Ray Ratto

New A's man Kaval tasked with performing stadium-sized magic

kaval-athletics-ratto.jpg
USATSI

New A's man Kaval tasked with performing stadium-sized magic

New Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval spent a good two hours Thursday being as broadly informative and detail-vague as possible about the new stadium he has been tasked with building, which is probably the best way for him to proceed, given the following facts:

1. His boss, John Fisher, is in a hurry to get something done on a stadium as part of a broader culture shift for a team that has best been known for Moneyball and Revenue Checks.

2. He replaces both Lew Wolff and Mike Crowley as the second most powerful person in the organization because of his experience getting Avaya Stadium built for the Earthquakes.

3. His hurry to put shovel into dirt is being pressed at one side by Fisher and Major League Baseball, which is considering modifications or even eradication of the revenue sharing structure that the A’s have lived on for years now, and delayed on the other by the Oakland Raiders and the National Football League, which has its own multi-million-dollar trout to flambé.

But opportunity knocks when it knocks, and Kaval didn’t hesitate when Fisher asked him to find a way out of the elaborate trap that is the A’s. He got a small chunk of equity, a raise in salary and a challenge that has left dozens of others on the roadside in ruins.

And while he offered neither a location, a timeline, a deadline, a budget or really anything much beyond repeated talking points about “involving the community” and “studying multiple sites,” he left much to digest, starting with how he became the new Wolff.

Specifically, he built Avaya, the soccer stadium attached to North America’s largest outdoor bar, thus melding two of the planet’s most popular pastimes -- soccer and throwing up outdoors.

The move by Fisher reinforces the notion most recently advanced by his visit to the Howard Terminal site that he is losing patience with the A’s wait-for-an-opening strategy put forth by Wolff. If MLB wants resolution and is willing to cut off access to the revenue sharing cow, the reason why waiting makes sense is gone, and the need to act is nigh.

It also is an acknowledgement that the Raiders’ situation has festered too long for his taste. He thought the Raiders would be in Los Angeles by now with the San Diego Chargers. He thought Mark Davis’ flirtations with San Antonio might result in something. Now he is stuck waiting for a resolution in Davis’ attempt to move to Las Vegas, and either sees an opportunity to cozy in a meaningful and legally binding way with the twin political thickets of Oakland and Alameda County to get what he wants now.

In addition, Fisher knows that roughly half of the A’s day-to-day support has eroded since bought the team from Steve Schott nearly 12 years ago, and needs an infusion of excitement to replace the build-for-the-future mantra that has produced more build-for-the-future mantras.

Being a real estate man, he believes real estate can do that for him, and at least in the short term, there is little evidence to suggest that he is wrong. Whether cities should bear the brunt of those dreams is another debate, but Fisher has clearly decided he can no longer idle about waiting for the perfect confluence of outside events to dictate to him.

Thus, Dave Kaval, 40 years younger than Wolff, most publicly confortable than Crowley (and definitely more so than the hologrammatic suggestion that is Fisher), is now the man charted with extricating the Athletics from their self-imposed stasis. Whether or not he can manage this trick of the light remains to be seen, but time is a’wastin,’ both on his task and the time he can spend not explaining them.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

baker-dusty-head-down.jpg
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

arena-bruce-sad.jpg
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.