Ray Ratto

Two down, 22 to go for 49ers


Two down, 22 to go for 49ers

Occupy the Second Story. Fight the fight for the 93 percent.

After all, the element of surprise is not as important a social issue as equality of opportunity, and there are 22 49er linemen and linebackers who havent had their numbers called yet to get the ball. And Jim Harbaugh doesnt want what Jason Garrett got Sunday night players fulminating on national television about not getting the ball enough.

In other words, you dont want to see Patrick Willis when he feels like hes getting his shoes squeezed.

The high points of an otherwise desultory 20-10 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday were the passes from Alexander D. Smith to tackle Joe Staley and defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga. The game was desultory because the 49er defense tends to crush bad offensive teams mercilessly, which makes for bad entertainment en route to a satisfying result.

But Staley, the former tight end, and Sopoaga, the former rugby player, spiced up the proceedings by catching two of Smiths 15 completions against the . . . well, desultory, I guess . . . Browns. And in doing so created a potential issue in the locker room that we would like to (a) invent and (b) exacerbate, all at once.

Hey, we have time on our hands, and were impish that way.

The point here is, Willis is the most important non-ballhandler on the team, and maybe the most important anything for that matter. Cant send him out on a fly pattern, or a one-step slant near the goal line?

To Jim Harbaughs credit as the second most important coach in the building (yesterday convincing us that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio should occupy the top of the medal stand for the time being), he is finding new ways each week to keep the gentlemen amused and engaged. Theyre not new to football, mind you. Mike Ditka created Refrigerator Perry out of whole cloth and goal-line blocking 25 years ago.

But two linemen getting paid on the same day? If that isnt unprecedented, you may bet that the last time it happened was when face masks were considered sissified.

Which means there are 22 guys who need a touch between now and the opening of business January 8.

And frankly, what better place to start than Willis? Then NaVorro Bowman? Then Mike Iupati? Then on and on until youre down to Jonathan Goodwin running the fumblerooski in the NFC playoffs?

I mean, you may get some squawking from Vernon Davis, or Michael Crabtree, or Delanie Walker, or the other receivers and running backs who are used to getting theirs. But given that they have lost two thirds of their games for most of the last decade, anything that gives everyone their moment while keeping the turgid routine of navigating the NFC West has to help everyone, right?

And because the 49ers are on the verge of making people wonder what the largest margin of divisional victory in NFL history is (nine games, by new England, 2008), and when the earliest clinching in history happened (we think it was the Patriots right before Thanksgiving that year), they need a little spice here and there to keep the engines churning.

And frankly, Harbaugh is easing closer and closer to having to use costumes and props to keep the audience wanting more. Maybe if he sawed someone from Marketing in half . . .

But we digress. The point here is that Staley and Sopoaga are on the board now, and you dont want the other 93 percent wondering where theirs might be. I mean, its good to feel good about someone elses good fortune, but a little 1-for-13 never hurt anyones morale.

And having seen more of the Seahawks and Cardinals and basically given up on the Rams, it isnt like the 49ers will be hurting for easy marks to make that happen. Hell, a few fake punts and some double reverses and you can have the job done before Christmas.

In the meantime, we will have to endure Staley on the sidelines gesticulating at offensive line coach Mike Solari, shouting, Damn it, Mike, I was wide open! Am I in the progression or not?

At least we hope so, anyway. Hey, you have your fun, and we have ours.

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.