Ray Ratto

With All-star games under assault, the NHL has its work cut out for it


With All-star games under assault, the NHL has its work cut out for it

There are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 19,000 sporting events in the United States in any given year, and that’s only taking in the Big Four sports, pro soccer and college football and basketball (men’s and women’s), so it is understandable that we have only so much brain to give to practice games and exhibitions. As an example, the Pro Bowl is largely and correctly regarded as American’s greatest shame, because for all its other problems, America’s role as the world’s entertainer is damaged by the low level of this particular entertainment.

Thus, it is easy to see why the NHL All-Star Game being awarded to San Jose for 2019 slipped under the radar, the skyscrapers, the two-story homes and even under the topsoil. All-star games are under assault across the continent for being anachronisms whose only value are watching the teams being selected (and the NBA even screwed that up this past week).

This means that to get the area reinvigorated in the next year’s time, the NHL may need to fool with its format to address the new societal realities. The divisional-round-robin format doesn’t exactly vibrate with fun, and the game is way too convivial in any event.

Thus, we suggest that the league take a note from the NBA’s new book and go Stars vs. Snubs. Or acknowledge the new politics under which we endure and go U.S. vs. Foreigners. You know, sell that misplaced jealousy and status-seeking.

The enduring argument about all-star selections (other than how many players want to be selected and then not show up) has always been whether it should reward careers or best seasons – in other words, legacy choices against guys actually doing the deeds. And as we have seen with the NBA, those who don’t get picked get very very salty indeed.

This is an area that screams for exploitat . . . err, marketing. The NHL does not have a history of guys complaining that they should have been named, but it is amenable to trying anything to get people to pay attention to their ever-shifting formats. Thus, the trick is to name a team that will torque off other players (maybe taking Alex Ovechkin but not Sidney Crosby, or vice versa) to the point that they will both bitch about the selections and bring that bitching to the ice.

If it means paying one team more than the other, do it. If it means Gary Bettman doing a presser in which he says “We all know who the best players are, and these are the others,” do it. Hockey struggles to avoid stratifying its work force, but it seems to be working in the NBA, where royalty and reputation go hand in hand (see Paul George).

But if the game is coming back here to give an artificial prod to a franchise that evidently needs one, the league should make it a priority to find a way to make the game We vs. They. It will be an absurd contrivance, but at this point, what contrivance hasn’t been tried? So let's go past "He Hate Me" to "Of Course We Do," and see if that'll sell.

Taking politics out of sports? Now that’s a more interesting idea


Taking politics out of sports? Now that’s a more interesting idea

In lieu of the famous Invitation That Never Was, the Golden State Warriors decided to hook their annual trip to Washington to a trip to visit area kids. No visits to capital sights, no photo ops with politician/lampreys, no media at all in fact.

And in the immortal words of Poet Laureate Draymond Green, “It’s about something we did great. Why make it about (politics)?” he said.

But by that seemingly impeccable logic, the Warriors’ annual trip to Washington should be the equivalent of the Warriors’ annual trip to Milwaukee – a stop on a road trip.

Washington, you see, IS politics, and always has been. And sports and politics are joined at the forehead, and always have been. To take Washington out of sports would be easy – move the four area franchises (Wizards, Capitals, Nationals and Football Team X) to other cities, and never plan for championship teams to take another White House trip except as ordinary citizens.

But to take politics out of sports – now that’s a more interesting idea. Never mind kneeling for the national anthem; what about not standing for it, or playing it at all? How about taking the flag down entirely? And the Olympics? Without the politics, the Winter Games are just a weekend at Tahoe, and the Summer Games are just a massive company picnic.

And that’s the real depth of the rabbit hole. Nobody advocates for the Olympics to become a giant play date or an extended trip to the lodge. Nobody is advocating reducing the flagpoles to goal frames. Only a few think the anthem shouldn’t played before sporting events.

In other words, people have made their peace with sports and politics being intertwined. Me, I’d be good with giving all these ideas an extended try to see if they don’t make more and better sense than what we have now. But I am but one in a sea of many, and most people are perfectly okay with politics and sports – even the “Stick to sports” parrots. They’re not against sports and politics; they’re just against sports and politics they don’t like.

So with all due respect to Draymond Green, it’s all politics because we all have decided that we’re good with it all being politics. The day we decide otherwise may well be a happier and purer moment in human cultural development, but too few are willing to consider a world without conjoined politicosport, or commingled sportatics.

But if it helps, the Warriors are on the right track when they decided to do their visit without a media intrusion because media is part of this messy confluence as well. Going to see kids with no outsiders just because they’re kids is never a bad thing, and it has the added advantage that nobody can use it for their own nefarious greedfaced ends.

So maybe the Warriors can see some kids in Atlanta too, and Portland, and Minnesota, and Phoenix, all without anyone tagging along for fun and profit. There’s no politics in that, and if politics-free sport is something we actually want as a society, it has to start somewhere, and there’s no better place than a schoolyard to get that started.

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


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.