Twelve Thoughts: Huff's MVP Chances, Gillick in Wrigleyville, Eckstein
Huff may not crack my top three, but his bat, versatility and goofy, if sartorially icky leadership, deserve extra recognition. Huff moved from first to left, which allowed Buster Posey's bat to beef up a weak lineup, and his move to right brought Pat Burrell's suddenly live bat into play.
San Francisco's large, wind-buffeted outfield can make buffoons of able outfielders, but Huff fared OK in both left and right. Best of all, because he coped with a home ballpark that cows many lefty hitters, Huff has been invaluable to the team's right-leaning offense.
• Giants GM Brian Sabean's first call of the offseason should be to White Sox GM Kenny Williams. When an NL West GM lusts to move a bloated salary, Williams is the guy to call -- witness his recent trades for Jake Peavy, Juan Pierre, Edwin Jackson and Manny Ramirez -- so maybe the Stanford man will further aid Western baseball and take on some of the $24 million due Aaron Rowand.
A return to Flyover Land should help Rowand, who began his career with the Sox and had a big year for them in 2004. Rowand has below average speed for a center fielder, so leaving behind the NL West's big ballparks might do him good.
• The NL's race for Manager of the Year should tilt heavily toward California. What San Diego's Bud Black did with the Padres isn't far from loaves-and-fishes stuff -- the club has a $38 million payroll, only one good hitter and, as yet, no starting pitcher with 200 innings.
Californian Dusty Baker, who still gets ripped by geniuses in Flyover Land, guided the Reds to their first playoff berth since 1995 and Bruce Bochy deftly handled the Giants. The Padres' fade shouldn't doom Black's chances, but as Hall of Fame-caliber baseball writer Peter Gammons classily Tweeted in response to West Coast Bias' pro-Black column: "You're right on our East coast bias, per Bud Black."
• If the Cubs were to seek Pat Gillick's help, the answer might surprise them.
"The Cubs might be that one big challenge that would interest him," said a veteran scout who is close to Gillick.
The best GM of modern times, Gillick, 73, rode off into the sunset after the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and by all accounts is enjoying the slower pace. The scout tells West Coast Bias that Gillick, a Californian and a USC alum, "is in excellent health" and walks three miles a day. Good to see new Cubs ownership stick with GM Jim Hendry, who was ill-served by previous ownership, but if Hendry needs sage advice, maybe he should give Gillick a jingle.
• Dennis Gilbert's behind-the-scenes pursuit of the Dodgers may have factored into the curious front office dynamics in Arizona. Gilbert is a former agent and now an owner candidate whose close friends include Kevin Towers, the former Padres GM who recently took the same job with the Diamondbacks.
Within a few years, Gilbert should know whether he can be part of a new ownership group with the Dodgers, whose current owners -- They Who Shall Not Be Named Here -- are involved in a complicated divorce. The contract between Towers and Arizona has only two guaranteed years, which would make it easier for Towers to leave if it came to that. What's more, the Towers-Gilbert friendship is known to former D'backs interim GM Jerry Dipoto, who has done an about-face and will stay on as Towers' top baseball executive and, should it come to pass, likely successor.
• In the Arizona desert, an overhaul of the Garden Snakes' infield might be looming.
Heard this: Before Towers took over, Arizona discussed offering third baseman Mark Reynolds to the Oakland A's for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and pitcher Vin Mazzaro. Pre-Towers, Arizona tried to interest the Tigers in a Rick Porcello-for-Stephen Drew swap but was met with a firm no. I wouldn't be surprised to see Towers sell high on second baseman Kelly Johnson, and first baseman Adam LaRoche may have to take a pay cut to fit into a payroll that I hear will begin with a "5."
• When I think of David Eckstein, I think of good baseball DNA.
Because he looks like a seventh grader, Eckstein is praised ad nauseum for his high baseball IQ and determination, which indeed are inspiring, yet it's his spectacular hand-eye coordination that's the bedrock of a career that's brought two World Series rings.
"Thank you for saying that, thank you," said Eckstein, the Padres' second baseman who, according to fellow big-leaguers polled by Sports Illustrated, extracts the most out of his ability of any active player.
"I've always been able to take the bat to the ball," Eckstein added. "Even when I was an infant, I had a bat in my hands even though my parents really weren't all that into baseball."
Eckstein said he's portrayed as a superhero "because I'm small," yet the 5-foot-7, 175-pounder is a tad bigger than Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, towers over Freddie Patek and is a bone-strong dude who's suffered only one fracture despite countless plunkings and collisions.
• Good for baseball if the Giants snag their first playoff berth since 2003.
San Francisco's bayside ballpark is spectacular, and even the Evil Coasters are starting to figure out that Giants crowds love to rock n' roll.
"When ESPN came out here for the Giants-Dodgers series, they said, 'Wow, this crowd is like a Yankees-Red Sox crowd,' " broadcaster Jon Miller told West Coast Bias, and I wonder if he had to give the folks from Bristol directions to the ballpark.
Miller works for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball when he's not calling Giants games for the local feeds.
• Baseball should take note of Boise State's surging popularity on the football scene.
ESPN's first-week telecast of Boise State's victory over Virginia Tech drew huge ratings. Funny, only several years ago Boise State was an obscure school "out West." To its credit, Big Media recognized that Boise State's innovative offense and legit top-five ranking warranted a big stage.
Bud Selig should follow suit and have the Rockies and Giants ring in the 2011 season on ESPN with Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Linecum dueling. Great chance, Bud, to call attention to Colorado's "Tulo-Cargo" connection that only now is entering its prime years.
• West Coast Bias could've spared the Texas Longhorns some football misery last Saturday.
After UCLA trounced the Longhorns in Austin, Bruins players said the Texas players had regarded them as laid-back Californians. Coach Mack Brown should've called me for pre-game factoids to feed his steers -- such as, California is the home state with the most active NFL players (211). SoCal high schools in Los Angeles, Tustin, Los Alamitos and Vista each have four alums on current NFL rosters.
• Rule two in guidelines to MVP voters may work against Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies shortstop who has 15 home runs and 40 RBI this month.
Games played matter more than you might think. "Actual value of player to his team" is the first rule listed in the Baseball Writers' Association of America's guidelines written in 1931 and unchanged today. The second rule is "games played," and Tulowitzki was out five weeks because of a fractured wrist. He's played in 119 games, making it tough to jump him over stars who have 30 games on him.
• If the Giants reach the playoffs, consumers of baseball media are winners, too.
Give a listen to Miller, who is always good, but at his best when he is calling a Giants game. Giants color man Mike Krukow, the former major league pitcher, is tremendous at inside baseball. It's a pleasure to read Giants beat writers such as veterans Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle and Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News.