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10:15PM

Cust becomes A’s designated viewer and slammer

OAKLAND -- Jack Cust isn’t much different from a lot of men who love baseball, other than the fact he can hit one over a fence. Jennifer Cust isn’t much different from a lot of wives whose husbands probably spend too much time around the game, even if it’s the game where Jack makes his living.

Cust is the Oakland Athletics’ designated hitter, if he’s not playing outfield. On Wednesday night, in the A’s 3-2 loss to Texas, Cust went 3-for-4 and then returned to his residence and watched highlights on ESPN.

Not of his game -- of the Dodgers’ game in Los Angeles.

“I slowed down Manny Ramirez’s swing,’’ Cust said, alluding to recording and playing back the sequence, “and I show it to my wife. She said, ‘Enough of this baseball stuff. You’re playing all day and then you come home and show me Manny Ramirez’s swing on TV?’ She’d had it.’’

We know what happened a few hours later to Ramirez. He was suspended for 50 games after failing a drug test. What happened to Cust not long after, Thursday afternoon, was he hit a grand slam to get the A’s rolling in their 9-4 win over the Rangers at the Coliseum.

Cust thus became the focus of journalists who wanted to know about his homer and naturally about Manny’s figurative fall. Cust wasn’t terribly enlightening about either, but that was acceptable. His requirement is to help unleash the A’s offense, and in the previous three games that hadn’t happened.

“There’s not a lot of pressure on a hitter when you have the bases loaded and nobody out,’’ said Cust, describing his at bat in the fourth. “You’re just trying to hit the ball in the air (for a sacrifice fly). I wasn’t trying to hit a home run.’’

But when he did, the dugout of an A’s team that had scored 13 runs in the previous three games combined became energized.  “You could feel the excitement,’’ said Cust after his second career slam. “It was something we hadn’t had for a while.

Not after four straight defeats -- three to open their home stand. In the warmth of the best weather by the Bay in two weeks, things suddenly become more encouraging.

Asked the obligatory question on his feelings about Ramirez, Cust said, “Well, we’ve got Alex (Rodriguez) and Manny, now, two of the best hitters who ever played (both having failed tests). People are going to have questions. You don’t know about anybody, including our favorite players when we were growing up.’’

What we know about Cust is on DH days, which means most of the time, he has his own in-game agenda. Thursday it kept him from seeing very much of teammate Trevor Cahill getting his first major league victory.

Cahill had made five starts and pitched decently in four of them, but his record was 0-2. At last he got off the schneid in a game in which Cahill didn’t walk anyone and allowed only five hits in seven innings.

“He looked good,’’ said Cust of Cahill. “But honestly I wasn’t watching him. When I’m DH I don’t watch much of the game. I just kind of watch our at bats and then go to the video room to watch my swing and how their pitcher is throwing to the other guys. Really, it kind of stinks, because I enjoy watching both sides of the game, enjoy playing defense.

“I saw some of his strikeouts, a lot of stuff. But I also didn’t see lot of stuff.’’

Cust, however, was watching when in the bottom of the fourth Matt Holliday, apparently out of the doldrums, hit a three-run homer to left.

“I was on deck,’’ said Cust. “When he hit it, I knew it was out. Then it hung up for a while, and I said, ‘Oh, oh, I hope that gets out.’ It did. I’m happy for him, because Matt has worked as hard as anybody. He’s a great teammate. You wouldn’t know he’s been struggling.’’

Holliday had been down to a .222 batting average. He’s now .233 and moving in what he believes is the proper direction.

“We’re humans, and confidence is always an issue,’’ said Holliday, a lifetime .319 hitter signed as a free agent. “But enough of us have had careers where our past indicates it’s there and eventually it’s going to come out. It’s been frustrating. You feel you’re not helping the team. But I promise you, I’ve been doing all I can.’’

Short of videotaping Manny Ramirez’s swing.
10:05AM

RealClearSports: A Volume on A-Rod Is a Yawn

By Art Spander

Another book about another baseball player whose lifestyle was something other than visiting orphans and signing autographs. Once again, America turns out to be the land of the free and the home of the disgraced athlete.

Anyone care?

Alex Rodriguez maybe was feeling a bit rejected, what with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens the only ones to have volumes about their off-field activities. Not any more. Alex gets his own pages of accusations and intimations.

Selena Roberts, formerly of the New York Times, currently of Sports Illustrated – and are there any two more impressive journalistic connections? – has produced “A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez.” She was allowed.

Just as we are allowed to shrug.

The problem with books about athletes used to be they made every subject sound like a blending of St. Francis of Assisi and Sir Francis Drake. Even Ty Cobb was made to appear charming and kindly in a first biography. Then a second showed him to be the louse he truly was – not that he couldn’t hit a fastball.

We do the full 180. Now the books detail everything from a man’s immoralities to his phobias and fantasies. In a world full of Dr. Phils and Jerry Springers, it’s the only way to sell. You are obligated to offer something more appalling, and presumably compelling, than seen on TV.

So, “Game of Shadows,” created after brilliant investigative reporting by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, hit the stands and whacked Bonds. For about 10 minutes there was outrage. Then we returned to our normal programming. Hey, who’s batting third?

A book on A-Rod’s contretemps was inevitable. Virtually all the publishing houses are in New York. A-Rod, when he’s not rehabbing, is in New York. Something like 15 million people are in New York. The tabloids are in New York. Was there ever a more likely scenario for several hundred pages on performance-enhancing steroids, performance-enhanced Madonna and a ball player reputed to not perform when it matters?

Interestingly enough, in a town where journalists usually jump onto a scandal without caution or question, some of the sporting writers, while not doubting their colleague Roberts, have asked about a few details in the book.

Neil Best of Newsday reminds that Roberts in an interview said much of her evidence of A-Rod after 2003 is circumstantial.

It’s been a fine few months for those (see reference to New York’s 15 millions) who find fulfillment reading about the woes of the Yankees. Tom Verducci and Joe Torre combined to knock the team the tabs call The Bombers. Then there’s the book about Roger Clemens, “American Icon.” And now – please don’t doze off – A-Rod.

Who’s next, Nick Swisher?

Not that we don’t believe in fair play, the so-called level field, but we’ve reached our quotient of shock and awe. And probably of interest. Every day brings a new allegation. Bud Selig seems to be the only one surprised, and you’ve seen how he’s responded.

Sport is supposed to be the last place in society where people must follow the rules. Three strikes, you’re out. A game goes nine innings. No matter what a defense lawyer argues. That’s why the use of steroids finally became an issue no one could ignore.

But we’re in the Commissioner-Who-Didn’t-Cry-Wolf stage of the situation. No matter what we hear or read, or even see, we’re numb. A-Rod on drugs? Well, then we'll have to idolize Albert Pujols.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, saying exactly what we’d expect him to say, explained, “I don’t want this Alex thing to be a target because I have some issues with it. It’s interesting how the book date got moved up, and I get tired of answering these questions. I don’t understand why somebody would write a book like this anyway.”

Girardi understands. You write a book because (a) you have a story to tell and (b) because you want to make money from the book. Nothing wrong in either case. Nothing right – or write – either.

Terry Francona, the manager of the Red Sox, who have been embarrassing the Yankees of late more than any book possibly could, naturally was asked if he had thoughts on the volume.

“What I care about,’’ Francona responded, “is when (Alex) comes back, I hope he makes outs against us.”

If that is the case, it will disturb Yankee partisans more than anything in any book. Fans never are into ethics and principles as much as they are into winning and losing.
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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http://www.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/05/volume-on-a-rod-a-yawn.html
© RealClearSports 2009
6:00AM

SF Examiner: The A’s are a franchise without an identity

The A’s ridiculous “we’re Houdini and you’re not” attempt at illusion in trying to make us believe the upper deck at the Coliseum doesn’t exist — the seats are covered with tarps — symbolizes what has happened to a franchise once the model of excellence.

The A’s, insisting they would build a ballpark in Fremont, then hinting they might move to Portland or Vegas (or was it Machu Picchu?), and concurrently failing to do what is most important, put a winner on the field, have become virtually invisible.

Who are the A’s? What are the A’s? Do they have a future? Is it destined every star player under contract will show up on the disabled list? Do they need a new stadium more than a new direction? What happened to the magic of “Moneyball,” the parsimonious philosophy of general manager Billy Beane?

And most importantly, does anybody but a loyal minority care about any of the questions?

Baseball is not a sport to be parsed out, but rather analyzed over what we’ve been told is the long season. Good players have bad weeks. Not-so-good players have great weeks. The same for teams.

Yet, the first month of 2009 has done nothing to reassure those wonderful, and very few, partisans who wave flags and toot horns out in the bleachers at home games that this season will be an improvement over the last two — in the standings or at the gate.

Lew Wolff is listed in the team’s media directory as the managing general partner, so in theory, he’s the one in charge. But aside from insulting, in no particular order, the city of Oakland and the A’s fans, exactly what has he done?

Across the Bay, the Giants are not going to be winning any championships, but they at least appear headed for respectability. Where are the A’s headed? They tried to add to the offense by signing Matt Holliday and bringing back Jason Giambi. But after Monday night, Holliday was hitting .223 and Giambi .218.

There’s a recession going on, and the weather is the worst at the beginning of May in modern memory. Maybe that’s why Monday night the A’s, opening a home stand, drew a crowd announced at only 10,397. By game’s end, maybe only 800 were still around.

Comcast has this advertising gimmick, in which on billboards it lists guys such as Holliday and Giambi without a key vowel — “J-son Gi-mbi” —  advising we can find the A’s on their network.

If not, maybe we can look in the upper deck.

A’s front office personnel said for the past year or so, at least until the idea went poof, that with the new ballpark in Fremont, the team would be able to sign and keep its best players. Then again, with Eric Chavez and numerous others on the DL, it might never be able to keep them on the field.

Will there ever be a new stadium? Will there ever be an A’s team able to stay healthy? Will there ever be a reason to think baseball will survive in the East Bay? Maybe we can find out by removing the tarps.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.
9:07AM

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.
10:09PM

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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http://www.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/04/no-boos-for-bonds.html
© RealClearSports 2009