Ray Ratto

Ratto: Roberts thankful to be back in the game


Ratto: Roberts thankful to be back in the game


Ray Ratto

PHOENIX -- Dave Roberts is fully haired again. His energy is back, 100 percent, never a bad day. He coaches every day at first base for the San Diego Padres as though he never took a day off.

But there is a concession he still makes to the Hodgkins lymphoma that was diagnosed last spring training and has apparently been beaten into submission.

My wife stays on me about sunscreen, he said. Sometimes I put it on.

He hadnt applied it yet when he arrived at Phoenix Municipal Stadium Tuesday for the Padres-As game. There were players to monitor, hellos to exchange with a new set of well-wishers, and the standard tasks to throw himself into now that he is back on the field he has missed since 2008.

I feel great, and I love being here, he said in that enthusiastic way that would seem disingenuous if it werent coming from one of the games most genuine people. This is a good group of guys, they listen, they work hard. Its just a joy to be out here.

The last time he was out here, as in uniformed out here, was in the final game of 2008, a 3-1 Giants win over the Dodgers. Roberts, who had been pilloried in San Francisco for having the temerity to sign an overvalued contract offered him, finished his playing career with a single. If someone had a sense of drama, he would have stolen a base to close it all out, but you dont get to set all the details at last call. Indeed, he went to spring training the following year but was released March 5 with a 6.5 million sendoff.

He spent 2009 as an analyst for Red Sox broadcasts before signing on with the Padres as a special assistant in baseball operations helping coach Rich Renteria teach the players the finer points of running the bases. During that spring, he noticed a lump on his neck that . . . well, you know how the story progressed from there. Eight rounds of chemotherapy, loss of hair and energy, the works.

Nevertheless, he muscled the Hodgkins into submission, and when the season ended in that pile of shards you remember with a little too much glee, he took Renterias place as first base coach, and Renteria became Blacks bench coach.

Now this is the point where you snicker and say, Well, he wont have much to do there, and youll probably be right. The Padres pitched and fielded with the best teams in the game, but hit with the best teams in the Southern League, and hit "E" two weeks short of glory.

And yes, Roberts was paying attention.

Heck of a run they had, he said. Is everybody going good over there?

You half wish he meant with a little snide hope not muttered under his breath, but of course that never happened. Cancer survivors tend not to fret about the little slights, and even if Roberts became a figure of fun in San Francisco for daring to hit the end of his career on the Giants watch, he looks forward to returning to The City on July 4.

He may not be noticed because more eyes are likely to be on Mat Latos, Designated Pinata, but the people that matter will know. And when he says, Tell them I said hi, youll know he means it. People who survive a terminal illness tend to mean that a lot.

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.