Ray Ratto

Tagliabue blows up Goodell's BountyGate case


Tagliabue blows up Goodell's BountyGate case

Paul Tagliabue was the NFL Commissioner who didn’t cast a shadow. He came, he went, things happened, the company didn’t fold. He was the devoted shadowless company man. Victory through stasis had been achieved.

But when he was called from the bullpen to provide Roger Goodell with the expected slam-dunk ruling on BountyGate, affirming all details and punishments as a good company man should, he casually flipped a fragmentation grenade into Red Top’s brief case.

He affirmed the facts of the case, and then declared that the players had essentially been acting on orders of their superiors and vacated their punishments. This is a stunning precedent and a reversal of Goodell’s core tenet that the players are guilty until proven guiltier.

And we can only assume that the new commissioner is fulminating about the old commissioner. This is not the work of a good company man.

[RELATED: Tagliabue overturns BountyGate suspensions]

It is in many ways the most just outcome. It does not exonerate the players, who participated in the bounty system, but it establishes the heretofore avoided precedent that when team officials suggest/hint/say/require players to break established rules, those players are put in an impossible situation and cannot be held to the same standard as their superiors.


That’s the part that fascinates. Not that the most sensible decision given the circumstances was reached, but that one of the company boys, safe from the daily strictures of the company, broke ranks with the company. 

Nobody was more company than Tags, to be sure. Pete Rozelle’s confidant and best positioned underling, he worked his job, and even though he lost the biggest fight he ever had, the one that allowed Al Davis to move the Raiders to Los Angeles, he was the logical inheritor when Rozelle left the job in 1989, worn down by the loss to Davis and the strains of beating back the WFL and USFL.

And he took the job, providing Brezhnevian leadership – neither dynamic nor particularly forceful. He had the job for 17 years, and other than not doing anything to prevent the golden goose from providing regular breakfast, it is hard to say what his footprint on the league was.

It is hard to say that no longer. He became the truly objective arbiter of a thorny problem – to find the place where suggestion becomes insistence, and whether a player has the freedom to resist pressure to break a rule or rules.

His decision was a bold half-step toward resolution. The players can do wrong, but when it is accompanied by pressure, either stated or implied, their culpability does not automatically come with punishment.

In other words, he honored the time-old maxim, “If the coach tells you to do it, you do it. You do it if you like it, and you do it if you don’t. Because that’s the culture, that’s always been the culture, and it will always be the culture.”

And he changed the other maxim, “In the NFL, the employer is always right, damn it.”

So it goes. A company man has broken programming, and behind him, the man who replaced him is slamming the desk drawer against his head over and over again. It is the only reasonable reaction when someone in power finds out that “the enemy is us.”

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.