Ray Ratto

Ratto: Pujols contract talks are not a distraction


Ratto: Pujols contract talks are not a distraction

Feb. 15, 2011


Ray Ratto

Albert Pujols isnt going to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday, unless he sees that seven years isnt that much worse than 10. That means, no matter how much of a distraction he says it wont be, it will be.And why? Because players dont control all distractions, and neither do managers or general managers or even owners. Sometimes, and this is one of them, distractions seize upon circumstances and create themselves.In fact, the word distraction is a stupid choice of words anyway, and frankly should be banned from sports usage except in very narrow and specific circumstances, like I was putting for a birdie and a man ran naked across my line, I jerked my head up and put it into the water. Thats a distraction. Distractions are unexpected and not the fault of the distracted person. Everything else is a choice.What Pujols wants is peace and quiet, both around him and around the world, so he doesnt have to hear or see anyones opinion. He is, in a word, delusional.RELATED: St. Louis Cardinals headlines
People arent going to stop talking about Pujols this summer. Thats not the way the world works, and its never been the way it works. He may not answer questions about the subject of playing for his contract in 2011, but that doesnt mean they wont be asked, often and loudly.
In short, if he doesnt want the distraction, he should learn how to curl. If the Cardinals dont want the distraction, they should give him whatever he wants. Neither of these things will happen, so they should stop grinding on about distractions. Theyre part of the deal, so they should deal with them.Besides, distractions are nonsense, and complaining about them is utter nonsense. One of the duties of the modern athlete is dealing with distractions, because money and fame bring distractions with them. Any time players whine about distractions, the only phrase that comes into my head is, Okay then, quit. If you cant keep your head clear for four at-bats and nine innings in the field, youre not equipped for this level anyway.Now lets be clear here. There are distractions, and then there are distractions. Tiger Woods distracted himself. So did Ben Roethlisberger, and Michael Vick, and Albert Haynesworth, and you name it. To call some things distractions is to diminish their severity and try to neutralize them in the head of their creators. Its a coping mechanism for the guilty, and frankly not to the subject of this dissertation. Pujols distraction, the one he fights so hard not to have, is the question of how many millions he will receive over the next seven to 10 years. And no matter how much Tony La Russa spins the notion that the players union is pressing Pujols to stand firm, the opposite is true the Cardinals are squeezing him to accept their offer.And the media is everywhere.In short, Pujols is in charge of the level of his distraction level, and nobody else. Hes playing for megamoney now, and this part is as telling as any of the measurable metrics. He is one of the exemplary players of the generation, and this next contract is how he is keeping score on that front.cHe doesnt have to speak on the subject, ever. That is his choice. He can speak about it every day. That is his choice too. He can tell his agent to negotiate all year long and tell him when a firm deal has been hammered out. All his choice. The man is 31 years old here, not 12. He is the one in control of his environment, of his preparation, of his signature. This is not a distraction. This is financial planning, albeit on a monetary level normally linked to, well, Estonia.
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In other words, if Pujols doesnt want the distraction, he can sign whatever contract they offer. If the Cardinals dont want the distraction, they can give him whatever he wants.Or they could not worry or whine about distractions that really arent. This is big boy school, so how about everyone act like it?

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.