Archive for the ‘Sports Bar’ category

Vancouver memories and Canada dreams

March 1, 2010

I miss the Winter Olympics already.

Miscellaneous thoughts and observations from the 21st Winter Games in Vancouver…

The start of the Games was overshadowed by the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luger from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, in a crash during a pre-Games training run on the day of the opening ceremonies. All of the sliding events (luge, bobsleigh, and skeleton) were subsequently altered, with the men starting from the (lower) women’s launch point and the women starting at the junior-level gate. Even with these adjustments, we saw a higher-than-usual number of wipeouts in these events, even among the most skilled competitors.

The Canadian women’s curling team had a member who was five months pregnant. Seriously, if you can do it at a world-class level when you’re heavily gravid, it’s really not much of a sport.

Speaking of curling, a shout-out to local Sonoma County company Loudmouth Golf, suppliers of wackily patterned pants for the Norwegian men’s curling squad. Seriously, if you can do it at a world-class level wearing ludicrous trousers, it’s really not much of a sport.

Canadian Joannie Rochette skated the short program of her life, less than three days after her mother’s sudden death from a heart attack. Joannie’s free skate was equally dazzling, netting her a bronze medal and the adulation of millions.

Bode Miller skiied home with a complete set of medals — a gold in super-combined, a silver in super-giant slalom, and bronze in the downhill. In so doing, he actually managed to seem slightly less full of himself than he did four years ago in Torino, where he was a total bust.

Memo to NBC’s Bob Costas: Put. The Just for Men. Down. Although, to Bob’s credit, his dye jobs looked better in Vancouver than they did two years ago at the Summer Games in Beijing.

Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White and Jeret “Speedy” Peterson busted out impossible-seeming aerial moves in the snowboard halfpipe and freestyle skiing, respectively, proving that if you want to be really good at anything, you need a snappy nickname.

Women’s halfpipe starred its own pair of tomatoes — silver medalist Hannah Teter and bronze medalist Kelly Clark.

Thanks to Bill Demong, Johnny Spillane, and their Nordic Combined teammates, Team USA won three medals in a class of events where no American had so much as sniffed the podium in, like, forever.

Has there ever been a more amazing female figure skater than South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na? If so, I must have missed seeing her. In technique, in artistry, and in power, Yu-Na was so many light-years ahead of the rest of the competitors that I almost felt embarrassed for the field.

Lost amid the highly deserved excitement over Apolo Ohno’s becoming the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian ever was the fact that his close friend Shani Davis won Team USA’s only speed-skating gold, in the men’s 1000 meters. Shani added a silver in the 1500. The most heart-warming story in speed skating came via J.R. Celski, who earned a bronze in 1500 meter short-track (thanks to a spectacular wipeout involving two Korean competitors) in his first competition after a horrific injury last fall.

We love Steve Holcomb and the Night Train, the gold-winning team in men’s four-man bobsleigh (and yes, that’s how they spell it at the Olympics). Steve’s celebratory “Holkie Dance”? Not so much.

Smackdown of the Games: Evan Lysacek’s win over the Ivan Drago of figure skating, Evgeni Plushenko.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was so incensed by his country’s lack of gold medals in Vancouver that he called for the ouster of Russia’s sports ministry. Tough sledding (pun intended) since that Soviet machine went away, eh, Vlad?

Proving that she does, in fact, know her shin from Shinola, Lindsay Vonn overcame a much-publicized injury to bag gold in the downhill and bronze in the super-G. Her teammate Julia Mancuso took home a pair of silver medals, in the downhill and super-combined.

Seth Wescott repeated as the only man ever to win gold in Olympic snowboard cross, a sport that I am convinced recruits its participants from insane asylums.

Halfpipe bronze medalist Scott Lago was sent home by the U.S. Olympic Committee, after photos appeared on the Internet showing Scott and a female companion engaging in risque business with his medal.

Memo to NBC’s makeup department: The technician who worked on the broadcast crew at the figure skating events needs to be fired.

Hannah Kearney and pink-tressed Shannon Bahrke displayed knees of steel as they pounded to gold and bronze, respectively, in women’s moguls. Bryon Wilson notched a bronze in the men’s version. How anyone could stand up after that event is beyond me.

Silver was the color of the season for Team USA hockey, with both the men’s and women’s teams coming in second to the homestanding Canadian squads. The USA men drove the Maple Leafers to overtime in the gold-medal game, with a last-minute goal by Zach Parise of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Buffalo Sabres goalkeeper Ryan Miller battled valiantly between the pipes, earning recognition as the hockey tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Perhaps the most shocking moment of the Games — aside from the Kumaritashvili and Rochette tragedies — occurred in the men’s 10,000-meter speed skating event. Dutch skater Sven Kramer lost the gold medal following his disqualification after the Netherlands’ coach, Gerard Kemkers, directed Kramer into the incorrect lane for the race’s final lap. An understandably angry Kramer appeared inconsolable after the race. If the Dutch have an equivalent to the witness protection program, Kemkers is probably in it right now.

I don’t believe ice dancing is really a sport — it’s more of a competitive exhibition — but silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White did us proud nonetheless, as did fourth-place finishers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

Neither of our teenage figure skaters, Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt, came home with a medal (they finished fourth and seventh), but both gave their finest performances to date. Watch out for Mirai in 2014 — she’ll be on the podium for sure.

Will we ever forget the image of the malfunctioning hydraulics on the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies? Good on the Canadians for poking fun at themselves by revisiting the misfire at the end of the Games.

And oh yeah… how did we ever watch the Olympics before HDTV?

This disc has flown

February 11, 2010

A moment of silence, please, in memory of the late Walter Fredrick “Fred” Morrison, who shuffled off this mortal coil earlier this week.

Who was Fred Morrison? I’m glad you asked, friend reader, for indeed this esteemed gentleman played an essential role in my formative years.

Fred Morrison, you see, invented the Frisbee.

Morrison got the idea for his legendary sporting device from tossing a cake pan around when he was young. In 1948, after extensive research into the aerodynamics of bakeware, Morrison began marketing a modified, plastic version of the pan under the trade name Pluto Platter. After Morrison’s initial success, Wham-O Manufacturing bought the rights to the product and changed its name to Frisbee.

As the story goes, the name Frisbee came from a New England bakery — the Frisbie Pie Company — whose aluminum pans were already popular with college students for their fun-flinging capabilities. Wham-O, recognizing a marketable buzzword when they heard one, borrowed the name for Morrison’s flying discs.

The rest, as they say in the sporting goods business, is history.

Here in Rohnert Park, the Frisbee holds a lofty place in our local lore. In the 1970s, Sonoma State University was one of the last remaining bastions of bohemian — dare I use the word hippie? — subculture. Among the hallmarks of Granola State — as the university was often nicknamed in those tie-dyed, macraméd days — was the colorful fusillade of Frisbees that could be seen sailing across its verdant lawns on any sunny afternoon.

Although I didn’t attend SSU, I did obtain my final two years of secondary education on the campus immediately adjacent. Thus, I spent more than my fair share of time hurling a plastic plate to and fro with my friends.

Ah, youth.

Cameron Crowe’s novel Fast Times at Ridgemont High contains a hilarious scene that was, sadly, excluded from the hit film based on the book. In it, a couple of arrested postadolescents in the employ of Wham-O visit the school to perform a Frisbee demonstration. These self-important jocks insist that their sporting device of choice be referred to as “the disc,” because calling it a Frisbee would be plebeian and therefore uncool. (The pair collect the phone numbers of several Ridgemont females before taking their leave.)

There is, I’m told, no truth to the rumor that instead of being buried, Fred Morrison’s remains were simply cast willy-nilly upon the roof of a nearby house, and abandoned there.

As fitting as that might have been.

Hero of the Day: Jon Miller, Hall of Famer

February 1, 2010

Today, SSTOL offers a laurel and hearty handshake to San Francisco Giants voice Jon Miller, who today was announced as the 2010 winner of the Ford C. Frick Award — meaning his induction this summer into the broadcasters’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“The Big Kahuna” — as his broadcasting partners lovingly refer to him — joined the Giants’ on-air team in 1997, replacing another beloved local legend, Hank Greenwald. Before coming to San Francisco, Miller was the voice of the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years, preceded by brief stints with the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and Boston Red Sox. He’s also been the play-by-play announcer for ESPN’s weekly Sunday Night Baseball telecasts since 1990.

Big Jon’s trademark humor and literate style have endeared him to Giants fans, as well as the national audience. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a genuine Bay Area native — born in The City and raised in the East Bay. As an even more narrowly specific local angle, one of Miller’s first broadcasting jobs was doing the evening sports news at Santa Rosa’s KFTY-50 back in the early 1970s. (A youthful Kahuna appears at 1:19 in the linked YouTube video clip.)

Among Miller’s signatures is his pronunciation of the names of Latin ballplayers, for which he uses a pitch-perfect Spanish accent. He frequently tosses an “Adios, pelota!” into his home run call when, say, Pablo (Kung Fu Panda) Sandoval crushes one over the left field wall at AT&T Park.

The Kahuna is under contract to broadcast Giants games for at least the next three seasons. Here’s hoping the newly minted Hall of Famer enjoys another couple of decades calling baseball by the Bay.

The Hawk flies in

January 6, 2010

It only took nine years — in my never-humble opinion, that’s eight years too many — but slugging outfielder Andre “The Hawk” Dawson finally gained election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Dawson didn’t make the necessary total by much. To be enshrined, a candidate has to pull a minimum of 75% of the ballots submitted by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). Dawson netted 77.9%, 15 votes above the cutoff. Last year, he fell 44 ballots shy.

I’ve no explanation why it took Dawson nearly a decade to be elected to the Hall. Anyone who saw him play recalls The Hawk as both a formidable hitter and a talented outfielder during his lengthy major league career. He suffered a good deal from injuries toward the end of his run, and he hung on as a shadow of his former self for about three years beyond the point at which he should have retired. (I can name a few dozen legends of the game who committed that latter indignity, starting with two of my favorites, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.) But in his prime — beginning with his Rookie of the Year season in 1977 and continuing through his last year with the Chicago Cubs in 1992 — Dawson defined the phrase “money player.”

I’m thrilled that he’s in.

If I’d had a ballot this year, I’d have also voted for:

Roberto Alomar, one of the two best all-around second basemen of my lifetime (Joe Morgan was the other — Jeff Kent, an average-to-dreadful defensive player, was the best offensive player I’ve seen at the position).

Jack Morris, the American League’s best starting pitcher throughout the 1980s.

Barry Larkin, a terrific shortstop on both sides of the ball.

Lee Smith, one of the most imposing closers I’ve ever seen, and former holder of the career record for saves.

I would not have voted for Bert Blyleven, whose 400 votes left him five short of election. Blyleven will get into the Hall eventually — which, if it accomplishes nothing else, will stop his annual whining about not getting in — but he shouldn’t. Blyleven may be the most overrated pitcher of the modern era (unless that’s Don Sutton, who’s already in the Hall, and should never have been elected). His current vote total is inflated by writers who simply look at the numbers, and not at the actual quality of play. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every year until he finally cracks through: No one who actually saw Bert Blyleven pitch thinks he was a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher. And if they do, they don’t know jack about baseball.

Every year, I’m stunned by the wasted votes at the bottom of the tote board. This year is no exception. I don’t know who the two writers were who voted for Ellis Burks, or the two who voted for Eric Karros, or the guys who cast solo votes for David Segui, Pat Hentgen, or Kevin Appier. These clueless people should never be allowed to vote for anything that involves baseball, ever again, period. (Burks, an outfielder who contributed two-plus excellent seasons for my beloved Giants, was a very fine player and, by all accounts, an outstanding teammate. But if he was a Hall of Famer, I’m Barry Bonds.)

Oh, and Mark McGwire? We’re not here to talk about the past.

Hit the road, Jack

November 16, 2009

Stephen Jackson got half of what he’s been clamoring for: a one-way ticket out of Oakland.

Unfortunately for him, the journey ends in Charlotte.

Stack Jack, who devolved from team captain to malcontent in the course of  a single preseason, had hoped for a trade to a contender — specifically, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who reportedly passed on picking him up. Instead, he and guard Acie Law were shipped cross-continent to the Bobcats, a team with an identical record to Golden State’s 3-6, an equally difficult coach in the much-traveled Larry Brown, and arguably dimmer future prospects than even the Warriors.

Good luck with that, Jack.

In exchange, the Warriors receive swingman Raja Bell, an excellent defender and outside shooter who’s on the down side of his career (he’s 33) and nursing an injury (a torn wrist tendon), and 6′ 10″ Vladimir Radmanovic, an overpaid bust with an expensive option for next season. The 6′ 5″ Bell, assuming he keeps playing hurt, will pick up most of the minutes Jackson had been getting in Golden State. He’s a similar player — a little smaller, somewhat less of an offensive threat, but on the other hand, less greedy for the ball. Radmanovic will be lucky to get off the bench in Don Nelson’s system.

I’m sorry to see Acie Law go. He looked like a player in the limited action he saw during his brief stay here. But almost any price is worth being rid of Jackson, who was only going to get grumpier and louder as the season wore on. Given that the Warriors aren’t going anywhere this year anyway, they did well to take what they could get, and move on.

Now if we could just get Nellie to retire to Maui, and let chief assistant Keith Smart take over the team.

The view from the Oracle

October 26, 2009

Some thoughts as I watched the Golden State Warriors’ open practice at Oracle Arena today, two days before the team’s NBA season opener against the Houston Rockets…

Disgruntled former captains aside, this team has potential. Anthony Morrow looks like he could make a serious impact in his sophomore season, and the rookie point guard, Stephen Curry, can ball.

Speaking of disgruntled former captains: Shut up and play, Stack Jack. You couldn’t buy a bucket — or remember to pass — today.

Teaming two relatively small guards in the backcourt doesn’t worry me. The tandem of Curry and Monta Ellis ought to be able to run and shoot half the teams in the Association out of the building. Plus, Curry’s already the best passer on the team.

Starting Corey Maggette does worry me. Not because Maggette isn’t a terrific player — he is, and right now, he looks terrific — but because he’s a physical guy who gets injured a lot. The Warriors are better off with Corey coming in gunning off the bench, keeping him fresh and relatively unbattered.

Three thousand-plus preadolescent schoolkids can raise quite a shriek when told to “Make Noise!” by a scoreboard graphic. Perhaps we shouldn’t encourage that.

Andris Biedrins and Anthony Randolph still appear to be nursing injuries. Both played at about half-speed today. Although the way Biedrins usually plays, it’s hard to tell.

Kelenna Azubuike looks to be over his ankle sprain. That was one killer dunk he threw down.

Having Mikki Moore alongside Ronny Turiaf could make for an exciting frontcourt when the starters are resting. Those two guys love to get after it. It’s good to have another big man who, like Turiaf, understands the meaning of “hustle.” Biedrins and Randolph are still wrestling with that concept.

Acie Law can play a little. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.

Today is Monta’s 24th birthday. Curry the rookie was called upon to lead the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to him. This was a bad idea for two reasons: (1) Steph cannot sing; and (2) Steph does not appear to know the tune to “Happy Birthday.”

Don Nelson looks every day of his 69 years. Maui’s calling, Nellie.

The UFL truth

October 8, 2009

Tonight, at AT&T Park — the home of your San Francisco Giants — the new United Football League (to be referred to hereafter as the UFL) kicks off its inaugural season.

Nobody cares.

This maiden contest pits the homestanding California Redwoods (whose uniforms, in stark contrast to the obvious hues suggested by the name, are a sickly lime green) against the visiting Las Vegas Locomotives.

Nobody cares.

All four of the UFL’s teams — the others are the New York Sentinels and the Florida Tuskers, the latter of which will play home games in the Tampa Bay area — are coached by NFL veterans. The Redwoods’ main clipboard holder is Dennis Green, former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals, who has local ties as a two-time assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers and head coach at Stanford University.

And still nobody cares.

The last serious attempt to burrow into the National Football League’s stranglehold hegemony occurred back in the early 1980s, when the United States Football League (USFL) struggled along for three seasons. (I use the word “serious” because no one took seriously the short-lived XFL, concocted by by the same geniuses who brought you the WWE.)

The USFL played its games in the late spring and early summer, avoiding direct competition with the NFL. The moment that the USFL — in a fit of self-destructive bravado — decided to move its season to the fall, the NFL pulled in the reins. The upstart league died with barely a whimper.

I actually enjoyed the USFL for two reasons. For one, the local team, the Oakland Invaders (a certain similarly named NFL squad was slumming in Los Angeles at the time), played many of its home games on Saturday afternoons, making it possible for those of us with Sunday responsibilities to attend. For another, the Invaders’ tickets were relatively inexpensive and readily available, unlike those of the then-dynastic 49ers, so that even on my college student budget I could take in a few contests each year.

As most startup sports leagues do, the USFL went through near-constant franchise turmoil throughout its three-year run. Between the second and third seasons, the Invaders absorbed the former Detroit franchise, the Michigan Panthers, and the two teams’ rosters merged. This resulted in the Invaders, a mediocre club their first two seasons, suddenly becoming a powerhouse — thanks to the addition of several top players from the former USFL champion Panthers, including quarterback Bobby Hebert. The rejuvenated Invaders compiled a 13-4-1 record on their way to the league championship game, which Oakland lost in a 28-24 thriller to the Philadelphia Stars.

Then the USFL went away.

I anticipate the same dire fate for the UFL. Only, I doubt it’ll take three years.

Go Redwoods?

Nobody cares.

[UPDATE: I’m informed that the first UFL game between the Redwoods and the Locomotives is actually being played in Las Vegas, not in San Francisco. You know what? Nobody cares.]

Giants post-script, 2009

October 5, 2009

As the San Francisco Giants began their 2009 campaign, I wrote:

If the Giants hit the way they did in 2008… well, it’ll be a long summer in San Francisco.

As it happened, the Giants did, in fact, hit this season pretty much the way they did last season. The team batting average (.262 in ’08, .257 in ’09) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.703 last year, .699 this year) actually declined. Still, the Giants managed their first winning campaign in five years, thanks largely to one of the best pitching staffs — if not indeed the best staff — in the major leagues.

San Francisco came within two games of completely reversing its dismal 2008 record — the club improved from 72-90 to 88-74, a 16-game uptick — and remained in the National League wild-card race until only five games were left to play. By any measure, that’s a monumental achievement.

Instead of being a long summer, it proved to be just a few weeks too short.

So, while the glow of exploded expectations remains fresh, let’s talk about who did what for the G-Men in ’09.

Starting pitching: Tim “The Freak” Lincecum made good on his 2008 Cy Young Award with another stellar season (15-7, 2.45 ERA, four complete games — two of which were shutouts — and a league-leading 261 strikeouts). Fortunately for Timmy, he didn’t have to carry all of the weight this year. Matt Cain rebounded from a disappointing ’08 to log the best season of his young career (14-8, 2.89. four complete games, 171 K’s). Barry Zito’s year mirrored the preceding one — he stank up the joint for the first two months of the season (1-6 at the end of May), then pitched solidly for the next four months (9-7 after June 1). Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter against San Diego on July 10 — the first by a Giants pitcher since John “The Count” Montefusco accomplished the feat in 1976 — in the middle of another hot-and-cold campaign. In what likely will be the coda of a Hall of Fame career, 45-year-old Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson pitched fairly well (8-6 in 17 starts) before an injury sidelined him until the closing days of the season. Johnson’s farewell appearance — in relief, in the season’s final game — earned him a blown save (the Giants won in extra innings, on a Pablo Sandoval home run). Waiver-wire pickup Brad Penny, who joined the team on September 1 after a dismal year in Boston, pitched with fire and bravado in the final month, posting a 4-1 record and a 2.59 ERA in six starts for the Giants. Grade: A-.

Relief pitching: The Giants’ bullpen, an unqualified disaster in ’08, developed into one of the National League’s best in ’09. Closer Brian Wilson, an All-Star last season, posted another solid year (38 saves, third in the NL) despite adding drama to almost every game he entered. The ‘pen benefited most from the arrival of lefty Jeremy Affeldt, who proved himself one of the top set-up specialists in baseball (a 1.73 ERA in 74 appearances). Rookie Brandon Medders and veteran Justin Miller led the rest of the relief corps, pitching consistently as the middle-inning workhorses before Miller went down with a season-ending injury in late summer. Sergio Romo struggled after an early injury. Merkin Valdez failed to live up to his considerable promise, Aging Bob Howry — the oldest member of the staff at 35, outside of the Big Unit — set a career record for walk-off home runs surrendered to rookies. Late-season promotion Dan Runzler, on the other hand, looks like a gamer. Grade: B.

Catching: Veteran Bengie Molina again demonstrated his value behind the plate. Offensively, Molina stumbled beneath the burden of being the club’s miscast cleanup hitter. “Big Money” smacked 20 home runs for the first time in his career, but his overall production sagged. He drove in 80 runs — down from 95 in ’08 — dropped his batting average nearly 30 points, and struck out 30 more times than the previous year despite playing in 13 fewer games. Molina’s backup, career minor leaguer Eli Whiteside, showed exceptional defensive and game-calling skills, but an anemic bat (.228 with two home runs). One of the key offseason problems for Giants management will be whether to resign the deteriorating Molina for another year, or hand the catching job to top prospect Buster Posey. Grade: B-.

Infield: The Giants discovered their first post-Barry Bonds everyday star in Pablo Sandoval. The 22-year-old Kung Fu Panda broke out big-time in his first full season, leading the team in every offensive category — .330 BA (second in the NL), 25 home runs, 44 doubles, 90 RBI, and a whopping .943 OPS — while splitting time between third base and first. Sandoval’s infectious joie de vivre added spark to an otherwise lackluster lineup. Free agent pickup Juan Uribe, intended as a utility player, blossomed in an ever-changing role as second baseman Emmanuel Burriss’s season was aborted by injury, and shortstop Edgar Renteria gimped through the year with bone chips in his elbow. Uribe’s .824 OPS made him second on the club in offense thump behind Sandoval. The Giants traded at the deadline for second baseman Freddy Sanchez, but a host of ailments impeded his ability to take the field, much less contribute effectively. Another trade acquisition, first baseman Ryan Garko, was another nonfactor. Another first base candidate, Travis Ishikawa, settled into mediocrity at the plate after a red-hot spring training. Second baseman-outfielder Eugenio Velez returned late in the season from a minor league demotion with rejuvenated offensive aggressiveness — the Giants just have to find a position for his below-average defense. Grade: B.

Outfield: The best way I can think of to describe the Giants’ outfield this year? A whole lotta nothin’. The vast expanses of AT&T Park were patrolled in ’09 mostly by guys who couldn’t hit water if they jumped off the McCovey Cove promenade. Of the five players who saw the most outfield innings — Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, and the aforementioned Velez — not one hit for a .270 average or drove in 65 runs, and only Rowand clouted double-digit home runs (16 — Schierholtz and Velez were tied for second among the outfielders with five HR each). That’s a monumental black hole among the traditional power positions. If you seek a reason for San Francisco’s offensive ineptitude, look no further. Grade: D.

Dugout: Results count, so credit manager Bruce Bochy and his staff — especially pitching coach Dave Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner — for making the most of this lopsided mix. If I had to guess, I would bet that Bochy and most of his team will be retained for next season (no formal announcement has been made, but the rumor is already circulating), but that hitting coach Carney Lansford will be kicked to the curb. (Lansford’s replacement may be minor league instructor Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, who’s said to be responsible for Velez’s late-season turnaround.) Grade: B.

Overall: For a team that many — yours truly included — thought might be one of the worst clubs in baseball going into the season, 2009 was a phenomenal year. With even one more capable bat to complement Sandoval, the Giants would be playing postseason baseball right now. Management will have to exhaust every option to bring more offense to the club between now and next spring. With a magnificent rotation — the Giants will need to decide whether to pursue Brad Penny for an ongoing deal — and an improving bullpen, San Francisco simply must find ways to push more runs across the plate. This ’09 team was 75-25 in games in which the offense scored three or more runs. Just imagine what Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Wilson, Affeldt and company might do behind a lineup that could tally four runs per game. That smells like a World Series to me. Grade: B.

He may be no Angel

September 21, 2009

This might just be the most improbable event in an improbable season for the San Francisco Giants.

Angel Villalona, a 19-year-old slugging catcher-turned-first baseman considered the hottest prospect in the Giants’ minor league system as recently as six months ago, was charged today with murder in his native Dominican Republic.

Authorities in Santo Domingo allege that Villalona shot and killed 25-year-old Mario Felix de Jesus Velete in a bar last weekend. Villalona is pleading not guilty.

Villalona was the biggest bonus baby in Giants’ history when he signed with San Francisco in 2006. His $2.1 million signing bonanza outstripped the first-contract cash paid to such stellar talents as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, who currently form two-fifths of the Giants’ starting rotation.

After some initial success in the low minors (17 home runs, 64 runs batted in, and 29 doubles in the South Atlantic League last summer), Villalona’s progress slowed this year at Class-A San Jose, hitting an unremarkable .267 with nine home runs before a season-ending leg injury.

If convicted of murder in the D.R., Villalona faces a minimum sentence of 20 years. The Giants face a loss of $2.1 million and a bucketful of potential.

That’s baseball.

Things that make me say, “Huh?”

August 29, 2009

“Huh?” Inducer #1: Andy Lee, the punter for the San Francisco 49ers, hit the scoreboard at the new Cowboy Stadium in Dallas with a punted football in warmups prior to tonight’s game between the Niners and the Cowboys. Apparently, a similar feat was achieved by the punter for the University of Tennessee in a game last week.

Let me get this straight: The Cowboys spent $1.2 billion on a stadium, and nobody thought to check whether the scoreboard was high enough?

“Huh?” Inducer #2: Cinematic schlockmeister Rob Zombie is remaking the 1958 horror classic The Blob. However, says Zombie:

My intention is not to have a big red blobby thing. That’s the first thing I want to change. That gigantic Jello-looking thing might have been scary to audiences in the 1950s, but people would laugh now.

Let me get this straight: Zombie’s going to remake The Blobwithout the Blob? (Memo to RZ: Someone already beat you to thisover a decade ago. How about, you know, an original idea for a change?)

“Huh?” Inducer #3: My cell phone service provider frequently leaves recorded messages on my office voice mail to alert me to special offers on wireless minutes, hardware upgrades, and such like. This week, they left me a recorded message to tell me that after September 1, new FCC regulations will prohibit their leaving me any future recorded messages.

Let me get this straight: WHAT?