Ray Ratto

Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be

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AP

Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be

The United States will not be part of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and we will leave you to make all the political jokes you like about the rich veins of irony in that.

 

But this much is true, and indisputably so. When you lose to Trinidad and Tobago, you don’t get to complain about your fate. The U.S. earned the result it received by its play, by its roster, by its organization.

 

Truth is, except for the elite football-playing nations – Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Argentina – this sport is generational. Sometimes the talent is yours to command, sometimes it is not. It is no more complicated than that, and the U.S. was a hodgepodge of age and youth that never fully meshed, and will be remembered for its quizzical looks at each other when things went wrong.

 

But we try to make it that, especially when it comes to the U.S. The country is so big and so wealthy that the logic goes that it should never have fallow periods, but the young stars (re: Christian Pulisic) have always been too few and far between and overhyped by the country that invented hype and overhype. The U.S.’ great failing has been in believing what it tells itself about itself, and it is as it has been for 40 years – a second-level power who is subject to the same ebbs and flows of talent as, say, Sweden or Croatia or even The Netherlands, which failed to qualify this year.

 

And the U.S. is part of a group, CONCACAF (North and Central America), that is nowhere near as difficult as UEFA or CONMEBOL (South America), so this is a fresher reminder that the U.S. is miles away from where it thinks it should be, and probably will be for the rest of our lifetimes. It is structurally flawed from its youth programs up, and still it reached seven consecutive World Cups.

 

So maybe, in the final analysis, this is its true level – in more often than not, and a part of the World Cup without ever actually challenging for it. But “more often than not” includes times when it is not, and this was one of the times when it didn’t deserve to go any further than it did.

Forever in search of an Oakland ballpark, the A's always have Japan

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USATSI

Forever in search of an Oakland ballpark, the A's always have Japan

If this helps the Athletics/Howard Terminal/BART/city government standoff in any way, there’s this:
 
The A’s open the 2019 season in Japan, according to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle
 
How this helps is anyone’s guess, but given the litany of ways that a new privately financed baseball stadium cannot get built in the Nickel-Dime area code, it must surely be a comfort to know that outside the continental United States, the A’s are golden.
 
Indeed, Oakland ‘s role as the leading exporter of professional sports contests to foreign lands (their series with the Seattle Mariners next year will be the 21st, 22nd and 23rd games played off-continent by Oakland’s three teams) simply grows. Indeed, once the Raiders go to Las Vegas and the Warriors to That Other Place, the A’s will be the only thing that can be exported, and once they get their new ballpa . . .
 
. . . oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to bring up cruel fictions again.
 
The A’s aren’t even part of this latest dustup except in receipt of a letter in which BART general manager Grace Crunican said that a station near a Howard Terminal site isn’t going to happen. This is more a grenade rolled under the chair of the Right Hon. Libby (Don’t Mess With Me) Schaaf, who has been flogging the Howard Terminal plan with the aggression one typically finds in an Aaron Judge at-bat.
 
And in honesty, an elected official who can flip off the National Football League and not feel the electorate’s wrath is not to be underestimated.
 
That said, the Crunican letter is one reminder that Oakland is as skilled as ever at finding ways to halt stadium plans before they even get started. More stadiums in more sites have been killed pre-shovel in Oakland than anywhere else in the U.S.
 
There will be horse trading and arm-twisting (not to mention arm trading and horse twisting, if it comes to that) between the current “no” and the series of “nos” to follow, but this does mean that the pot dispensaries need to step up now and speak as one about their own reason why a ballpark cannot happen in Oakland – maybe they can site a lack of arable land to cultivate the smoke for the woke.
 
And in the meantime, they’ll always have Japan – Oakland’s sister from another mother when it comes to hosting games our towns cannot.

Don't be surprised if 2018 breaks record for total batters hit by pitch

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usati

Don't be surprised if 2018 breaks record for total batters hit by pitch

If you want to have some lucrative fun this summer, see if you can find a casino that takes this prop bet: Total batters hit by pitch, one season.

And the reason? The new mound visit limitations, at least in part, and at least if Houston pitcher Lance McCullers has anything to say about it.

McCullers was trapped watching a televised analysis of the new quarter-measures set out jointly between labor and management to speed up play, at least incrementally, and did what all the cool kids do – he reacted on Twitter.

“Everyone wants to blame pace of play on mound visits or time in between pitches...” he typed after the talking heads referenced Game 7 of the World Series, which saw a parade of catcher visits to combat an apparent epidemic of sign-stealing. “Well MAYBE address the real issue at hand instead of trying to cover it up and (forcibly) insert rules that may affect the integrity of the game and alter the fairness of the game.

“You think I want to break rhythm and tempo during a game to talk about signs behind my glove? No, It’s a necessary reaction to an issue we, as pitchers and catchers, are facing. I guess enforcing the integrity by hitting batters is better than an extra 4 minutes to discuss signs.”

For “integrity,” autocorrect to “sign-stealing,” including the electronic methods, which apparently is now the scourge of the sport rather than a time-honored method of skullduggery. And the time-honored method for combatting that has been a fastball in the thigh . . . or ribs . . . or wherever the ball happens to go.

We make no claims re: the morality of this – only that it has always been used as the deterrent to brigandry of the strategic kind, and that it is likely to be the response of pitchers in the face of this new impingement on their right of between-pitches privacy.

And McCullers is not exactly alone, let alone radical, in his thinking. Never mind that the rule won’t be uniformly enforced (they never are), let alone that they will combat the problem the rule was installed to address. Pitchers and catchers and managers will work around the rules to achieve their own desired result, and if that includes one in on the wrists from time to time, then it will include one in on the wrists from time to time . . .

. . . with the predictable reaction of the hitters, which will actually lengthen game times and make the entire rule an absurdity with bruises and mound-chargings.

Baseball has never been played at a slower pace (average time 3:08, and all teams averaging at least three hours for the first time ever), and more batters have been hit than ever, though much of that is accountable to the latest expansion in 1998 and the increase in games. Still, the average of 0.38 per game was the sixth highest since 1900, and when you add the decrease in control, the increase in velocity and now the reaction to sign-stealers, I think with any real application you could see the first 2,000-HBP season, with an increase in man-games lost to injury and money spent on inactive players.

Then you’ll find out just how quickly the powers that be return to the drawing board to shorten game times more sensibly and comprehensively. Probably within 3:08, I’d wager.