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Of Suspensions and Racing Yachts

SAN FRANCISCO - What do expect? We've got Napa Valley to the north and Silicon Valley to the south. We've got a billionaire, Larry Ellison, who couldn't buy the Golden State Warriors, so he bought the Hawaiian island of Lanai.

Are you surprised it seems like virtually everybody who plays ball around here has been suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs?

That is, other than the kids from Petaluma, across the Golden Gate Bridge, who have made it to the U.S. final of the Little League World Series. A few of us are clean and pure. And successful.

"Another Dark Day by the Bay'' was the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle. Why? Because a second major leaguer from the Dominican Republic, Bartolo Colon, had tested positive for testosterone?

He plays - played - for the Oakland Athletics, providing an unwelcome bit of symmetry to the suspension last week of Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants.

Is it our fault that ballplayers whose only connection with the region is the name of the team on their uniform are guilty of both poor judgment and breaking the rules?

Blame us for bizarre politics and summer fog - the last week, nights have been freezing - but don't blame us because athletes from other lands are trying to resurrect their careers by using illegal substances.

What Cabrera and Colon managed to accomplish, besides knocking themselves out of the game, was knocking yacht racing off the front pages of the local dailies, if only momentarily. Yes, yacht racing. Pardon us, Tuscaloosa.

The Giants are leading the National League West. The A's are in the race for one of the American League wild cards. The 49ers, coming off their best season in years, are in training camp. The Raiders, with their third coach in three years, Dennis Allen, are in training camp.

And the papers are telling us about the America's Cup World Series this weekend, a prelim, if you will, to the real America's Cup next year, when 72-foot catamarans show up to zoom around San Francisco Bay.

It's an Ellison venture. The third-richest man in the U.S., worth $36 billion, according to Forbes, Ellison is the chief executive officer of Oracle, which makes hardware, software and scads of money.

The latter is a requisite for getting involved in any sport these days, especially one in which the necessities, the boats and support teams, cost up to $100 million, or a little less than half of Albert Pujols' salary.

Ellison's space-age trimaran, the Oracle - what else? - won the Cup in Valencia, Spain, in February 2010, and he had the option of holding the next challenge on his home surface, San Francisco Bay. He previously had attempted to purchase the NBA's Warriors, but then-owner Chris Cohan wouldn't accept the offer.

But Ellison two months ago was able to obtain privately owned Lanai, sixth-largest island of the Hawaiian archipelago, for a reported $600 million, which is 2½ times what Pujols earns.

Ellison gets people to pay attention. Then again, so do Cabrera and Colon, if for the wrong reason.

One can only imagine how Allen, the Raiders' rookie coach, views all this. He was hired in January from Denver, where he was defensive coordinator - and where the Broncos are the story - and during his first camp about all the local media are covering are suspended ballplayers or multimillion-dollar sailing vessels.

Sail on, sailor. Was that a 4-3 defense or a 3-4?

The guy in charge of the other Northern Cal NFL franchise, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, shrugs at the lack of attention. In fact, he prefers it.

When a journalist went through a convoluted request the other day, Harbaugh responded, "Hypothetical question?" It was, so the coach continued, "They're always the kind you don't like to delve into."

What the newspapers, mainly the Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News, have been delving into are the unexpected problems that have arisen with the America's Cup.

In about two years, the America's Cup Event Authority, the organizer of all the events, has gone through two CEOs and laid off 28 people, a quarter of its staff. The Cup's main sponsor for 30 years, Louis Vuitton, the luxury luggage and handbag manufacturer, now is worried about the value of its investment.

The company never has had fewer than seven entries competing for the Cup, which is next year's series, but at the moment the field appears to be no larger than four and could be three.

"To have three boats is a pity, not good,'' Bruno Trouble, a spokesman for Louis Vuitton, told the Mercury News. "My worries are how to raise interest in countries with no boat."

Tough to compete in a yacht race with no boat. Tougher than trying to play in the majors when you've been caught taking drugs.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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