Ray Ratto

Ratto: Enjoy the World Series with a Frothy Mug of Antacid


Ratto: Enjoy the World Series with a Frothy Mug of Antacid

Ray Ratto

PHILADELPHIA -- Everyone is a hero in a room full of fit-only-for-throwing champagne, and so it was that the Giants danced their way into a Sunday hangover and a midweek flirtation with greatness.

But nobody in the fetid-smelling Citizens Bank Park clubhouse the Giants had painted with two coats of brut was fooled into thinking that they had been cleansed of their sins. They knew (a) that their shared image of rogues and misfits is a media construct and not the reality, (b) that nobody shared their faith in their abilities before that moment, not even themselves, and (c) that the Texas Rangers are going to be a bitch.

(C), though, takes care if itself, starting Wednesday when the World Series opens in The Thing On King. (A) and (B) are different stories entirely.

Yes, Aubrey Huff wears a thong as a prop, and Brian Wilson wears a beard only a varnish salesman could love, and Tim Lincecum likes to drop the occasional F-bomb so that the Internet gremlins can have a conniption when he does it on TV.

But thats the stuff for the tourists, and everyone inside and outside the team knows it. In fact, the Giants are a severely one-dimensional team whose dimension is so overwhelming that its shortcomings morph into character portraits.

In other words, they pitched the Philadelphia Phillies into such a state of submission that their hitting and fielding failures became semi-humorous quirks. And you know what? Whatever spackles the rec room wall, Phil.

They are 3 starters deep, deeper than most teams. They are either four or five relievers deep, too, which is much deeper than most teams. Thats what they do, and when general manager Brian Sabean objected to the notion that the lesser team had won the Saturday night, he was right to say, We won because we out-pitched the Phillies, and thats a fact. They did.

But they are also a team that goes a long time between driving in a man in scoring position, and they do kick the odd ball around the lot. They arent bad at those things, they just arent, well, exceptional at them.

And they still won. Full points to them, and well played, lads.

(B), though, is the more interesting notion, because nobody either in their right mind or even fairly well out of it saw this team capable of what it has done, let alone what it might in the next fortnight.

Of the 35 players and management personnel who might reasonably claim a chunk of a World Series share, four can say they never really heard much criticism of their work. Five, tops, depending on how you view Madison Bumgarners stay in the big leagues.

Huff hit the popularity ground running by hitting well and being a most agreeable spokesman and companion. Buster Posey was the new heat-throb (as opposed to heart-throb, which is such a lower form of approval). Pat Burrell came at midseason and never performed out of character or beneath his capabilities. And Javier Lopez was by acclimation the midseason acquisition of the year.

Everyone else did their turn in the public scorn barrel, because Giant fans and media in the Bay Area saw what they saw and didnt believe that what they saw was pennant-worthy.

So the roster took its beatings. Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito all took their turns being worked over. Freddy Sanchez didnt stay healthy, Juan Uribe wasnt consistent, Pablo Sandoval was a huge (pun intended) disappointment. Aaron Rowand was still condemned as a waste of money and Andres Torres was hyperactivity itself, thrashing between cant-get-him-out and cant-get-him-on-base.

And the bullpen caught its usual ebbs and flows of grief, even Wilson and his penchant for making the skulls of all those around him throb with worry over his next 27-pitch save.

Finally, there was Sabean, who doesnt like young players or things with numbers, and Bruce Bochy, who speaks too slow and isnt effervescent in interview situations and doesnt react quickly enough.

And they all turned out to be wrong in the end, at least wrong enough. Bochy turned out to be a spectacular riverboat gambler, Sabean timed the arrivals of Posey and Bumgarner deftly, and rebuilt a team on the fly. And all the players who seemed to lack some of the essentials up close actually formed a stunningly cohesive whole when one stopped microanalyzing them.

Even the players werent sure of themselves, to be honest. Bochy managed Game 6, and the entire postseason in fact, as though losing meant the death penalty. He managed Game 6 in particular with an extraordinary verve because as he said, We didnt want to come back here tomorrow.

That is not the unvarnished confidence of a man who knows he has the best team. That is a practical man who doesnt want to test fate in a Game 7 against a team that, when right, could put a beating even on this pitching.

There was nothing wrong with that strategy, because Bochy has been working this team more actively and with more hands in the pie than at any other time in his career. He has done this based on the logic that comes from not having a team that makes its own lineup, or sets its own bullpen. The Giants needed every manipulation Bochy performed, and if that is weakness, it is also realism.

Thus, when you fear saying, I never thought this could happen, you shouldnt. Nobody saw it coming, nobody. The team had to be remade on the fly, so the Giants didnt see it coming either.

In short, embrace the surprise, acknowledge the bizarro world, enjoy the fact that you, and they, are playing with the casinos money. Youre not being graded on your clairvoyance; if you were everyone would fail miserably.

Youre being graded solely on your ability to enjoy this team for its mutant beauty, its myriad shortcomings and its true strengths. Theyre not the team youre used to, so give in to what it is.

Oh, and enjoy the World Series with a frothy mug of antacid. Youll thank us later.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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.