Ray Ratto

Are 49ers best team in NFL? No, and who cares?

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Are 49ers best team in NFL? No, and who cares?

So because we are inveterate list makers and list-takers, this mornings question is an easy one. Are the San Francisco 49ers the best team in the National Football League, right here, right now?And the two-part answer will surely warm your soul. No, and who gives a damn?Lets start with the second one first, though, because the first answer infuriates fans far more.Who gives a damn is simple, because its Week 12, and nobody pays off in the middle of a race unless all the other competitors die. Not even bicycle racing.One of the great evils of the 21st century is the week-to-week football power rating, an offshoot of the equally pernicious weekly college polls, because while they create some valuable time-wasting arguments over alcohol-based fortifiers, they are quite frankly dispositive of nothing except mans ability to get liquored up and yell at equally plankfaced strangers. I think it is a gift from the Celts.Thats one of the great evils of football in general. Two many days between games, and a growing need to yammer on about it between those days. Whos the best team now? Whos going to be best in an hour? What about Wednesday? Its endless, and pointless, all at the same time.(And yes, this little rantlet contributes to that evil because, hey, a girls gotta work.)That covered, here is why the 49ers are not the best team in the NFL, despite their 8-2-1 record, and despite their sound beatings over the slightly overvalued Chicago Bears and hot-until-yesterday New Orleans Saints.RECAP: Maiocco's Instant Replay -- 49ers 31, Saints 21
And it isnt the Houston Texans or Atlanta Falcons or Baltimore Ravens that say so, but the New York Giants.Oh, the 49ers have done a very bold thing, demoting a successful quarterback at the height of his statistical powers. Colin Kaepernick has enhanced his image as the greatest gift from western Nevada since the Comstock Lode (Google it, kids; its good exercise for your rubbery brains), and while his raw numbers arent as good as Alex Smiths and his rookie-ness remains evident, the fact that the 49ers have not fallen off as a result of the switch is noteworthy.They are still a run-the-ball team, and a defend-you-until-you-cry team, which makes the Kaepernick development more a sidebar to the greater truth than the change that turns good into great. But it shows Jim Harbaughs mad scientist side, and our constant amusement with the solar flares inside his head also kills hours between games.MAIOCCO: 49ers' defense gets the best of Brees
But heres why they arent as good as the Giants, and why that matters more than their being better than the Falcons, Texans or Ravens.The Giants, when they play as they did Sunday night, remind us that it isnt about being empirically best, but being the best matchup at the best time. They slightly outplayed the 49ers in last years NFC championship game (and dont hand me Kyle Williams any more; look at the box score), and they dominated them in Week 6 this year.In other words, when they arent in one of their periodic fits, the Giants have the 49ers number at least until further notice and proven otherwise. And when they play as they did against the Packers, they show that they are still those Giants.Now the 49ers dont currently have to play the Giants, and may miss them entirely. They may also miss the Falcons, and there is no reason to plan for the Texans, Ravens, Patriots or any other AFC team yet.But for the moment, standard professional wrestling rules still apply. To be the king, you have to beat the king, and the 49ers havent done that yet. Niner fans can make all the Well, they havent faced the wrath of Kaepernick yet arguments they like, because they have to fill tavern time too (I know this; Ive seen them drink). But the 49ers arent about Kaepernick yet, any more than they were about Smith. They are still a team whose truest strengths are elsewhere, and until those strengths can be shown to trump the Giants strengths . . . well, thats that.In short, if you have to pick a side in this argument, go with Who gives a damn? Youre on safer logical ground, and the other barflies will leave you alone. And that is a victory of a special kind.

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

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USATI

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

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AP

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.