Ray Ratto

Road gets harder for 49ers in 2012


Road gets harder for 49ers in 2012

So getting from six to 13 is easy. You hire a new coach, you keep most of the same players, you dont waste time on frivolities like a training camp, and bang! Youre in the conference championship.

This is the 49ers world today a hard lesson about maxing out your performances, but a warm feeling for the year to come. A tweak here, a nudge there, and glory is theirs forever.

But heres where math is its usual hateful bastard. The rule is simple -- when you improve by a lot in one year, you typically fall back the year after. Not all the time, mind you, but often enough that fans should not assume that the 49ers escape from the crypt means a straight line to heaven.

Since the 1970 merger, 85 teams (give or take; one might have skipped past our notice) have improved themselves by five wins or more, and only 13 have either equaled or won more games the third year. Thats a 15 percent success rate, so that alone should make 49er fans realize that this isnt easy.

Of course, they should know it anyway. The 1981 team that went from six to 13 wins and won its first Super Bowl went 3-6 in the strike year of 1982.

In fact, because were a full-service operation, well give you the 11 teams that consolidated its gains.

BALTIMORE: 1974-6, 2 wins to 10 to 11, three consecutive first-round losses and then nothing of note for another decade.

CHICAGO: 1989-92, 6 to 11 to 11 to 5, and then nearly a decade before becoming a winner again.

CHICAGO AGAIN: 2004-6, 5 to 11 to 13 and the Super Bowl.

JACKSONVILLE: 1995-9, 4 to 9, then 11, 11 and 14. An expansion team under, yes, Tom Coughlin, but topped off in 1996 with a conference title appearance.

LOS ANGELES RAMS: 1982-5, 2 to 9 to 10 to 11. Ray Malavasi becomes John Robinson, but the Rams are up against a budding dynasty in San Francisco, so it seems less magnificent in reflection.

MIAMI: Like Chicago, twice, first 1969-73, 3 to 10 10 to 14, with the 14 being the last perfect record with a Super Bowl win at the end. Later, 1982-5, 7 to 12 to 14, with the Stanford Super Bowl at the end.

NEW YORK JETS: 1996-8, 1 to 10 to 12, which is mostly the difference between the last year of Rich Kotite and the first two years of Bill Parcells. Also 2007-10, going 4 to 9 to 9 to 11 under Eric Mangini and then Rex Ryan, but they leveled off into full-on crisis in 2011.

PHILADELPHIA: 1999-2004, 5 to 11 to 11 to 12 to 12, with Andy Reid taking them to four consecutive conference finals and one Super Bowl. The ideal template, except for . . .
SAN FRANCISCO: 1982-4, 3 to 10 to 15, and the second Super Bowl. Proved that the strike year could be fairly be discarded and that the 80s were in the fact theirs.

TENNESSEE: 1994-2000, the slowest-motion improvement on record, from 2 to 7 to 8 to 8 to 8 to 13 and 13 again. Jack Pardee becomes Jeff Fisher, who eventually gets the Titans to the Big One in 1999. Also did it in 1974-6, going from 1 to 7 to 10 in 14-game seasons, but never made the playoffs.

There are also examples where teams slipped a bit in the win-loss but continued excellence -- Denver, Pittsburgh and Green Bay got to Super Bowls that way -- but the point is made. If you think there is a straight line for the 49ers, history calls you a liar.

Toward that end, the improvements they must make with their wide receiver corps and their general efficiency on third down and in the red zone will be crucial, and may take more than a year. 2012 may be a year full of angst and have-they-lost-the-magic that ends up brilliantly in the end.

But it could also be a false positive. Of the 21 teams that improved by seven wins or more, 19 fell back the following season. In sum, 49er fans should understand that this climb from crummy to very good isnt unusual. The climb from very good to great is extraordinarily difficult. So strap in -- this ride has just begun.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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.