Ray Ratto

Ratto: Cal's Tedford lands illusory victory


Ratto: Cal's Tedford lands illusory victory


In a major surprise, Letter Of Intent Day ended in a 120-way tie for first. Everyone got what they wanted, nobody missed on anyone, some schools even got more players they could use as part of their Grayshirting Builds Character campaign.In short, from College Park to College Station, the angels sing.But they sing particularly well at Cal, at least for a few days. The Golden Bears apparently exceeded expectations by becoming a consensus Top-15 recruiting destination, for whatever the hell that means. After all, the road to transfers, alumni unrest, firings and buyout clauses is paved with Top-15 recruiting classes.RELATED: National Signing Day -- Cal commitmentsOn the other hand, this is about as much as Jeff Tedford could have hoped for a class of incoming players whom opinion-makers can say was swell, thereby convincing people who believe the opinion-makers that Tedford has begun the process of restoring Cal to its early Tedfordian glory.In other words, no more of that 5-7 stuff. In other words, a quarterback that can win public support as Aaron Rodgers did back in the Pleistocene. In other words, fresh ticket buyers when the team returns to Strawberry Canyon. In other words, no more watching Stanford with clenched fists and Oregon with clenched teeth..RELATED: National Signing Day -- Stanford commitments
Well, okay, Oregon may have to be considered a bridge too far for the time being.Point is, Tedford needed a win today, and it looks like he may have gotten one, even though it is largely illusory. Nobody knows what recruiting classes do until they leave, which makes days like today an exercise in screw-your-buddy. As in, We got a guy you wanted. We dont know if were going to be happy we got him, but were very happy that you didnt. And while it is easy to dismiss this as just another shell game for the rubes, the fact is this is fairly big business in the South and Midwest. People hang on this stuff like beef sides in a meat truck, especially in areas where pro football and baseball cannot touch.And to the extent that Cal fans pay attention (avidly, but not in enormous numbers), this was a day Tedford needed badly.Since flaming out against Washington to end a season everyone agrees was a three-month influenza epidemic, Tedford has replaced his offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, wide receivers coach and secondary coach. Thats more than the usual turnover for Tedford, or any program whose coach has been in the same chair for nine years.While his contract still has plenty of time on it and Cal is in no position to force him into a buyout (even if it were so inclined, which it is not), the general satisfaction level in and around Telegraph Avenue has been on a steady decline.So even after you move past the fact that new blood must replace old, and that good players are better than bad ones, Tedford needed a day like this for others peace of mind. It is by most accounts one of his best hauls ever in the market, and even if it turns out not to be so, it is good enough for the here-and-now to keep the fan base mollified as the Year in Exile begins.Its a coat-rack day, something upon which he can hang his hat as he begins to reconstruct what he himself built. Of course, if youre a stickler for math and wonder how being in the Top 15 in a contest in which everyone tied for first actually helps, well, it doesnt. Its all part of the illusion in a sport that crowns a mythical champion and values argument over resolution.Plus, there are T-shirts. There are always T-shirts. Who cant like that?What'syour take? Email Rayand let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

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.