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Gwen Knapp's last column for The Chronicle

Sun, 8 Jul 2012 03:06:48 UT

The past 17 years saw the Raiders' return to Oakland; Steve Mariucci's Midwestern goofiness; a merger of The Chronicle and old Examiner; "Moneyball"; Mike Singletary; Tim Lincecum; trips to court with Barry Bonds and Bill Romanowski; trips to the Final Four with Jamila Wideman, Candice Wiggins, Jayne Appel and Nneka Ogwumike; a reefer-scented World Series parade; and the 49ers' renaissance - but not a Super Bowl celebration, which had become as constant as fog on the Fourth of July in the years before my arrival. More than eight years later, the endless trials connected to doping in sports have exhausted the attention span of the general public. Every time I hear that, I remember being in pre-2003 Olympic press rooms after some big event or at Busch Stadium in 1998, when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' home run record. Does that make millions in taxpayer dollars a worthwhile investment? I can't answer that, partly because there is no accurate way to assess the dangers of drugs. Most users lie about what they take, and ethical researchers won't expose subjects to dosages that are believed to fuel elite athletes. Natural hormone fluctuations wreak mischief on most teenagers, pregnant women and middle-aged people. Why shouldn't people born without maximum natural talent be able to make up the difference any way they can? If we can't expect sports to strive for high standards, then we shouldn't place athletics in schools, clear streets for road races, allow police escorts for NFL team buses on their way to games or vote for bond measures that support palatial stadiums. Afterward, I grabbed a towel and sat near the warm-up pool with my head bowed, remembering the past nine years immersed in chlorine.

Melky Cabrera revival helps SF Giants' recruiting

Fri, 6 Jul 2012 03:56:24 UT

The Giants' fans, prodded by a marketing department in full stage-parent mode, secured the spot for him with a deluge of affection. The downside of the Giants' intensive and somewhat indiscriminate campaign for All-Star votes already has been documented here. The embrace of Cabrera, both at the ballot box and in the costume-ball craziness that defines the Giants' park, could edit an unflattering portion of the franchise's scouting report. Beltran spent a brief period in a Giants uniform last year and then left for only a two-year deal with the Cardinals, barely bothering to entertain an offer from his most recent employer. The Bay Area, with its high housing costs and nasty commutes, places some big hurdles in front of prospective Giants. No one can guess, but we do know the numbers from this year's All-Star balloting, which floated every Giant from Buster Posey to Aubrey Huff into extraordinary realms.

Jeneba Tarmoh's incomprehensible decision

Thu, 5 Jul 2012 03:37:06 UT

Jeneba Tarmoh knows what people said about her after she decided to pull out of Monday's tie-breaking runoff for the last U.S. Olympic team berth in the 100-meter dash. Tarmoh said she thought USA Track & Field had put her through too much of an ordeal after the scoreboard at the trials posted her name as the third-place finisher. [...] review of the photo finish showed that Tarmoh and Allyson Felix had tied, their torsos crossing the line in the same thousandth of a second. Because the governing body had no tiebreaker in place, officials had to make up one on the fly. In 1996, Carl Lewis, a two-time gold medalist in the 100 meters, finished eighth in the event at the Olympic trials.

MLB looks other way on Giants fans' All-Star votes

Tue, 3 Jul 2012 06:19:43 UT

The club's marketing department did work that the Romney and Obama campaigns should study. The old political machines got votes merely out of dead people. Belt and Crawford might deserve to go to an All-Star game someday, but only irrational exuberance could have placed them second in their positions on the 2012 ballot. The commissioner recalled the 1957 All-Star vote, which resulted in seven Reds in the NL starting lineup. Conspiracy theories about the Giants' vote totals might survive into next year's balloting. Did some budding tech genius find a way around the limit of 25 online votes per person? On KNBR on Monday, Gary Radnich told his audience that his bosses had developed an application that turned a vote for Posey or Melky Cabrera into a party-line vote. Online ballots, he said, are tracked by e-mail addresses, which voters must enter, and IP addresses to prevent stuffing.

Last week's Giants better nostalgia than 2002

Sun, 1 Jul 2012 03:59:31 UT

A reunion for the 2002 pennant winners will put Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent on the field together again, and perhaps pull Dusty Baker from the Reds' dugout for a salute. Who knew, though, that the reunion would come at a time when the current Giants had depleted the fans' nostalgia for 2002 of virtually all its bittersweet qualities? The defense, so dismal in April and May, went six straight games without committing an error. At one point, as Lincecum struggled, both Righetti and manager Bruce Bochy pointed out publicly that his frustration seemed to be interfering with his attention to detail. Ask the Yankees, who just put CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte on the disabled list. The Giants' loss of Brian Wilson, meanwhile, appears less devastating in light of Brad Penny's dominant relief stint Saturday. [...] as the 2002 team gathers, the most striking element of that conundrum should be that four of the five players mentioned in the last paragraph came through the Giants' farm system. Kent should escape the wrath generated by becoming a Dodger, and to make it all complete, "Smoke on the Water" must play one more time as Nen walks out.

Swimmer Michael Phelps a competitive predator

Fri, 29 Jun 2012 04:21:07 UT

[...] his apparent vulnerability to fellow American Ryan Lochte at the U.S. swimming trials raises doubts about whether another eight golds will come his way this summer. Phelps broke the American record in the leadoff leg in that race, a sign of his extraordinary combativeness at the Beijing Olympics. In 2004, Ian Crocker won the 100-meter butterfly in world-record time at the U.S. trials, beating Phelps by close to four-tenths of a second. [...] he was the favorite. In Athens, Phelps hunted Crocker down in the final meters and took his fourth individual gold. Because his shot at eight golds had already ended, the event seemed a bit anticlimactic to the general public. After Phelps beat Lochte by five one-hundredths of a second in the 200 freestyle final, his coach, Bob Bowman, indicated that the edginess of their competition might lead to blunted performances in London. Most athletes can't afford to pace themselves at an Olympic trials.

LaDainian Tomlinson quote not as bad as it seems

Thu, 28 Jun 2012 04:25:52 UT

The question was posed thoughtfully, not as a gotcha move - but it's important to remember that it came less than two months after Tomlinson's former Chargers teammate, Junior Seau, took his own life. Retirement for pro athletes can be an excruciating transition. On top of the usual adjustments, football players now have to wonder whether they sustained brain trauma that will mentally debilitate them. The Chargers had only two losing seasons with Tomlinson.

Fans ready for early Giants-Dodgers showdown

Tue, 26 Jun 2012 06:15:32 UT

The scoreboard heated up the crowd early Monday, showing footage from Giants-Dodgers history, some of it in grainy black-and-white with a Hall of Famer as its centerpiece, some of it full color with a moment-in-time star rounding the bases to decide a season. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly set it up so perfectly, you'd think he'd acquired a marketing degree in New York instead of a .307 career batting average as the Yankees' first baseman. Mattingly had said something similar before the Dodgers arrived in San Francisco for the first time this year, but that comparison to Boston didn't get as much play as his swipe at the A's home, where the Dodgers were swept last week. The absence of Matt Kemp would hurt any team, and the Dodgers have gone 11-16 since May 28, just before he went on the disabled list. For the moment, the Giants' defense has stabilized, their bats have turned lively, and the lefty-vulnerable Dodgers' lineup allowed Zito to detour off a wayward path. Arizona seems certain to enter the race at some point in defense of its 2011 title, acting as interlopers in one of baseball's three best rivalries, like the Tampa Bay Rays of the West.

SF Giants' Tim Lincecum looks deep for answers

Sun, 24 Jun 2012 03:46:46 UT

After a train-wreck first inning, he sought out fellow right-hander Ryan Vogelsong in the dugout and started venting his anger. Pitching coach Dave Righetti already had said something similar, telling Lincecum to take out his anger on the A's, who had a 3-0 lead after the disastrous, 43-pitch first. At that point, the idea that Lincecum would last five more innings and allow no more hits seemed preposterous. Lincecum was heartened by his Friday rebound, but he has no illusions that one start can fix whatever has led him to a 2-8 record and an unfathomable 6.07 ERA. "For me to say this is going to be the light switch that turns on and changes everything, I can't really say that," he said. Not long after a dreadful start in Seattle, his hometown, Lincecum called his father, Chris. Friday's USA Today contained quotes from Chris Lincecum, defending his son and suggesting that a Bay Area obsession with Tim's 2012 shortcomings might lead him to sign elsewhere after 2013. Told that he needed to upgrade his fitness, he rebounded in time to deliver a blistering September and set up a ride in San Francisco's first World Series parade. In addition to extra fitness work and his diet adjustments, Lincecum said he reviews game video more closely these days to monitor his mechanics, a topic he frequently discusses with the media. "Last night was the closest I think I got back to being myself," Lincecum said. [...] last night, (the KISS theory) was eluding me.

Don't expect football playoff to solve all debate

Fri, 22 Jun 2012 11:00:00 UT

The plan to bring a playoff system to big-time college football may leave us with snubs and what-ifs, but a four-team tournament will greatly reduce the frequency and outrageousness. In its 14-year existence, the BCS has generated such exasperation and disgust that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, a leading playoff resister, used the words "battered" and "treated like a piñata" to explain his shift. [...] its predecessor, a "mythical national championship" determined by a combination of bowl results, polls and Ouija boards, was even more egregious. "Historically, we've been very conservative, protective of the status quo, but we've had a complete cultural transformation," Scott said, via the Associated Press, at the commissioners' meeting Thursday in Chicago. The large conferences could easily take the bulk of it, replicating the exclusionary qualities that have always made college football more of an aristocracy than a meritocracy. Ideally, in a playoff format, Boise State could have moved on to face Florida, which beat undefeated Ohio State in the BCS title game.

Hockey players won't let Heat's LeBron James skate

Thu, 21 Jun 2012 11:00:00 UT

Hockey players won't let Heat's LeBron James skate While some people watched LeBron James playing through pain to deliver in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, others saw him expressing agony with the subtlety of a post-"Godfather" Al Pacino. James earned his place in this group with his preening departure from Cleveland, his refusal to shake hands after a series loss in 2009, and possibly his tendency to fade in critical moments. Two games later, Nowitzki and the Mavericks had their first NBA title.

Weighing athletes' legacies and legalities

Tue, 19 Jun 2012 11:00:00 UT

The difference between a jury verdict and a Hall of Fame vote is, and should be, vast. Will this defeat encourage the federal government to retreat from its fight against performance-enhancing drugs and their attendant culture of deceit? The lead prosecutor in Southern California pulled the plug on a two-year grand-jury investigation of Lance Armstrong and whether his cycling team persuaded the U.S. Postal Service to sponsor an enterprise fueled by illicit drug use. The question of whether Armstrong juiced his way to seven Tour de France titles now belongs to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, theoretically the ideal venue for the inquiry. When the case into athletic drug use began at Burlingame's BALCO lab in 2003, the investigators went after the distributors - flunkies, really - and targeted the wealthy athletes only as witnesses, granting them immunity in return for honest testimony. Of the six athletes and one coach accused of obstruction or lying to federal investigators about doping, only Clemens beat the rap. The government had backed the report, compiled under the authority of former Sen. George Mitchell, in the hope that federal investigators could help Major League Baseball purge the sins of the "steroid era" and move on. [...] some of them ultimately might have preferred jail time to testifying - the option chosen by Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson.

Webb Simpson's long locker-room wait

Mon, 18 Jun 2012 11:00:00 UT

Webb Simpson and his wife decided they had to distract themselves from the drama on the TV in front of them. The 26-year-old from North Carolina had gone to the Olympic Club's plush locker room with a share of the lead in the U.S. Open, waiting and watching to see if any of the players left on the course could beat his 1-over-par final score or force an 18-hole playoff. In the locker room, Simpson looked almost blasé as he kept checking the phone. Groans from the gallery at the 18th stands had come through the walls of the locker room when Furyk hit into a trap. [...] they came through about five seconds before the footage of the shot appeared on the TV screen. The Simpsons did not want the noise to tell them what had happened, so as McDowell stepped up for the putt, they tuned it out, Dowd said. Simpson had played in only one other U.S. Open, and he went into Olympic thinking that he might skip the British Open in 4 1/2 weeks because Dowd is 34 weeks pregnant and, based on the timing of James' arrival, she seems likely to go into labor early. The baby is due Aug. 3, and Dowd said her obstetrician planned to induce labor a few days before that so Webb could be present for the birth and still play in the Bridgestone Invitational, scheduled to start Aug. 2 in Akron, Ohio.

This U.S. Open deserves a Monday playoff

Sun, 17 Jun 2012 11:00:00 UT

McDowell came into this tournament as the Northern Irish big brother to the game's great lad, Rory McIlroy, who shattered the Open scoring record last year with a 16-under-par win. McDowell's 2010 Open win at Pebble Beach seemed to be all but forgotten, even though his steady, smart play there made him an excellent candidate to contend this weekend. After sharing the lead through 36 holes, he finished at 5-over par for the day and stood at 4-over for the tournament. The sun had applied patches of brown to the magnificent grassy amphitheater at the 8th hole, and much like on a golf course, the dry areas acted like icy surfaces. Fog may yet make a sustained appearance at this tournament, but SPF 45 has played a much bigger role than anyone savvy about the city's microclimates could have anticipated. When John Peterson's tee shot on the par-3 13th hit the green and rolled into the cup, he threw up his club, raised his arms, half-chest-bumped his caddie and accepted high-fives. McDowell displayed a cheeky sense of humor as his round went on, grinning after a narrowly missed putt and slapping his caddie's hand after his approach shot on 18 landed 4 feet from the hole. After his birdie putt fell, he reveled, sprinting up the steep makeshift staircase leading away from the course.

Tiger Woods survives difficult foray at Olympic

Sat, 16 Jun 2012 11:00:00 UT

In the 2 1/2 years that Tiger Woods spent meandering away from the center of the golf map, he often finished mediocre rounds and told reporters that he saw progress in his swing or felt good about some detail. On Friday at the Olympic Club, Woods walked off the course with a portion of the U.S. Open lead and the attitude of a man who had just survived a cage match with a beast. Playing with Woods, Phil Mickelson hit a birdie putt on 18 that moved like a caterpillar, in excruciating increments, yet never lost momentum on the parched grass. The first six holes at this Open have a booby-trap quality, and if Woods had finished them at par or better, the rest of the field would have been shaking. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP, walked inside the ropes and drew screams from fans of the Packers and Cal, plus a couple of taunts from 49ers partisans, reminding him that he will face linebacker Patrick Willis in the season opener. Fred Couples, who once employed Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava, also followed the power threesome of Woods, Mickelson and Bubba Watson for several holes. Woods dug himself out of a mess on 17, where his second shot bounced off the green and flew 30 yards to the right, coming to rest in a spot framed by trees. On 18, he escaped a bunker to save par, grab a portion of the lead and create a sense that the beast might yield his first major title in four years.