Bochy: Simply the best

Tina Turner sang it best, although not in the context of this column, of course:

“You’re simply the best … better than all the rest … better than anyone … anyone I’ve ever met.”

In 30+ years of writing about and 58 as a follower of that great game of baseball, it’s not often I’ll call anyone the best I’ve ever seen.

But when it comes to managers of the San Francisco Giants, I’ll crawl out on that limb with Bruce Bochy, who announced this season will be his last managing the orange and black.

In fact, I’ll go as far as to call him second only to John McGraw in Giants history when it comes to calling the shots.

Now, if you’re going to be a Figure Filbert and cite a sub-.500 career record heading into this season, just stop reading. Immediately if not sooner. Or cite some otherwise-forgettable game when you thought he left the pitcher in too long or plead he should have cut ties with Hunter Pence or Brandon Belt long ago.

The big picture paints a different story.

Twenty-five years of calling the shots in major league dugouts from Montreal to San Diego. Four trips to the World Series. Three World Series victories The City by the Bay will never forget.

Heck, part of the fun of those Series win was watching Boch push all the right buttons to get the Giants there. It wasn’t done much better than in Game 6 of the 2010 National League Championship Series, with Bochy taking the risk of using starters Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum out of the bullpen in a 3-2 pennant-clinching win.

And in this era where the spreadsheet and the iPad seem to rule supreme, Bochy did it the old-fashioned way, with his gut instincts.

Although it’s not enough, thanks, Boch.

And is it too early to make plane and hotel reservations for Cooperstown when the time comes?

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‘As the Raiders Move’ an unnecessary drama

Perhaps it’s fitting that in a town built on missteps by gamblers looking for the pot of gold, the Raiders’ path to Las Vegas has hit another roadblock.

Doesn’t anyone want this team?

The latest chapter in “As the Raiders Move” played out this week, with the announcement Super Bowl Sunday night the team would play its final season at a Bay area club at Oracle Park, home of your San Francisco Giants.

Never mind that the park formerly known as AT&T seats about 2/3rds what the O.Com Coliseum does. Or for other football games held there – a college bowl game, the East-West Shrine Game and the XFL – both benches were on the same side of the field. And what of the end zone that ends right up against the left field wall?

Then there was the logistics of what to do during the baseball/football overlap in September. And city officials were worried about the impact on the neighborhood adding seven Raiders game (the team will play one home game in London this coming season), especially with the Chase Center bringing the Golden State Warriors to the area in the fall.

Ultimately, it was the 49ers, who still have territorial rights to The City despite fleeing dearly departed Candlestick Park in 2013 for Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, who vetoed the proposal.

Talk about counting your chickens before they were hatched … but what about the move of the Raiders and the now-Los Angeles Chargers hasn’t been a flustercluck?

So many miscalculations. So much confusion. And mostly, many unhappy fans in this gridiron version of a ménage a trois.

The NFL should have pushed harder for the Raiders and 49ers to share Levi’s, much like the Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. And, after plans for a stadium in Carson to be shared by the Raiders and Chargers failed to materialize and the Rams announced plans to build on the site of Hollywood Park in Inglewood, the league picked the wrong horse in giving the Chargers first dibs to be the Rams’ tenant.

It appears the NFL assumed San Diego voters would approve plans to build a new stadium, paving the way for the Raiders’ return to LA, where they remain very popular.

But voters rejected the plan by a 57 to 43 percent vote in November 2016, paving the road north for the Chargers and, eventually, the Raiders to Sin City.

Oakland’s suit against the Raiders and the NFL late last year shut the door on the Raiders’ use of the Coliseum in 2019, but there’s still hope of a reconciliation for the team’s Northern California swan song. There’s also a chance of playing at Levi’s.

But if those fall through? Who knows.

None of the Bay area’s college stadiums are a realistic option. Nor is playing at UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium. And the Raiders have expressed an interest in remaining in the Bay area, with their training base in Alameda.

Perhaps the Raiders will take one from the Chargers’ playbook and use Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes. Or maybe they’ll split the difference between their current and future homes and play in Fresno. Or Bakersfield. Barstow, anyone?

All over a football team that’s been more bark than bite, and very little defense, the last few years.

So, tune in next time over most of this same blog, for more pratfalls. They wouldn’t be the Raiders without them.

Surviving the Super Bowl

For NFL fans, the week of all weeks is here: Super Bowl week.

For those who aren’t football fans, though, there’s always a bit of trepidation, wondering what all the fuss is about. Fear not, my annual guide to all things Super Bowl follows:

This year’s game is Super Bowl LIII. Kickoff is III:XXX p.m. on the West Coast on all affiliates of the Columbia Broadcasting System, including here in the Monterey Bay area, KION-XLVI.

The first and most important thing to know if you’ve just been invited to a watch party is, who’s playing. This year’s contestants are the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.

The Patriots are quite familiar to even the most casual Super Bowl watchers. They’re making their 11th appearance in the title game. This year’s game is their third straight appearance, having defeated Seattle two years ago, but losing last year to Philadelphia.

No doubt that string of success inspired this outburst from a member of our elite panel of football experts, Phoenix-area accountant Jamie Heier, Internet-famous for her pants-pick method of determining winners.

“I never win the Super Bowl!!!! So now I’m in the ‘anybody but the Patriots Club.’ I’m just sick of seeing them …”

The Rams? It’s like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” to identify their hometown. They started in Cleveland in 1936, moved to the Los Angeles area in 1947, St. Louis in 1995 and returned to LA in 2016 and the storied Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Eventually, they’ll be in a stadium on the site of the former Hollywood Park race track in Inglewood.

If this matchup seems familiar, it’s because we saw this in 2002, when the Patriots defeated the Rams 20-17 on a late field goal by Adam Vinatieri.

Little could we have guessed, of course, that this game would become the launching pad for the legend of Tom Brady, then in his second year in the NFL.

Since then, he’s led the Patriots to nine Super Bowls, winning five, and was named MVP four times.

Greatest of all time? It’s impossible to compare eras in the NFL given the myriad of rule changes favoring offense, but in that one game to decide the fate of the world, in this corner of cyberspace we’re giving the ball to Joe Montana. But that should not deflate Brady’s place in NFL history.

Not to forget the Rams’ Jared Goff, of course, who will become the fifth Cal quarterback to start a Super Bowl, joining Joe Kapp, Craig Morton, Vince Ferragamo and Aaron Rogers. Of the five, only Kapp has taken the Bears to a Rose Bowl.

These and other fun facts can be found in your local newspaper, which if you’re not reading every day, you should in your effort to understand more about the game. We understand a TV network or two may be there as well. Check local listings.

It all boils down to Sunday, of course. You may want to avoid the marathon pregame coverage on CBS – especially the obligatory interview with President Trump – in favor of alternative programming, such as the Phoenix Open on NBC or an interesting NBA matchup between Oklahoma City and Boston on ABC.

If you’re not ready for sports, there’s always the Puppy Bowl.

But no matter if you’re watching at home, your local tavern or with friends, beware of strange people wearing gold and brown clothing with a fleur-de-lis. These are New Orleans Saints fans, still bitter about the non-call in the NFC championship game.

Not that we encourage drinking and driving here, but feel free to bring them a drink or two. Or three. Or four. It may not stop the crying, but if Maroon 5 lays an egg at halftime, it might be entertaining.

During the game? Relax. Remember it’s 10 yards for a first down, touchdowns are six points and yellow laundry on the field means bad things. Wow your friends by mentioning the Rams are the first team in Super Bowl history to have male cheerleaders. (Progress, there’s no stopping it!)

After the game. Relax. You’ve got a week or so until pitchers and catchers report.

Atwater to honor Section champs

A 31st anniversary seems like an odd reason for a celebration, but that’s exactly what’s going on in one of my ol’ stomping grounds Thursday night.

Members of this year’s Atwater High School girls basketball team are honoring the only Falcon team to win a Sac-Joaquin Section title in a ball sport, the 1987-88 squad, before the game against Central Valley in Atwater’s new gym. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

And what a team that was!

It went 31-2 in winning the school’s first Section title with a 70-67 win at the original ARCO Arena over Nevada Union and eventually advancing to the NorCal Final Four at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (no Oracle needed to write that), losing to an Oakland Fremont team that went on to win the state title.

What may amaze modern-day fans and players alike, in this era where sports specialization seems to start before the teen years, is not only were the core players on this team multi-sport athletes, but only two played basketball a higher level (Robin Dame and Shalounda Rittenhouse, at College of the Sequoias).

Also, only three other athletes played any sport at a college: Susan Flatt (nee Milani) on Fresno Pacific’s NAIA champion volleyball squad; Beth Williams (Norman), tennis at CSU Stanislaus; and Melissa Whitaker (Vieira), volleyball at Merced College.

It’s also worth noting: Coach Gary Parreira was a baseball player at San Francisco State during his college days.

Yet, put them all together on a basketball court and it all jelled.

“Not only was it a great experience, but it was a great time,” said Williams, who later went on to coach at Mariposa High. “We were like a family and we are still friends today. We had good players, but we were a team before any individual goals”

Next to the Section title, it didn’t get any better for these Falcons than on that January night they took on archrival Merced at the East Campus gym.

Dame sank a 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key at the buzzer to force overtime in a game the Falcons went on to win and preserve a perfect CCC mark.

Atwater defeated Merced again to conclude the regular season, after securing the No. 1 seed in the Section playoffs.

It was Dame who, after not scoring in the first three quarters of the game, engineered a fourth quarter rally against a Nevada Union squad that would go on to win the next three Section Div. I titles.

This year’s Falcons appear ready to pick up the torch held by the championship team, entering the game tied for first in the CCC with El Capitan at 5-1. On the season, they’re 16-6 and ranked No. 21 in Section and No. 9 in Div. II by Maxpreps.

This mark has come against an ambitious schedule that’s included Central Section powers San Joaquin Memorial, Buchanan, Bullard and Clovis.

And, as fate would have it, there’s even a 63-46 victory over Nevada Union back in December.

An omen? Perhaps, but that’s why they play the games.

What’s in a ballpark’s name?

We knew this day was coming, San Francisco Giants fans. So why all the fuss?

Last week, the team announced Oracle is the new title sponsor of their ballpark they’ve called home since the 2000 season, replacing the variously-named phone companies that have put their name on the stadium in a 20-year deal worth at least $200 million, per Bloomberg.

For all three parties, it’s business. The Giants get some cash, AT&T gets to readjust its focus elsewhere as desired and Oracle gets back some of the attention it’ll lose starting in the fall when the Warriors move across the Bay to the Chase Center.

Yet to some fans, after reading some of the posts on social media, you want to step outside for a few minutes just to confirm the sky has not fallen down.

To wit, or perhaps lack of wit: “Why can’t they still call it AT&T? Does Oracle have to have its name on everything? Can’t they just call it Willie Mays Field? Or Willie McCovey Park? Or Felipe Crespo Stadium?”

People, please.

The deal with AT&T. which already sponsors sporting venues in San Antonio and Arlington, Texas, was slated to end after this coming season. So there’s that.

Oracle isn’t spending millions to not put its name on the yard.

And the Giants? Hey, maybe they’ll finally do more than pick up players off the waiver wire or Rule 5 draft or re-sign players from a team that hasn’t gotten the job done the last two years.

The fans? Get used to it.        

The days of a stadium going by one name, such as Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, are long gone in today’s anything-for-a-buck sports culture.

Even venerable Wrigley Field has not been immune from this, opening in 1914 as Weeghman Park for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. It became Cubs Park in 1920 before the Wrigleys put their name on in in 1927.

And while San Francisco fans have seen Pac Bell Park morph into SBC Park, then AT&T Park, it’s been a gentle ride compared to other cities.

Fans in Miami first went to games at Joe Robbie Stadium when the Marlins came to be in 1993, only to see the name change to Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, Land Shark Stadium and Sun Life Stadium before fleeing for Marlins Park in 2012. But that did not stop the latest change, to Hard Rock Stadium, in August 2016.

And while the name is new, the things we’ll always remember about the yard are still there: Three World Series titles, an All-Star Game, balls taking crazy bounces off the arches in right field, a game to remember by Matt Cain, a historic hitting display by Pablo Sandoval, and all the balls hit into McCovey Cove, to name a few.

Let’s just hope this history does not include the Raiders in their lame duck season in the Bay area.

We have met the victims, and they are us

I have a friend who has the American Dream. A loving wife, three young girls and a home.

Just one problem: Not only does he work for the U.S. government, his job is one declared to be essential, so he must keep working, even though he’s not getting paid.

How will they buy groceries, clothes, gas and keep up mortgage payments with no income as the Trump Shutdown enters Week Three?

All over a wall that most people agree is not needed, will be ineffective and a colossal waste of taxpayer money – and isn’t Mexico supposed to be paying for all this? And why do they need more money when they’ve only spent six percent of the money they were allocated last budget cycle?

Except for a handful of folks, but they’re very important people: President Trump and his trusted advisers, er, media pundits.

And now not only is the president saying this silly showdown may continue for months, perhaps years, he’s also threatened to declare a national emergency to force construction to begin.

But it’s not only my friend and his family – and all federal workers forced to the sidelines – that this affects.

There’s the retail workers who will be getting less hours since fewer people are buying things. Manufacturers will produce fewer items since they aren’t in demand. Fewer things used to make the products are going to be made.

All this over a wall.

To slightly rewrite the late Walt Kelly of “Pogo” fame, we have met the victims, and they are us.

The people affected by this most, the federal workers who have become pawns in another round of high-stakes chess, Washington style, should be our focus, not the usual political taffy pull.

Could we use stronger borders? Of course. But why not frame the argument in that context, rather than a wall, which, on top of all the things cited above, will run into infinite legal challenges that will cost the Mexicans, er, U.S. taxpayers even more.

Enough of this ego-driven vicious cycle already.

It’s bye-bye, “Baby”

In a week that’s seen the country bury a beloved President and, perhaps, tighten the noose around a not-so-beloved one, we see one of the nation’s major news outlets come to the defense of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Seems that Fox News Channel, in another round of fighting a War on Christmas that was never declared, has devoted considerable time to radio stations removing the song from the MGM film “Neptune’s Daughter” from their playlists. The song won the Oscar in 1949 for best original song.
In case you’ve missed it – and if you have with so much important news taking place this week, it’s easy to see how one would – here’s the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MFJ7ie_yGU
According to NPR, Cleveland’s WDOK-FM, also know as Star 102, which, like many radio stations adopts a format heavy on holiday songs this time of year, removed “Baby” from the playlist, citing concerns over implications of date rape in the era of the #MeToo movement.
San Francisco’s KOIT soon followed suit but has since started a poll of listeners asking if the song should be reinstated.
In viewing the clip above and having heard the song – several times – on the music service pumped into my workplace, the question arises: What the heck does it have to do with the Christmas season, except talking about how cold it is?
No talk about celebrating the birth of Christ. No talk of Santa’s arrival. Just that it may not be a good night to be outside.
True, there are several songs played this time of year that don’t meet that criteria – “Sleigh Ride” by Johnny Mathis comes to mind immediately, and I’m sure there are others – but has a great seasonal feeling and theme (And, hey, it’s Johnny Mathis).
“Baby” doesn’t even pass that smell test. It’s like arguing “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. And unless one has an ulterior motive, hardly worth the fuss that’s been made.