Ray Ratto

Cursed or unlucky? Carr's back injury could be borderline catastrophic for Raiders

Cursed or unlucky? Carr's back injury could be borderline catastrophic for Raiders

Derek Carr is cursed. Or unlucky. Take your pick.

Either way, his broken back (fractured transverse process) incurred in Denver Sunday means the Oakland Raiders have to re-re-reinvent themselves in time to re-re-re-reinvent themselves when he returns in two to six weeks.

The Raiders were struggling to relocate the offense with which they hammered Tennessee and then the New York Jets before Carr went down under the weight of Shelby Harris and left the game. Now, the Raiders, who collapsed without him in the final week of the regular season and the playoff game in Houston, have to avoid recreating that little tableau if they don’t want to fall out of touch with Kansas City or Denver, let alone the army of other AFC teams who are currently 2-2.

If this seems like early for panic, well, it is if he only misses two weeks and then comes back whole. If it’s six weeks, a season that began with such grandiose expectations could well be lost. And given the time frame by which they will soon be the former Oakland Raiders, a lost year is borderline catastrophic for the most put-upon sporting city in the United States.

Such is the nature of football, though. Dreams die in fiery wrecks, and glory is averted in the most hideous of ways.

Of course, the Raiders may try to optimism their way through this, both through talking up backup E.J. Manuel and saying Carr is “right around the corner health-wise,” although the code phrase “back spasms” is never a good sign. That said, Jack Del Rio tried to fib his way through Carr’s injury when fibbing wasn’t really tactically beneficial, so he’ll understand if we don’t take his word alone.

Del Rio’s credibility is a small issue, though. Carr’s vertebrae are not, and the length of time it takes him to heal is the length of time when despair will linger over the Swords Through The Head. After all, there’s a template for this, and it is still fresh, even raw, in their minds.

Oh, and Merry Christmas.

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.