Ray Ratto

Bennett's Gaels must capitalize on national attention


Bennett's Gaels must capitalize on national attention

When you get Randy Bennett liquored up (and so far, only a few have ever seen it), you can surely get him to admit that his greatest goal as Saint Marys head coach is to become the next Butler, Xavier or, yes, Gonzaga.You know. The automatic non-automatic qualifier.It is the one thing he hasnt done in Bucolica . . . er, Moraga, and this is his best chance yet to do so. Ranked in the teens until this week, 22-3, set up for a Bracket Buster showdown with media darling Murray State Saturday, a down year nationally how can it possibly go wrong this time?Nobody knows. But it can. It always can. Bennett has seen better teams than this one get the tournament committees backhand. Once, because Patty Mills broke his hand and obstinately refused to heal quickly enough for its satisfaction. Once because the strength of schedule was held against him.

But the point is, hes never been to successive NCAAs, and he wont this time either. Hes taken teams in 2005, 2008 and 2010, the last of which got to the round of 16 before getting pasted by Baylor.Its hard to be a perennial mid-major NCAA entrant, after all, because the committee has been shifting away from mid-majors slowly but surely over the past several years, and Saint Marys has done all the bubble-balancing it can stand.Bennett, though, has been Gonzagas equal over the past seven seasons, even down to resisting job opportunities the way Mark Few has in Spokane. Thus, despite having been one of the best 20 teams in the country by every legitimate and subjective standard, Bennett knows that this is the year the Gaels need to make a deep enough run to convince the committee that they deserve the benefit of the doubt every bit as much as the Zags, Musketeers and, until this year, the Bulldogs.To manage that, they need to be convincing travelers at Murray State, and they need to take their five-seed and make it last awhile in the tournament. It is generally agreed that the falloff this year comes after eight teams, which means that the Gaels are on par with anyone in the nation save your Kentucky-Syracuse-Missouri tier.In short, there is much to play for Saturday in Tennessee. There is much to do in Las Vegas in the conference tournament. There is an enormous amount to do come the NCAAs.More than anything else, there is this to do: to show that the Gaels are ready to be that next perennial mid-major the kind of team that has to play its way off the board than has to play its way onto it. People are watching now. And waiting with greater interest than ever.

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.