Ray Ratto

A's get dose of good news

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A's get dose of good news

The good news for the As is that Bob Melvin has gotten a three-year extension as manager. The even better news is that barring a sale, a firing of the general manager or a meteor strike, hell get all three years to complete the repairs he was charged with tackling back in June.

We say this with some confidence because while general manager Billy (Charles Laughton) Beane has been a grind on managers by habit, he has been loath to actually whack them buggers.

Oh, he called and visited and kvetched after games, and he harangued them over lineups and pitch counts and development issues, but he fired them with some reluctance. For a soccer fan, our little Kevin Kline treated managers contracts better than he would have if he were a soccer man.

Art Howe, who took such a beating in the film weve all been yammering on about this week, got seven full years, the last four being very good ones indeed.

Ken Macha did four years the hard way, fighting against the Beane-ian tide every day, and even after getting fired gut unfired shortly thereafter, for one more year he didnt like.

And Bob Geren, Beanes friend from yesteryear, got 4 years despite never producing a winning record.

In short, Beanes managers average more than five years per run, and whether its because he doesnt like to fire guys with time left on their deals or because he rides the gas but not the brake, it still means that Melvin ought to get the full length of his deal.

Melvin did not work miracles by any means -- he took a .429 team and transformed it into a .467 team, and a 12th-place team because a 10th-place team. He operated within the parameters of what he had, got the players to play with more verve and less resignation, and got true value out of more of them than he didnt.

But now he has to do the hard part -- transform them from players who like coming to the park to players who love coming to the park, and show it. The Elephants have been dramatically lacking in the sort of effervescence that this franchise desperately needs, and though it has plenty of youth, it still doesnt have the one thing that youth is best at providing:

Hum.

The Bay Area is notorious for its front-running nature, and there is nothing that seizes its collective innards like a cool party just starting to assemble. The Giants did that a year ago, about four months into what because the Improbable Dream. It also got the teams managing general partner run off 10 months later, but thats another story.

The As havent had that in any way since 2006, and havent had it in a truly electric way since 2002 . . . which, coincidentally, is the year in which the movie Cries And Whispers is set.

In short, having gotten the lads to devote more of their energies to the tasks at hand, Melvin has three years to turn those energies into increased competence and the sense that the Coliseum can still be regarded as a cool place to spend a few hours. It happened five years ago, when the stadium was no prettier than it is now, so the excuse that the stadium depresses the team is nonsense. The team, more like, depresses the stadium.

And Melvin must, through words of mouth, show the players how to make Oakland a happening place again. Not through marketing, or through the ghastly mascot, or Moneyball 2: The Reckoning, but playing a brand of ball that makes people want to drop their chores and go to the ballpark on their own.

He has to overcome years of inertia, a difficult management situation above him (always agitating to move the team to another town is a serious downer), a resistance to changing habits and the omnipresent preening of the team across the pond.

If he can do that, he should get three more extensions.

But hell get the three, because thats how Alec Guiness operates. He promised three, and even if it isnt as much fun as it seems from the outside, even his pointed word is his bond.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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.