Ray Ratto

Let Lin be a basketball player first


Let Lin be a basketball player first

There are no pieces of Jeremy Lin that have been left unchewed. Once Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao decided to weigh in on opposite sides of the ethnic debate for their own selfishly harebrained reasons, the topic of Lin jumped the shark.

Not Lin, mind you. The concept of Lin. Lin, mercifully, has maintained his equilibrium, at least for another day.

But he is not superhuman, and stronger and more worldly people than him have been confronted by the wormhole of global cultural demands. In short, we fear for the concept of Jeremy Lin.

Lin the basketball player is fine. He has found his happy place, the Mike DAntoni Knicks. He has a coach who plays the style that best displays his gifts, and he has seized the opportunity with a firm two-handed grip.

But the further from the games we get, the weirder the matter of Lin becomes, because it stops being Lin at some point and becomes a battle of our own perceptions and of those who hold others.

He is Asian. He is Chinese. He is American. He is a Christian. He is a child of privilege. He is outwardly self-effacing. He is industrious in the face of long odds. He is a marketing bonanza. He gets paid only a scoche over the NBA minimum but is an economic engine. He went to Harvard. He was a sabermetricians midterm project. He was most assuredly a surprise to every team in the NBA -- yes, even new York.

And he has cheated odds he didnt even know he was facing.

But the people fighting to define him by their own specifications have now taken the court, and that is the game that Lin cannot win because that is where Lin stops being Lin, but an idealized Lin defending other peoples prerogatives without even knowing it.

Lin gives every indication that he is a basketball player who wants to be a basketball player. He has other interests, but he came to New York because the Knicks needed a quick fix at guard, and he just happened to be around. If it were that simple, and all he did was do everything on the floor that he has done, it would be grand entertainment.

We never let grand entertainment stand on its own, though. We are an extraordinarily devoted class of chatterers, addicted to explanation and extrapolation. We need to decide what it all means, and we need to show how it fits into each of our own individual world views.

In other words, we need to reinvent everything we touch, the way we need to change the wallpaper on our cellphones. So Jeremy Lin has been snatched by the rest of for our own devices -- most recently by a couple of boxers who hate each other so much that they cant even agree where to beat the hell out of each other, or who should get paid more for it.

And how Lin keeps his sanity, and even his atomic structure, while his body mind and soul are pulled in all directions at once is the next story.

In short, what Jeremy Lin wants to be, an effective NBA player, is rapidly becoming immaterial. What he is becoming, even though he didnt ask for any of it, is collateral damage for our own need to put voice to our own individual version of Jeremy Lin.

Jeremy Lin has captured the planets imagination. Now his next and far more impressive trick will be to figure how to convince it to imagine something else for awhile.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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.