Ray Ratto

Next three weeks critical for A's


Next three weeks critical for A's

The Oakland As have a perception problem. Specifically, how to perceive themselves.

As day dawned, they were 43-43, their best record at the break since 2008, and cause for optimism after the Lost Years.

They were also tied for ninth place, which makes the process of being a wild card team all the more complicated.

Thus comes the question of what Billy Beane does between now and the 31st to change the Elephants into bonafide contenders. Or, as has been the case more recently, eager sellers.

It seems evident at the break that riding Jarrod Parker and Josh Reddick and Ryan Cook and Good Brandon Inge and Sean Doolittle and Healthy Yoenis Cespedes to the wire is probably a losers bet.

At least in the short term, anyway. Standing pat, which Beane does not normally embrace, may teach this team to BE a team in 2013, but even with their outsized June, they remain a substandard offensive team with a rotation that still needs Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to return and be regular contributors.

In short, they look right now like the Giants of 2011, only with one fewer starter.

And the standings are, at best, murky. They wont catch Texas to unless the Rangers are ravaged by injuries, and the Yankees and White Sox are beyond their reach for technical reasons. Thus, they have to become better than the Angels, Orioles, Rays, Indians, Tigers, Red Sox and Blue Jays to be the fourth team.

Of those, they have the best chances of catching the overachieving Os and Indians, who are two of the five AL teams with negative run differentials. The Angels are surging, and more likely to pull away than fall back, so that really leave the one spot, and five teams to get it.

So lets remove the wild card as the prime motivator here, and consider instead whether this team is built for building. More specifically, whether Beane views this as a core group for the longer haul, or an aberration of results that should be turned into more future assets sooner rather than later.

The first concept gives badly needed hope, something to take peoples minds off ownership's relentless whining about the South Bay. That storyline is played out, and it is time for ownership to face the fact that waiting for a ballpark before they get interested in their primary job is a losers proposition.

Its time, but they wont follow it. Theyre pot-committed to San Jose or sell, or maybe even San Jose AND sell, because for them this isnt a living breathing baseball team, but an asset to be gussied up for market. And no, were not talking about the Sacramento County Fair.

But like we said, thats another story for another time.

The second concept, blowing it up yet again for a boatload of new prospects, is too depressing to consider, as that has been the operating procedure too often. Thats how the As got into this morass in the first place.

The problem, of course is in defining what it is. Thats why the next three weeks matter almost more than the eight that come after it. The As have become an intriguing team, a group of actual flesh-and-blood performers with real personalities that can, if left to be grown and augmented with other like talents, be the As of the early 2000s, or maybe of the late '80s.

Or maybe this is just one more cul-de-sac. We dont know. You dont know. Billy Beane doesnt know. He can only guess and project and sell Bartolo Colon.

This will be an interesting process, however it turns out. But the word interesting has not often been linked to this franchise of late, so thats a considerable plus. The season is already more of a success than any of the last five because of it.

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.