Big Game %V; Larry Baer; San Jose A's? No NBA; Who Cares? Bob Sarlatte/Barry Zito
THE BIG GAME will be played with a starting time of 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night at Stanford, but if you’re as upset with that as I am, don’t blame ESPN. The network was willing to televise it at 1:30 p.m. but the athletic directors of both schools didn’t want that because they’ll get more viewers at the later time – and, of course, more money.
And, if you want to know what’s wrong with college football, this is a very good start.
The Big Game is a “rivalry game”, very important to the alumni of the schools, not at all to those who are sports fans (and media) with no connection to the game. The Chronicle for a time had a college football writer who kept referring to it as the Cal-Stanford game, as if it were just another game on the schedule, because he is from Pennsylvania and had no connection with either team. I tried to explain to him why it was called the Big Game, but it was much like trying to convince an Arab of the importance of Israel.
For alumni, though, it is very much the Big Game, no matter what the records of the teams are. I’m an Old Blue, of course, but I’ve had numerous Stanford friends over the years and we’ve had fun verbally jousting during the week of the game. There are many events in the two weeks leading up to the game; I’ve been to several over the years but in recent years I’ve confined myself to the Guardsmen’s Big Game luncheon. The Guardsmen organization is a favorite because it helps disadvantaged youth and, no, I don’t mean in the sense that John Sandusky did.
Given all this, even if college teams play all the other games on their schedule at whatever time they can get on television, this is the one game that they should take the wishes of their alumni into account. Clearly, they did not, and shame on both schools for that.
LARRY BAER has been confirmed as the chief executive of the Giants, the one who deals with Major League Baseball…and then goes another San Jose A’s story line.
Maybe you didn’t see this one. A couple of months ago my friend, Mark Purdy, wrote that Lew Wolff was enlisting the support of other American League owners to vote against Baer’s promotion, replacing William Neukom, until the Giants had to relent on their territorial rights to San Jose. Mark and I even debated this issue on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast. I told him it wouldn’t happen because I know that baseball commissioner Bud Selig and all the National League owners want a strong San Francisco franchise.
That’s what it’s all about, really. The Giants were twice on the verge of leaving San Francisco, the first time in the mid-‘70s when Labatt’s Brewery had bought them with the thought that they would move the Giants to Toronto, before Bob Lurie and Bud Herseth bought the Giants and kept them in San Francisco. The second time, in 1992, Lurie had sold the team conditionally to Tampa Bay businessmen who were going to put it into St. Petersburg. The National League stalled until a group of San Franciscans, Baer among them, got their act together to keep the team in San Francisco.
MLB does not want to go through that again. San Francisco is a glamorous city and owners want to keep the name in the National League standings. San Jose has no such glamour. Neither does Oakland, of course, but it’s at least a familiar name. San Jose is a familiar name only to hockey fans, not to the general population.
Wolff keeps pushing, along with the San Jose mayor, who had the city buy up land for a potential ball park and then offered a lease to Wolff, who took out an option at a discount. That would still have to be approved by the city voters. What do you think the chances of that will be when voters learn that the property is now worth much less than the city’s purchase price – and now, it’s being offered at an even lower price. Despite all the publicity about sports teams, the electorate in Bay Area cities has not been willing to commit even relatively minimal amounts of money to building a baseball park. The Giants failed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Jose before deciding to privately finance their current park.
My fervent wish is that Wolff and John Fisher will sell the A’s, but there’s no pressure on them to do so because, with the current revenue-sharing in baseball, they’re making money without spending any on the facility or encouraging fans to come to the games. It’s a ridiculous situation.
IT’S AMUSING to San Franciscans coming to life as they realize the 49ers are a good team once again and bemoaning the fact that a new stadium is planned for Santa Clara.
Let’s get real here. The 49ers haven’t had much of a San Francisco following for some time. A member of the city’s planning department was quoted this week as saying that the 49ers would be moving 50 miles from their fan base, which only proves he hasn’t been close to the situation. In fact, as has been true for many years, the bulk of the fan base is down the Peninsula.
John York noted recently that the 49ers are a northern California team, not a San Francisco one. That is very true. They draw from as far away as Sacramento in the north, and the traffic from the East Bay and north across the Bay Bridge on game Sundays is very thick, much like rush hour in the week. I have first-hand knowledge because there’s no way of avoiding the crush when I leave my Oakland home for 49er games.
The move of San Francisco fans south is nothing new. In the ‘60s, when Lou Spadia was president of the 49ers, he first made a study of what it would take to update Kezar Stadium with chair seats. The subsequent report noted that capacity would be reduced to 37,000, so that was a no go.
The 49ers had already moved their headquarters to Redwood City and Spadia thought it would make sense to build on the peninsula, because so many fans had already moved there. But, he’d made a promise to the Morabito widows that he wouldn’t move the team out of San Francisco, so he moved the team to a re-done Candlestick in 1971. So, they’re technically still in San Francisco, but just barely.
Like the 49ers, the Giants are also a team located in San Francisco with a northern California fan base, but it’s quite different having a baseball team in the city because baseball fans patronize restaurants, stores and even hotels in the area. Football fans tailgate, watch the game and then go home.
As a result, while the 49ers occupancy of Candlestick has done nothing for the immediate area, the Giants new park in San Francisco has caused a huge economic spurt in the area, with new businesses and homes/apartments, as well as restaurants. It’s hard to remember now what that area was like before the new park was built but it was nothing like it is now.
The 49ers have tried to build a new stadium on Candlestick Point. Carmen Policy and Eddie DeBartolo pushed through a $112 million bond issue in San Francisco for a new stadium in 1997, but De Bartolo got caught up in the investigation of a Louisiana gambling scandal (though his involvement was almost accidental) and he was banned from the NFL. Then, Policy got a sweetheart deal in Cleveland which made him rich enough to start his own winery when he sold his part of the Browns and returned to the Bay Area.
John York had tentative plans for a new stadium on the current site, but then San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom wouldn’t return his phone calls. So, he and the organization turned to the Santa Clara site, which is just across from the 49ers practice facility.
Meanwhile, Policy is fronting for a development group that has proposed putting a stadium at Hunter’s Point, but he’s not pursuing that aggressively. Toxic waste would have to be removed from the site before anything could be built, and access roads would have to be built in from the freeway because the proposed site is further from the freeway than Candlestick. Who’s going to pay for those roads? The city of San Francisco? Ho, ho, ho.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are going ahead with their plans in Santa Clara. There’s still a mountain to climb – the money required to build it – but it’s clear to all but a handful of benighted San Franciscans that, if a new stadium is built, it will be there. San Francisco is not an option.
NBA TURMOIL: As I’ve written before, the only people I sympathize with in this battle are the people whose livelihood depends on the games being played, from ushers to concessionaires. I have no sympathy for either the players or owners.
It’s hard to say who’s been more inept in the thwarted negotiations. The players supposed leader, Billy Hunter, is no negotiator and it’s not even clear that he has the support of the players he represents. It would not surprise me at all if he’s replaced. The owners are bullies, trying to get players to accept a much lower percentage of revenue because they won’t make any effort themselves to make changes to improve the structure of the game. And, speaking of bullies, commissioner David Stern looks worse than anybody in this mess. Commissioners are hired to represent owners but in other sports, they try to work at least part of the time with players to bring about settlement of disputes. Not Stern. He lined up firmly with owners and tried to coerce the players into signing an agreement by telling them the next offer would be worse.
The players’ response: They’re decertifying as a union so they can take owners to court. Way to go, commissioner. You really showed everybody.
A personal confession: I enjoyed basketball much more when I was younger. It’s a fast-paced game that becomes harder to follow as you grow old. In my early days at The Chronicle, I remember Russ Hodges saying, “Bill King talks faster than I can listen.” I’m much more understanding of that now.
But, I still enjoy college basketball because it’s a game of different styles, some very fast, some more deliberate. The NBA game has become static, simply a matter of getting the ball to one or two players who are the best shooters on the team.
If the whole season is lost, a real possibility, it won’t bother me in the least.
BASEBALL REALIGNMENT: Putting Houston in the American League may not be good news for the A’s, who don’t need another opposing team with no drawing power, but it makes sense for the sport as a whole. Now, there will be an even number of teams in each league and five teams in every division, instead of four in the AL West and six in the NL Central. It also makes inter-league scheduling easier because there won’t be that single matchup of National League teams.
The Astros have seldom been a draw, especially now, with a dreadful team. Generally speaking – the NBA team has been an exception, when it’s been really good – Houston teams in all sports have not been good attractions. Maybe it’s the city association. Houston is a sprawling mess of a city, much like Los Angeles but with even less charm. Even Dallas is a more appealing city. I’ve never visited Austin, but it seems to be the one Texas city which everybody likes. But the next person who tells me he likes Houston will be the first.
BOB SARLATTE: As usual, Sarlatte was the master of ceremonies for the Guardsmen’s Big Game luncheon and, among his many one-liners, there were two I particularly liked:
--“It’s been a great fall in the Bay Area. Cal and Stanford are both going to bowl games, the 49ers are 8-1 and the Warriors are undefeated.”
--“Brian Sabean has been on the phone with the Venezuelan kidnappers to see if there’s any interest in Barry Zito.”
I’m presuming the groans that greeted the second one came from Giants fans, who realize they’re stuck with Zito for another two years. The kidnappers don’t want Zito, and neither does any club in major league baseball.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I’ll be back on my Wednesday schedule on Nov. 30.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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