Ray Ratto

Ratto: Gaels KO Zags, WCC king still not dead


Ratto: Gaels KO Zags, WCC king still not dead


Mickey McConnells one-hand runner Thursday night seems to have convinced the doubtful that Saint Marys is the new Gonzaga -- that sitting comfortably on the throne requires dancing on the dead kings grave.

Well, not so fast there.

For the first time in about forever, the Bay Area owns the top of the West Coast Conference, and that means that Gonzaga is for the first time in about forever a middle-of-the-pack team.

SHELL: Shakeup in the WCC

The problem with that theory as it pertains to March, however, is that the WCCs tournament format so loads the dice for the top two teams that the Zags can perhaps live with being second and take their chances in a potential title game matchup with the Gaels in Las Vegas.

The format, which a few other leagues have taken up, puts the bottom four teams on Day One, fifth vs. eighth and sixth vs. seventh. Day Two, the winners face the third- and fourth-place teams, Day Three, the winners of Day two face the No. 1 and 2 teams, and the survivors play for the title in Day Four.

RELATED: Gaels drop Gonzaga at the buzzer 73-71 Boxscore
In short, finishing second is almost as good as finishing first, and finishing third is a significantly greater handicap. And thinking Gonzaga cant finish second is a dangerous bet to make even now.

Basically, the Zags second-half schedule has USF and Santa Clara at home, and four of their final five road games are against the leagues lower half. Only the Feb. 24 game at Moraga can be considered a difficult roadie.

Not only that, their three consecutive losses have come in a convincing loss at Santa Clara, an overtime loss to USF and the McConnell runner. Their worst loss was at Washington State Dec. 8, followed by the loss at Santa Clara. The others have come either to ranked teams or required overtime (USF).

In other words, it isnt like the Zags are actually dead and buried yet. They remain a militantly tough out.

RELATED: WCC standings statistics

And you all know the first law of regicide: To be the king, you have to kill the king. Frankly, we suspect this argument will not be settled before March 7, the date of the WCC tournament final. And were still not convinced that one of the two left standing wont be Gonzaga.

King-killing is like that, you know. Not nearly as easy as you think.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports 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.