On the first day of 2009, it’s official: we can all look back on 2008 and laugh. Sure, by all accounts 2008 wasn’t exactly the best year in many respects, but we all can enjoy the pleasure of making fun of the people and stories that drove us crazy.
After all, wasn’t that the best part of Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression? For many of us, watching the self-proclaimed “Hockey Mom” created an overwhelming sense of frustration because as viewers we were powerless to stop it. As ignorant as she appeared and as phony as her accent sounded to all but the most moronic of observers, all anybody could do was either watch Palin and grit our teeth or pretend she didn’t exist. Then Fey came back to SNL, and the Palin era suddenly became fun (if in a slightly repulsed, fearing the apocalypse kind of way). No longer was she a symbol of the deteriorating intelligence of the American electorate. She became a popular Halloween costume, providing comic relief for a nation exhausted from incessant reports of economic doom.
Around these parts, watching sports was at times maddening, sometimes depressing and only occasionally uplifting. Since every major professional team in San Francisco and Oakland finished under .500 during 2008, there wasn’t a whole lot positive items to report (although I attempted to in Part One of the BASGY’s). Don’t fret though, as a result there were a multitude of things about 2008 that we can point at and laugh! Let’s get started…
Worst Athlete: Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants
Sure there were worse pitchers (Pat Misch, anyone?), but anybody who’s in the “Worst Free Agent Ever” conversation has to be the choice here. After a 2007 where he went 11-13 with a 4.53 ERA, fans looked at the next six years of Zito’s contract with trepidation. After Zito started 2008 by going 0-8 over his first nine games (all of which the Giants lost), Zito and his deteriorating skills caused fans to look at the remaining years of his infamous $126M contract with unbridled anger. Zito finished with a record of 10-17 and an ERA of 5.15, which actually could be considered a pleasant surprise after the way his season started.
The scariest thing about Zito’s unraveling is it seems almost impossible to expect he’ll ever again be the type of pitcher who’s a top of the rotation starter, let alone a Cy Young contender. Both his command and velocity have deteriorated, showed most dramatically in his K/BB ratio (120/102). Zito wasn’t so smooth off the field either, as he starred in an ill-timed ad campaign for True Religion jeans and whined on KNBR to Mychael Urban about the treatment he had received from hosts like Gary Radnich and Ralph Barbieri (which was followed by a surreal radio moment when Zito called Radnich’s show while the stock market was crashing and rambled about loving himself…though he does get credit for facing all of Radnich’s complaints). 2008 was the year Zito became the Bay Area’s leading symbol of an unprecedented era where local teams can’t stop throwing money at supposed solutions that in the end only cause more problems.
Worst Team: Oakland Raiders
Speaking of spending money in terrible ways, the Raiders were the kings once again. After choosing Darren McFadden with the fourth pick in the draft when they already had Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. With the next pick the Kansas City Chiefs took defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, but the Raiders had already signed Tommy Kelly to a $50.5M contract with over $18M guaranteed. Even though Kelly got arrested midseason for DUI, he was hardly the worst free agent signing the Raiders pulled off. No, that would have to be a tie between DeAngelo Hall and Javon Walker. Hall was released after eight games, and Walker had to be convinced by Al Davis to stay with the team during the preseason after he was beaten to a pulp in Las Vegas. Davis should have left well enough alone, since Walker received a $15M signing bonus and finished with 15 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown over seven games. Add in Kiffingate, the Tim Kawakami incident, a few more home blackouts and a record sixth straight 11-loss season, and the Raiders cemented their place as the worst team in the Bay Area. And that’s saying something.
Worst impression of a Euro: Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors
Monta Ellis isn’t an amazing outside shooter, ball-handler, defender or passer, but he is was the fastest player in the league, a talent that earned him a six-year, $67 million contract. After he wrecked while riding a moped, tore up his ankle and lied about it, the 2008/09 Warriors season was effectively ruined. Now that Ellis’ $3 million suspension is over, several questions remain. Will Monta ever be the same? How exactly did he wreck and what was he doing and/or drinking? And lastly … a moped? A freaking moped? What, was he wearing a beret and smoking a cigarette at the time of the accident?
Worst Quarterback Competition: San Francisco 49ers
Shaun Hill went 2-0 as the starter in 2007, but found himself on the outside looking in during a quarterback competition where the outcome seemed to be preordained. Alex Smith, Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan were all in the running according to Mike Nolan. That is, until Hill supposedly came down with a mysterious case of dead-arm, or something. Truth was, new Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz brought his pet with him from Detroit, and that pet’s name was JTO. Martz groomed JTO, brushed his shiny coat and sent his pet QB on as many seven-step drops as he could handle. As it turned out, JTO couldn’t handle the ball, and after 11 interceptions and 11 fumbles (6 lost) Mike Singletary mercifully pulled the plug on the JTO experiment, ruining the relationship between Singletary and JTO’s owner Martz in the process.
Worst Star Power: Oakland A’s
I know, the season had just started, but in April I saw an ad for the Oakland A’s featuring Mark Kotsay. That’s right, the same Kotsay who had been traded weeks earlier, like seemingly every other veteran on the team. We know that Beane loves shuffling fan favorites out of town, but do the A’s have to stick it in all our faces while we’re riding to Fruitvale?
Worst Marketing Campaign: San Francisco Giants
Even if the A’s had Kotsay billboards lining the entirety of HWY 880, it would still be better than the Giants’ “Gamer” ads, both on the radio and in signs plastered all over Muni buses and signs near Mays Field.
“A gamer would wear a foam finger, if he wasn’t already wearing a glove.”
“A gamer knows there’s no “I” in ‘gamer'”
“Pitches from the left till he has nothing left … Barry Zito’s a gamer.”
Hopefully next season will bring a marketing campaign more along the lines of “I Feel Good” or “I’ve Got a Giant Attitude.” Anything would be better than “Gamer.”
Worst Feud: Golden State Warriors v. Los Angeles Clippers
First the Clippers stole Baron Davis, so the Warriors decided to throw an offer sheet at Elton Brand. When Brand decided Philadelphia would be a better place to disappoint a new fan base, the Warriors decided to overpay Corey Maggette to nurse hamstring injuries for five years. The Clips saw the Warriors’ Maggette and raised them an Azubuike, signing Kelenna to an offer sheet that Golden State matched days later. Now Baron is shooting about 24% from the field, the Warriors are trying to trade Maggette, and neither team has a shot at the playoffs. The Warriors should just leave the Clippers alone and try starting a feud with the Celtics, Spurs or Lakers.
Worst Dentistry: Stephen Jackson
Nothing’s wrong with having a gap in your front teeth. Just ask Madonna. Hey, Fox has a commercial that depicts a cartoon roller coaster rolling right through the gap in Michael Strahan grill. But for some reason, Stephen Jackson decided to outfit himself with huge new chompers. Stack, you looked better before you decided to look like a combination of Terrell Owens and Tiger Woods.
Worst Wardrobe Gimmick: Mike Nolan
I have to admit, Mike Nolan’s desire to wear suits sounded cool four years ago. He wanted to honor his father, who wore a suit and tie when he coached the 49ers. But after three and a half years of losing records, nonsensical press conferences and inane game day decision making, Nolan’s suits made him look more like a movie usher than an acclaimed director. In 2008, presiding over a team that could stop turning the ball over or committing stupid penalties, Nolan’s attention to his own appearance made one wonder if all that time looking in the mirror could have been better spent actually coaching. (Note: The Jacksonville Sports Guy apparently has written the exact same paragraph regarding Jack Del Rio.)