Category Archives: Baseball

Ode to “The Stick”

January 10th, 1982…. 25 miles south of Candlestick Park in San Francisco,  I was sitting on my Dad’s lap in the family room growing increasingly irritated… About 30 family members and friends had been glued to the television for the past 3 hours watching the San Francisco 49ers play in the NFC championship game against the Dallas Cowboys… San Francisco had the ball on their own 11 yard line trailing 27-21 with just a few minutes remaining… All I wanted was peace and quiet but not surprisingly my family would not shut up… I needed to get away… I needed space… This was not only the biggest moment in 49ers franchise history, this was the biggest moment of my life… I was 5.

I bolted to the only other room with a TV, my parents’ bedroom… I then watched Joe Montana orchestrate a drive that put the 49ers on Dallas’ 6 yard line with 58 seconds to go… I was so nervous I went for cover underneath the sheets on Mom and Dad’s bed… I could not bare to watch… Then it happened, with my face firmly planted into the bed, I heard Vin Scully’s legendary voice… “For the upstart 49ers, they are six yards away from Pontiac”… Chills engulfed my body… “Montana… Looking, looking…”… I couldn’t take it anymore I needed to watch… I threw the covers off my head to see Montana rolling to the right and blanketed three Cowboy defenders including 49er nemesis Ed “Too Tall” Jones… Scully continued… “Throwing to the end zone”… To this 5 year old it looked more like heaving the football in a desperate attempt to toss the ball away… I put my hands back over my face, barely peeking through my middle and index fingers… Then, as if Dwight Clark turned into Clark Kent, Superman flew out of nowhere… Scully uttered the words that will resonate with me for the rest of my life… “Clark caught it!”.

I fired up out of the bed and ripped my shirt off, a move that would have made any European soccer player proud… I then began swinging it over my head as I screamed at the top of my lungs… I sprinted toward the family room to celebrate… Pandemonium had officially taken over Candlestick Park and the Byrnes household wasn’t any different… I began to take a lap around the house throwing out high fives to whoever I ran into… I then saw Dad across the room pounding his chest… “E, E, E… Chest Bump, chest bump, chest bump!”…   I sprinted towards him and tossed a ‘flying bump’ that nearly knocked over the 4th degree Kempo Karate black belt…  Immediately I regained composure and motored back to the bedroom to kick the extra point with a decorative pillow that was shaped like a football… A ritual I had begun for each Ray Wershing kick… Just like the 49ers kicker, I would not look at the goal posts (my parents headboard) as I lined up to strike the pillow that sat up nicely and did not require a holder… My kick was good, so was Wershing’s… The 49ers were headed to Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan.

In many ways that was my introduction to life… I can vaguely remember certain things B.C (Before Catch) but essentially every significant happening P.C (Post Catch) is a vivid memory in my life… The 49ers went on to beat the Bengals a couple weeks later, a dynasty was born and so was a life long 49ers fan… The next season, at 6 years old,  I made my Candlestick Park debut… At that point in my life I had been to Great America, Knotts Berry Farm and the grand daddy of them all, Disneyland… Combine all three amusement parks and those experiences still didn’t come close to the moment I walked through the swinging metal doors in lower section 22…  The image of the fresh cut grass and painted red 49er end zones trumped meeting goofy or any stupid tea cup ride… As a matter of fact, if Mickey Mouse were there, I would have told him to kiss my ass.

Throughout the 80’s we had 2 season tickets to 49er games… More often than not it was my Dad and I that headed to Candlestick on Sundays… We would take the Ford diesel F-250 truck and stop by Roberts Market on the way to load up on fresh cut meats, cokes and red wine… When we got to “The Stick” the operation was simple,  pull down the tail gate, fire up the charcoal BBQ, load up the meat, pop our bottles and start chucking the football.

When we went inside it wasn’t exactly how you would envision a father and son watching a game together… We would both put on our head phones and listen to Joe Starky and Wayne Walker call the action on the radio… There was always plenty of time to reflect on the game during commercial breaks, half time and the ride home…  After a 49er win, we would stop at Estrada’s Restaurant in Daly City for their famous steaming tostada, a celebratory margarita for the old man and a Shirley Temple for the kid… Throughout the years, Candlestick Park essentially became the centerpiece for significant events that in many ways defined a large part of my childhood.

I was there October 10th, 1987… NLCS game 4 against the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals who the Giants and their fans absolutely despised… Mike Krukow went CG and Jeffery Leanord went bridge to put the Giants ahead in the 5th…  The “Hackman” then circled the bases with one flap down adding more fuel to the already intense rivalry.

I was there October 30th, 1988… Steve Young had the one of the most incredible runs by a quarterback in NFL history… Once everybody was on their feet during the run, Dad grabbed me and hoisted me on his shoulders just in time to see Young stumble into the end zone and score the game winning touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

I was there October 9th, 1989… Will Clark ended an epic battle with Mitch Williams by smoking a line drive single up the middle, clinching the Giants first trip to the World Series since 1962… I understand why this would not make sense to most people but I  would not have traded my view from the nose bleeds in section 62 for front row seats behind home plate.

I was there October 28th, 1989… 11 days after the Loma Prieta earthquake, the A’s won game 4 of the Bay Bridge World Series and swept the Giants… The view from section 62 that day wasn’t nearly as romantic:)

I was there as a regular in the left field bleachers during the summer of 1993… The Giants won 103 games yet still lost the division by one freaking game… The Wildcard and divisional realignment were implemented the next year… That could have been the best Giants team ever assembled… Its a shame we never got to find out.

I was there for the BB twirl in 1997…  Fresh off an appearance in the College World Series and a summer spent in the Cape Cod baseball league, I couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming than a Giants/Dodgers series at “The Stick” with the NL West title on the line… To make sure we were able to get bleacher tickets my boys and I arrived to Candlestick at 10 am for a 7 pm game… There are very few rivalries in sports that could match the electricity of a Giants/Dodgers matchup when both teams are relevent come late September… There was also something about Candlestick that seemed to make both the players and fans even more ‘on edge’… I will never forget Barry Bonds hitting a ball so hard I can still remember hearing the echo through the metal seats below me… I imagine most people in the park  followed the ball hit well over the right field fence but for whatever reason I never took my eyes off of Bonds… He stood at home plate to admire his work for a moment and then pulled off something I had never seen done on a baseball field, a pirouette! Shocked and going nuts celebrating with my fellow ‘bleacher bums’ I actually slipped and and fell back into the row of people behind me… Thankfully the fans caught me, then proceeded to body pass me half way up the section as if we were at some sort of rock concert… #OnlyAtTheStick

I was there January 5th, 2003… The 49ers fell behind 38-14 to the New York Football Giants… 49er quarterback Jeff Garcia then led a miraculous comeback with the 49ers eventually winning 39-38… I was playing for the Oakland A’s at the time and told 49er/A’s team photographer Michael Zagaris I would do anything to get onto the field for the game… “Z” man came up big… He got me a press pass and registered me as his assistant which basically granted me access well beyond a normal credentialed media member… I acted as “Z” man’s shadow and carried his camera bag around the entire game… Occasionally pretending as if I was snapping a couple shots myself… Ill never forget being inside the locker room and tunnel with the players right before the game… The entire 49er squad banging the walls and chanting as they walked toward the field… “We ready, we ready, we ready for Y’ALL”… I just about dropped “Z” man’s camera bag and charged the field with the team… After the game, as the stadium was going berzerk,  I found myself standing on the sideline next to my boyhood idol Ronnie Lott who was getting ready to do the post game on TV… He looked at me with a huge smile on his face, slowly gazed around the entire stadium then uttered  one word… “Unbelievable!”… Nothing more needed to be said, for the first time in my life I was speechless.

I was there October 6th, 2013… My final time at Candlestick park… It was the Sunday night game against the Texans but for me it might as well have been a Wednesday daytime matinee against the Houston Astros in 1985, the year the Giants lost a franchise record 100 games… I wasn’t there for the game, I was there for ‘The Stick” and I was there to give my 3 young children the same experience my Dad gave me 30 years earlier… I explained to my kids that the 49ers were going to get a new home next year and we are going to say goodbye to the old stadium that they are going to tear down… I purposely bought tickets in section 62, the exact same seats I sat in, 2nd row from the top on the aisle, when Will Clark busted the Cubs ass and sent the Giants to the 89’ Series… I wasn’t exactly sure how my kids, just 2,3 and 4, were going to react but they stuffed their faces with cotton candy and loved every minute of it… My girls kept dancing in the aisle and my boy would stand up on top of his chair, put both hands in the air and scream “NOBODY” (a little trick Daddy taught him) … After the game my 4 year old kept looking back at the stadium as we walked back to the car… Then when we drove out of the parking lot she began to cry… “Whats wrong Peanut?”… “Daddy, I don’t want them to blow up the Candlestick!”… “Me neither Peanut, me neither.” She wasn’t the only one with tears in her eyes…

December 23, 2013… The final game at Candlestick Park… I was not there… I was at my home in Lake Tahoe watching the game in the living room with 30 of my family members who had come up for the Christmas holiday… As you could imagine the crowd was loud and I was growing increasingly irritated because my family would not shut up! I needed to get away, I needed my space… The game that seemed to be locked up took a turn for the worst…  Atlanta scored late in the fourth quarter to make it a 3 point game… The Falcons then recovered an onside kick and were on the doorstep of punching it into the end zone and putting the 49ers playoff hopes in serious jeopardy… More importantly, the sendoff to the stadium that has given so many fans so many great memories was about to be closed out with one big kick in the nuts… Then it happened… A deflected Matt Ryan pass ended up in the hands of 49ers linebacker Navarro Bowman… I sprung up off of the couch the same way I sprung up out of my parents bed when I was 5 years old… I ripped off my jacket as Bowman crossed the 50, by the time he got into the end zone my shirt was off and I was waving it above my head screaming at the top of my lungs… I then began a lap around the house throwing out high fives to my wife, kids, Mom, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins… Unfortunately, Dad wasn’t  there this time for the chest bump, he passed away 2 years ago… Before I had time to get all nostalgic, I spotted my 2 year old boy across the room…  Just like his Daddy and just like his ‘Great Pa,’ his shirt was off as he was pounding his chest and screaming… “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy… Chest bump, chest bump, chest bump!”  Farewell Candlestick, I appreciate the generations of memories… EB

 

View from Section 62… Farewell "Stick"

View from Section 62… Farewell “Stick”

 

 

Baseball’s opportunity to make up for 28 years of blown calls

The year was 1985… The St. Louis Cardinals were up 3 games to 2 on the Kansas City Royals with a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 6 of the World Series… Rookie closer Todd Worrell was on the mound and Jorge Orta was at the plate… Orta hit a high chopper to the right side of the infield that first baseman Jack Clark fielded then tossed to Worrell covering first… Don Denkinger, the 1st base umpire ruled Orta safe… The Royals went on to score 2 runs in the inning to beat the Cardinals in game 6, then rode that momentum to a game 7 blowout of the Red Birds the next night…

I just watched the replay multiple times on You Tube… With Orta charging down the line, Clark moving in and far to his right to get to the ball, and Worrell pulling off a Texas two step over at first base to get his foot on the bag, there was a lot going on to say the least… Watching it in real speed I could not definitively tell you whether or not Orta was safe or out… Then, take into account Denkinger’s awkward positioning and it is very easy to see how and why the call was missed… Yet, with just one replay from a different angle than Denkinger had, there was no doubt that the toss from Clark had beaten Orta to first base and Worrell did keep his foot on the bag… The blown call changed baseball history…

The amazing thing is that the replay was actually available and easily accessible 28 years ago…  Just seconds after Denkinger blew the call, the video footage and legendary play by play man Al Michaels alerted the entire country of the mistake… Of course Major League Baseball knew that the wrong call cost the St. Louis Cardinals the World Series… Of course MLB also knew that the technology was and has been available to prevent another such disaster… Since 1985, every other major professional sport in the United States, as well as several collegiate sports, have all managed to adopt some form of replay… Yet, for years Major League Baseball buried their head in the sand while technological capabilities continued to improve the overall integrity of every other sport but their own… It was not until 2008 (the same year Little League baseball introduced a replay system) that MLB hopped on board, sort of… They installed a review system that included questionable home run calls ONLY,  but still nothing that would have righted Denkinger’s wrong that fateful night in Kansas City…

Opponents to having a replay system have long argued that it would increase the length of a game that is already too long… They have also defended the “human” element and have not wanted to alter a game which is historically very rich in tradition… The matter of fact is that life is about changing and adapting to an ever evolving world… Over time, we as a society have been constantly challenged… Through the years, we have answered many of those challenges both socially and economically…  In my opinion though, what our generation will long be remembered for are the technological advancements that continue to push the envelope on a daily basis and shape the world that we live in…  We are generation “NOW”… This is the “that was so 10 minutes ago” day and age… We all have a choice, including MLB,  to either embrace it or get left behind… That’s just who we have become as a whole… Therefore, instant feedback, response and correction are all part of what people living in the 21st century have come to demand and expect… Major League Baseball has finally made the decision to conform next season… Replay will officially be expanded and as of now everything with the exception of balls and strikes could potentially be up for review…

So long as actual people continue to play the game the “human” element will always be there… For those of you sickos who actually like the “human” element of umpiring, need not worry, just watch the NFL and realize you will still have plenty of opportunities to chastise the men in blue with or without a replay system in place… When it comes to the concerns of the potential lengthening of the game, this should not be an issue… In a trial run in the Arizona fall league this month the average review time was 1 minute and 40 seconds… Compare that to an epic Earl Weaver or Lou Pinella tirade that often times lasted over 3 minutes and I can make an argument that replay will actually shorten games… Going to miss those classic melt downs by hot head managers? I don’t blame you but don’t fret… Just ask A’s manager Bob Melvin how easy Angel Hernandez can blow a call on the field and then screw it up again in the video room…

So now that Major League Baseball has so kindly joined the rest of the sporting world in modern times, the question becomes what is the best way to implement the review system? Being late to the party could actually benefit baseball, they should be able to learn from all of the other sports replay successes and failures… Although the official rules are not set, it appears that managers will probably have two challenges… If they win a challenge, they will not lose a challenge opportunity… In my opinion, regardless of how MLB wants to set it up, the only thing they should be concerned with is making sure they get EVERY call right… I don’t care if the challenge comes from either one of the managers, a member of the umpiring crew, a player or some dude sitting in a box 3,000 miles away… ALL questionable calls should be looked at whether the score is 0-0 or 10-0 in the 1st inning or the 9th…

The NFL has had replay since 1986 and still continues to puke all over themselves on a weekly basis… Major League Baseball has a very unique opportunity to nail it the first time around, but in order for them to do so they must realize the more we use our “human” ability to embrace technology the better off we will be as a society and the better off baseball will be as a sport… Personally, I am obviously thrilled that MLB has finally decided to expand replay and it is no doubt a step in the right direction toward ROBO UMPS that I look forward to seeing in the near future… Unfortunately though, for Don Denkinger and the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, the review system was put into place 28 years too late…

Welcome to AT&T Park… Home of the San Francisco Giants & Oakland Athletics

I can sense panic about to take place within the San Francisco Bay Area… After years of endless pot shots and adolescent type bickering over territorial rights, it is my feeling that it is now time for the two Bay Area baseball franchises to begin cohabiting for the eventual betterment of both teams as well as for the greater good of Major League Baseball… Several years after Bud Selig apparently appointed a blue ribbon committee that was supposed to figure out some sort of solution in finding the A’s a new home, we finally have movement… No thanks to the committee that some people have questioned even exists… The issue that may finally force some sort of action is the Coliseum Authority’s demands for a new 5-8 year lease from the A’s and some absurd restructuring of concession profits which the A’s currently manage and financially benefit from… Not exactly sure how or why anyone representing the Coliseum would think that they have any sort of leverage or bargaining power after two major sewage spills making the already outdated stadium the laughing stock of the professional sports world…

Its similar to when my toilet clogged in college, the landlord didn’t fix it for a month then tried to raise the rent… I laughed and then told him to go eat the turds that were still marinating in the can… I am guessing something pretty similar to what the A’s have told the Coliseum Authority… Believe it or not, word on the street is that MLB has finally stepped in and actually threatened to move the A’s across the bay to AT&T Park if a lease agreement cannot be reached… I can hear both Giants and A’s fans bitching right now as I type… Giants fans not wanting anything or anyone “East Bay” near their crown jewel stadium, and crazed Oakland fanatics cringing at the thought of having to deal with the “yuppies” by the bay… 

Lets put emotions and name calling aside for a minute and think about the reality of the situation… The A’s need to move and them continuing to play in a city that seems either  unwilling or unable to properly and adequately provide for a Major League franchise is bringing absolutely zero urgency to the situation… Oakland would obviously benefit playing at AT&T based on the posh luxurious accommodations and more than likely increased attendance …. Most importantly though, is that the first step toward moving into your new home is moving out of your old one.

What’s in it for the Giants? A lot… Ultimately nothing gets done without their approval, they own the stadium… Therefore they can write up the lease agreement however they choose, setting the term of the contract, monetary compensation and any sort of other provisions they deem necessary ( i.e. A’s to San Jose never happening) Conservatively, lets say that AT&T Park rents out for $250,000 a day for 81 Oakland A’s home games … That would leave the Giants with an extra $20,250,000 each year they share occupancy… This would now put San Francisco in a position to become much more aggressive players on the free agent market… How would Jacoby Ellsbury and his 52 stolen bases or Shin Soo Choo and his .423 on base percentage look in a Giants uniform? Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is said to be every bit as good as Yu Darvish, he finished this season in Japan 24-0 with a 1.27 era and will be by far the most sought after pitcher this off season… Between the posting fee and Tanaka’s contract, the gigantic price tag will almost immediately eliminate nearly 25 teams including the Giants… Interested in that lease option yet Giants fans? The Dodgers have already proved they will spare no cost when it comes to fielding the best possible team money can buy… As of now, the Giants cannot fiscally compete with the Dodgers and their borderline reckless spending on the open market, but rather they must continue to find creative ways to get better… Development of the farm system, signing undervalued free agents and renting your stadium to your cross bay rivals all seem like very good solutions to me…

Relax Giants fan… Deep breath…  There is no need to replace Willie Mays’ statue with Rickey Henderson or rename McCovey Cove “Jackson’s Corner”… For now, the Giants are merely letting an old buddy (acquaintance is probably more appropriate) from across the bay shack up until he can get back on his feet… No need for the A’s to take the pictures of the Giants’ kids off the walls and replace them with their own just yet…  The stay will most likely will be short lived… Although it does seem to me like the perfect time to unveil a Vida Blue statue and put him in one of those half Giants half A’s hats…

Before you start casting stones at me realize that the Lakers and the Clippers share an arena in Los Angeles, the Jets and the Giants call the same stadium home in New Jersey and now a large majority of MLB teams share spring training complex’s… The idea is not nearly as far fetched as you think… Lets not forget the Raiders are essentially in the same situation as the A’s,  I just wonder when the NFL will step in and how will the 49ers respond if they are asked to share their new mega home? Here in the Bay Area, I feel as if we are way ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to being environmentally and economically conscience… This is just another way to prove our incredible resourcefulness in the region… I understand I am in the minority, but I would take pride in AT&T Park becoming the mecca of the baseball world by proudly being the only venue to play home to two teams… Just think, they could have a Bonds, McGwire and Conseco shrine on a makeshift Alcatraz Island set up in McCovey Cove or Jackson’s Corner. (Whichever you prefer) How cool would a Rollie Fingers handlebar mustache statue look mirroring Juan Marichal’s flying leg kick?

I grew up a die hard Giants fan and I played the first 7 years of my professional baseball career with the Oakland A’s organization… To say I am “fair and balanced” when it comes to my Giants and A’s allegiance is an extremely accurate accessment… My door swings both ways on the territorial rights debate… I 100% get how and why the A’s would flourish with a move to San Jose but I also believe the Giants have legitimate concerns regarding the potential impact on corporate advertising, luxury box sales and a Giants heavy South Bay fan base.

Lets not forget the Giants were in a very similar situation nearly 20 years ago with an aging Candlestick Park… Thankfully a group of local investors came in and saved the franchise from moving to Tampa Bay… They did so by throwing their balls on the line and privately financing a stadium, which was essentially unheard of at the time… Many say the only reason why the Giants were given the South Bay territorial rights by the Haas family was in hopes that the Giants would at the very least move 40 miles further away from Oakland or better yet completely out of the Bay Area altogether… The A’s then had visions of dominating the northern peninsula and San Francisco market simply based on geographical proximity… Another reason the A’s were so accommodating was that the Silicon Valley was still in its infant stages and had yet to become the holy grail of the technological world… How were they to know that Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and Cisco Systems would become just a few of the mom and pop companies that would dominate the area and serve as obvious potential big money advertisement dollars and luxury suite occupants…

The A’s took a gamble and it backfired… They since have begged and pleaded to MLB to get approval to move to San Jose which so far has fallen on deaf ears… It seems obvious that the move is not going to happen without the Giants approval which I imagine would only come with extreme financial compensation… When I was with the A’s in the early 2000’s they had an opportunity to essentially build their own gem of a stadium near Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront… Jerry Brown, the mayor of Oakland at the time and now the governor of California, helped nix the project which would have required a decent percentage of public money, in favor of a large scale low income housing project that since has turned out to be a colossal failure… Ever since then, the A’s have flirted with Fremont and several other East Bay locations but in reality cannot take their eyes off the hot momma in the south land, the ever seductive San Jose.

At this point of  “A Turd Runs Through it” something has to give… That is why MLB has finally imposed its will in negotiations with the Coliseum Authority and has essentially  implemented their “for the greater good of the game” policy which just may include an A’s move to AT&T Park… Most importantly though, after years of a seemingly fictitious blue ribbon panel, Major League Baseball seems willing and ready to take some sort of real progressive action toward finding a plausible solution to the A’s shitty situation. (literally)

EB

The Most Violent and Reckless Play in all of Sports

crashGrowing up with an extended background in Kempo Karate and football, I particularly enjoyed the physical nature of both sports… Then when I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to play professional baseball, I relished every chance I had to initiate extreme physical contact with the catcher whenever appropriate… As a matter of fact, I quickly earned a reputation around the league as somebody who if given the option, would rather to go through the catcher as opposed to around him… I did not discriminate either, I went after the veteran Jorge Posada, the rookie Alex Avila, the superstar Brian McCann, the journeyman Einar Diaz and even a fellow UCLA Bruin, Bill Hasselman… I went low, I went high, and even sideways if necessary… Most importantly I went in hard and with intent of preventing the catcher from catching or holding onto the baseball at all costs… In my mind, knocking the snot out of whoever was playing behind the plate was simply a byproduct of me doing my job… I always knew it was dangerous play..  Throughout my time playing baseball I sent several guys to the disabled list including All-Star catcher Brian McCann, and even ended a catcher’s career in the minor leagues… Yet, like many baseball purists, I just looked at it as part of the game…

 

 

May 26, 2011 completely changed my entire opinion… Why in a day and age when other sports are changing rules to protect players health and longevity, does baseball refuse to take action against the most violent and reckless play in all of sports? Rules that allow a catcher to block home plate with the baseball and a baserunner to do anything possible to try to dislodge the ball from the catchers grasp are both ignorant and irresponsible… At the time of the infamous Scott Cousins / Buster Posey collision, I was hosting “Sportsphone 680” for KNBR radio, the San Francisco Giants flagship station, and barely a year removed from my own playing career… Essentially I would conduct the Giants extended post game show and field calls from the passionate San Francisco fan base… When I watched Cousins crash into Posey, I thought that by rule it was a “clean” baseball play, and I still do… Coming down the line so many times in my career, just as Cousins had that fateful night, I understood exactly what was going through his mind…  “Whatever it takes to score, whatever it takes to score!”… So when Cousins veered to the inside of home plate to initiate contact as the ball was arriving I was not surprised… As a baserunner,  you need to make a commitment to either to slide or smoke the catcher by the time you are about 3/4 of the way down the line… I would always do my best to read the situation and make the proper decision,  but when you are running full steam ahead, often times it is very difficult to know exactly how the play is unfolding… No matter what though, the last thing I wanted to do was half ass my way into home plate, indecisive on whether or not I was going to slide, or mimic one my boyhood idols, Ronnie Lott…

 

The only reason why I would define it as a “clean” baseball play is because under the current rule structure there was nothing illegal about the collision… Although, the reality of the situation is that there was not a single thing that was “clean” about that play other than “by rule”… As a matter of fact, that play is so disgustingly dirty that it is a matter of time before somebody becomes critically injured or even killed… Buster Posey ended up missing the rest of the season with a broken leg and shattered ankle… Since that incident, several more collisions have taken place leaving more carnage around professional baseball… I lobbied hard two years ago on both KNBR and MLB Network for a rule change to little reaction and no avail… “Byrnes, do you want them to wear dresses too?”… Not really, but if a little female touch is what it will take to stop the nonsense, sure… “Byrnes, how can you spend years running into catchers and now condemn it?”… Very easily, I understand exactly how dangerous the play is for both the runner and catcher… I consider myself very lucky to not have any long term health effects from the multiple collisions I endured throughout the course of my professional career…

 

Last Wednesday a video surfaced of a AA Eastern League semi final game between the Erie SeaWolves and the Harrisburg Senators in which Senators 2nd baseman Brandan Douglas ran into SeaWolves catcher Brian Jeroloman… The collision was so incredibly horrific that I actually slammed my computer screen shut when I originally watched it… Jeroloman immediately went to the hospital where he remained for several days… Douglas was apparently OK but who really knows? Long term traumatic brain injuries have become a pretty hot topic as of late with the NFL and a just settled 1 billion dollar lawsuit related to concussions… There have been over 12 catchers in MLB this year that have missed time due to concussions… Because of the recent surge of violent home plate collisions and the variety of injuries that have resulted, including concussions, I don’t understand why MLB would not want to make a simple rule change to protect teams ever growing financial investments in players…  Something needs to be done… NOW!

 

I was fortunate to watch the UCLA Bruins baseball team win their first ever National Championship this year in Omaha Nebraska… Including my trip to Omaha, I followed the team closely throughout the course of the season on TV and also went out to the 3 game series when they came up to play Stanford… The Bruin squad was a gritty bunch of dudes that didn’t hit much but they pitched and played the game incredibly hard… There were at least a half dozen times that I watched plays at home plate where the catcher allowed the baserunner a path to the plate and the baserunner came “barreling” down the line  “sliding” hard into home plate… Just about each time, I stood up out of my seat fired up about the action at “the dish,” proving that a kamikaze collision is neither a integral or necessary part of the game… As somebody who spent an entire career running over catchers, I beg for MLB to go back to school and take a lesson from the college rule book before it is ultimately too late…

 

 

Confessions Of A “Steroid Era” Career

I played parts of 11 seasons of Major League Baseball from 2000 to 2010… I never used steroids and there is absolutely no reason why you should believe me… As a matter of fact, there is no reason why you should not question any player who played from the mid 1970’s to every one of the current players today… 1970’s you ask? Yup, that is the time when steroids became prominent at local gyms and were used recklessly by body builders and all sorts of other athletes looking to get an edge.  You can actually trace steroid use all the way back to the 1940’s when the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries were looking for ways to enhance the strength of their Olympic weight lifters…

Disturbingly, not long ago I was having dinner with a former long time Major League player that spoke about the steroid use of a prominent Hall of Famer that played the majority of his career in the 70’s and 80’s… Ha! Not like I was shocked but damn… So many members of the Hall of Fame, including this character, have recently spoken out and condemned guys who have had ties to performance enhancing drugs, saying there is no place for “cheaters” in the HOF… I just wonder how many of the other guys in the “Hall” were actually cheaters themselves?

Depends on your definition of cheating… I can guarantee you just about all of them at one point either stole signs, doctored a baseball, used a corked bat or loaded up on some sort of amphetamine… Steroids, because of the adverse health effects, public perception and terrible message it sends to our youth about what it takes to succeed, has alway been looked at differently, and I believe it should be.

I can also make an argument though that steroids actually saved the game… After the 1994 strike many fans had turned their back on baseball… It wasn’t until the famous home run chase of 1998 that MLB once again reclaimed the national spotlight… It seems a bit hypocritical to me that the guys that we marveled at and worshiped because of their ability to hit baseballs to places nobody thought possible, later became ostracized from the very game that they helped put back on the map, and for the most part, became somewhat exiled by society in general… We all had suspicions, yet nobody during that time period acted on them… Not that I condoned their performance enhancing drug use, but lets remember there was no drug testing program in place at the time and in my opinion the 2 guys were simply products of a much bigger problem, an entire Major League drug culture…

I signed out of UCLA in 1998 with the Oakland Athletics and played my first Major League game with them in August of 2000… Years later the “Mitchell Report” came out and I was shocked to read many of my former teammates names tied to PED’s… I was not ignorant to the situation but one way I describe it is that the steroid culture was very much like the cocaine culture… You go to a club, everybody is dancing and having a good time, you just assume everyone has that same good alcohol buzz that you do… Then you notice some dude’s eyes popping out of his head or a chick that won’t stop talking and looks like she is continuously picking her nose… I was not ignorant to the obvious in the “boom shooka boom boom” club and I sure as heck was not ignorant to the obvious in a big league clubhouse… The similarity of the steroids and cocaine continue, not once in my entire playing career was I ever offered steroids and not once in my younger and wilder club-going days was I ever offered “blow”… For me, or at least for the people keeping it from me, these were two very secret societies that kept to themselves and the other people who they knew were involved in the culture…

For a long time I just accepted the “steroid era” for what it was… It did not bother me that much and I didn’t necessarily feel as if I was getting cheated… The main reason is because individually, I did not feel as if I needed to get bigger, stronger or faster… I needed to lay off the 2-2 slider in the dirt… As a matter of fact, if I had chosen the steroid route, I would not have felt as if I was cheating… I would have been doing what a large percentage of other guys around the league had made habitual within  baseball… My decision to not use steroids was by no means a holier-than-thou attitude either.  Actually, it was very selfish… I had no desire to deal with the common side effects; pre-mature balding, back acne (backne as I like to refer to it), and shriveling testicles… I also watched a kid at my high school get so heavy into steroids that soon after graduation, his heart exploded…

Another major deterrent was that as much as I loved baseball, I refused to let the game define me as a person… So many guys put their entire self worth into baseball thus they lived under the guide lines of “whatever it takes.” Even as a kid, I always had many different interests… I figured that I would put my heart and soul into whatever I was doing at the time and then when I was done for whatever reason, I would simply move on and figure out “what’s next?”

I generally don’t blame the guys who used performance enhancing drugs prior to 2003 when the drug testing program was finally implemented… They were simply victims of a PED culture that was ultimately fueled by the silence of the players, teams and the media as well…

My first year out of the game, I ran into a borderline HOF caliber player and the issue of steroids came up… He proceeded to tell me that he played his entire career steroid free until he realized his time was coming to an end and he became willing to do anything to hang on… For the final 2 years of his career, he used performance enhancing drugs… He said the main difference that he noticed was how well he could SEE THE BASEBALL! Immediately I thought to myself it was a good thing I didn’t find that out until after I was done playing… Throughout the course of my career there were definitely times that I felt like I would have done ANYTHING to lay off that gosh dang 2-2 slider in the dirt!

As I am now 3 years removed from playing the game and 3 years into a broadcasting career, I hold a much different view… The recent suspensions of 14 players tied to Biogenesis in a lot of ways was the final straw for me… For years, dirty players have been screwing clean players out of opportunities and potential financial prosperities… For whatever reasons the clean players simply have just kept their mouths shut and  continued to be OK with getting cheated… Based on the recent comments of many current major leaguers, times are definitely changing, and I encourage more to speak out… There is no greater influence than that of your own peers!

Concerning is the fact that not one of the players suspended because of their link with biogenesis, with the exception of Ryan Braun, ever tested positive for PED’s… Here we are 10 years after the drug testing program was implemented, and obviously guys are still beating the system… Chemist seem to be a least two steps ahead of the testers… Now, new forms of fast acting testosterone that can leave your system within hours, seem to be the recent drug of choice…

So long as the reward  of multi-million dollar contracts outweighs the risk of a 50 game suspension for a first time offenders, players will continue to try to beat the system…  For the sake of the game, current players need to encourage the players union to make the penalty so severe for 1st time offenders that it actually serves as a real deterrent… My suggestion, a one year suspension for the 1st positive test and you also give the team the option to cancel a player’s contract, figuring that player signed the contract under false pretenses… The players union will never want to agree to this because players contracts are essentially what keeps them in business… The players must remember though, it is the PLAYERS union and ultimately their opinions and voices are what run the entire operation… 2nd offense, lifetime ban… Players must also continue to chastise cheaters, making them feel embarrassed and ashamed for their actions… This is now an opportunity for current big leaguers to stand up for all the clean players, active and former, who have been wrongfully cheated out of opportunities and jobs throughout the course of the past 30 plus years…

 

The Curious Case of William Nuschler Clark

A few weeks back as I watched Roger Kieschnick make his major league debut, I could not help but feel an overwhelming discomfort as the former 2008 3rd round draft pick stepped into the box for his first major league at bat… It had nothing to do with Kieschnick’s ability or what I believe could potentially lie ahead for the sweet swinging, left-handed hitting outfield prospect… It was just that there was another lefty, one with the prettiest swing I have ever seen, that I could not get out of my head… A guy who happened to make his major league debut 27 years earlier and donned the same number Roger Kieschnick was wearing… 22.

Growing up a die hard sports fan in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980’s, there were two athletes that defined my childhood and served as role models in my life. They shaped me as an athlete and as a person… The first being Joe Montana… The other, Will Clark.  The gritty Southerner out of Mississippi State that spoke with a Louisiana twang and played with an intensity and drive that resembled exactly who I was in my youth… Will Clark defined an entire era of San Francisco Giants baseball, and more importantly for me, he helped influence who I became as a baseball player through the course of my entire amateur and professional career…

“Thrill” as he was known since his Jesuit high school days back in Louisiana, blasted on the scene (literally) and lived up to his nickname by taking Nolan Ryan deep in his first at bat in the big leagues… The next season, in 1987, he went on to lead the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since 1971, hitting 35 homers and turning in a .951 OPS…  In 1989 he introduced himself to the world in the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs when he hit .650 with 3 doubles and 2 homers, including a memorable grand slam at Wrigley Field that proved to be the the turning point in the series… Then came the clinching hit against the Cubs flame throwing left hander, and now my colleague at MLB Network, Mitch Williams… I was sitting in the upper deck in Section 62 in center field that day at Candlestick Park… I am now a 37 year old grown man who happened to play parts of 11 major league seasons and I still get butterflies thinking back to the feeling that went through my body when “Thrill” smoked the ball back up the middle, driving in the game winning runs… Obviously Will Clark was named the NLCS MVP as he single handedly carried the Giants to their first World Series since 1962…

In 8 total seasons with the Giants, he was a 6-time All Star and finished top 5 in MVP voting 4 times… Clark then went on to play for the Texas Rangers and in his first season there, propelled them into the playoffs for the first time in the organization’s history… After a very productive 5 years as a Ranger, “Thrill” ended up in Baltimore in 1999, then in 2000, his final year, Clark was traded from the Orioles to the Cardinals and once again guided another team down the stretch and into the post season hitting .345 with an OPS of over 1000 for the Cardinals… Will Clark retired at 36 years old with plenty of baseball left in him… He undoubtedly could have continued to play for several more years but made the selfless decision to put his family first… Will’s son, Trey, was diagnosed with autism so he decided to hang ’em up and put the same emotion that he played the game of baseball with into helping full time with Trey’s development… He finished his career with 2176 hits, a batting average of .303 and an OPS of .880… He hit 284 home runs and drove in over 1,205 runs…

 

In 2006, Will Clark’s name was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time… He received 4.4% of the vote, not meeting the 5% threshold needed to remain on the ballot for future consideration… Not exactly sure why HOF voters penalize a guy that didn’t play until he was hobbling around in his mid 40’s in search of hit #3000 or home run #500? (both long considered HOF benchmarks)… Forgive me if I don’t recognize the Hall of Fame’s legitimacy as much as other baseball purists… For me, a Hall of Fame player is somebody who was one of the best players over a 10 + year period… Will Clark was exactly that, but for 15 years… Also, if the Hall of Fame wants to continue to morally judge players and leave guys out of the HOF based on the “character” clause, shouldn’t they consider the noble decision of Will Clark to walk away early for the greater good of his family and actually award somebody for their character?

Will Clark will never get into Cooperstown, but quite frankly, I am not all that concerned with the hypocrites that vote for and constitute the Hall of Fame… Their issues go far beyond Will Clark… What I am concerned with is that there are currently 10 numbers that have been retired by the Giants organization… #3 Bill Terry, #4 Mel Ott, #11 Carl Hubbell, #20 Monte Irvin, #24 Willie Mays, #27 Juan Marichal, #30 Orlando Cepeda, #36 Gaylord Perry, #44 Willie McCovey, and #42 Jackie Robinson which is universally retired around baseball… Will Clark’s #22 is painfully absent from this list… The common denominator of each of these guys is that they have all been inducted into Cooperstown…

This is now the Giants chance to stand up and not let the Baseball Hall of Fame dictate who the most important players are in the storied franchise of the New York and San Francisco Giants… The Giants have a responsibility to recognize one of the fiercest competitors and greatest players in the history of the organization by making sure his story continues to be told to future ballplayers and fans for generations to come… When my Dad used to take me to Candlestick Park, I would always ask him about the numbers hanging from the right field chained link fence, and he always had detailed stories for me about the former Giants greats… Now, I feel it is my obligation to share stories with my 3 children about the greatest Giants who ever played… I would love nothing more than to go to AT&T park, have one of them point to #22, giving me the opportunity to explain to my kids the legend of one William Nueshler Clark.

As a campaign effort, please pass this on in hopes that we can reach the appropriate Giants personnel who can make the retirement of number 22 happen… Reference @Giants on twitter and use #Retire22… See you at the ceremony! Eric Byrnes