Ray Ratto

For SF, this is a full-blown QB controversy

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For SF, this is a full-blown QB controversy

Colin Kaepernick seemed to be the only one who understood how delicate the next few days and perhaps weeks of the 49ers season would be. Good vision on the field, good vision off it.

He was asked, based on coach Jim Harbaughs notion of having two quarterbacks with the hot hand, if he thought he was ready to be the starting quarterback going forward, and he smiled and said, I dont think one game can be a hot hand.

Thousands will beg to differ after his exemplary work in the 49ers ridiculously easy 32-7 throat-punching of the Chicago Bears Monday night. He gave no indication of being the neophyte he did the week before against St. Louis, not only staying in the pocket but commanding it. His raw numbers (16-of-23, 243 yards, two scores, a 133.1 rating) were arresting enough, but the way he rolled the 49er offense and even rediscovered tight end Vernon Davis in a surprisingly easy win over an allegedly good opponent.

Indeed, starting now, he will be considered by the outside world to be the real starting quarterback even if the ever-coy Harbaugh decides otherwise.

In fact, youre probably safe in thinking that Harbaugh will decide otherwise. One game does not a star make, and Harbaugh not only knows it, but frankly is banking on it. Having created Smith, he isnt likely to abandon him off one impressive performance against a broken team.

Oh, he kept the door open, to be sure. He dismissed the notion of the rule that an injury doesnt cost a player his starting job, and he said again and again, We have two quarterbacks with the hot hand, and well make that decision when we have to make it.

He also evaluated Kaepernick in the highest possible terms, citing his accuracy, poise in the pocket, running the offense, understanding the game plan, and describing his pre-snap reads as in the high 90s, an A-plus operation.

In short, Harbaugh raved about Kaepernick. But, and we cannot stress this too much, he has raved about Smith in his time, too. Harbaugh raves easily, even if all hes doing is trying to smother a story.

Still, the Kaepernick raves, atop what all our eyes told us, creates a dynamic that hasnt legitimately existed since the Montana-Young days. Oh, weve tried to create others, but the ingredients havent been the same. So, yes, this is about to get very very weird if Harbaugh lets it.

And he just might.

Now either he knows the dynamite with which he plays, or like so many other external pressures, he doesnt care. He is sure that he can dominate his environment, and media speculation and the shrieks of the populace are part of that environment.

But Harbaugh is less a swashbuckler than a pragmatist, and even if Smith cannot clear all his protocols before the New Orleans game next week, hell want to see Kaepernick in a loud and hostile environment before he commits to anything longer term.

In short, Alex Smith will be the 49ers starting quarterback again, and theres no use you bitching about it. Whatever his limitations, perceived or otherwise, Smith has shown more in the aggregate than Kaepernick. And Harbaugh plays percentages.

Smith, on the other hand, is already sensing that he is about to become unpopular again, this time through no fault of his own. He has endured much in his time here, most of it as the earnest victim of the franchises wilderness years, and he has fixed almost all the things that have been laid at his feet by coaches who werent very coach-worthy and players who often werent.

And now that hes shown he can handle the brand new car, people are trying to pry the keys away from him again. We may have to come to grips with the possibility that he is simply cursed.

But the real test for Smith now is narrowing his focus even more, and this is where Harbaugh can make things easy for him by telling him--if not anyone else--that he will be the starter again. He can say whatever he wants about two hot hands, but he can only put one man behind center Jonathan Goodwin. And he does not yet know with the metaphysical certitude a coach must have that Colin Kaepernick is the next superior 49er quarterback.

We all thought the Bears game would be an enormous test for either Smith or Kaepernick, and we were wrong, as it turned out. The 49er defense saw to that, holding Chicago to 143 total yards, the second lowest total of any team this season, and two yards fewer than the 145 the 49ers held the New York Jets to in Week 4. Aldon Smith stood proudly on Jason Campbells thorax, but nothing else worked for the Bears, either.

That, though, is the backstory. This is a quarterback controversy town, and this is a full-blown quarterback controversy, with 20 rooms, marble floors, platinum inlaid fixtures, a magnificent entry hall, and a huge garden with wild animals running free behind it.

It isnt really, of course. Not inside the building, where such things really matter. Harbaugh isnt ready for that one yet, only because Smith remains the smarter play.

But outside, where the screaming happens, its on, Jack. Its so on.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

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USATI

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

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AP

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.