49ers Ticket Prices; Bill Walsh/Jerry Rice; Roger Clemens/Barry Bonds; Lew Wolff/Bud Selig
SOME LONG-TIME 49ers fans are complaining about the prices for the best seats in the Santa Clara stadium, for which ground-breaking will take place tomorrow. Welcome to the world of big-time sports, folks.
The really high ticket prices are for 9000 seats in a stadium which will seat about 67,000. These are the ones which have personal seat licenses (PSLs), which have been the way modern sports facilities have been at least partially financed since the mid-80s; I believe Arizona State was the first to use them. Because of the stigma attached to this name, the Giants call their PSLs “charter seats”. I’m sure there were long-time Giants fans who were not happy with these prices, either, but I don’t remember any big complaints.
There are three points to remember about these complaints:
1) There are still many more reasonably-priced (by current standards) seats in the stadium, and many of them are very good seats. They just aren’t the best seats, which the long-time fans have had at Candlestick, because the demand has not been high since the 49ers stopped winning Super Bowls.
2) The alternative to these seats is for cities to provide a major part of the financing. That hasn’t been possible for a very long time in California cities. Remember that the Giants had three serious ballot propositions (I don’t count the silly one Dianne Feinstein had on the ballot in 1987) in San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Clara. All were turned down, though the amount of public contribution that would be required was relatively small. The current Giants ownership conducted a poll after buying the team from Bob Lurie and found that, though fans were very happy that the Giants had been kept in San Francisco, city voters did not favor any public financing of a new park. So, they raised money to build the park themselves.
3) Though you can always find examples of great fan loyalty, such as the man pictured on the front of today’s front page in The Chronicle and featured in a long piece in the sports section by Scott Ostler, fan “loyalty” goes up and down with the fortunes of the team. When he was promotions director for the 49ers in the late ‘60s, Dick Berg invented the phrase “49ers Faithful,” but in fact, the 49ers didn’t start selling out on a season ticket basis until they started winning Super Bowls in the ‘80s. What a coincidence. The last few years, the 49ers have had to buy up tickets for almost every game to produce “sellouts”, so they could keep their games on home TV. I’m not suggesting that fans should support losing teams, and I think ticket prices in all sports are ridiculously high, but let’s not pretend: The 49ers are not insulting long-time fans. They’re just being realistic about their choices.
THE APPROACH of the NFL draft reminded me how much pro football has changed since I was covering the Raiders, 1967-71.
At that time, the draft was held in February, after which teams closed up shop until July, when training camp opened. Now, the draft is postponed until April, so you have the “combine” in Indianapolis, where players are measured for mostly non-football abilities and interviewed. Meanwhile, there is endless speculation about who will be drafted by which teams and mock drafts are on many websites. After the draft, teams have mini-camps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs). There is an endless stream of publicity, which the NFL loves, because it is now a year-round sport, in the headlines and on TV almost constantly. It is also the No. 1 sport in the country. Those two items are not unrelated.
THE DRAFT is also another reminder of Bill Walsh’s greatness because Walsh’s brilliance showed in the way he handled the draft.
He stumbled a bit at first, though his first draft netted Joe Montana and Dwight Clark. Not too shabby. But it wasn’t until his third draft, in 1981, that he really hit his stride. That draft brought in Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson – three-fourths of the starting defensive backfield that year, with Dwight Hicks, a free safety signed as a free agent – and got the 49ers headed toward their first Super Bowl.
Walsh had his own methods. One of them was having separate meetings with scouts and coaches, so one group could not influence another. He demanded that they all speak; if one member of the group were silent, Walsh would specifically call on him. And the question he asked every coach and scout was, “What skill/ability does this player have that can help the 49ers?”
Character mattered to Walsh, and he had a secret weapon in scouting director Tony Razzano. Knowing that coaches would boost their own players because it gave prestige to the college program if it produced high NFL draft picks, Razzano would talk to people behind the scenes, like an equipment manager, to get an accurate appraisal of character. He knew that even those players who said all the right things in interviews would relax and show their true character in the locker room.
Knowing that he didn’t have time to view films of all potential picks, Walsh had his film people pick out the 10 best plays and the 10 worst of the top prospects for him to check. That gave him an idea of the range of the player’s ability.
Walsh also had a clear idea of what he was seeking when he went into the draft. The best examples of that were the back-to-back drafts in 1985 and ’86.
The 49ers had won their second Super Bowl after the 1984 season but Walsh felt there was one element they lacked: a topflight wide receiver. Freddie Solomon was slowing down, because of age and a knee injury, and there was no real game-breaker on the squad.
The college receiver who caught his eye, of course, was Jerry Rice. Walsh was an intensely practical man but he also had what might be called a weakness for fanciful tales, what Ira Miller and I used to call his rewriting of history. You can put the tale about his discovering Rice while watching the TV sports news the night before a 49ers game in Houston in that category. I have no doubt he saw shots of Rice but he watched much more footage and did research into Rice’s background before he traded up to get him in the first round. He would never have made his decision on the basis of one TV sports report, and in fact, when we worked on “Building a Champion”, he admitted that he’d heard about Rice long before that night in Houston. But the story about his “discovery” certainly made compelling newspaper reading for several years.
Rice was not highly regarded by other decision-makers in the NFL because he never ran a very fast 40. (Al Davis, especially, would never have considered him.) But Walsh often talked about “football speed,” the fact that some players ran faster with the football than without. In his prime, before Warren Sapp tore up his knee, Rice was never caught from behind.
So, Walsh traded up in the first round to get the player generally regarded as the top receiver in history. I don’t make those judgments because the game has changed so much, making it impossible to compare Rice with Don Hutson, who dominated the game of his time as thoroughly as Rice did his. But wherever you put Rice in the game’s history, he was certainly a dominant player for the last three 49ers Super Bowl champions – and well worth trading up to get.
The next year was the opposite. Walsh surveyed the eligible players and decided that several were close to the same ability, so he instructed his long-time aide, John McVay, to trade down. McVay, who knew everybody, kept trading until he wound up with extra picks. The 49ers didn’t start picking until late in the second round but wound up with, in order picked, defensive end Larry Roberts, fullback Tom Rathman, cornerback Tim McKyer, wide receiver John Taylor, defensive end Charles Haley, offensive tackle Steve Wallace, defensive tackle Keviin Fagan and cornerback Don Griffin, all of whom played important roles in the 1988-89 Super Bowl champions.
I’ve been impressed with Trent Baalke, the current 49ers GM who is doing very good work. But, there was only one Bill Walsh.
IF YOU want a great example of how not to treat your employes, you need look no further than the way KNBR (owned primarily by Cumulus) fired Ralph Barbieri last week. Barbieri reported for work but was told that he was no longer employed. When he went to his car, he learned that his e-mail had already been shut off. The whole process took just seven minutes.
I’ve known Barbieri for more than 30 years; he was a free lance writer, working on a magazine piece on Bill Walton when we first met. We’ve had many dealings over the years, both on and off the air. I have never been a fan of his interviewing techniques but I like Ralph and I respect his work ethic. After 28 years behind the microphone for KNBR, he deserved much better than this from Cumulus. I have no special information on his firing but I suspect the obvious: Cumulus, known for its bottom-line operation, wanted to get rid of his salary. (I’m sure the Hearst editors would have done the same to me when they took over The Chronicle but the Newspaper Guild protects jobs of employes after the first three months, so I stuck around until Hearst offered a lucrative buyout in September, 2006. The union for radio-TV employes, AFTRA (to which I’ve also belonged since I started doing radio and TV work), sets minimum wage scales but does not protect jobs.
Interestingly, Barbieri has retained Angela Alioto to act as his attorney. This could get very interesting. I’ve worked with Angela and know that she’s very intelligent, with a mind that often spins out in different directions simultaneously. She is also a compulsive talker. The attorney-client meetings will no doubt involve both individuals talking at the same time, with neither one listening!
ROGER CLEMENS is the latest baseball superstar to be tried by the Feds for allegedly lying about his steroids use. Apparently, they haven’t they learned anything from their strung-out prosecution of Barry Bonds, which was largely unsuccessful. The only thing sillier than this is the prosecution of California medical marijuana purveyors. Don’t they have anything better to do with our tax dollars?
THE SLUGGISH start of the Giants has some of their fans panicked, judging by the e-mails I’m getting. It might be better to look at the standings. As of this morning, Washington was first in the NL East and Philadelphia was last. Do you expect that state of affairs to last? In the American League, both the Angels and Red Sox were last in their divisions. Again, do you expect they will finish that way?
Baseball is the most unpredictable of games, which is why it’s necessary to have a long season in which, presumably, the ups and downs will even out.
Two Giants pitchers best illustrate that, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito.
Lincecum’s slow start has panicked some fans; I’ve heard everyting from arm problems to romantic complications blamed for his slow start. In fact, I think it’s more a result of his unusual pitching style. Matt Cain is the opposite; he has a smooth, consistent delivery which makes for more consistent results. Lincecum, though, has a complicated delivery – I’ve written on this before – and he can have stretches where he just can’t seem to put everything together. But when he does, he’s brilliant – and I expect him to return to that form soon.
Zito is the opposite example. For those who are dazzled by his unexpected shutout of the Rockies and good followup against the Pittsburgh Pirates, I would remind you of his April, 2010 record, when he was pitching better than he had in his Cy Young award winning season of 2002. By the end of the season, he was so ineffective that he was left off the postseason roster.
Zito’s problem is that, when he’s successful, he starts doing what he calls thinking and changes his approach. I have every confidence that he’ll do the same this year and return to his ineffective self. I only hope the Giants have Eric Surkamp ready to step into the No. 5 starting role when that happens.
The biggest concern for the Giants is the loss of Brian Wilson, who probably first hurt his arm in being a big part of the Giants World Series triumph in 2010. It’s eerily similar to the way Robb Nen blew out his arm in 2002, when the Giants should have posted their first championship since they had come to San Francisco.
Fortunately for the Giants, GM Brian Sabean’s best talent is assembling a strong bullpen, and the Giants can probably weather this storm with a closer-by-committee approach.
SPORTSWRITERS are the laziest members of the newspaper media. We’re all accustomed to having information shoveled our way, statistics, game reports. So, many simply accept whatever they’re handed as gospel.
The latest example is the urban legend that Walter Haas gave territorial rights to Bob Lurie in 1990. As I explained in a recent Examiner column, he had nothing to give at that point. The current dispute is based on the agreement the current Giants ownership made with MLB in late 1992, agreeing to get a new park built within 10 years if they got territorial rights to counties down the peninsula and in San Jose.
A’s owner Lew Wolff, he of the forked tongue, claimed in a press release recently that it was Haas’s supposed gesture that was at stake, and commissioner Bud Selig echoed that in his latest statement. It’s not a coincidence that Wolff and Selig were members of the same fraternity in college.
The A’s have talked about putting this on the agenda for the owners meeting in May but, despite what will probably be several stories about it in the San Jose Mercury, it’s not likely to happen. Selig likes to have a strong consensus, preferably unanimous, for anything on the agenda. He won’t have it for this item.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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