How much is too much for stadia?

And for the last blog entry of the Obama era, thoughts naturally turn to … sports!

  • T’was the Romans that first developed the theory that bread and circuses were all that was needed to keep the masses happy.

It’s become clear over the last few months the NFL has bent the words of Juvenal for its own purposes: Come up with the bread, and we’ll keep the circus in town, but keep the cash in your pockets, the league will load the wagons and go elsewhere.

After 55 seasons of entertaining the masses in San Diego, the NFL is taking its show elsewhere, much like it did in St. Louis and appears to be on the verge of doing to Oakland – again.

All for the lack of an adequate playpen.

The masses may be unhappy, but in the NFL’s thinking, they’ll get over it, right?

It’s part of a disturbing pattern in the high-stakes game of musical chairs called keeping the team.

Look at Atlanta, for example, where not only have the Braves have abandoned their home of 20 years, Turner Field (originally built for the 1996 Olympics) for a yard in the suburbs, but a new stadium is being built right next to the Georgia Dome for the Falcons.

Then there’s Phoenix, where not only are the Diamonbacks making noise about wanting to replace fairly-new Chase Field, but there’s talk of giving the Suns and Coyotes a replacement for their recenlty-built arenas.

And don’t forget the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where the Texas Rangers will be getting a domed stadium by 2020, which makes on wonder why one wasn’t included when their current ballpark was built in 1994.

How much is enough for deep-pocketed sports owners? Why are they afraid to open their own checkbooks, much like Walter O’Malley did when building Dodger Stadium, or seeking funds from the private sector, like the Giants did while building AT&T Park or the Warriors in the runup to this week’s groundbreaking for Chase Center in San Francisco?

And how much is too much to ask taxpayers to pay for? Especially after years of support through ticket sales and purchases of team swag?

San Diego and St. Louis taxpayers have given their answer. Oakland’s may be sending one soon.

  • We’ll acknowledge Friday will be a difficult day for a lot of folks. Me included. After all, I start to get antsy when it’s 24 days until pitchers and catchers …
  • Any truth to the rumor the Univesity of Montana Grizzly Band was not invited to the inaugural parade in case the route is detoured past a school?

  • And, finally, thanks Obama, for the last eight years and giving us hope. To think the next time we hear a presidential address, it might become a Festivus-like airing of greivances is disturbing on many levels.


Realignment the right way

In watching all the hand-wringing and saber-rattling over the start of the realignment process in the Sac-Joaquin Section, not to mention the inevitable remaking of the Central Section, one thought comes to mind: Look to the west for wisdom.

Because there, you’ll see three leagues that have been reorganized in a matter of weeks, for the better.

In a series of decisions with lightning-like speed, the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League, which consists of most public schools in Santa Cruz County, has voted itself out of existence for football.

Most SCCAL schools have formed an alliance with the Mission Trail Athletic League, which serves much of Monterey County, to form two seven-team equity leagues that will start play this fall.

According to my friends at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, San Lorenzo Valley and Scotts Valley will join Carmel, King City, Pacific Grove, Soledad and Stevenson in one league, while Harbor, Santa Cruz, Soquel and St. Francis (Watsonville) join Gonzales, Marina and Greenfield in the other.

The lone exception is Aptos High, which is expected to join the area’s power league for football, the Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division.

Just like in the Monterey Bay League, teams will be moved up and down in division at the end of each season depending on performance, a system which should be familiar to those who follow European soccer.

It was Aptos’ dominance of the SCCAL over the past few years – six straight league titles and three Central Coast Section crowns – as well as numerous lopsided victories this past season (87-6 over Harbor, 52-0 over Santa Cruz and 55-0 over Soquel) that prompted the change.

If all continues according to plan, Aptos’ football program – which produced former Fresno State and NFL star Trent Dilfer, now at ESPN – will join the likes of Palma and San Benito and receive a proper challenge.

Aptos was the only school in the SCCAL that fielded a freshman team along with a JV program.

The other former SCCAL members get what high school athletes in any sport ask for – a chance to compete for league titles and playoff spots without fear of embarrassment.

There will be an increase in travel costs, naturally, and some rivalries will be reduced to non-league games.

But all in all, it’s one of those rare win-win situations that work out for all.

King to Cooperstown: Holy Toledo!

The word cut through cyberspace and Northern California airwaves much like a Dave Stewart fastball. Or a pass from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis. Or yet-another perfect Rick Barry free throw.

And, of course, topped off with an emphatic “Holy Toledo!”

Bill King, recipient of the Ford Frick award. Next stop: Cooperstown, 2017.

Of course, this award is for excellence in baseball broadcasting, which he did so well for the Oakland Athletics from 1980 until his death in 2005.

But, for all who have lived and breathed the San Francisco Bay area sports scene since the late 1950s, it’s validation for his work in all three sports. And he may have been better at basketball and football than at baseball.

LA had Vin Scully in baseball and Chick Hearn in basketball, but we had Bill King.

Both are one-trick ponies in many ways in comparison, namely, because they worked just the one sport.

For 50-plus years, he was courtside with the Warriors, behind the plate at the Coliseum or, in the same booth along the 50-yard line, painting word pictures of some of the greatest moments in Bay area sports history.

But beyond the routine of the game, there were the intangibles that even today’s blowed-dried pretty boy broadcasters miss without replay, helped by color analysts speaking in something resembling Sanskrit when it comes to their sport, with their talk of cover-2s, the wildcat and zone vs. man-to-man defense: Defensive switches, substitutions, changes in strategy, you name it.

And not just for the radio audience, but the thousands (like me) who turned off the network motormouths and listened to King describe what we were seeing on TV, before the proliferation of satellites and cable TV made this futile.

Off the air? You’d be more likely to find him at the ballet, opera or studying Russian literature, or, hitting the high seas as soon as NBA season ended, not to be seen again until the Raiders opened training camp.

Oh, those words! So perfect for the occasion, whether it was the defining moment of the game or yet-another tirade against NBA officiating (and we’ll refer you to the books by two of his biggest boosters, Hank Greenwald and Ken Korach, for all the details on the infamous Mother’s Day game).

But why write about them when we can listen:
From the Bay Area Radio Museum, the end of the Raiders-Chargers “Holy Roller” game in 1978:

From YouTube: A few highlights of the 1974 Dolphins-Raiders game mentioned above, the famous “Sea of Hands” game with Clarence Davis in the Promised Land:

Also from the Bay Area Radio Museum site, parts of a Warriors-Sixers game in 1977:

Another touch of the NBA, from a special commemorating the Warriors’ 1975 NBA championship. From YouTube:

From YouTube, what may very well be the last interview with King, orchestrated by KNBR’s Gary Radnich, who’s joined by the great Art Spander and Tony Bruno:

And, believe it or not, a little bit of minor league hockey, involving the San Francisco Seals and the Seattle Totems in a playoff game, doing color along with Roy Storey. Again, via the Bay Area Radio Museum: B32k.mp3

But this is about baseball, of course, so let’s start with an interview with Korach, talking about his book, with another great set of pipes, the Orioles’ Gary Thorne. Via YouTube:

Speaking of Dave Stewart: His no-hitter vs. the Blue Jays, via YouTube:

A’s defeat Red Sox in playoff game on a walkoff bunt:

A’s win 20th straight game on walkoff homer:

Holy Toledo, indeed!


Old Glory and false flags

Another Tuesday, another show … let’s get to it!

  • Flag burning? Really, Donald? Let’s forget that it’s already been declared free speech under the First Amendment (and we’ve seen how familiar Trump is with the Constitution). And let’s also forget this was not an issue in the campaign.

Instead, let’s call it what it really is: A diversionary tactic from a) Monday’s ridiculous and unsubstantiated allegations about illegal voters costing Trump the popular vote, and b) another round of Cabinet appointments destined to generate controversy.

Trump already has a chief of staff in Republican party chairman Reince Priebus. I’m starting to think he needs a nanny on staff as well, that one person who won’t let him tweet until he finishes all his vegetables, cleans his room, takes out the trash, walks the dog AND cleans the cat’s litter box.

Otherwise, it’s another play to his base that may still be pissed that charges won’t be filed against Hillary Clinton, Obamacare may survive in some form or same-sex marriages will remain legal. Or, if you’ll pardon the expression, a false flag.

  • The tweetstorms may play to the base, create a few laughs and provide something new for the cable gabfests, but consider this: In seven or so weeks, he’s going to be president.
  • Coaching vacancies make strange bedfellows, so it’s not surprising to hear former Fresno State football coach Pat Hill may have thrown his hat into the ring for the vacancy at San Jose State.

Some Bulldog supporters seem aghast that Hill would consider taking the gig with the school’s rival, but are these not the same supporters that ran Hill out of town a few years ago, only to wish he’d return before favorite son Jeff Tedford emerged as a candidate and eventually got the job.

Perhaps Hill just wants to get back on the sidelines after a few years in the broadcast booth. Or maybe it really is all about the Benjamins. But playing the loyalty card seems a bit far-fetched.

It’s happened before, perhaps never more famously than in baseball, when Leo Durocher moved across town from the Brooklyn Dodgers to New York Giants in mid season. Bo Schembechler was an assistant coach at Ohio State for several years before becoming head coach at Michigan. And Rick Pitino coached both Kentucky and Louisville sandwiched around a four-year stint with the Boston Celtics.

  • Hill would add a little star power to San Jose not seen since Dick Tomey took the helm. Otherwise, this seems like most other openings in the Mountain West, one for an assistant coach looking to have his own team with an eye on a Power 5 job, ala Mike MacIntyre, who left the Spartans for Colorado, which has a berth in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game.
  • Rumors the Red Sox and Giants were discussing a deal that would return Pablo Sandoval to San Francisco were shot down quickly last week. Not only did it not make baseball sense, but there wasn’t enough time to prepare Bay area restaurants for the return of the Panda, who, apparently, will have to be satisfied by joining Cliff and Norm for the Feeding Frenzy special at the Hungry Heifer.

Pigskin prospects, and a fight to remember

If you’re a sports fan, it’s been a weekend. Let’s take a look back:

  • Let’s start with the state of college football in the Bay Area. What a study of contrasts,

Was about to write Stanford salvaged some pride in a disappointing season with its seventh straight Big Game win over Cal last Saturday, but a peek at the stat sheet shows the Cardinal to be 8-3, with the losses coming to this year’s Pac-12 heavyweights, Washington, Washington State and Colorado. Yes, Colorado!

A trip to Pasadena seems unlikely, but bowls will definitely be calling.

Then there’s California. Has there been a bigger mess in Strawberry Canyon since Memorial Stadium’s rebuild?

The fine folks in Berkeley knew they were hiring an offensive coach when Sonny Dykes was hired four years ago, but one lesson is being reinforced week after week: You can’t discount defense in the Pac-12 like you did in the WAC. At times you wonder if the Bears aren’t studying some of the finest matadors in Mexico when making their defensive recruiting lists.

  • Then there’s this weekend’s anti-Big Game, when San Jose State heads over Pacheco Pass to meet Fresno State in a battle of rivals that have fallen upon hard times.

Both are coming off heartbreaking late losses, the Bulldogs losing when a field goal was blocked on the last play of the game, seconds after Hawaii scored the go-ahead touchdown, while San Jose State yielded a late touchdown to Air Force.

We’ve also got a battle between a lame-duck interim coach at Fresno vs. one who may be on shaky ground at SJSU.

Still, it’s a rivalry game, and I’m sure both schools have thrown the records in the recycling bin getting ready for this one. And who knows, we may get another finish like this one (alas, I don’t have a recording of the call by Ken Korach and Dave Ellis on KCBS of this one, but would love a copy if anyone’s in a giving mood!)

  • Then there’s the 49ers. Or to misquote Henny Youngman, take them, please.

Change seems inevitable, but in the GM’s office, or the coach’s office?

Trent Baalke seems the most likely candidate after the disassembly of a team that was in the Super Bowl a few years ago and just seconds away from it the next.

Hard to blame Chip Kelly for not turning this sow’s ear into a silk purse in one season, but ya have to wonder, despite words to the contrary, how much longer he can re$i$t offers from places to stay with a team that tried to put the fun in dysfunction, but even fumbled that opportunity.

  • Meanwhile, another tale in the story of the Bay area’s least appreciated champion, Oakland boxer Andre Ward, was written in Las Vegas Saturday night with his 12-round decision over Sergey Kovalev for the WBA, WBC and IBF light heavyweight belts.

Ward was knocked down for the first time in his pro career in the second round and appeared to be on the verge of his first loss since he was 12 at the midpoint of this 12-rounder.

But remember, Ward is not a boxer who goes for the big KO punch, but is a student of the art of boxing, who did what it takes to earn the one-point win on all three scorecards.

Was the fix in? Very, very unlikely. Even in his dispute with the late promoter Dan Goossen, Ward has always conducted himself with class. It’s unfortunate this suit and being stripped of his Super Six title by the politics of boxing has marred this legacy.

A bad decision? Who knows, considering some of the beauts we’ve seen in boxing of late.

But, because it is boxing, there will be a rematch. And who knows what that might bring?

Shopping overload!

And so it begins, even earlier than usual, it seems.

Unless you’re watching a non-commercial network, how do you miss them?

Black Friday deals starting now! Avoid the lines! Don’t forget Small Business Saturday! Buy today and avoid a Cyber Monday crash!

Yes, just like a baseball fan treats Opening Day as one of the high holy days on the calendar, and outdoorsmen rearrange their schedules for the opening of fishing or hunting season, so has the shopaholics found their Holy Grail with the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Stan Freeberg was one of the first to touch on this phenomenon with his “Green Christmas” in 1958, which featured the memorable line “Deck the halls with advertising.”

Who knew some 50 years later, the world would take him seriously?

Get this now! No, get that! Hurry up before they’re gone! Oops, too late, but try this Next Big Thing!

Oh, and don’t forget we’re not gonna close Wednesday, so you can get that shopping fix all day Thursday! Thursday! Thursday!

Not begrudging the businessman a chance to make a buck as we all do our part to make America great again, but much like Freeberg, I wonder if what we’re celebrating and what we should be doing during this time of year – all year, come to think of it – is getting replaced by the message Must Shop Now.

It all starts with a manger near Bethlehem a handful more than 2,000 years ago.

What we give and when we bought it – if we choose to participate in the buyathon at all – should not get lost in the shuffle.

It’s been my holiday custom of late to bake cookies for coworkers and family members. None of that premade stuff, either, I do it from scratch. Takes all day, sometimes several days, but that gift of personal time is that important to me.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but in the midst of this annual shopping frenzy, don’t forget to do something special and personal, for the others in your life.

As a result, your days will be merry and bright.

Athletes are people. So are people

Trade talk is the bread-and-low-fat vegetable spread of sportstalk radio and social media. A lot of times it’s just that, talk. But there’s times when it not only is nonsense, but seems like a desperate plea for attention.

Take, for example, the talk Monday the Golden State Warriors were about to make a blockbuster deal involving Klay Thompson.

The very idea was preposterous from the start, considering the massive rebuild the Warriors’ roster went though over the summer to accommodate Kevin Durant, the fact that the season is just a few weeks old, and, after an early stumble or two, Golden State is starting to shed the training wheels and go full Tour de France.

Yet, it was out there, so had to be dealt with. And, thankfully, one local reporter had to remind us the players are human beings with families, feelings, etc., which seems to be quickly forgotten in this era of media hype and fantasy leagues.

It’s easy to dismiss that as so much fuel for the 24/7/365 news cycle sports has become.

It would be nice to be able to dismiss in the same way some of the incidents in the past few days, based on race, gender and other factors, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.

Take, for example, the African-American veteran who was denied a free meal at Chili’s on Veteran’s Day when his service was called into question – erroneously – by a white veteran.

Or, the San Jose State student who said she was attacked on campus in what’s believed to be a racially-motivated attack. Another Muslim student, at San Diego State, was robbed, with the suspects making remarks about her faith and referencing Trump’s election, according to news reports.

Yes, in an election cycle where the sleaze-o-meter was at an all-time high, has human decency been thrown out like the baby’s bathwater?

These victims, like athletes, have families as well. They’re like the rest of us, working to improve their lot in life and, one hopes, leave the world in a little better shape than they found it.

And here in Santa Cruz County, bless the high school students , even though their role in the voting process was limited, for their role in social activism on Monday.

Students from Harbor, Santa Cruz and Soquel high schools staged a march protesting the election on Monday, while pupils at Kirby Prep have been involved in discussions regarding immigration, which led to a sit-in.

Is the administration-in-waiting listening? From the appointment of the head of a news site with racist and anti-Semitic tendencies to a key advisory post in the administration, the continued attacks on news media reporting less-than-favorable stories and talk of bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee, signs aren’t good. The echoes of finding “Second Amendment solutions” from the campaign trail are still ringing. And remember talk of rioting in the streets over the results? Those are becoming true.

Which is why protests, while nice, must also be turned into action after Jan. 20.