5 Jan 2011

Disingenuous Jed & his inhouse 49ers hire.

Author: AnnKillion | Filed under: Uncategorized

We’re all waiting for the Jim Harbaugh shoe to drop. And it better drop. Jed York better have Harbaugh in the bag (as opposed to thinking he has him in the bag which is something else entirely).

Meanwhile, we’re left with the Trent Baalke hire. Which is so much more of the same for the 49ers that it’s ridiculous.

A week ago, Jed stood in front of the Bay Area media and made it clear that he would hire a general manager. He said he would conduct a search. He implied that he was looking for expertise.

It was a fun game of charades.

Within 24 hours word had leaked that he would hire his in-house candidate Baalke. A man who is getting his job the way everyone with the 49ers gets his job: by being in the building when someone was fired.

Baalke may be a fine talent evaluator – though we have no way of knowing since the 2010 draft evaluation was certainly largely in place before Scot McCloughan left. But he works for Jed and Paraag Marathe. He has been in the 49ers organization for seven dysfunctional years – arriving in Mike Nolan’s first year. He wanted the job – who doesn’t want to be one of 32 general managers in the NFL? So he wasn’t about to tell Jed, “Hey, you’re doing it wrong.”

Jed, in the announcement of Baalke’s hiring, said “In recent months I’ve been very impressed with his knowledge and leadership.”  But how much do you trust Jed to do the evaluating?  How much does he know about effective NFL knowledge and leadership. Baalke isn’t exactly like John McVay coming in.

This is the problem with the 49ers. They think they’re doing it right. Jed is convinced the only – the only - issue with the team was coaching. Everything else inside is hunky-dory.  Except that it’s not.

“They have the worst structure in football, or at least very close to it, with a couple of young guys that believe they have all the answers,” said one longtime NFL insider.

Now, if Harbaugh is The Answer, the Baalke hire won’t matter. Cocksure Harbaugh is not about to take orders from Baalke. He has his own contacts and sources in the NFL and will make his only decisions. He’ll likely look at Baalke as an executive assistant. And if Harbaugh turns out to be a very good NFL coach, everything will be great.

And while I believe Harbaugh has a better chance than most college coaches to be a very good NFL coach (extensive NFL pedigree, inside knowledge and contacts; coming from a program where he can’t just load up on blue-chippers at every position but is forced to more carefully evaluate and select talent), that’s no sure thing.

On the face of it, the 49ers are just repeating their past: Falling in love with a untested candidate as head coach and handing him control of the organization, bypassing Super Bowl winners who are available, while staffing the front office with yes-men who won’t challenge the inept 49ers culture.

Harbaugh better be in the bag. And he better turn out to be The Answer.  It’s the 49ers only hope.

2 Dec 2010

World Cup Horror: FIFA has got to be kidding

Author: AnnKillion | Filed under: Uncategorized

FIFA is kidding right? Russia and Qatar. Those are the countries to host the world’s most splendid sporting event?

Gosh, no hint of corruption there. Not at all.

Don’t get me wrong. My feelings about what happened Thursday morning when the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid winners were announced have nothing to do with the U.S. getting screwed. I was lukewarm on the American bid at best. I think our country is too spread out. I think not having San Francisco and Chicago involved was absurd. I think Nashville and Atlanta don’t say World Cup soccer. I think the prevailing argument – “Hey, people went to bars this summer to watch games,” – seemed a little weak.

But the U.S. bid would be vastly preferable to what FIFA just did. Does anyone think Russia will pull this off without incredible corruption? Does anyone want to go to Qatar in the summer? The old men on the FIFA selection committee won’t have to worry about it – they’ll likely all be dead by that point.

In picking Russia and Qatar, FIFA put up a giant middle finger to soccer fans and let them know it’s not about the game at all but about how much money FIFA can pocket.  It will not be about the experience. Or even about bringing soccer to soccer- mad countries. Or about trying to help an impoverished country rise up.

Awarding the 2010 games to South Africa made sense because soccer is on the rise in Africa and the area could use the influx of dollars, infrastructure and aid. Though there were thousands of unsold seats and the fan experience drew mixed reviews, it wasn’t a terrible risk.

Awarding the 2014 games to Brazil made sense because Brazil is the first nation of soccer. And even though the news coming out of Rio is scaring the bejeezus out of fans as the war between the government and drug lords escalates in an attempt to make the country safe for the World Cup, Brazil at least makes sense from a soccer perspective.

Russia? Over England, Spain/Portugal or Belgium/Netherlands? Absurd. All those other bids were in soccer mad countries with ready stadiums, trains, infrastructure and what would promise to be a delightful, easy fan experience. Russia, a country run on corruption, doesn’t have that infrastructure. There are already skyrocketing concerns about the 2014 Winter Olympics awarded to Sochi. Now Russia – a country that has qualified for the World Cup twice and never made it out of the first round, making it even less of a soccer nation than our own – will host the world’s greatest sporting event. (NOTE: Alert reader points out that USSR made several World Cups, but as we know in the sports world USSR does not = Russia).

And Qatar. Show of hands: who wants to go to that tiny country in the Middle East where it is 118 degrees in the summer, and where the team has never qualified for the World Cup? It especially sounds fun for us working women who will be expected (though not required) to cover our heads and wear long pants.

For a time, FIFA’s bid award process seemed to make sense.  A newcomer, then back to Western Europe. Another newcomer, then back to Europe – where they know how to do World Cups and the fan experience is tremendous. Starting with South Africa this year, greedy, corrupt FIFA is intent on taking chances all over the globe for years and years.

By the time they’re done in 2022, I doubt we’ll still be calling it the World’s Greatest Sporting Event.  And that’s a shame.

21 Oct 2010

The Giants & my Dad

Author: AnnKillion | Filed under: Uncategorized

Sunday is the decade anniversary of my father’s death.  It could be Game 7 of the NLCS. Or it could be yet another off day in the run up to a Giants trip to the 2010 World Series.

Either way, I’ll be thinking about my dad and the Giants and the relationship between the two. And how much my father would love this team.

My dad loved baseball, and he loved the Giants. It was a steady, unfluctuating love. He grew up in a place without baseball (Minnesota), moved to San Francisco long before there was a baseball team. He got his fixes where he could. He saw games at Seals Stadium, seeing Joe Dimaggio hit there. And he waited for a baseball team to come to him.

His team arrived in 1958. He stood on Market Street to watch the players ride through a ticker tape parade, with my older brother perched on his shoulders. It was the start of a relationship that would last 42 years.

By the time I came along, he had created a household in which we knew, without question, that Willie Mays was the greatest player ever and it was a privilege for all of us to watch him.  My father was a lapsed Catholic – baseball became his religion and he believed in Saint Mays.

He loved athletic excellence, like Mays and McCovey. But he also liked characters. I remember watching the 1997 Brian Johnson game against the Dodgers with him – he loved Rod Beck and that swinging arm.  He loved the unsung hero like Johnson who came through with the big hit. Before that, in the late ’80s, he liked Candy Maldanado and Mitch. What he really liked were homegrown talents that San Francisco could claim as their own. When Will Clark came along, he was, well, thrilled.

Which means he would love this team. He would love the vibe and the characters and he would think that Buster Posey was only the greatest young player he’d ever seen. He would have extolled the virtues of Saint Buster to his grandkids.  He would have been thrilled.

Well maybe he is thrilled. And has a great view of the action.

20 Oct 2010

Thoughts on Bonds crashing Giants postseason party

Author: AnnKillion | Filed under: Uncategorized

After the game last night, I went out to eat with some of my great sportswriting friends from Philadelphia. And I realized something frightening:

I suffer from Bonds Fatigue Syndrome.  I wonder if there’s a cure?

I’d already filed a column for SI.com on Barry Bonds throwing out the first pitch in Game 3, and how – more than anything – it just provided a contrast between this 2010 team and those dour, mostly humorless Bonds-centric teams of the early 2000s.  That was the focus of my column, not unbridled outrage that Bonds had sullied the Giants feel-good NLCS home moment.

But talking to my Philly friends, I got a reminder of how the rest of the world views our little Bonds bubble. They were repulsed by the adulation Bonds received from the crowd and slightly disgusted that the Giants chose to honor Bonds who has a trial date in March for perjury. They think everyone in black and orange is still clearly in denial about the cloud Bonds cast over the game.

I’m no fan of Bonds or the never-ending adulation of him by the Giants front office.  I do think it’s weird that the Giants would bring Bonds back in the midst of this cool run, that is so anti-Bonds at its very soul. Fun, team-oriented, footloose.  Again, for narrative purposes, I appreciate the ability to compare and contrast. But why bring up a reminder of how long it’s taken to recover from the team’s debilitating Bonds addiction?

Sure, I know that Bonds has become a scapegoat for an entire era, and that’s not particularly fair. But, fair or not, he is a symbol of that era. The biggest symbol. While shunning him would be hypocritical, embracing him is unnecessary. Just as ill-advised as the Cardinals’ embrace of Mark McGwire.

But I guess I’m just used to it.   I know that when Bonds shows up in San Francisco the crowd will chant his name. I know that the Giants will act like he invented baseball every time he’s around. I can’t get outraged about it.

But the rest of the world thinks the Giants and their fans are crazy, sheep, in denial. Pick your pejorative.

Bonds Fatigue Syndrome. Is there a cure? It actually might be this 2010 Giants team.