Ray Ratto

49ers' success hinges on Justin Smith, not Kaepernick


49ers' success hinges on Justin Smith, not Kaepernick

So it turns out that Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers are . . . well . . . Just like everybody else. Capable of getting their bravado kicked in just like common Titans and Bills and Jaguars.

Theirs, though, is an odd form of hubris in that it goes into regular cycles of hibernation. They lose every third game, whether they need it or not, and they apparently do so in part by continually believing that they have finally climbed the final mountain despite being nowhere near it. 

They are unlike most teams in that they are not, have not been, and will not be for the foreseeable future, a quarterback-driven team. This sets them apart from Atlanta (Matt Ryan), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), Washington (Robert Griffin Le Trois), Seattle (Russell Wilson), Dallas (Tony Romo), New York (Eli Manning), Chicago (Jay Cutler), New England (Tom Brady), Baltimore (Joe Flacco), Denver (Peyton Manning), Indianapolis (Andrew Luck) and Cincinnati (Andy Dalton), to name most of the team still eligible for the postseason. Only Minnesota (Adrian Peterson) and Houston (Arian Foster, if he’s still healthy) can say their offenses are run by a non-quarterback.

And only the 49ers can say their most valuable player is a defensive tackle. Justin Smith showed again the difference between the 49er defense and the 49er defense. With him, they have allowed 189 points in 14 ¾  games, an average of 12.9 per game; without him, 71 in five quarters, an average of 56.8.

The truth should lie closer to Figure A than Figure B, of course, but that’s the beauty of a small sample size. You can make it say some oversized truths.

And this is the 49ers’ truth. Colin Kaepernick is a rookie in thought, word and deed, and dressing him his 50-yard runs and calling it quarterbacking is not the same thing. He will have difficult times because that is the way of all rookies not named Manning and Marino. There is much growing to be done, and he has been given the difficult task of doing his where everyone can see and staple expectations.

Thus, the fixation on him viz. Alex Smith viz. Harbaugh continues to completely miss the central point of this team. It wins when it stops people, because it is a team built upon defense and ball control, an out-of-time mode given the football of the day. If they cannot hold the football and Smith is not there to be the gravitational center of the defense, they are ordinary.

Thus, their difficulties in the final quarter of the New England game and their complete flameout in Seattle. Harbaugh’s great quarterbacking gamble has netted the 49ers exactly one lost place in the NFC playoff standings, and yet it isn’t the gamble that put them there, but Smith’s mangled arm.

Kaepernick is likely to get healthy against a rancid Arizona team, and then (assuming the Packers beat Minnesota and the Bears beat Detroit) there will likely be a first-round rematch with Chicago, only this time without Jason Campbell. Unless, of course the Seahawks lose at home to the Rams, which seems unlikely, in which case . . .


There are other permutations, of course, but let’s keep it relatively simple. The real point here anyway is that Colin Kaepernick is not the key to the 49ers, and neither, frankly, is Jim Harbaugh. It was, is, and will continue to be Justin Smith, and he can’t play, the 49ers won’t likely be doing so much longer either.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.