Ray Ratto

Ratto: Errors driving A's coach Melvin wild


Ratto: Errors driving A's coach Melvin wild

Aug. 13, 2011


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Bob Melvin needed to vent. He had just watched the Oakland Athletics play a particularly poor game of jai alai against the Texas Rangers and get the proper reward for it a 7-1 loss and he unloaded as much as he ever will.

Trevor Cahill pitched very well, he said of his losing pitcher, and we gave him NO help. As players, coaches, everyone, there was no excuse for that.

That was, of course, the four errors that moved the As into a solid two-boot lead in the coveted Most Bungled Plays competition. Two by second baseman Jemile Weeks on the same play, a bad-hands play by shortstop Eric Sogard, and a throwing error of consequence by third baseman Scott Sizemore were the recordable failures, but there were makeable plays that went unmade as well that caused Melvins first true annoyed outburst in the job.

You make the error, and then you have head down thinking about it and they take an extra base, he groused as he tried to figure out what liquid would best un-knot his brow before Sundays 1 p.m. start. Its just not excusable.

RECAP: A's spoil Cahill's solid outing, fall to Rangers 7-1

But its also not easily fixable. The As skipped outdoor batting practice Saturday morning to work on defense, and committed more errors than they have in any game since Opening Day. They will work again Sunday morning, and there will be meetings and reminders and, for all we know, Post-it notes on locker frames.

Melvin, though, knows that the only way to break the cycle of a team that is in a hideous catching-and-throwing slump is time.

Thats really the only thing that gets you out of this, he said. Three or four or five games where you just do everything right and get back to playing instinctively. Where youre not thinking about every single thing you do. Thats part of the problem we have now. Nothing is natural.

Now it may also be that the As just have bad fielders. They started the year with better gloves at first (Daric Barton), third (Kevin Kouzmanoff) and second (Mark Ellis), but they needed runs that none of the above were providing. Now they get more runs, and return them at a faster rate.

Weeks has committed 11 errors in 56 games, the most by an Oakland second baseman since Ellis in 2003 in 147 starts. Sizemore is simply out of his element at third, and as such is being given some air by Melvin. Cliff Pennington, the usual shortstop, had two botched double plays Friday night and has 17 for the year, behind only Chicagos Starlin Castro (19) and Texas Elvis Andrus (22).

REWIND: Wilson responds; A's cede six-run second in loss

And, truth be told, the As dont have a lot of solutions they can implement in the short term. They can continue to work (And were going to, Melvin said), but this is a mindset that is created in spring and driven home time and again. Defense is prone to slumps, true, but defensive slumps are more infuriating by their very nature.

I think its probably because we look at defense and say its easier to catch a ball than pitch one, and definitely easier to catch one than hit one, Phil Garner, Melvins designated good angel, said from atop Melvins left shoulder. Thats probably why Bo is more frustrated. I know thats how I was.

Its how the fan base is. As much as it wanted to hate Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson Friday night, it booed Pennington more for the double plays he couldnt convert. In addition, bad defense creates a more immediate reaction, whereas bad hitting is a just a slower-acting corrosive. You can always hope for a big hit or converted opportunity later in the game, whereas a kicked ball is an immediate buzzkill.

Hence, a perfectly delightful Saturday afternoon was ruined. Bobbleheads had been given out, always a big treat. A couple had exchanged wedding vows in front of the Barbecue Terrace, which is Oaklands version of St. Peters Basilica. The field, which had been rushed into service after Thursdays Raider game, had another day to better resemble an actual ballpark. The day was in the 70s, and moods were buoyant.

And then . . . it was kick-save-and-a-beauty baseball again. The As, who have pitched but not hit, and hit but not pitched, are now pitching and hitting (sort of) but not fielding. They are 53-66, 14 games behind the Rangers and (just for laughs) 19 behind the Yankees for the wild card, and every hit ball is an adventure with horror-movie undercurrents.

And that, let us tell you, is no way to start a marriage.

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.