Ray Ratto

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

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Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

The 97th Big Game is upon us, and that means you scratching your head and asking, “What? Already?”

Cal and Stanford meet for the 120th time, and as is their custom, only one of the two teams is good. Indeed, Stanford has owned this game for most of the last three and a half decades (they are 10-22-1 since 1984, and has won the last seven game in succession by an average score of 40-18).

Indeed, since 1975, the two teams have had winning records at the same time only five times, a yin-and-yang relationship that has no real logic to it.

But in a changing world and an increasingly professional-sports-driven region, the thing that truly reduced the Big Game from a big event to a friends-and-alumni-only party was the decision to move the game around to accommodate other scheduling issues. It used to be safe the week before Thanksgiving, only rarely straying from its comfortable pocket between November 17 and 23.

Once it had to adjust to demands like the Notre Dame game and the Pacific-12 Conference television demands, the Big Game became just part of the schedule rather than the be-all and end-all of the season. And while true believers like Stanford head coach David Shaw, who has proven after Stanford down to his last molecule by not entertaining NFL jobs, still find it an essential highlight of each season, the more casual fan has moved on to other pastimes.

This is partly due to the transient nature of the modern graduate, but also due to college football’s recent playoff-or-bust mentality, of which the only sniff the Bay Area is likely to have is next year’s championship game at Levi’s Stadium, The Stadium That Creature Comforts Forgot.

But enough about why the Big Game isn’t actually “big.” The truth is, it’s big enough for what it needs to be, and maybe that is its true historical value. The last time Cal and Stanford finished 1-2 in the conference was 1937, so maybe this game, in which Stanford is 7-3 and Cal is 5-5, is about what it is supposed to be.

Something fun for the folks already in the tent.

One thing is certain about the Baseball Hall of Fame's new class

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One thing is certain about the Baseball Hall of Fame's new class

The Baseball Hall of Fame, A Division Of Tedious Bitching Just To Hear Ourselves Bitch LLC, will announce its new class of inductees Wednesday, and we already know one thing.

People will be unhappy and make damned sure you know about it.

This is the new nature of all halls of fame -- the winners are a two-day story, but the losers go on forever, and so does the voters-are-morons sidebar. Frankly, I wonder why they don’t put a plaque up in Cooperstown for that -- you know, just to give the tourists something to hate in what was originally designed to be a joyful place.

We live in a whiny society, where anyone with a different opinion than your own cannot merely be debated with or ignored, but must be savagely mocked as either learning impaired, willfully stupid or aggressively evil. Thus, the new era of “Death To Whoever Doesn’t Agree With Me” is probably unavoidable.

But that’s why the myth that the Hall of Fame should be a temple of honor rather than a museum of the full history of the game should have died long ago. Everyone’s version of what should be honored is different, and the standard reaction to other people’s dissent from that opinion has gone from “I disagree” to “How about I burn your house down?”

People being unhappy that their favorite guy didn’t get the requisite 75 percent of the votes from an amorphous group of strangers who do not act in concert -- that part I get. It’s not up to me to decipher why one’s personal obsessions lean toward getting someone a plaque, and if we cannot invest time and energy in our pet causes, what are we as a species?

Don’t answer that.

But ever since the Giants put on a full court media press for most of 1998 to get Orlando Cepeda into the Hall through its veterans committee, the idea of campaigns for any particular idol which were once considered offensive and counterproductive became a requirement, and then a marketing tool. In the Internet age, that role has been usurped by people making single-minded and mostly well-intentioned cases for their own favorites, out of simple honest devotion. Nothing wrong with that.

If it stopped there, this would be an advancement in the process. But because nothing is as sure in the Internet age as the unintended consequence of anonymous invective, I have made it my work as a Hall of Fame voter to ignore any and all such lobbying and lobbyists. No matter how well-intentioned and polite their reasoned discourse may be, it becomes someone else’s demand for obedience and hive-mind orthodoxy --– and in the alternative, voter shaming and expulsion.

Moreover, the era of both benign candidate advocacy and anonymous invective serve as more reminders that the Hall of Fame and its mechanisms are political, just as Joe Morgan’s letter urging that players suspected of steroid use never be allowed induction is a political act, and the changes in voting eligibility reducing the voting pool are a political act. Expanding the voting franchise is always more sensible than restricting it, but shrinking it is a statement that fewer people know about baseball than think they do, which is a weird way of saying “Fewer people are entitled to care about this thing we care so much about.”

This is a longwinded way of saying I turned in my vote more than a month ago. It’s the best I can do based on the hours of research I’ve done, and that will have to be good enough. If I wanted your opinion on it, I’d have called you by now to obtain it, so just assume that I don’t. The ballot will be released when the other BBWAA votes are released, and if you need to know ahead of time who I voted for, you have a sick obsession, plus you can probably figure out the bulk of it by going to Ryan Thibodaux’s Twitter site (@NotMrTibbs) and look at my prior ballots.

But if it helps, I’ll tell you this much. I think  Arnold Rothstein should be in the Hall of Fame, and until that injustice is righted, I will feel as though the Hall is incomplete and flawed, and I’m damned unhappy about it.

See? I got in the spirit of the thing.

The four Super Bowl storylines everybody will be talking about

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The four Super Bowl storylines everybody will be talking about

The Monday after the conference championships is devoted to replaying the games we already saw, but Tuesday is devoted to the assembling of the narratives that we will weary of no later than Friday.

And while football purists and gamblers, two demographics on the opposite ends of the Moebius strip of degeneracy, will cheerily break the game down to its molecular level, the rest of us will resort to a few tired carthorses to get us to the start of our individual Super Bowl parties.

Starting with THE INEVITABILITY OF THE PATRIOTS

This will be an argument with no resolution, as those who see history as preordination will see New England as invulnerable, pointing to their record, Philadelphia’s record, and the comfort of the mortal lock. But if it helps you maintain suspense, the Patriots have never won, or even played in, a Super Bowl with a margin as high as a touchdown – the margins have been 3, 3, 3, 4, 4 and 6 in overtime. In short, Bill Belichick’s brain, while always impressive, has never been an overwhelming presence against John Fox, Andy Reid, Tom Coughlin, Pete Carroll or Dan Quinn.

In other words, luck matters, and luck is good.

Next is THE LEGACY

This is ridiculous because the Patriots are in painting-the-gold-bar-gold territory. People long ago made up their minds on Belichick, Tom Brady, Bob Kraft and the rest of the shifting cast of characters – they are either brilliant exemplars, or nefarious cheaters, or both. That’s the great thing about the Patriots – they can be heroes, villains and metaphors for 21st Century America, depending on what you decide. But their place as football figures has long ago been decided, this game will change none of that, and the only thing left is what to carve on the statues.

Third is AMERICA HATES THE PATRIOTS AND WANTS THE EAGLES TO WIN

There are lots of Americas out there, as we are learning every day, and more people probably are rooting for the Eagles just to see something different. That’s not the way to bet, I grant you, but the best way to handle these next two weeks if you do not wear either New England or Philadelphia jerseys is to say nothing. These are two fan bases with reputations, if you know what we mean, and even if you come across gentle souls with a rooting interest, play the percentages. Even the nice ones can turn at any moment.

And finally, JIMMY GAROPPOLO. This discussion only matters of Bob Kraft cops to telling Belichick he ordered him to be moved. Which he won't, damn his eyes. And if Brady looks good next Sunday, they'll take credit for a brilliant move that saved the franchise because history always works best in the rear-view mirror.