Ray Ratto

Stanford win creates a beautiful mess


Stanford win creates a beautiful mess

Stanford will not play in the BCS championship game, and why? Because they got jobbed at Notre Dame, and because they jobbed themselves at Washington.Never mind that, though. The Cardinal jammed a pool cue in the spokes of the national championship, and still has at least one more chance to rattle it around for maximum chaos.And I dont care who you are, or who your favorite team is. If you dont like this level of chaos in a system that begs for it every year, you are a tight-bottomed buzzkill with shoes.In fact, by that definition, David Shaw, Kevin Hogan, Jordan Williamson and the rest of the Cardinal did more for college football than any Stanford players ever.Ever.Oh, youll bleat about Bill Walsh and Jim Plunkett and Andrew Luck and a dozen other great names in school history, but college football needs as many sharp knees in the nethers as it can take between now and the end of the ballot-stuffing era. In two years, there will be a crappy playoff system which wont screw the No. 3 team, but the No. 9 team (and trust us, the playoff will have eight teams because that means four more trees with fruit to shake free), and nobody cares about the No. 9 team.But this year -- in fact in the next eight days -- we get to care about:1. Kansas State, crushed by the precocious yet mediocre Baylors.
2. Oregon, stifled and then smothered by the Stanfordii.
3. Notre Dame, which finally beat a bad team at home by a convincing margin in Wake Forest.
4. Ohio State, the only other unbeaten team which cant play because Jim Tressel forgot to pay attention to his players for . . . well, years.
5. USC, which faces Notre Dame next week with national punch line Lane Kiffin as the first one out of the tunnel.
6. Alabama, which lost to Texas A&M last week to be eliminated and now are resuscitated because it didnt look past Western Carolina.
7. Georgia, which could beat Alabama and get to the big show despite losing by four scores to South Carolina.
8. Florida, which might face Alabama as well, but only if it beats Florida State while Georgia loses to Georgia Tech. And Florida struggled to beat Jacksonville State.
9. Northern Illinois, which is 10-1 and ought to at least have the gumption to ask, Well, why not us? We could lose to Stanford in overtime too.Now theres a playoff system, and then some, that happened organically, without some committee full of hyenas who have history with one conference or another and are always available for influence peddling in the time-honored NCAA way.And that works for all of us. At least it should. I mean, if youre going to make a mess, make one that requires the intervention of the county health department.To that end, David Shaw had better learn to drink so that he can lean back with a snifter of the finest brandy and a cigar (he doesnt smoke either, the candypants) and say, I guess thats a good years work in one day. And who were you people who thought I was a nitwit after the Washington game?This is a victory for him, for Stanford, for the notion that chaos beats order, that piefights are more fun than math, that fair is for middle school vice-principals, and that nothing beats a day like this.Nothing whatsoever.

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.