By: Bruce Jenkins, Chronicle Staff Writer
AS THEY lean heavily toward a three-man pitching rotation for the postseason, the A’s seem almost giddy over their opening-game options. “Who do you choose?” general manager Billy Beane said this week. “The advantage we have is Hudson, Mulder and Zito — flip a coin.”
On the surface, it’s a can’t-miss deal. Barry Zito is on a Cy Young Award pace, while Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder had phenomenal recent starts against the Mariners and Angels. But when it comes to bringing someone back on three days’ rest for Game 4, there’s only one choice. Zito has been preparing for this since he was 8 years old.
He never did follow the code. Youth-ball coaches told Zito, “Don’t pick up a ball. Then go out and throw with all your might.” He did just the opposite. Under the tutelage of his father, Joe, Barry threw every single day. On the days he pitched in Little League, he’d throw a simulated five innings in his backyard that morning.
“I didn’t know much about baseball,” Joe said recently. “I’m a musician, and in my business, you rehearse. You toe the line, and the results come. So we practiced. We were out throwing in the backyard seven days a week, summer or winter, from when he was 8 until he went to college.”
Like a hidden experiment suddenly thrust upon the world, Barry was perceived as a mad eccentric who surely would see the light eventually. But he met a kindred spirit, Alan Jaeger, during the 1997 season at UC Santa Barbara. Jaeger, who remains Barry’s arm-strengthening coach, is big on mental approach, yoga, stretching exercises, long-tossing — all the things Crazy Barry does on the sidelines today.
“By the time Barry transferred to USC, he could throw 160, 180 pitches and it wouldn’t really have an effect,” says the 38-year-old Jaeger, who now runs professional camps for athletes in all sports. “And the very next day he’d go out and long-toss 350 feet. I’m sort of like (A’s pitching coach) Rick Peterson — I don’t like to see him more than 110 pitches or so. But Barry is unique, in that his arm is built to throw year-round, almost as often as you want.”
Within the confines of a major-league organization, young pitchers find that coaches have their own way of doing things. Some demand a lot of rest and specific off-days for throwing; some like their long-tossing about 120 feet on a line, while Zito prefers a long, high arc. “I knew all of this could be a problem,” Joe said. “When Barry got drafted by the A’s, I told his agent the hell with the money, we can figure that out. I need the conditioning clause. If they say no, we take a walk.”
The A’s agreed. Zito marches to the cadence of his private drummer and 22 wins. He’s old style: Games 1, 4 and 7. His time has come.
SORT OUT THE SILVER
In the most tragic cases, it takes death to bring a person to life. Bob Hayes was a broken man in recent years, fighting severe health problems that stemmed in part from his post-career drinking. There was a long-ago bust for selling narcotics to an undercover cop, and the NFL turned its back, methodically keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Now Hayes is gone, and NFL Films takes over: No. 22 of the Dallas Cowboys. Catching slightly flawed but poetic bombs from Don Meredith. Simply blowing by people. A tough man, too. Destroying all notion of man-to-man defense and single-handedly creating the need for zones. The flat-out burners who came thereafter — Warren Wells, Cliff Branch, Homer Jones — owed it all to Hayes, who changed the game. When you notice that Lawrence Taylor and O.J. Simpson have Hall of Fame plaques, it’s time to get real and fix a great injustice . . . We mentioned this in an earlier column, but it bears repeating: Hayes ran sprints with more style (so distinctive) and desire than anyone who ever lived. Put everyone in a mythical race, all in their prime: Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Jim Hines, John Carlos, Tim Montgomery, the lot of ’em: Bullet Bob wins it. From behind . . . A nicer Hall of Fame note: Lute Olson has become the fourth person, joining Oscar Robertson,
Ann Meyers and Bobby Knight, to choose Pete Newell as his presenter (next Friday in Springfield, Mass.) . . . As he looked forward to the Pete Newell Challenge, with tickets going on sale Oct. 21 for the Cal-Kansas/Stanford- Gonzaga doubleheader at the Arena in Oakland, Newell had this comment about the Americans’ desultory performance at the recent World Championships: “It’s not that the rest of the basketball world has caught up to us. It’s that we’ve slipped back to them.” . . . We’re strongly behind the local sentiment backing Art Howe as Manager of the Year, but it’s a body-of-work affair that might be ignored again. With Mike Scioscia in charge, the Angels could be the first team to finish more than 40 games out (41, last year) and rebound into first place since the 1898-99 Brooklyn Bridegrooms. You know how sentimental those voters get over wedding themes . . . The more TV shots you get of the Dodgers’ bench, the more you wonder: Is that Jack Clark or actor Danny Aiello? . . . Hey, it’s Phil Mickelson! But more importantly, LPMG Consulting! Yeah, Phil! You go consult! . . . Late at night, in a deep and dark mood, we always fancied Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Riviera Paradise” as the ultimate goin’-home ballpark music after a tough loss. The A’s made it a reality after that 1-0 loss to the Angels Tuesday night . . . Somebody’s going to come up very big on Sunday, Steve Spurrier or Terrell Owens. For the 49ers’ sake, it had better be Owens . . . Didn’t think anyone could match Jerry Jones’ lip-bubbling, fish- face exhale in exasperation, but Spurrier did it just as grotesquely on the sidelines Sunday. The price: It will be shown forever, every time a Spurrier team goes sour . . . With his customarily solid logic, KNBR’s Tom Tolbert said it all about the DH: “I was always an American League guy because I grew up with the Angels, but the more I’m around the National League, the more I realize it’s a superior brand of baseball. Real baseball. I mean, if you’re out there with a glove, you should bat.” And every little kid knows it.