Ray Ratto

Ratto: Wolf Pack win, but hunger remains


Ratto: Wolf Pack win, but hunger remains

Jan. 9,2011RATTO ARCHIVERay RattoCSNBayArea.com

As we know from our previous experiences with bowl games in the modern era, keisters in seats are a very good way to determine whether a bowl game should be considered a success.As a result, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Sunday night kicked the hell out of the Beef OBradys Bowl. Now thats fightin hunger.The game itself was Nevadas, a 20-13 winner over Boston College despite the fact that BC linebacker Luke Kuechly looked a little bit better than Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick or wide receiverreturn man Rishard Matthews or at least thats what it said in Trent Baalkes new leather-bound 49er notebook.(We made that last part up: He was in the building trying not to be seen, but its hard to be an incognito NFL general manager, a fact he will learn soon enough, but we didnt see what he wrote).But this did not seem to be a scouts paradise, nor did the game cause people to hang on every play unless, of course, you bet the game at Nevada-minus-7 12. It was a fairly comprehensive beating by Nevada upon BC, finishing for head coach Chris Ault his best season ever and making him a national coaching figure only nine years after being voted into the National College Coaches Hall of Fame.It was a breakout game for Matthews, who broke a 72-yard punt return and caught a 27-yard pass from Kaepernick for the two Nevada scores. It was also another dominant game for Kuechly, who had 12 tackles and an interception as the heart, aorta and ventricles of the Boston College defense.They werent performances for the ages, but they were entertainment enough to cap off a weekend of pro games, coaching hires, free agency declarations, the Warriors and Kings losing on the same day, and the Sharks being shut out again.Frankly, this was pretty much the best of the lot.Truly, for a bowl game that took the space normally held by the now-defunct International Bowl, the KFHB did well enough. Almost all the available seats were filled (41,063), which if youve seen the other bowl games is a noteworthy achievement.Nevada brought the behinds that filled the seats, and the game was as close to being a home game for the Wolf Pack as you could get without trucking in snow. BC, which has been in this game three times in the last decade, did the best it could, but this was a Nevada home game, and the Pack performed accordingly as in, just good enough, just often enough, to prove that their 13-1 record was not some mutant accident but an accurate measure of their place in the national football firmament.Hey, what other FBS team beat a national champion this year? Nevada whipped Eastern Washington, which won the FCS tournament Friday night, to begin the year, which didnt seem like all that much back in September.It wasnt the season in which the meek finally inherited their piece of the action, in large part because Nevada rose up and smote Boise November 26. It was the year that the famed Non-AQs had their best postseason ever, as Boise, TCU, Central Florida and Nevada all beat BCS conference schools.No, this was one of those puppy love games you know, the kind where it doesnt matter all that much except to the puppies. The Nevada players and fans mingled on the field after the game as though it were Homecoming Week, far less frenzied than when they beat Boise.Plus in doing so, they managed to almost eradicate the vision of the streaker who took the field in the third quarter in hopes of raising awareness for the Kraft Fight Clothing Bowl, and for a kind judge when he goes to court.This was, in short, a very nice outing for the Nevada fans who will remember the overtime win over Boise State for far longer, but will say they had a better time in San Francisco than they normally might.So the bowl games worked, as well as it could anyway, entertained 41,000 people with an excuse for a trip to San Francisco, and honestly had no impact on the national fight for a playoff. It didnt prove the WAC is better than the ACC, or that hunger had been conquered, but it did the job it was capable of doing.In short, it let Nevada fans remember the best year their school has ever had, led a weary nation to the national championship game Monday night between Oregon and Auburn, and got us one day closer to the end to a long, strange and occasionally rewarding college football season.

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.