Wednesday, September 15, 2010
What do the Padres need to do to hold their slim lead in the National League West? What did we learn from the Chargers season-opening loss to Kansas City? And, will the Aztecs football team surprise people this season? We speak to Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton about this week's top local sports stories.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Maybe the Padres are just trying to hype up the drama so we don't take their NL West first place status for granted. That's one way to look at it. But lately the Padres have seen a six and a half game lead shrink down to one and a half, and this development has Padres fans getting either nervous or dispirited, or both. Meanwhile the big Monday Night Football season opener saw the Kansas City Chiefs looking better than anyone, especially the Chargers, expected. The Chargers wound up with a loss and another early season disappointment. Then, Reggie Bush hands in his Heisman Trophy. San Diego sports fans can't take much more. Joining me to talk about this sad turn of events is my guest Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton. He’s sports talk show host on XX1090. And, Lee, good morning.
LEE ‘HACKSAW’ HAMILTON (Sports Talk Show Host): Good morning. Do we have enough to talk about?
CAVANAUGH: I think we have a little bit to chat on. Now, let’s start with the Padres. The last time we talked, I remember saying to you, what, six and a half games isn’t enough? And now they’re kind of scratching and clawing to hold on to a one and a half game lead in the National League West. What happened?
HAMILTON: Well, baseball is a grind and a team that has a lead this week might not have the lead next week. Baseball winning streaks and losing streaks are contagious, you know, and they withered away a six and a half game lead. What happened? Pitching staff ran out of gas. What happened? Whole bunch of nagging injuries caught up to guys that were kind of key catalysts that make things happen both offensively and defensively. So they wind up losing, excuse me, a whole chunk of games. They lost ten games in a row, which is pretty appalling. They’re no different than the first place Yankees who had a long losing streak, first place Tampa Bay that had a long losing streak. Philadelphia, in first place, had a nine game losing streak. So their streak just happened later in the season when it garnered more attention than when it happened, say, in the month of May. But now they’ve got all their injured guys back for the most part and with an expanded roster, they’re able to help their pitching staff a little bit more rather than just keep sending their guys out there every fourth or fifth day in the rotation. So we’ve got 20-plus games to play. They got as good a chance as anybody. And right now, game and a half up on San Francisco.
HAMILTON: They have a game in hand on San Francisco. So maybe they’ve been able to beat down the challenge although it will be a challenge because they still have a tough road series in St. Louis. They have to go back to Dodger Stadium. They still have to play Cincinnati when they come home. And, of course, a couple those teams are fighting for their own playoff slots.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Now the Padres’ two closest division competitors, as you mentioned, the Giants and especially the Rockies, have been playing well lately. Do you anticipate that this National League West race is going to stay tight right up to the bitter end?
HAMILTON: Bruce Bochy, the Giant’ manager, told me in the clubhouse the other day this thing’ll go to the final weekend of the season.
HAMILTON: And who do they play the final weekend of the season? The hated Giants. So, yeah, it’s far from over. I kept saying on our talk show on Double X, I was really concerned, A, that the pitchers were running on fumes. They piled up an awful lot of innings. And then, B, they just – the nagging injuries hurt them. I mean, losing Tony Gwynn’s glove in centerfield and his speed on the bases, losing David Eckstein for an extended chunk of time at second base with multiple calf injuries hurt them. But, boy, they’re still there and now that they’ve got those guys back healthy, because Eckstein is playing, Gwynn was activated last night, and to do everything Jerry Hairston, who’s really a multi-position player, he just came off the disabled list. Now, suddenly for the pennant stretch they got a chance because they got most of their guys back on the roster and back on the field.
CAVANAUGH: So is that what you think they need to do in order to hold on to the division lead, stay healthy?
HAMILTON: Health is obviously important and I think get quality starts. And, see, now they’re – something’s happened here in the last week and a half, is one of their guys came out of the bullpen by the name of Tim Stauffer and he had been hurt earlier in the year, had an appendectomy when he was pitching very well. Well, he’s finally healthy and he has given them a couple or three really quality starts. That’s helped that beleaguered five-man rotation. And then they called up their hottest minor league pitcher, Cory Luebke, a young lefthander, from the minor leagues. He gave them two to three pretty decent starts and has already won a game for them. So by virtue of Stauffer and Luebke going into the rotation, they got fresh arms, it takes a little bit of the pressure off the other guys in the rotation and as long as they continue to get quality starts, I think we’ll be talking pennant race probably to the final weekend of the season. The one thing that I worried about all along, they lost seven games to lowly Arizona and Milwaukee over the last month, and that, to me, was really disappointing and I really feared that those seven bad losses would come back to haunt them and it has allowed the Giants and the Rockies, to a degree, to earn their way back into the race.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton, a sports talk show host on XX1090, and we’re talking about San Diego sports. And moving on to the Chargers right now. What do we learn from the Chargers season opening loss to Kansas City?
HAMILTON: Only one word I can use to describe it. I took about 40 phone calls on our talk show yesterday on Double X, appalling.
HAMILTON: How – I mean, it’s one thing to get beat on the road. Winning on the road’s hard. But to get beat by a team that has probably the smallest amount of talent in the league, inexcusable. And there are a lot of things that play into this. I mean, the weather was really bad. Driving rain and wind but, know what, Kansas City had to play in that.
HAMILTON: The noise was unbelievable but it – there’s a lot of noisy stadiums. When you’re an established veteran team, you should be able to handle that – some of those environment things. And they played poorly for a large stretch of the game. They got it together at the end and they didn’t make the plays at the end they needed to make. Kansas City virtually made no plays at all but their defense just stood in there and slugged and kept San Diego out of the end zone for the most part. So, yeah, it – I – it was a very disappointing performance because that’s almost a guarantee. That’s almost a gimme. Kansas City had lost 39 of it’s last 49 games and they beat the Chargers. I mean, the Chargers have one of the really elite rosters in the league, one of the great group of offensive players, and they didn’t get it done against a really poor Kansas City team. But it only counts as one loss. There’s 15 more games out there. I have no doubt the Chargers will come out with fire in their eyes and playing on a good turf Sunday. They’ll probably blow out Jacksonville but, gee, you can’t give games away. There’s only 16 of them on the schedule.
CAVANAUGH: Isn’t that kind of almost like a tradition for the Chargers, though, to look really bad in the early part of the season?
HAMILTON: Well, either a tradition or an indictment of Norv Turner, the head coach. No, you’re correct. You know, last year they lost a home game to an anemic Baltimore team at the front of the schedule. The year before they lost a home game, home opener, to a terrible Carolina team. The year prior to that, they lost three games in September. No, you’re right on. Norv’s record in September is five and ten. Five and ten with one of the best teams in the league. Now, granted, at the end of the season, he’s one of the really best coaches. Which means they teach well, they learn well, they improve as the season goes along. But these games are so important because home field advantage in post-season is just really critical. It’s one thing if you lose to Drew Brees and the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints or you lose a shootout to Peyton Manning, but to lose to Kansas City, you’ve got to be kidding me.
CAVANAUGH: So in watching the Chargers in their opener on Monday night, what was the biggest area of concern that you saw?
HAMILTON: Well, I said all along I was really worried about their offensive line, could they hold up? And even though Philip Rivers only got sacked one time, he got flushed out of the pocket ten times, and he’s not a quarterback that’s real good on the move. So they’ve still got some issues with the offensive line and, see, that’s the thing that worries me. Kansas City does not have a great defense and for them to be able to cave the pocket and chase Rivers around, what are you going to do in the lineup against somebody that’s really got any league defense? So that’s a challenge. They’ll work on it. They will improve on it. That’s one thing. That being said, you know, Rivers threw for almost 300 in just hard weather conditions although he lost his composure a lot. I was really surprised to see him come out of character and, excuse me, yell at his linemen, yell at his coaches. They really struggled getting plays in in the noise and all that. You got to be beyond that, especially him. But I thought he had a good game. I thought the first round draft pick, the kid Ryan Mathews, even though he fumbled, I thought he played really well and he played really tough. But, you know, they haven’t really been tested. They didn’t play anybody with a good offense and it’ll be interesting to see going forward now, you know, how they’re really going to hold up when they start playing real people.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we have some holdouts that’s still on the roster. There’s Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill. What do you think is the likelihood that they both could hold out for this entire season?
HAMILTON: I think Vincent Jackson will be traded. On Thursday of this week there will be a grievance arbitration hearing to see whether or not a three-game suspension that was imposed by the Chargers and the league stands up in court. Now he’s serving a three-game suspension, a league suspension for the DUI incidents. That stands. But there was an additional three-game suspension that was handed out when he was put on the reserve, did not report list. There’s a question if that is restraint of trade because it limits his ability to go sign a contract with somewhere else and there’s a gray area whether that additional three-game suspension would follow him to another club if they trade him or if he signs an offer sheet with somebody else. My gut feel is that they – the arbitrator, the special master, as he’s called, will allow the three-game suspension to stand if he stays in San Diego but will allow him to go somewhere else and the three-game suspension will not be levied. I think that’s the way this thing’s going to come out in the next week, and that would open the door for him to be dealt. I don’t think he’ll ever play here again. And in terms of Marcus McNeill, yes, they want him but be he’s not playing after how he’s been treated by them, I think he sits the whole season and goes back on the open market next year as a free agent and this whole process starts all over again. But next year, if he’s an unrestricted free agent, he can go anywhere he wants, and you and I have spoken about this in the past, when the Chargers offered him a one-year deal, not a multi-year deal, and then when the Chargers cut his pay, I think it forever severed the relationship.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Now, looking at the other teams in the AFC West, how do they look during NFL’s opening weekend?
HAMILTON: Not very good.
HAMILTON: They look like the garbage can on your street corner on Tuesday. Raiders were horrible. They got bushwhacked in Tennessee. Denver is – Denver has a lot of injuries and I don’t know that we can gauge really where they are because they’re so dinged up. And Kansas City just played its heart out. I – The one positive with Kansas City is that they out-toughed San Diego.
HAMILTON: They really played hard. And they have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator and, to a degree, some of the stuff they did I thought really ambushed San Diego. So – But I, you know, Chargers are going to win the AFC West because the AFC West is not very good at all.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, you mentioned the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday that the Chargers play and you’re saying that they’re going to – you think the Chargers are going to blow right through them. But there are still thousands of tickets available for that Chargers home opener and it could mean the game will be blacked out locally if those tickets aren’t sold. Is this a trend that we’re seeing around the league?
HAMILTON: Yeah, it is and I think it’s a by product of a couple of things. There’s 8,000 tickets, as of this morning, still available. I just think it’s the by product of the expense of the tickets and parking and going to a game. I mean, if you were to take a family of three or four to a Charger game on Sunday, it would probably cost you $700.
HAMILTON: You know, if you’re talking mid-level tickets and everything that goes with that. So that’s item one. I think the economy’s got a lot to do with it. I think the other thing, and it’s not been openly discussed. We’ve talked about it on my talk show a little bit, is the NFL cannot have it both ways. The NFL cannot charge monster prices for tickets and parking and concessions and all that and then, by the way, ask the fans like you to buy Direct TV so you can watch all the games or buy the Red Zone Channel, which is a special highlight package on digital TV, and charge you astronomical amounts of money for that. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t bark and whine about we’re not sold out when you’re taking money in across the street for all the TV stuff. I – My biggest fear and I think the NFL has to rationalize this, is it’s a tremendously profitable business but have you started to price John Q. Fan out of Qualcomm Stadium? And have you made it such a good game on TV that John Q. Fan would rather buy the Direct TV package and watch the Chargers or the Steelers or the Giants or whomever rather than come to your game? I don’t know that it’s over-saturation but the league has created so many special ways to view a very popular sport, NFL, that maybe now it’s starting to come back and hurt them.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we’ve been talking about two teams that could – are having their troubles, the Padres and the Chargers. One team that’s not is the Aztecs. The football team has a winning streak going. The team is 2 and 0 so far this season. What, so far, is their recipe for success, Lee?
HAMILTON: Well, they’ve played a really, really inferior product.
HAMILTON: Nickel State is one Double A school, a very small New Mexico State is woebegone. It’s not a very good football program right now. They’re trying to rebuild much like San Diego State has. Much, much bigger test this weekend when they go play Missouri. I think Brady Hoke is making progress at San Diego State. He’s strung together a group of good recruiting classes. He’s got a very good offensive unit led by a third-year starter at quarterback, Ryan Lindley. And I, you know, I think that they’re going to do very well on the conf – in the league race. I said the Aztecs were going to go 9 and 3.
HAMILTON: A lot of people were stunned that I wrote that on my column on sandiego.com, a lot of people stunned that I said that on Double X but I just think if they can withstand any injuries, I think that they’re very good. And I think they’re going to knock off one or two of the good teams in the league and really take this next step forward. And I’m a big believer in Brady Hoke. But that being said, they go to Columbia, Missouri. They play in a Big 12 stadium. They play the Missouri Tigers who are a big time team with a big time passing quarterback. So this will really be a credibility check for how much progress they’ve made. If they go in there and hang tough and it winds up being a 27-21 game then you say they’ve really turned the corner. If they go in there and they get beat 39 to 3, well, then you have to say they haven’t made as much progress. But I think they’re making progress at State and, like I say, I think they’re going to finish in the upper echelon of the Mountain West as long as the quarterback does not get hurt.
CAVANAUGH: And I just want you to give us an idea about the kind of effect you think head coach, that is, Brady Hoke has had on SDSU football.
HAMILTON: I had a parent tell me last weekend, whose son plays for Brady Hoke that the players just firmly believe in everything he says, and the players would go through a wall for him. And that was not always the case prior. I think his credentials speak for themself. He walks in the front door having won other places. He has a world of big time experience as an assistant at Michigan and at Ohio State. And he turned Ball State around. Ball State is in Muncie, Indiana. At one point, they were 1 and 25, and when he was done they were 12 and 0. Proof in the pudding. So, I mean, he’s got a real track record and he’s loud, he’s proud, he cares. I think it’d be fun to play for him. It would not be easy because he is tremendously demanding but he’s also got a tremendously successful track record and I – this one parent came up to me and said, this guy’s a really special guy. Said, I don’t know how long they’re going to be able to hold onto him if San Diego State has success under him, but I do think they will have success with him.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s move from an inspiring college football story to a really sort of sad one. And I’d like to get your thoughts, Lee, on the news that Helix High School alum, former USC Trojan Reggie Bush has decided to forfeit his 2005 Heisman Trophy.
HAMILTON: Well, I think the whole thing is disgraceful. He brought the USC program down, he has been in denial mode forever. He never admitted he did what the NCAA found him guilty of doing. Never admitted that his family and he took $300,000 in illegal benefits while he was a player. Never admitted it. He talks around the topic, he talks in circles. Even the flowery press release that he put out last night, and I got a copy of, it’s just rhetoric. He talks about honor and loyalty and specialness and achievement. He’s none of those things. The guy was a common – common crook. His family walked around with their hands out. They were found guilty of $300,000 in illegal benefits. He’s taken the USC program down. He’s been barred from any interaction with his alma mater. Every trace of Reggie Bush at USC has been removed, from the LA Coliseum to Heritage Hall. He’s not on the campus, not allowed on the campus, he’s not allowed to have any interaction. I don’t think he’s very beloved in his hometown now. He’s really become a pariah. All he needed to do was admit, yes, I did this, it was wrong, I’m sorry. It’s almost as if he’s like Pete Rose, the baseball player, who was in denial for 17 years that he ever gambled on baseball while he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and now 17 years after the fact he says, yes, I did it. Now that’s the way Reggie Bush is acting. And it’s just a sad commentary. A great player. It’s odd you mentioned that because I was thinking about that this morning. I’m a Heisman… (audio dropout for NOAA Weather Radio Test alert) …you know, for breach of contract. Reggie Bush’s scholarship was a contract with USC. I mean, it was valued probably at $50,000 a year. They should sue Reggie Bush not just for the value of his scholarship but they should sue him for damages to the university. USC effectively is going to have to give back, I believe, $11 million in bowl money and NCAA tournament money they got. They should sue him for that, they should sue him for the loss of 30 scholarships. They’re going to be without 30 football scholarships, 10 a year, for the next three years, which is going to devastate the program. Now, that being said, it would take some real brass…
HAMILTON: …to do that and you’d have to drag a lot of people through the quagmire and the gutter to get that thing into court. But I firmly believe if you want a lawsuit against Reggie Bush and the lawyers and agents that tampered with that contract, you would chase every agent off every college campus. Now that’s cumbersome. That would be an enormous amount of legal fees to do it but I think that’s the only way you fight fire with fire, and that’s what I would do if I were USC. I don’t know that they’re up for that kind of fight.
CAVANAUGH: Lee, thank you so much.
HAMILTON: Maureen, we’ll talk to you again. My pleasure.
CAVANAUGH: We sure will. Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton hosts Sportswatch on XX1090 weekdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. He’s also a columnist on sandiego.com. If you’d like to comment, you can go online at KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, an original play about prison life performed by men who’ve been behind bars. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.