Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I couldn't help but notice the utter hypocrisy of baseball's premiere agent Scott Boras, who openly questioned the Cubs' "commitment to winning," in a q-and-a with reporters in Arizona Tuesday.  Specifically, Boras was referring to talk within Cubs management that their top prospect (and the number one prospect in all of baseball), third-baseman Kris Bryant, may start the season with the Cubs AAA farm club in Des Moines, Iowa, even though he was the consensus Minor League Player of the Year last season, when he hit .325 with 43 homers and 110 runs-batted-in, split between AA and AAA.  Needless to say, Bryant is one of Boras's clients, and Boras was particularly peeved because he had just watched Bryant club two homers, giving him six, in 23 at bats this spring, with a .435 average.  

So why would the Cubs be quietly entertaining the thought of sending Bryant back to AAA?  The answer lies in baseball's complex service time rules.  In a nutshell, if Bryant spends the first 12 days of the upcoming season in the minors, the Cubs would be guaranteed his services at the major league level for the next six seasons, whereas if he starts the season with the Cubs, they could lose him to free agency after five.  The folly in these rules revolves around what constitutes one year of service time--it's 172 days on the major league roster.  So if the Cubs keep him down on the farm for 12 days, even if he spends the rest of the season with the Cubs, he'll fall short of the 172 days necessary to constitute one year of service time.  Cubs ownership, and general manager Theo Epstein, would love to have Bryant starting at third base on Opening Day. However, they could guarantee themselves that extra year of having Bryant under contract, by delaying his major league debut for less than two weeks.  With no guarantee that they'd be able to prevent Bryant from eventually testing the waters of the free agent market, it's perfectly understandable why they'd be willing to do that.  It makes perfect sense.  Of course, if Bryant has a sensational season with the Cubs, and the Cubs fall one game shy of making the playoffs, the inevitable outcry from Cubs fans will center on the decision to delay his Big League debut for 12 days.  And yet, if I were a die-hard Cubs fan, I'd want Bryant to spend those 12 days in the minors, to ensure that he'd be a Cub for the next six seasons, rather than five.

What is absurd is Boras's suggestion that if the Cubs send Bryant to AAA to start the season (and you can bet that they will), it proves they are not committed to winning. Rather, it merely proves that they understand the business side of this equation, and they are making the best decision for the Cubs future.  Boras, of all people, despite his suffocating hyperbole, understands the business side of this as well or better than anyone.  He's all about business.  That's his job.  Hence, he's being a complete hypocrite when he accuses the Cubs of not being committed to winning.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Mark Purdy suggested in this morning’s San Jose Mercury-News that yesterday might go down as the worst day in 49ers’ history, unless today is even worse.   At least when it comes down to off-the-field news, he might be right.   Free agents Gore, Crabtree, Iupati and Skuta are gone, or presumed gone (hours before the free agent signing period begins); Patrick Willis confirmed that he’s retiring, amid an NBC report that Justin Smith will do the same; and Santa Clara police confirmed Bruce Miller was arrested last week on a domestic violence charge.

Niners’ owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke can’t be pleased, and it would be an understatement to say that for 49er fans, York’s popularity is at an all-time low, particularly the news conference announcing the team’s parting with head coach Jim Harbaugh, and his insistence that it was a “mutual parting,” because “that’s what it says in the press release.”  York comes across as smarmy, even to the most forgiving of Niner fans.

But York and Baalke could eliminate much of this pessimism by making smart decisions during this free-agency signing period, and during the college draft.  And the team itself could create a new sense of optimism and excitement by getting off to a good start to the 2015 season in September.  Could it happen?  Of course it could.  Darnell Dockett could effectively replace Justin Smith, if indeed Smith retires; Chris Borland effectively replaced the injured Patrick Willis last season, when the Niners statistically had the fourth best defense in the NFL; Carlos Hyde could effectively replace Frank Gore, and given his youth, may exceed what Gore would have produced at this stage of his career; and Torrey Smith could give the 49ers the deep threat they’ve long lacked, that after Anquon Boldin told CBS Sports, “it’s a done deal,” that Smith—his former teammate in Baltimore—is signing with the 49ers. 

This doesn’t address the potential replacement for left guard Mike Iupati, and a myriad of other questions.  But as much as I am turned off by Jed York public persona—and I definitely am—I know that he and the 49ers will have a chance this fall to eliminate the pessimism and cynicism surrounding the team.  Whether they succeed is a huge question that remains to be answered.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Major League Baseball today announced that it will implement four rule changes (or, in at least one case, the sudden reinforcement of a long existing rule) aimed at speeding up the pace of games.  The reason is obvious.  Too many fans (and non-fans) think baseball is too slow, i.e., the games take too long.  History supports that belief.  The average game last season lasted a record 3 hours, 2 minutes.  That’s a half-hour longer than the average game 23 years ago.

The most significant “change,” is the rule (never enforced before) that a batter keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout his at bat, except following swings, or if the hitter is brushed back by the pitch.  Will this, and other less significant changes actually make much of a difference?  That remains to be seen, but the foot-in-the-box rule, if enforced, will be interesting to watch.  Any serious baseball fan is well familiar with the all-too-common practice by most players of stepping out of the box after every pitch to adjust their batting gloves at the very least.  It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary and it’s time-consuming.  Simply banning this practice alone would put a serious dent in the length of games.

NPR did a story this morning on this, and included a video of ex-Giant Pablo Sandoval’s personal ritual, which he may be required to curtail, or face a fine and/or an automatic strike (penalties will be assessed beginning in May):  At the beginning of each at bat, Pablo steps into the box, does a side-step out of the box in the direction of the pitcher, faces the pitcher, taps his spikes with his bat, taps his helmet with his bat, returns to the box, steps out of the box, adjust his batting gloves, and steps back in.  This sort of dance has become so routine in baseball that I, for one, have seen Sandoval play countless times over the years, and yet never remembered the specifics of his routine until NPR prompted me to watch it more closely, at which point I said to myself, “Oh, yeah, of course, it’s Pablo!”  It’s extraordinary.  It’s also part of the reason why the 2 ½ hour games of 23 years ago now last three hours, because so many players have similar rituals that they are going to be loathe to surrender. 

I applaud the new commissioner Rob Manfred for doing what he can to speed up games.  But I am also concerned about his repeated assertions that we need more scoring in baseball.  More scoring?  Really?  I thought the balance between pitcher and hitter had finally been restored, after two decades of rampant illegal steroid use that turned guys like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa into cartoon characters. 

Manfred suggests banning the defensive shift, i.e., the shift many teams use effectively to deal with lefthanded pull hitters, where the second-baseman becomes an additional outfielder, the shortstop moves to the spot vacated by the second-baseman, and the third-baseman moves to the shortstop side of second, just across the bag.  It’s often effective.  Of course, the lefthanded pull hitter could offset this by learning how to hit to left field and left-center, except that Manfred wants to make it easy on him by banning the shift altogether.

Manfred’s second suggestion for adding more offense is to shrink the strike zone.  Really??  Are you freakin’ serious???  Shrinking the strike zone will, indeed, add more scoring, but more than that it will lead to many more walks, which will make the games drag even longer than the record length of last year.  Say it ain't so, Rob!

Thursday, January 29, 2015


The silly little childish game being perpetuated on all of us during Super Bowl week in suburban Phoenix has been the daily parading of Seattle's Marshawn Lynch to the microphone to fulfill his media obligations.

To refresh your memory, on Tuesday's Media Day (where over 100 players are required to make themselves available to the press), Lynch answered every question during his five-minute minimum appearance by saying, "I'm here so I won't get fined."  Yesterday, when he was one of the few Seahawks required to meet the press, he answered every question by saying, "You know why I'm here."  And this morning, when again he was told to appear, he spent nearly two minutes lecturing reporters who inexplicably showed up, saying, "I come to y'all event, and you shove cameras and microphones down my throat," even though Media Day is the NFL's event.  We reporters are just along for the ride.  So he's sticking it to the NFL, not to us.

It's clear Lynch would much rather spend his required five minutes in solitude, listening to music on his headphones or perusing his iPhone, while making it clear he won't answer questions, but he has become such a story by his non-compliance that instead of fewer reporters showing up each day, there have been more. 

But Marshawn Lynch has embarrassed himself, his university, the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL by his behavior this week, not to mention the fact that he's been a very poor role model for kids who look up to him.  Essentially, every time he refuses to talk, he's saying a big "f___ you" to the NFL, just as he did last week when he tweeted that he was "embarrassed" to work for the NFL.  Yes, the same NFL that has made it possible for him to earn nearly $37 million in nine years.

This opinion is shared by others with much more street cred than I have, including Arizona Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote, in an interview with a CBS radio station in Pittsburgh (he has spent 12 of his 14 NFL seasons with the Steelers):

Just to be clear, every player from both teams, along with the head coaches, is required to appear at Media Day.  The coaches and big-name players are typically escorted to podiums, where they sit and answer questions before big crowds of reporters.  The others--the overwhelming majority of players--simply wander the field, or outside the perimeter of the field, or find a place to stand or sit, and they're available for any reporter to approach for an interview.  The bigger names tend to draw bigger crowds.  The lesser names tend to be available for one-on-ones.  The point of Media Day is to designate a two-hour period for each team in which the 5000 or so credentialed reporters can approach any player in uniform, in quest of a story, whether he's first-string or on the practice squad.  It's a great concept, although over the years it's been hijacked to some degree by those non-members of the press who use the forum for their own PR stunts.  

So I think Marshawn Lynch should have sucked it up, and done what every other player did, and cooperate on Media Day.  It's five minutes out of his busy schedule, for god's sake.  Answer the questions, and make the best of the situation, even if you're uncomfortable with it.  Instead, he metaphorically stuck his middle finger out at the NFL.  Did I mention that he's made nearly $37 million,  running with the football, thanks to the NFL?  He should show some respect and some maturity.  Every other player does, even though (as John Madden estimated), more than half of them would probably not show up at Media Day, if they weren't required by the NFL to do so.  That's why he'd get fined for not showing up.  It's not rocket science.  

However, my gripe with the NFL is that it mandated that Lynch make subsequent appearances before the press on the two days following Media Day.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays of Super Bowl week, it's typically the head coaches, the quarterbacks, and a small number of selected players who are asked, i.e., required to make additional appearances.  The NFL, knowing that Lynch has no interest, nor any intention of cooperating, other than to show up to avoid being fined, should have taken the same high road that Lynch bypassed on Media Day, and not forced him to return.  As a result, it became the Theater of the Absurd, starring both the NFL and Marshawn Lynch.  Mandating that he show up on Media Day, which every player is required to do, is proper.  Mandating that he show up on additional days was a complete waste of time for everyone concerned, and did not cast the NFL in a positive light.

Friday, October 3, 2014


As a longtime baseball fan, much moreso than a partisan fan of one team, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Pirates finally overcome The Curse of Barry Bonds, under manager Clint Hurdle.  After losing Bonds to the Giants via free agency following the 1992 season, the Pirates went on to set a North American major team sports record with 20 consecutive losing seasons, before finally breaking through with 94 wins last year and 88 this year, including back-to-back playoff appearances.  Hurdle has done a great job managing the team, winning NL Manager of the Year honors last year, and certain to get votes this year as well.

However, Hurdle made a major blunder that cost his team its best shot against the Giants in Wednesday night's Wild Card game, for which he was questioned but not roundly criticized, which he should have been.  Let me explain.

On the final day of the regular season, Hurdle started his ace, Gerrit Cole, in Cincinnati against the Reds, because the Pirates still had a shot at the division title.  For the most part, he was applauded by fans and the press, for doing everything he could to finish first, and avoid the Wild Card game.  But in the process, he wasted his ace, and had to depend on the less reliable Edinson Volquez against the Giants.  Bear with me, as we go inside the numbers.

For the Pirates to win the division title, three games had to go their way:
1.  They had to beat 19-game winner Johnny Cueto Sunday in Cincinnati.
2.  The worst team in the majors (not just the National League), Arizona, had to beat 20-game winner Adam Wainwright Sunday in Phoenix.
3.  If numbers 1&2 above happened, the Pirates then had to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis in a one-game playoff on Monday.

In other words, the Pirates did not control their own destiny.  Far from it.  The Reds were fired up to win Sunday, with Cueto going after his 20th win.  The Pirates were not a strong road team this season, finishing 37-44.  The Reds were 44-37 at home.  Giving the Pirates the benefit of the doubt, let's call this game a toss-up.  Let's say the Pirates had a 50% shot at winning.

If the Pirates had won, the Cardinals had Wainwright ready to start later in the day at Arizona against the 64-98 Diamondbacks.  I'd say the D-Backs had no better than a 25% chance of beating Wainwright, and that's being generous.  You could say I'm giving Hurdle the benefit of the doubt.

If Arizona did, indeed, beat Wainwright, what are the odds the Pirates would have beat the Cardinals in St. Louis on Monday?  The Cards were 51-30 at home this season, compared with the Pirates road record, again, of 37-44.  But I'll give the Pirates the benefit of the doubt again, with a 50% chance of winning that game.

So, even giving the Pirates the benefit of the doubt in two difficult road games, do the math:  With these numbers, they still had only a SIX PERCENT CHANCE of winning the division:  50%x25%X50%.  I guarantee you that Clint Hurdle never analyzed the probability factors involved in the three games.  In this respect, Hurdle is very old-school, and I'm pretty sure that most managers are.  They think day-to-day, and they concentrate on what they can control.  In Hurdle's mind, he had a shot at the division title, so he was going to use his ace, the other critical factors be damned.

Hell, even ESPN radio didn't understand the factors involved, because the following morning, while the popular duo of Mike&Mike debated Hurdle's decision, they weren't even aware that a one-game playoff Monday in St. Louis was part of the equation.  They thought a Pirates win on Sunday, coupled with a Cardinals loss, gave the division to Pittsburgh.  Maybe that's what Hurdle thought.

So that's where Pirates general manager Neil Huntington enters the discussion.  It was his job to sit down with Hurdle to make sure he understood the strong likelihood that St. Louis was going to win the division even if the Pirates won Sunday, and then to collectively consider saving Gerrit Cole for the Wild Card game.  Huntington even could have--should have--pulled a Billy Beane and ordered Hurdle to save Cole.

Some, of course, would say that it wouldn't have mattered, since Madison Bumgarner tossed a four-hit shutout in Pittsburgh Wednesday night.  But once Brandon Crawford hit that fourth-inning grand slam off Volquez, the pressure was off Bumgarner and his teammates, and the collective air was gone from PNC Park and the Pirates dugout.  We'll never know how Cole would have done instead, but he's the Pirates ace, and unless you've got a good shot at the division title on Sunday, you've got to save your ace for the one-game Wild Card game on Wednesday night.  It's a no-brainer, because if you lose the Wild-Card game, your season is over. 

Gerrit Cole was the number one pick of the 2011 draft, out of UCLA  In parts of two major league seasons, the 24-year old Cole is 21-12 with a 3.45 ERA, with 238 strikeouts in 255 innings.  He is the Pirates ace.  He's their horse.  He's their Madison Bumgarner.  He should have been on the mound Wednesday night, to give the Pirates the best chance they could possibly have to beat the Giants.  Instead, he was needlessly watching from the dugout.  That's on Hurdle.

Monday, March 11, 2013

World Baseball Classic

Unlike my esteemed colleague at KCBS, Stan Bunger, I am a big fan of the World Baseball Classic.  Perhaps that's in part because I lived in Tokyo for three-and-a-half years, and became quite fond of Japanese baseball.  And over the years, since returning to the U.S., I've become a fan of international baseball in general.  In other words, baseball is the most popular spectator sport (and has the highest TV ratings of any sport) in Japan, as it is (I assume) in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and perhaps even in Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Taiwan and the Dutch Antilles as well.

Television ratings for the WBC in all of those nations, unlike in the U.S., have been off the charts.  The Japan-Brazil game drew a 35 share in Japan.  A 35 share!  More than one-third of all TVs in Japan were tuned in to the Japan-Brazil game.  Not even Japan-Korea or Japan-Taiwan, but Japan-Brazil.  That fascinates me.  I also love watching baseball games that mean something in early-to-mid March, as opposed to a lazy Cactus or Grapefruit League game.  Don't misunderstand me--I love going to a Cactus League game, but can't even come close to watching an entire Cactus League game on television.  But I have watched entire WBC games this month.  More than a few.

Why do I find the WBC so compelling?  In part, it's because the games mean so much to all of the nations I listed in the above paragraph.  It may not mean a lot to the major leaguers in the U.S., but if you watch the Dominican Republic play Puerto Rico, or Mexico play Venezuela, or Japan play Taiwan, you can not help but find the intensity of the games very compelling, both from the players and the fans.  If you can't, then your mind is closed to the possibility even before tuning in.

I attended the semifinals and final of the WBC in San Diego in its first year, 2006.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was the MVP as Japan beat Cuba in the final.  The stands, as well as the Gaslamp District downtown, were full of Japanese, Cuban, Dominican and Korean baseball fans (the latter two teams lost in the semis).  The whole experience was captivating, the fan enthusiasm was infectious, the quality of baseball was excellent.

In the second WBC, in 2009, I became a huge fan of the team from The Kingdom of The Netherlands.  Actually, the team from The Netherlands is made up of a combination of players from the European nation, and players from Curacao and Aruba, in the Dutch Antilles.  Despite having just two major leaguers on their roster in '09, The Netherlands upset the Dominican Republic twice en route to the second round.  It was incredible.  The Dominicans had just four players who were not major leaguers.

This year, in the third WBC, The Netherlands is providing fabulous theater once again, having upset South Korea in the first round, and then stunning heavily-favored Cuba twice in the second, reaching next week's semifinals at A-T-and-T Park.  This time, The Netherlands once again has two current major leaguers on its roster, in backup outfielder Roger Bernadina of the Nationals, and shortstop Andrelton Simmons of the Braves.

But the more I watch this team play, the more fun it is, and the more intriguing it becomes.  The 22-year old Simmons took over the Braves' starting shortstop job last summer, and hit .289 in 166 at bats, after hitting .293 in AA.  Their third-baseman, 20-year old Xander Bogaerts, is the Boston Red Sox top minor league prospect (also a shortstop), and hit .301 with 20 homers and 81 runs-batted-in at A-and-AA ball last season.  Their second-baseman is the Baltimore Orioles top minor league prospect, 22-year old Jonathon Schoop.

Their closer is 7-foot-1 Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, also known as Loek Van Mil.  He throws in the low-to-mid 90s, and had a 1.94 ERA in AA with Cleveland last season.  It may not be long before he becomes the tallest player in major league history, surpassing Randy Johnson by two inches, in  which case, he'll become the Really Big Unit.  They've also got five-time major league all-star Andruw Jones, who will play for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan this year.  Oh, one more worth mentioning:  The Texas Rangers' top minor league prospect, 20-year old shortstop Jurickson Profar, hit .281 with 14 homers and 19 steals at AA last season--he decided to stay with the Rangers this month in an effort to win a big league job, but may be added to The Netherlands roster before next week.  I'm not sure where he'd play, but I'm certain that manager Hensley Meulens could find a spot.

I'll be attending the WBC in San Francisco next week.  The Netherlands will be decided underdogs if they play Japan in the final, and certainly if they play the Dominican Republic or U.S. in the semis.  I'm looking forward to chatting with Meulens, the Curacao native and current Giants' hitting coach.  I remember talking with him at great length in the spring of 2010, about his experiences as The Netherlands hitting coach in the 2009 WBC.  He loved reminiscing about it.  The memories were still raw, and precious.  I don't know whether he envisioned where he'd be now--in 2013--but it was special for me to hear him say earlier today that his team's dramatic, come-from-behind 7-6 win over Cuba this morning, to clinch a spot in the semis, was the biggest win in the history of Dutch baseball.  It might not be for long, if his band of underdogs keeps winning.

Look, I totally understand why major league managers are paranoid about losing key players, not to mention critical investments, to injuries in games that have nothing to do with their own teams' use of spring training to get ready for the regular season.  I get that.  If there were a better time to stage the WBC, I'd be all in favor.  But as long as the WBC is being staged now, I'm watching.  And I'm enjoying.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Most Bizarre and Unlikely Super Bowl Finish

It turns out that the thrilling finish of Super Bowl 47 could have been much more thrilling than any of us could have ever imagined.  A finish that would have relegated the third quarter power outage to the back pages of the newspaper, if at all.

When the Ravens lined up to punt the ball from their own 20, with four seconds remaining, after taking an intentional safety, quarterback Joe Flacco told tight end Dennis Pitta and center Matt Birk that if the 49ers' Ted Ginn Junior appeared headed for the endzone, they should tackle him.  From the sideline.  Seriously.

Flacco's comments were revealed on the NFL Network's Sound FX program Wednesday night:

Flacco sounded serious.  You can hear him saying he wasn't certain what the rule was, but he was willing to risk tackling Ginn, rather than let him get to the endzone.  In fact, according to Rule 12, Section 3, Article 3--the NFL's Palpably Unfair Act--a player shall not interfere with play by any act which is palpably unfair.  The referee, after consulting his crew, enforces any such distance penalty considered equitable, and irrespective of any other specified code penalty.  The referee may award a touchdown.

Ginn caught the ball at his 20, and returned it to midfield before being tackled by linebacker Josh Bynes.  If he had somehow broken that tackle, he might have broken free along the left sideline.  And if he had, would Flacco have tried to stop him?  We'll never know.  But we do know that he considered the possibility, which is extraordinary.  Amazing.  And he had done it, the Niners likely would have won, in the most incredible finish even imagined, in Super Bowl history.

And as long as we're talking about bizarre finishes that never happened, how about this:  If Sam Cook had skied his punt just 30 yards, instead of booming it 60, Ginn could have called for a fair catch, in which case David Akers could have attempted a 60-yard field goal, without a pass rush, to tie the game, by taking advantage of the rarely used free catch, free kick rule.  It was last converted in the NFL by the Chargers' Ray Wersching, in 1976, from 45 yards out, before he became a 49er.  If you've never heard of this rule, a player can fair catch a punt, after which his team can attempt a field goal from the spot of the catch, with the defensive team having to line up at least 10 yards away.   Most NFL kickers can find the back of the endzone on kickoffs, which means they're going 75 yards.  But for a free kick field goal of 60 yards, the distance would not be the issue as much as the accuracy.

Also, a couple of thoughts after having watched the Super Bowl, in person, at the Superdome, and then having watched replays of the game from the original CBS telecast, and from NFL Films:  Michael Crabtree was bumped from behind before touching the ball, on the 49ers' second down pass from the Ravens five-yard line, on their final drive.  Should have been a pass interference call.  Crabtree was held on the fourth down pass.  Should have been a defensive holding call, although a holding call there might have been reversed by the officials if they determined the ball was not catchable.

The entire Niners defensive line was held--blatantly--on the Ravens' intentional safety, which allowed the punter to take additional seconds off the clock.  I'm not sure what a holding call would have meant at that point.  Would the clock have reverted to 11 seconds for the punt, instead of running down to four?  Or would the Ravens been forced to punt from their 10-yard line, instead of the 20?  Just asking.  Could have meant something.  Not sure.

The point is, rules are rules, and I disagree that "you have to let the players decide the game" in the closing minutes and seconds.  I say, rules are rules, and should be enforced equally, for the duration of the game.  That includes the NFC Championship game in Atlanta.  If Navarro Bowman was bumping Roddy White from behind on Atlanta's fourth down pass, at the Niners' five yard line, before the ball arrived, he should have been flagged as well.

Finally, for the countless number of 49ers fans who wonder why there were no running plays for Frank Gore or Colin Kaepernick on their final set of downs, beginning at the Ravens' seven yard line, and ending at the five, if you watch replays of the second down play, you'll notice that Frank Gore moved ahead of Kaepernick, and to his left, after the snap from center.  It looks as though Kapernick had the option to run left on that play, and in fact, I recall Kaepernick saying after the game that he had the read-option on second down.  But that play was blown dead because Jim Harbaugh called time out with one second left on the play clock, not wanting to risk a five-yard penalty for delay of game.  The snap was, in fact, after the clock hit zero, and if Harbaugh hadn't called time out, the Niners would have been penalized.  If the ball had been snapped from center one second earlier, and if Harbaugh had not called time, what would the play have resulted in?  Ahhhh, we'll never know.

Just like we'll never know how the game would have ended if the Ravens had been called for defensive holding or pass interference.  The Niners would have had a first down at the one, and likely would have scored a go-ahead touchdown, but who's to say that Flacco wouldn't have led his team into field goal range for a game-winning kick in the final seconds?  Yeah, we'll never know.