in addition to the traditional trio of print, radio and television.
They are women, children and minorities, hear them roar!
We saw this all in living color on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News … the list goes on. Not to forget my brothers and sisters in print, radio and online, doing their bit for a well-informed electorate.
And what we saw wasn’t pretty. We saw senators forgetting who put them in office in the first place and putting loyalty to party ideals first. We did see a calm and collected Dr. Christine Blasey Ford tell her story, only to see her motives questioned. And we had Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh behaving much like a child who didn’t want to finish his vegetables before getting dessert. And proclaim his love of beer … quite loudly.
Eventually, the Senate made the right decision, considering Thursday’s hearing and, after a confrontation in an elevator that may go down in history, a call for the FBI to investigate what was testified to on Thursday.
Should the Republicans prevail, however, it may be a case of winning a battle, but losing a war.
The ongoing saga of the Kavanaugh nomination, in addition to the #metoo movement, shows that female voters are no longer accepting of the same ol’, same ol’ from politicians.
The series of mass shootings at schools, most notably at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has energized the long-silent and underrepresented youth vote, tired of politicians promising change, but not only failing to deliver on promises of gun control, but instead proposing non-solutions like arming teachers, increased law enforcement presence and clear backpacks.
Minorities? Where to start … from clinging to the border wall to not only misinterpreting what kneeling during the national anthem is all about, the answer to the question asked during the campaign, “what have you got to lose?” is, plenty.
To be continued in November …

Nike, Kaepernick send great message

In a week that’s seen the contentious questioning of a Supreme Court nominee and more tales of crazy times inside the White House come to the surface, it appears a sneaker company has stolen the spotlight.
And what a wonderful, positive message Nike has presented. One that, unfortunately, might get lost amid the controversial choice of the deliverer of the message, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
From the moment the folks in Beaverton, Ore., announced Kaepernick would be featured in a new “Just Do It” advertising campaign, reaction has been, well, usual for these confusing times.
Folks who equate his kneeling during the playing of the national anthem with disrespect for the flag and the military have perhaps been the most vocal, some to the point of burning their Nike gear.
Others have wondered why Nike couldn’t have made a less-controversial athlete, or a military hero like the late Pat Tillman, the focus of the campaign.
Invoking images of Tillman is particularly bothersome in several ways. Recall the Army originally had the NFL player turned Ranger dying in battle, only to announce after his services he was killed by friendly fire.
There’s also the fact that Tillman’s family had to – again – ask that his name not be used for political purposes. Recall about a year ago President Trump cited Tillman in one of his periodic Twitter rages regarding NFL players kneeling during the anthem.
Besides, as someone who has read and studied quite a bit about Tillman’s life, I am convinced that, like many who knew him, he would have taken the time to talk to Kaepernick and others who joined his protest of police brutality and social injustice, he probably would have taken a knee himself.
Remember, it’s about selling shoes, T-shirts, visors, and anything about sports. Would any of the names named have drawn as much attention as Kaepernick? I don’t think so.
As for the ad itself, wow! What a terrific message of encouragement to the upcoming generation. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mreQsQrDF-A
The ad is clearly not about Kaepernick, but about encouraging athletes to strive to be their best.
Yes, Nike’s going to sell a lot of stuff. But perhaps a young athlete will take some of the words of the script to heart and want to be better.
And who knows, he or she may be the key to working us out of this mess that we should be focusing on.

Sorry, not ready for the NFL

Training camp and preseason games are just a blip in the back mirror now. Soon they’ll be teeing it up and kicking it off for another season of the National Football League.
As I look over what’s been going on in the league the last few years, though, I wonder what all the fuss is about.
The game is being overwhelmed by a myriad of problems on and off the field.
Despite the best efforts of the rule makers, it appears no one knows how to define a catch, which should be basic.
Rules designed to improve player safety, such as the concussion protocol and helmet hits, seem to be equally as hard to grasp, if not outright ignored.
Until this gets worked out, there’s no doubt we’ll continue to see an increase in concussion-related problems with former and current players.
Off the field, it’s equally as messy, if not worse.
The whole question of players being allowed to kneel during the national anthem has turned into such – and trust me, I want a better term – a political football that the reason for the protest, police brutality in the African-American community, has become lost.
This was an issue the NFL, given its place in the sports and media food chains, could have taken leadership and joined forces with its 68 percent African-American player personnel, but instead chose to follow the path of the current political winds, which seems more interested in stifling minority communities than encouraging growth.
Compare and contrast with the NBA, which has not only worked out a solution with its players, also has two of its most prominent players, LeBron James and Steph Curry, involved in projects to better their corners of the world, James with his school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and Curry, the father of two daughters, with his girls basketball camp, which he discussed in this recent essay in The Players Tribune. https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/stephen-curry-womens-equalityhttps://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/stephen-curry-womens-equalitys
All in all, not the rosy, star-spangled scene, flanked by bosomy cheerleaders, the league would like us to see as the season starts. And it’s one I wonder if I can continue to support.

Giving baseball a makeover

Can baseball be saved?
That seems to be the theme from those who opine on such things this past week, citing declining attendance and TV ratings, with stagnant divisional races as a chaser.
But does the game need wholesale changes?
Dear God, I hope there won’t be. The sport, with some minor tinkering, is being played the same way it has for the last century-plus and remains the best way to spend not only a sunny summer day, but a moony summer night.
But, with the following tweaks, I think the game can be improved.
Scheduling
Yep, it’s a grind. Or, as Marty Lurie says, a marathon, not a sprint. But there are some of the old school that remain fixated on a return to a 154-game schedule, which was the norm until the first round of expansion in the early 1960s, which begat the Angels, Senators (now the Rangers), Colt 45s (now the Astros) and Mets.
To which I say: One week off the season? Really?
What would work better? The return of the scheduled doubleheader. You could even do the split doubleheaders that have become the norm because of rain delays to preserve income. But not only would this shorten the schedule, you’d make fans happy.
And while we’re meddling in this area: Interleague play, seeya!
For all the Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox and Giants-A’s games that create interest in major metropolitan areas, there’s all the other games that are so meh.
Instead, let’s try beefing up the schedules in each league to bring back a little balance, especially in September, when the most significant regular season games should be played.
Before the last round of expansion, teams would take two trips to each city in the opposite division and three to teams in their division. One trip early in the season, one trip later, and September was strictly divisional play. The way the schedule is drawn now, with constant interleague play, not only do we have at least two teams playing interleague games the last weekend of the season, there’s situations like the Giants face this weekend when they host the Mets, a week after playing their only series in New York. Why not mix things up a bit?
Rules
Bring back throwing four wide ones to intentionally walk a batter. The time it saves, as we have shown elsewhere on this blog, is a wash. Have the pitcher work a little bit throwing around a hitter.
The designated hitter? Time for the American League to dump it in favor of the way the game should be played.
Replay? It stays, only because not only has the horse been let out of that barn, it’s down at the next farm training for the Kentucky Derby.
Putting a runner on second to start the 12th inning of extra inning games? If you think I like that, you haven’t been paying attention.
Gameplay
Remember the All-Star Game? Yeah, there were 10 home runs, but also 26 strikeouts.
Just like on the old “Home Run Derby” series, it was a home run or nothing. Unfortunately, that describes too many games nowadays.
This fine art of pitching has been replaced by the demand for more strikeouts. And while chicks may dig the long ball, all long ball, all the time makes for a dull product.
Blame statistical analysis, which also begat shifts, if you like, but if managers and coaches can teach their teams where to play defensively, can they not also teach hitters ways to beat the shift?
Get a man on first. Bunt him over or have him steal. Let the next two men drive him in. It’s not THAT difficult.
Television
Thanks to the explosion in regional sports networks, virtually every major league game is on TV in some way, shape or form, on networks such as Root, Fox Sports Net or NBC Sports City Goes here.
According to Broadcastingcable.com, 79 percent of U.S. homes receive TV via cable or satellite. A figure that’s down from the 84 percent in 2014, but still significant, due to cord cutting and the growth of services like Netflix as well as online options.
But that leaves about a fourth of the population with no access to games, save a trip to the neighbors or the local tavern. So, why not mandate teams show one game a week in their local market over-the-air? It’s called exposure.
As for the networks, both cable and over-the-air, why not expand horizons beyond the East Coast?
Given how often games from the region are shown, you would think ESPN is an acronym meaning Easter Seaboard Programming Network.
Yet, a World Series rematch between the Astros and Dodgers at the start of this month, or a delicious series last weekend between the Astros and Athletics in Oakland for the AL West lead? Nowhere to be found nationally, save SportsCenter, if it wasn’t wiped out by an update on LeBron.
But somehow, there’s always room for the Yankees and Red Sox, or even that mediocrity that is the Baltimore Orioles.
There’s great baseball and great stars being played west of the Appalachians. It’s too bad most folks can’t see it.

High school football: A whole new ballgame

As someone whose working life has revolved around the high school sports schedule until recently, it came as a bit of a shock this week to find the prep football season is beginning in some places this week.
The early start is thanks to the California Interscholastic Federation, with the goal of holding championship games the weekend of Dec. 7-8.
That’s nice for basketball, wrestling and soccer coaches of schools that don’t have long playoff runs, since they’ll get their athletes sooner, as well as families celebrating the holidays, but also gives some schools as many as three games before Labor Day weekend and a regular season that ends before Halloween.
That’s three games in some places where temperatures are still in triple digits. In some areas, such as the San Joaquin Valley, air quality will also be an issue. Not helping are several fires burning in Northern and Central California.
While I have my misgivings about where the NFL is headed, which we’ll get to as the season gets closer, still, there’s something special about the start of the high school football season.
New schools and the diminishing number of players going out for teams has changed some things, but this is still the time when communities come together to cheer on the team, support the band and cheerleaders and all the other folks involved in making Friday nights special from Barrow, Alaska, where the field is just 100 yards from the Arctic Ocean, to Miami.
It’s not only the start of the school year, but there’s also a sense of renewal, something that’s likely being felt most at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where, on Saturday, the Eagles take to the field for the first time since the February shooting that left 17 dead, including an assistant football coach.
The biggest problem I’ve had among the schools I’ve covered and followed over the years is where they’re playing now, as the painful, but necessary, process of realignment has reshuffled the deck.
• Atwater continues its rivalries with Buhach Colony, Merced and Golden Valley in the new-look Central California Conference, along with El Capitan, Central Valley and Patterson.
• Livingston again calls the Trans-Valley League home, along with Escalon, Hilmar, Hughson, Modesto Christian, Ripon and Riverbank.
• Turlock and Pitman renew acquaintances with Modesto rivals Downey, Enochs, Modesto and Gregori in the Central California Athletic League.
• Modesto’s Davis, Beyer and Johansen, along with Ceres, Lathrop, Los Banos, Pacheco and Mountain Home, find themselves in the Western Athletic Conference.
• Hanford West drops from the West Yosemite League to the Central Sequoia League, joining Dinuba, Exeter, Central Valley Christian, Kingsburg and Selma. The Huskies will continue to play Hanford in the Dog Bowl, now a nonconference game, and meet county rivals Sierra Pacific and Corcoran.
• Also new to the Central Section are 13 schools from the San Luis Obispo-Santa Maria area, although their impact likely won’t be felt until the playoffs.
• Last but not least, there’s the wholesale changes along the shores of Monterey Bay.
With the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League disbanding for football two years ago and the merger of the Mission Trail and Monterey Bay leagues, welcome to the Pacific Coast Athletic League, which for football stretches from Felton to King City.
Schools are divided into four equity leagues, featuring the powerhouse Gabilan Division, featuring Aptos, Christopher, Alvarez, Gilroy, San Benito, Palma, Seaside and Salinas.
Got all that? Guess the only question left is, are you ready for high school football?