Ray Ratto

Ratto: Consistency shadows VanDerveer's genius


Ratto: Consistency shadows VanDerveer's genius

March 15, 2011RATTO ARCHIVE

Tara VanDerveer is a profoundly irritating figure in Bay Area sports history, because she never really irritates.Well, not never. Everybody gets on someones wick at some point or other, and VanDerveer is a high-profile coach in what is often a low-profile pursuit. Feelings have been ruffled, and they will be so again. Thats just the way it plays.But what irritates most about VanDerveer is the relentless sameness of the Stanford womens basketball product. They nearly always win. They are nearly always among the three or four best teams in the nation at their pursuit. They nearly always play the same way, emphasizing the same strengths. And they are never an easy out.She was always able to use persistent excellence as a form of camouflage, because during the life of her tenure at Stanford, there was nearly always at least one mens team to make the NCAA Tournament and pull eyes off her own win factory. Even when she was named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame, she was met in these parts with a rousing, Well, yeah. That makes sense. Why the hell not?But with the seven postseason brackets now filled, and the only ones untouched a Bay Area presence being the NCAA mens tournament (the one everyone pays attention to) and the Womens WBI Tournament (the one nobodys ever paid attention to), the field is clear for VanDerveer to be noticed in a way she never has before, at least not locally.
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And what were going to find is that she and her program are no different now than they ever were.Stanfords sameness has been its glory and its curse throughout VanDerveers tenure. The Cardinal are a national player in a sport where theres always been one team more dominant Tennessee first, then Connecticut. The Louisiana Tech days preceded Van Derveer, in case you want to make a thing out of that.And the sameness of the results are equally vexing to those of us who like spiced variety. Runners-up in 2010. Semifinalist in 2009. Runners-up in 2008. Quarterfinalist in 2004-5-6. Early exits in 1998-9-2000-1-2. Semifinalist in 1995-6-7.
NEWS: Stanford women get No. 1 seed, face UC Davis
You want hardship? There was the first-round loss at home to Harvard in 98, and Maine in 1999. Thats not hardship, though. Thats just weirdness. Stanford womens basketball isnt about hardship. Its about being the same team all the time.Well, that and the glass ceiling. To be as good as they are and yet entering the 19th year without a national title seems like good fortune to most, but it is VanDerveers . . . well, curse-let, is probably the best way to put it. Its not like theyve been persistently jobbed near the finish line by inferior teams. They just havent been the drop-dead best team in almost two decades.Well, this may be their moment. Spring training is still grinding along. There is no nonsensical off-season football. The Warriors are dead, the Kings are dead and probably relocating. The Sharks dont start playoffs until well past the end of the womens season. The mens programs are NIT-level and below, at least this year. SaberCats and Earthquakes Fever have not yet reached any kind of pitch, and maybe never have (though thats a discussion for another time).
KILLION: Only one elite Bay Area team -- Stanford women
This then, kids, is the local window that the Cardinal can exploit for their own benefits and maybe make VanDerveer more than the household name afterthought she has been consigned to so long. Not that she needs the recognition. People know who she is. They know shes good. They just tend to overlook how good she is.But the steady hum of their success doesnt have the spike that comes with a title. They could stand one, while the rest of the hall is filled with people just sitting and watching for a change.What's your take? Email Ray and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag. Follow Ray on Twitter @RattoCSN.

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.