Ray Ratto

No reason whatsoever for Newton to be too clever by half, too contemptuous by double

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USATSI

No reason whatsoever for Newton to be too clever by half, too contemptuous by double

The Cam Newton/Jourdan Rodrigue story did what these stories are supposed to do -- go supernova, explode, and then leave a quiet dead spot in the universe.

And did so in less than a day.

You know the particulars -- Rodrigue, the Charlotte Observer writer and Carolina Panthers beat writer, asked Newton a fairly innocuous question about receiver Devin Funchess which Newton turned into a snippy pejorative of women, sportswriters and women sportswriters. Since then, someone deep-dove Rodrigue’s Twitter account and found her laughing at racist references (she apologized) and Dannon Yogurt dropped Newton as a spokesman in part because he didn’t (apologize, that is).

The clear takeaways are that Newton’s retrograde position on women in the business of sports was and is a public relations disaster, that Rodrigue’s weakness (her Twitter game) will become the secondary reasoning for Newton’s defenders, and that apologies remain the major way we as a culture measure someone’s ability to overcome an error in judgment (at best) and/or a sexism-racism debate (at worst).

And here’s the weirdest part of this very weird story. It was all over a simple question about Funchess that required only -- and I do mean ONLY -- that Newton pay compliment to one of his wide receivers.

The question was not accusatory in nature, or suggested some sort of shortcoming in either player. It wasn’t delving into team secrets or putting the Panthers in some sort of competitive disadvantage. Even if it was, the response Newton gave would be wrong, but in this case it was wrong for no good reason.

This will bear repeating as he eventually delivers the team-written apology, and when his agent scares up his next endorsement after the heat from the Dannon folks dissipates. Newton lost much by giving an answer to a question that had no risk at all and was even providing praise for a teammate.

And whether Funchess needs that or not is not relevant. Maybe his parents or friends or partner would have enjoyed it. Maybe he becomes a quick five-minute throwaway on one of the endlessly tedious and tediously endless midweek shows that gets him a bit of notice.

But Newton needed to be too clever by half and too contemptuous by double – FOR NO GAIN WHATSOEVER. NONE.

So while his views of women in sports are clearly problematic (and that’s giving him all the best of it, let’s be honest), it is the time and place and circumstances here that actually make this worse than he’s already been called. He became a talking point (which is about as bad as things get these days) because he couldn’t form the phrase, “Yes, Devin Funchess is a quite a help to me and all of us.”

Unbelievable. And yet completely believable.

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.