Monday, August 23, 2010
The Padres have the best record in the National League, but are still not getting the respect they deserve from the national media. We speak to Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton about why the Padres are playing so well, and how the Chargers and Aztecs are faring as they prepare for the upcoming football season.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The San Diego Padres may be asking what do you have to do to get some respect around here? The team is still on fire, but they're running into some cold shoulders. Meanwhile, the Chargers show the good, bad and the ugly in pre-season play. And, we'll take a back to school look at the Aztecs. I’d like to welcome my guest for this Sports Update, Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton, sports talk show host on XX1090. And, Lee, good morning.
LEE ‘HACKSAW’ HAMILTON (Sports Talk Show Host): Good morning. How are you, Maureen?
CAVANAUGH: I’m doing great. Now the Padres continue to win, continue to roll. They have the best record in the National League. But are still not getting much respect nationally. Why is that?
HAMILTON: It’s really stunning. The TV networks have pretty much shunned the Padres up until about Friday night. Fox TV just announced they will televise 3 of the Padres’ Saturday games in the month of September, which is a real step forward because this team has been in first place virtually all season long and had only one or two national appearances. Meanwhile, the nation got a steady diet of the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Cardinals and the fifth place Cubs and an underachieving Dodger team. Much to the chagrin, I think, of an awful lot of San Diegans and maybe even to the Padre ownership. I think the general consensus is this is a small market team, it is a nice story, it does not have a lot of cache nationwide. But I will tell you, we’re going to post-season play.
HAMILTON: October 3rd, the Padres are going to be playing in the post season and I think people now will start to understand, you know, how pretty – how pretty good season this has turned out to be.
CAVANAUGH: Now this is the largest series away from Petco Park that the Padres played all season, is that right? They’re just coming off that?
HAMILTON: Yeah, they’re just coming off a 7 and 3, 10-game road trip, which is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, they lost 2 in Milwaukee to a bad team and a week and a half ago they lost 2 in Arizona to another bad team, and that’s kind of disappointing because, you know, that’s four extra wins that you could’ve had against bad ball clubs that might’ve really given you a comfort zone over the team that are still chasing them behind in the standings. San Francisco is still behind them, 6 games back. The Giants have hit their own lull. Colorado and the Dodgers, I think, are effectively out of it. They’re 11 and 12 games back but there’s still a whole month of baseball to be played. The Padres cannot afford to give any ground and, you know, I sure hope these four losses to bad clubs don’t come back to haunt them.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, so 6 games sounds pretty good to me but I’m no sports expert. You’d like to see a little bit more games separating them from the Giants in the National League West.
HAMILTON: Well, here’s the thing. If the Padres—and their schedule the beginning of September’s tough—if the Padres hit a skid and lose four in a row and the Giants get hot and they win four in a row, what’s your lead?
HAMILTON: Now your lead’s only down to two…
HAMILTON: …with probably half of September to play. Luckily for the Padres, they’ve not had any long losing streaks because of the quality of their pitching and they’ve been able to, every time they’ve gotten close to – Their longest losing streak is 3, which is pretty impressive. Every time they’ve gotten close to going into a skid or people start to look at them and say, well, that was nice, here it comes, they’re going to falter, they get a great pitching performance like they did yesterday from Jon Garland, who won his 13th game, and they post a victory. So now they come home. They’ve got Arizona 6 of the next 9. They really need to crush the Diamondbacks, who are in last place. They really need to put together another hot string because once we get to Labor Day weekend, they start playing real tough people again on the schedule.
CAVANAUGH: Now one bit of down news for the Padres last week was the team’s failure to sign first round draft pick Karsten Whitson before last Monday night’s deadline. Why couldn’t both sides agree to a deal on that?
HAMILTON: Well, it depends who you listen to. The Padres’ general manager, Jed Hoyer, said the family gave him a verbal agreement that if they drafted him with a 9th pick in the first round he would agree to a slotted signing bonus, about $1.93 million, so they went ahead and drafted him. A very good high school pitcher out of the state of Florida. But as June became July became August, it became apparent that maybe there was a feeling in the Whitson family camp and the financial advisor, a player agent, that maybe his value was a little bit higher because this was a less than stellar crop of pitchers that were on the draft board. Well, the Padres, I think, got wind of this, they upgraded the offer twice, and with about 15 minutes to go before the midnight deadline last Monday, they had taken the offer from $1.9 million to $2.1 million and the family came back and said we want $2.7.
HAMILTON: Well, $2.7 is way over the slot recommendation for a guy taken with a ninth pick. And I think the kid made a mistake. If the kid really wants to get into professional baseball and get the clock ticking and get the chance to get to the major leagues, $2.1 million is, indeed, a nice starting point. The other factor in the equation, if he goes to the University of Florida next week and enrolls, he is not eligible for the draft for three years. Who knows what his value is going to be like in three years? If he sits out this year and goes back into the draft next year, he might not get taken with the ninth pick. Next year’s draft’s supposed to be a bonanza, supposed to be very deep. What happens instead of getting drafted ninth next year, he gets drafted 18th or 20th, his slot value is even less. So if the kid wanted to be a pro player, he should’ve accepted the $2.1 million because it was really above the recommended figure.
CAVANAUGH: That’s a high stakes gamble. Well, let’s move on to the Chargers, Lee. The preseason game, loss to Dallas at Qualcomm Stadium, how does the team look as they – just a few games out going into regular season play?
HAMILTON: They look streaky. It looks explosive in certain structures of time. Philip Rivers is a great quarterback. They obviously have got a couple of really dynamic running backs led by the top draft pick Ryan Mathews. They have all kinds of problems, I think, in pass protection. You know, Rivers hit some big plays down the field in his first half of action against Dallas but he was also under siege a whole bunch of times and was overthrowing people because they couldn’t protect him. And much like the Padres, excuse me, much like the Padres, the Chargers have their own set of contract issues with a holdout left tackle that is refusing to sign and they’re refusing to give a state of the art offer, too. And we’re three weeks away from the start of the season and I will tell you if the Chargers are having trouble protecting Philip Rivers in preseason, what’s going to happen opening night in Kansas City and the, you know, early games in the season when they’re really playing legitimate pass rushers every snap, every down? So, you know, I think they’re making progress. I think they’ve, oh, for the most part had a good camp but this contract cloud just looms over them and I just – I think it’s going to be a big negative on the season and Philip Rivers health if they don’t get this solved, and I see no movement to get it solved.
CAVANAUGH: Now, okay, well, what is the latest news on – that you can share with us on the contract disputes?
HAMILTON: Marcus McNeill on his own went and met with the general manager, AJ Smith, last week to talk about why the club would not pay him state of the art money. AJ Smith lectured him about agents, lectured him about we have the right to pay you what we think you’re worth because you’re not an unrestricted free agent, and, in essence, I just think rolled the wire down the hallway and the player’s on the other side of the barbed wire. And I think it’s very unfortunate. I think it’s a bad way to do business. So there’s no progress there. The other holdout is the star wide receiver Vincent Jackson. They gave Seattle permission to negotiate a contract with Vincent Jackson. They have arranged what would be a trade for a draft pick but now the contract talks between Seattle and Vincent Jackson broke down because he’s asking for a mega-amount of money and, of course, he’s also facing a three-game suspension for multiple DUI arrests. So the Chargers are without two top players and does not appear anything’s different now than the last time I talked to you maybe a month ago.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Now linebacker Shawne Merriman, of course, is now in camp but we hear that he already is dealing with an injury. What can you tell us about that?
HAMILTON: Well, he came to camp very late. He missed 22 practices. He boycotted all the off season workouts and on my talk show on Double-X, I had indicated it’s one thing to get a guy back in camp but, you know, we’re running short on time to prepare for the regular season and there’s a whole football conditioning situation. So he promptly goes through two workouts in camp and develops Achilles tendon inflammation, which is something takes time to quiet down. So they got three weeks to get him healthy. Hopefully, they will get him healthy but this is a prime example of when you miss all the off-season workouts and then you miss 22 workouts in preseason camp, you’re not in football condition. So that’s a bit of an issue. The thing that helps them there is they are very deep and very good at linebacker but Merriman makes them exceptional at linebacker.
CAVANAUGH: Lee, what are the biggest issues right now with the Chargers’ roster, do you see?
HAMILTON: Do you know any left tackles?
CAVANAUGH: I don’t.
HAMILTON: Plain and simple, period, exclamation point. No other further discussion.
HAMILTON: They’ve got a young kid, Brandon Dombrowski from San Diego State, real hardworking kid. I just don’t think he’s quick enough to play left tackle because the left tackle lines up against the other team’s lead pass rusher. They’ll – you know, he will be the starter if there’s no resolution to Marcus McNeill. At this point, I think this is really going to be tough for him and, you know, if you put a tight end on that side to block with Brandon Dombrowski, to help him, that’s one less receiver you have for Philip Rivers to throw downfield. Luckily for the Chargers, the running game with the greatness of Ryan Mathews, really looks exceptional. Maybe they’re going to run the football more than they’re going to throw the football, maybe they will have to, because I don’t know they can pass block to throw the football very well.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Lee, you know, it’s back to school season. The Aztecs held a full scrimmage on Saturday. How did they look?
HAMILTON: They look good. The defense looks so radically different right now the second year learning under the new defense coordinator Rocky Long. I think they’re going to be the surprise team in the Mountain West Conference. The Mountain West writers only picked them sixth in the poll, which is ridiculous. I’d pick them fourth. I think they have the potential if they stay free of injuries to not only be really good on offense, thanks to the quarterback, Ryan Lindley, but really vibrant on defense because I just think that the second year in this new system that this coach runs, that they just look so different now in terms of confidence and knowledge and gettin’ after it. So I think they have the potential to have themselves a pretty good football season. The bigger story is not so much the Aztecs, the bigger story is what happened in the Mountain West conference with BYU late last week announcing it was leaving to become an independent and that set off all kinds of reverberations and Mountain West wind up stealing Fresno State and Nevada Reno from the Western Athletic Conference and now, as of this morning, the Mountain West is trying to convince BYU to change its mind, make a U-turn in the road and come back. And if BYU comes back, then the Mountain West is going to be a very, very good football conference…
HAMILTON: …but nobody knows.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Lee, I had somebody explain this to me over the weekend, okay, about the Mountain West Conference and the different conferences around the country when it comes to college football. If you can, can you tell us what the significance is of BYU thinking about leaving the Mountain West Conference and these other shakeups that are going on in the conferences?
HAMILTON: Well, conferences right now are real business models and the biggest issue for conferences right now is what kind of mega-TV contract can I get? How big is the revenue-sharing television pie for all the members? That’s why the Pac 10 went to 12. That’s why there’s a shuffling of the deck. BYU, by virtue of the Mountain West TV deal, does not get very much money. And they are one of the flagship football programs in the conference. They get only a million-five. They are of the opinion that if they go independent, they can work separate deals with ESPN, get a bunch of their games televised. They have their own television network, BYU does, which generates some revenue. They would get a bigger chunk of whatever pie they could create rather than splitting it 9 or 10 or 11 ways but its fellow mates in the Mountain West Conference. But that being said, BYU is not just about football. If BYU leaves the Mountain West, where do they play basketball?
HAMILTON: Where do they send their baseball program? What happens to all their Olypmic sports? That’s the real issue as to where they go. There had been a conversation late last week that BYU might be independent in football and drop all of its other sports into the Western Athletic Conference but the Western Athletic Conference is falling apart. Not only did they lose Fresno State and Nevada Reno and Boise before that, now Hawaii this morning has intimated it wants to go independent. So the WAC is not really a landing place. BYU may have a tough time scheduling football games and BYU may have a real tough time finding a place for its – all of its Olympic sports to compete. So that’s why there’s such a sales push as of eight o’clock this morning for the Mountain West and BYU to get back together and bring Brigham Young back into the fold.
CAVANAUGH: Well, with the Western Athletic Conference, as you say, falling apart and these other schools wanting to go independent, what does that do to the bowl games? The bowl structure?
HAMILTON: Well, it’s – I mean, the bowls are pretty much locked in. The elite conferences all pretty much have opportunities to be in the BCS. The Mountain West Conference only gets a BCS berth in a big bowl game if one of their teams winds up going 12 and 0, 13 and 1, whatever. And the Mountain West is really fighting hard to get a BCS guaranteed spot has not occurred yet. They have a better chance if BYU is part of this conference with Boise, with TCU, with the addition of Fresno State, Nevada Reno, they have a much better chance to convince the BCS we’re pretty good players here, let us have a guaranteed slot. You know, from BYU’s standpoint, there is grave risk. They go out as an independent, they’re going to have a tough time scheduling games. They go out as an independent, you know, unless they’re going to go 14 and 0 every year, how they going to qualify for a BCS berth because, you know, there’s a non-guaranteed spot there they’d be fighting for, too, against everybody else in the world. So I just think this was really a bad decision by Brigham Young and now they, as somebody told me in Provo Friday night, they may have to come back with their hat in the hand and ask the Mountain West Conference to let them back in. And if they do, Mountain West should.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, my last question to you and it has to be really quick because I want to bring it back to the SDSU Aztecs, so tell us again what you think the outlook for the football team is.
HAMILTON: They play a downgraded schedule. I think they can knock off one of the big teams. The big teams are TCU, BYU, Utah. I think they can beat one of them. If they do that, they might be looking at 7 or 8 wins and they’re looking at a berth in a bowl game, maybe the Poinsettia Bowl here in town. I think it could happen.
CAVANAUGH: That would be great. Hey, Lee, thank you so much.
HAMILTON: Thanks, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton hosts Sports Watch on XX1090 weekdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. And if you’d like to comment, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.