Ray Ratto

Sharks notebook: Niemi gets call vs. Red Wings

Sharks notebook: Niemi gets call vs. Red Wings

Dec. 6, 2010SHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEOPREVIEW: SHARKS (12-9-4) vs. DETROIT (17-4-3)Ray Ratto

DETROIT -- An optional skate Monday (no Patrick Marleau, no Dany Heatley, no big deal), producing the following revelations:

- Antti Niemi will start his third consecutive game for the Sharks, based according to Todd McLellan, on his knowledge of the boards and glass at Joe Louis Arena and his greater experience against the Detroits as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. It might also be that he is being given his first extended chance to win the starting goaltender's job, despite better numbers and more consistent performances so far from Antero Niittymaki (who gave up five against the Wings six days ago in The House Of Aluminum Siding), but we'll see how it plays out tonight and whether he gets the call Wednesday in Philadelphia.

- Both Jason Demers and Niclas Wallin were pronounced available, but McLellan thought it unlikely that both would go into the lineup together against a team with Detroit's depth and speed. Demers, who cut his wrist against Columbus and hasn't played since, said he was as good to go as he's been all year, and called a possible start tonight "a good test to see where I'm at." Call this one a GTR - Game-Time Revelation.

- Barring a late change, Marleau and Torrey Mitchell will in fact change places. Mitchell will take the left flank of the Joe Thornton- Heatley line, and Marleau will start on the third line with Jamie McGinn and Joe Pavelski. The reasons: One, so that Mitchell can perhaps help create some defensive challenges that the Thornton-Heatley-Marleau line hasn't (McLellan called it "their offensive production versus their defensive liabilities, for lack of a better word"), and that Marleau as a right-handed shot can help unlock Pavelski's best passes.

- The Sharks currently sit 12th, a point behind Columbus, Nashville, Colorado and Anaheim, all tied for eighth. A win tonight could conceivably move them past all of them and into a seventh-place tie for seventh with St. Louis, although Nashville plays in Atlanta and Columbus hosts Dallas.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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.