Ray Ratto

Impulsive Harbaugh goes all in unnecessarily

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Impulsive Harbaugh goes all in unnecessarily

Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated tells us that Jim Harbaugh has demoted Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick. He also tells us that Smith is trying to be the loyal soldier by backtracking on ESPNs Trent Dilfer.
RELATED: Report -- Smith informed Kaepernick will start
Well, all that means is that Smith doesnt feel comfortable fighting the power. It does mean, though, that Harbaugh has decided to roll the dice on Kaepernick, and if hes right, he has a Super Bowl trophy.And if hes not, he has created a mess out of which he cannot gobble his way to an escape.Harbaugh chose to tell Smith Wednesday that he was going with Kaepernick in New Orleans and beyond, concussion clearance or no concussion clearance. He decided that a so-so game against St. Louis and a big game against Chicago was evidence enough to put his championship plans in the hands of a neophyte.It is a gamblers move at a time when gambling isnt required. It is a move that declares the already shiny status quo to be null and void, and it is a move that tells every other player on the roster that yesterdays deeds do not equal todays hunch.And all Kaepernick has to do is win it all for Harbaugh to be beyond bulletproof. He will be Nick Saban, and Urban Meyer, and Chip Kelly, all rolled into one. Invulnerable, even in the face of any and all Yorks. And maybe thats how it should be in the NFL. In an amoral sport like football, in a soulless organization like the NFL, winning is the one reductive truth that trumps all other behaviors.But if hes wrong, if the 49ers arent a Super Bowl team after all, if Kaepernicks 1 games of work really are too small a sample size, he wont be able to gobble or jive his way out of this flightless bird. And we have no rooting interest either way. We dont care who wins the hand. We just know that he decided to go all-in trusting only his gut and the gods who handle the flop, turn and river.He has, in short, revealed his truest nature here. We make no value judgments, but we do know when a guy has decided to gamble on a longshot, and when he needs to do so. This was not that time, but Harbaugh couldnt wait. He didnt want people to talk about a quarterback controversy because he knows that it isnt who talks thats the problem, but who hears it.And Smith, based on sources, is not going to object to the change. Whether that makes him a good teammate or a natural-born follower is for others to deduce; psychology isnt what we do here.But Harbaughs gamble puts the entire team at risk, and it shows that while he is unafraid to make bold moves, it also shows that loyalty is a one-way street. Players suspect that of coaches and general managers all the time, but they file the information away from when the time comes to use it.And being 7-2-1, going into New Orleans, isnt that time.In short, Colin Kaepernick has been given the keys to the Lexus and told he can drive it like a Lamborghini Murcielago. If he wins the race, well, genius has been served. Winners by definition cannot lose.But if Kaepernick wraps it around a tree, or dunks into a lagoon, or gets hit the wrong way, the fault will not be his, but Harbaughs. The coach went all in when he didnt have to. He could have checked, even check-raised, but he pushed all his chips in because despite the fact that he didnt have to do it, he did it anyway. He surrendered to an impulse at a time when being impulsive wasnt really needed.And impulses sometimes cause scorch marks and scarring.

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.