What’s happened to the A’s Matt Holliday?

OAKLAND --  And the Angels didn’t even have Vladimir Guerrero. The question is whether the Athletics have Matt Holliday.

Vlad is on the disabled list with a torn right pectoral muscle, on the well-known DL, made infamous almost hourly by the A’s.

Guerrero has been out for three weeks. He’s the Angels’ big gun, but if they miss him, you wouldn’t know it from what happened at the Mausoleum -– sorry, the Coliseum –- on Monday night.

That’s because the A’s miss Matt Holliday, who was supposed to be their main bat. Holliday was in the lineup, physically, but where is he mentally?

Everyone is entitled to a bad game or three. But this is two imperfectos in a row for Holliday, signed by Oakland a couple of months back with such great fervor and plenty of expectations.

Matt went 0-for-4 on Monday as the A’s were beaten by the Angels.  After going 0-for-7 on Sunday in that awful 15-inning, 8-7 loss at Seattle.

Meaning heading into Game 2 of the two-game series against the “We don’t want to be in Anaheim so we’ll defy geography and say we’re from Los Angeles’’ Angels, Holliday is a tidy 0-for-11.

Somebody associated with the Colorado Rockies, Holliday’s former team, intimated last weekend when the Rocks were across the Bay at AT&T that Holliday knows he’s going to traded by the A’s and doesn’t really care what’s happening at the moment.

What’s happening is a man with a .319 lifetime major league average is batting .223. Even for someone reputedly known to be a slow starter, that isn’t very good. In fact, it’s terrible.

“He had a long game (Sunday),’’ the A’s Bob Geren said of Holliday in the sort of expected defense the manager might make of a star who’s not showing much offense.

“(Monday) Saunders pitched him tough. He tied up a lot of our hitters.’’

Indeed, Joe Saunders, who allowed six hits and struck out seven, dominated the A’s. But at least catcher Kurt Suzuki, batting leadoff, homered and Orlando Cabrera delivered a couple of singles and a run. All Holliday had were a couple of foul pops, a fly to right and, in the eighth against Jose Arrendondo, a called third strike.

This game painfully recalled that awful era of the late 1970s A’s. The announced attendance was a pitiful 10,397. When a brief shower hit the area in the sixth, many in the –- dare we use the word “crowd”? -- moved back under the overhang of the second and third decks.

At the final out, 9:41 p.m., maybe 800 people remained, and every shout could be heard not only across the stadium but probably all the way to San Leandro.

Brett Anderson was the A’s starter, but if it wasn’t enough trouble facing Mike Napoli (two doubles and two singles) and Chone Figgins (three singles), Anderson had a blister on the index finger of his pitching hand, the left.

“It was worse when I threw the fastball or changeup,’’ said Anderson, who came out in the fifth after giving up all the Angels’ runs. “There wasn’t any pain. But the ball caught on the skin.’’

It’s always something with the A’s. Eric Chavez and Nomar Garciaparra on the DL. Jack Cust striking out in all four of his at bats. Anderson’s record falling to 0-3.

The A’s are last in AL West. The Angels, the favorites, next to last. “Standings are your report card,’’ conceded Angels manager Mike Scioscia, “but that’s not your focus. Each game is. If you’re getting a B in biology, are you going to try and fail your next next test?’’

The middle of the A’s lineup, Holliday included, has been failing its test. Jason Giambi, who did have a single, is batting .218; Holliday, as you know, .223; Cust, 266; Bobby Crosby, who also had two hits, .222, and Travis Buck, .182. Toss in everyone else, and the A’s are last in the American League with a combined .237 average.That means the A’s pitchers, with blisters or without, must keep the opponent virtually scoreless, a virtual impossibility.

“I don’t think that game Sunday had any effect,’’ Geren said of Monday’s loss. “We got home early enough. We bounced back. It’s just that Saunders was hitting his spots. He doesn’t seem to give away too many pitches.’’

That understood, you wonder if and when the A’s plan to give away Matt Holliday. His first month in Oakland has been less than success.

RealClearSports: No Boos for Bonds

By Art Spander

He had come back for the first time this season.

Barry Bonds had returned to the one place he is embraced, not despised. The Bay Area’s last superstar was in the front row at AT&T Park, next to the managing general partner of the San Francisco Giants, waving and smiling.

What a difference a uniform makes. “Laundry” is what Jerry Seinfeld said. Our guys are great. Your guys stink. Wait. Our guy used to be your guy, didn’t he?
For the Giants, their guy, Bonds, started out a long while ago in Pittsburgh, where, as in most of baseball in recent times, he was treated with disdain.

A cheater? A steroid user? A perjurer? Those are the claims against Bonds, and the reasons that, as his career wound down and the home run totals went up, Barry was booed virtually everywhere.

Except San Francisco.

Where this season, the fans have taken to booing Manny Ramirez, who has never been accused of anything similar to Bonds’ sins, but plays for the franchise that drives San Francisco partisans to frustration, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers, hailed and hated, came to San Francisco for a three-game series. Bonds came out of, well, it might not have been hiding – but he does spend his days down in Beverly Hills – to be a willing viewer and to be willingly viewed.

There was Barry, in the seat adjoining that of the individual in charge of the Giants, Bill Neukom, receiving a standing ovation. There was Manny on the diamond, receiving derision for no reason other than he’s Manny. And a Dodger.

Although during the winter, when Manny was a free agent, there was talk he might even sign with the Giants. Which would have made him the new idol in a region that without Bonds, without Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jose Canseco, Jim Plunkett, is bereft of idols.

And so Bonds is remembered fondly. He is the symbol of better days, of headlines and cover stories, of the recognition the Giants, and the region, no longer receive.

Neukom was the lead attorney for Microsoft for nearly a quarter-century. And there he was, schmoozing with someone who has been indicted on perjury, although mostly because the U.S. government, which ought to be more concerned with other matters, is out to get Bonds.

Barry never could have been described as an extrovert, not in dealing with the media. Or should that be not dealing with the media? Yet, from his seat near the Giants’ dugout, Bonds easily moved upstairs to the booth where Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper do the local telecasts.

Barry communicator. Barry politician. Barry tortured saint.

After the 2007 season, having raised his all-time career home run total to 762, Bonds was not offered a new contract by the Giants. He could hit, but he couldn’t run or throw. He didn’t play in 2008 and, despite insisting he is not retired, surely never will play again.

He’s tainted, and baseball is attempting to step away from the steroids era, so why link up with a bad memory? Bonds, who will be 45 in July, also has slowed.

Is he worth a contract, even ignoring the baggage, which nobody will ignore? Seemingly not, or Barry already would have been on somebody’s roster, presumably a team in the American League where Barry could be a designated hitter.

It would have been interesting to see Barry with, say, the Yankees or Angels, to hear how the fans reacted now that he was on their club. To hear how the San Francisco fans reacted when he was in a different uniform.

In the early 1980s, Reggie Smith was the Manny Ramirez of his time. For Giants fans. One game at old Candlestick Park, they taunted him so much he literally climbed into stands to go after a spectator. Then Smith came to the Giants, a free agent, before the 1982 season. The same people who agitated Smith to a point he wanted to punch them out were now his pals, chanting “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie.”

Mark Twain said politicians, old buildings and prostitutes become respectable with old age. So seemingly do ballplayers, even in the minds of those who wished them ill when they were competing. We are forgiving, especially when it comes to sports.

The farther Bonds moves away from his active days, the more accepted he will be, although at the moment, the one truly safe haven remains San Francisco.

Up here, Bonds is a hero. It’s Manny who is the villain.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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© RealClearSports 2009

April anything but cruel to the Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- April is done for the Giants. The cruelest month. But not this April. Not these Giants. They’re where they never were last year. Not once. They’re even, at .500, 10-10, and heading into May.

There may not be a pennant, but there is progress.

In 2008, the Giants lost their first two games and never caught up. Never squared their record in the remaining 160. In 2008 the Giants were a bad team, a terrible team. Who knows what kind of a team they’ll be in 2009, but the possibility is encouraging.

They beat the Dodgers on Wednesday night. Again. Defeated the hailed and hated Dodgers, 9-4. Two out of three and a series win. “Beat L.A., beat L.A.’’ The chant reverberated through AT&T Park on a yet another cold but satisfying night for a crowd announced at 37,717.

The Giants had pitching, or so we wanted to believe. And indeed that’s what they’ve had with Tim Lincecum, who retired the first 10 Dodgers, who took a shutout into the eighth, who won his second game. They’ve had Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito and in the bullpen Brian Wilson, who was a wobbly finisher but earned a save.

It turns out, to our surprise, they also have hitting. Not Yankee or Red Sox hitting. Not even Dodgers hitting, what with Manny Ramirez in L.A. But more hitting than we imagined.

Hitting from shortstop Edgar Rentaria, who had three singles and a double. Hitting from Bengie Molina who had a homer, triple, single and four runs batted in. Hitting from Juan Uribe, Nate Schierholtz and Emmanuel Burriss, who each had two hits of the Giants total of 15.

“I don’t know if we’ll be doing this all the time,’’ said Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager, of the offense. “We’ve got to pitch and catch the ball. We see ourselves having close games. But this was a good one.’’

It was one that closed a month that began with the Giants, after six straight defeats, at 2-7. “After our losing skid,’’ agreed Bochy, “this showed our resiliency. It was good for our ball club. These guys had some tough losses, but they bounced back.’’

You can’t get greedy. But the Giants did have a chance to win Tuesday night and sweep. And before the first pitch Wednesday, Dodgers manager Joe Torre understood that quite well. Losing to Zito in the opener on Monday and then a defeat Tuesday would have been big trouble for L.A., with Lincecum, the Cy Young Award winner, going for San Francisco.

“(Tuesday) night was huge,’’ Torre said. “We’re facing Lincecum tonight. He’s so good.’’

Especially against the Dodgers. Lincecum now is 3-0 when L.A. is the opponent. Wednesday night he struck out eight and has 33 strike outs in his last three starts, a span of 23 innings.

“This was big,’’ said Bochy. “Especially after a tough loss. We had Tim on the mound, and the offense was swinging the bats. It did look like one of our easier games, but the Dodgers are a very good team.’’

The Giants were ahead 7-0 after seven. Then Juan Pierre, in the ninth spot as Torre wanted to get cute with his lineup and put his pitchers batting eighth, singled. That was followed by Rafael Furcal’s single. Orlando Hudson doubled home Pierre, and when Ramirez walked on Lincecum’s 103rd pitch to load the bases, that was it for Tim.

“As a starting pitcher,’’ Lincecum said, “you go as deep into the game as you can, and you hand the ball over.’’

He handed it to Jeremy Affeldt who got Andre Ethier to hit into a double play, which did score Furcal, but the Dodgers had been stymied.

“He had gone far enough,’’ Bochy said of Lincecum. “Jeremy came in and got that huge double play. Tim had great stuff his last start, the start before that and this start. We won a series from the team in first after they swept us in L.A.

“It’s important for us to play well at home.’’

And to finish their April schedule the way they started it, even after 20 games as they were before a single game. This season could be very interesting.

SF Examiner: Bay Area in need of a new sports superstar

By: Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

Barry Bonds was in the stands. Manny Ramirez was on the field. Willie Mays and Willie McCovey were in the clubhouse. The buzz was back. And isn’t that what sports are all about?

We were spoiled around here, except not many understood. This was a place of superstars, of individuals who got headlines and grabbed our attention, athletes who were always a story, for better or worse.

Now the Bay Area is a wasteland. Or at best a wait-land. We keep looking for the next Joe Montana, the next Jose Canseco, the next Jerry Rice, the next Rick Barry, but where is he?

The issue is not merely talent. Tim Lincecum has a great deal of that. So seemingly does Kurt Suzuki of the A’s, hidden over there figuratively under the tarps of the Coliseum.

You don’t get to the big leagues or the NFL or the NBA or NHL without talent. What our teams need, what they once possessed, is pizzazz. What our teams need are superstars.

Whether the Niners and Raiders were successful in the NFL Draft — especially the Raiders with their picks so heavily criticized — won’t be known for a year or three. But what already is known is the New York Jets’ first selection, quarterback Mark Sanchez, would have been exactly what either local team could have used. If not necessarily to win games — and the prospect of that taking place is more than likely — but to get noticed — to have people talking and watching.

Sanchez is the next Joe Namath, already media savvy coming out of the Hollywood element at USC and about to compete for the back pages of the New York tabloids with A-Rod, Eli Manning and CC Sabathia.

McCovey was in his usual chair in the office of Giants equipment manager Mike Murphy at AT&T Park the other night, facing Mays a few feet away. “Hey, Willie,” someone suggested to Mac, but it could have been either, “there’s more star power in this room than the rest of the whole park.”

Of course, that was before Bonds showed up to sit next to managing general partner Bill Neukom.

“Yeah,” McCovey agreed. “That’s what’s needed.”

Down in L.A., there’s Kobe. Over in Boston, there’s Tom Brady — and Pedroia, Papi and Papelbon. Cleveland has LeBron. Does an evening go by when one of them, usually all of them, doesn’t get face time on ESPN?

Jim Plunkett was here. Steve Young was here. Baron Davis, practically a superstar, was here. Mark McGwire was here.

Mays, McCovey and Juan Marichal are honored with statues near AT&T. We need more athletes whose likenesses will be set in stone and bronze.

Maybe JaMarcus Russell fulfills the promise, although he seems reluctant to meet the obligation or the training regimen. Maybe Alex Smith, given a new chance, meets expectations, his and ours.

It isn’t if you win or lose, it’s how you play the media game. With a superstar, you’re playing it the best way possible.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company 

Bonds back, Giants come back

SAN FRANCISCO – Empty seats, maybe 10,000 of them, a sign of the times. But one chair not empty was filled by the man who for the Giants was the sign – and the face – of better times.

Barry Bonds had come home.

He was a spectator, a guest of Bill Neukom, the guy in the bow tie who is the Giants’ managing general partner. It was Giants vs. Dodgers, on a chilly, windy Monday night. A rivalry renewed. And with Barry a hero/villain remembered.

In so many places, Barry was despised, even before the steroid stuff started. In this place, AT&T, the park that if Barry didn’t quite build he was in part responsible for, Bonds is idolized.

It’s the Dodgers who are despised.

“The Dodgers,’’ their manager, Joe Torre, conceded before the wildest of games Monday night, a Giants’ 5-4 win, “people either love them or hate them.’’

In 50 years, they’ve never been loved in the Bay Area. Not at Seals Stadium. Not at Candlestick. Not at AT&T.

Fans here rarely chant “Let’s go Giants.’’ Fans here always shout “Beat L.A.’’ Which Monday is what San Francisco was able to do, if not by the easiest of methods.

The Giants blew a 3-0 lead in the seventh and then came back with two in the eighth to win, 5-4, before a crowd announced at 31,091.

This indeed is a rivalry. “Not like it was in New York,’’ said Torre, who grew up back there cheering for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers. “But it’s a rivalry. I think the younger players find that out quickly. I knew it before I came here.’’

Before that, Torre was with the Yankees, where the hatred is pitched at them by the Red Sox fans. Real venom. And when he managed the St. Louis Cardinals, he learned that across the Mississippi, downstate Illinois has more than enough Chicago Cubs partisans.

“The fans can get in a frenzy, which is OK,’’ said Torre. “That’s what sports are about. But it can wear you out.’’

The Giants wore out the Dodgers on Monday in the opener of a three-game series. Trailing 4-3, they scored twice in the eighth on a couple of line drives and a couple of dribblers.

It was a game the Giants needed. Not only because they were swept by the Dodgers in Los Angeles a couple of weeks back but because on Sunday, San Francisco couldn’t hold on to a 4-1 lead over the Diamondbacks and lost in 12.

It was a game closer Brian Wilson needed, since he was the man at fault on Sunday, giving up the game-tying homer. But Monday, in the ninth, Wilson struck out the side for the save.

Maybe it was a game Barry Bonds needed. This was his first one in San Francisco this season, and the time he didn’t spend waving at the fans when next to Neukom or in the row behind him he spent talking to Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper on the Comcast telecast.

All of a sudden, Barry is the charmer. All of a sudden the Giants, after a 2-7 start, are 9-9.

All of a sudden, the other Barry, Zito, is the pitcher of old. He went seven shutout innings last Wednesday. He went 6 1/3 shutout innings Monday night before giving up a walk and a home run. Zito still doesn’t have a win in 2009, but he does have back-to-back impressive performances.

“He did a great job,’’ Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Zito, “but he was getting it up and not where he wanted. That’s why the change was made.’’

After 109 pitches, Zito was replaced by Merkin Valdez who after a walk to Rafael Furcal and a single by Orlando Hudson challenged Mr. Dreadlocks himself, Manny Ramirez. Manny won, singling in the go-ahead run. Yet in the end, the Giants won it all.

“Exciting game,’’ affirmed Bochy. A rivalry game, a game that teased and irritated but, for Giants fans, finally satisfied.

“It was good to see Barry,’’ Bochy said of Bonds. “He came to the clubhouse. I know the guys were happy to see him. He was sitting there watching. It was an exciting win and a great win for us.’’

Against the Dodgers, a team people either love or hate. Except in the Bay Area. Where it’s only hate.