Athletics

More bad news for NHL supporters

742304.jpg

More bad news for NHL supporters

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The NHL, the players' association and now even federal mediators agree on one thing: The bickering sides are nowhere near a deal that would put hockey back on the ice.The league and the union wrapped up two days of talks Thursday in New Jersey, with help from mediators, but moved no closer to a solution to save the season that has already been delayed and shortened.Two members from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service joined the discussions on Wednesday and Thursday but couldn't bring the sides any closer."After spending several hours with both sides over two days, the presiding mediators concluded that the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "We are disappointed that the mediation process was not successful."Players' association executive director Donald Fehr echoed Daly's remarks Thursday night without offering insight where the process might head next."This afternoon, the mediators informed the parties that they did not think it was productive to continue the discussions further today," Fehr said in a statement. "The mediators indicated that they would stay in contact with the league and the NHLPA, and would call the parties back together when they thought the time was right."The bottom line is that, 75 days into the owners' lockout of players, there is no end in sight. The lockout has already forced the cancellation of games through Dec. 14, the New Year's Day Winter Classic, and the All-Star weekend in January.NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered the union a meeting that would consist of only owners and players -- without the presence of leaders on both sides of the dispute -- Daly told The Associated Press in an email. He added that the union was considering the proposal and would get back to the league."We will be discussing all matters regarding the last two days of mediation as well as potential next steps with the Executive Board and Negotiating Committee," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said.After agreeing to help from mediators Monday, the league and the union returned to the bargaining table on Wednesday for their first face-to-face talks in a week. Those discussions lasted for about six hours.They met again Thursday morning until late afternoon before breaking off.The next sure thing on the hockey calendar is the NHL board of governors, scheduled next Wednesday in New York. Meanwhile, the players could seek to decertify the union and challenge the lockout in court.Either way, the sides are getting close to losing another season to labor strife. The NHL is already the only major North American sports league to cancel a season because of such a dispute -- when the 2004-05 schedule was wiped out.Mediation didn't work back then, either, though the collective bargaining agreement that recently expired was ultimately hammered out. Mediators were summoned in February, shortly before the season was canceled.In discussions last week, the players' association made a new comprehensive proposal that was quickly rejected by the NHL.George Cohen, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service director, assigned deputy director Scot Beckenbaugh and director of mediation services John Sweeney to the negotiations on Monday.Last week, Fehr said the sides were 182 million apart on a five-year deal, which comes to 1.2 million annually for each of the 30 teams.The NHL wants to increase eligibility for free agency to 28 years of age or eight seasons of service, up from 27 years or seven seasons. The league has also proposed adding a year of service for salary arbitration eligibility, hiking it from 1-4 to 2-5 years of service, depending on the age a player signs.On Oct. 16, the NHL proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, down from the players' 57 percent portion of 3.3 billion last season. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players' share over the halfway mark at the start of the next deal, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.Owners want a seven-year deal, which the union says is too long because less than half the current players will be active by the last season.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

olson-power-trot.jpg
USATSI

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

dodgers_clinch.jpg
USATSI

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.