Ray Ratto

For UCLA, Chip Kelly and the NFL never happened


For UCLA, Chip Kelly and the NFL never happened

Chip Kelly’s return to gainful employment (and no, television work is never actually gainful) is being hailed by the raging college punditocracy as a great acquisition for UCLA.
And 49er fans are gnawing their arms off in response.
Then again, there have always been two Chip Kellys – the one who owned college football with his frenetic offensive style, and the one who had to see if he could reinvent pro football by force of will.
That’s how he failed in Philadelphia. And then he failed in San Francisco by finding out that having no talent and working for people who don’t trust you while paying you trumps every clever idea in the playbook.
But his reputation among the collegiate types never deteriorated. He’d consolidated the gains made by predecessor Mike Bellotti and made Oregon a national power. Being a tyrant in Pennsylvania didn’t work, and neither did rowing a boat without a boat in California.
So he cooled his heels on the Eagles’ and Niners’ combined dimes until an opportunity to reinvent himself on his own terms came – and UCLA’s persistent underachievement relative to its self-image matched his desire to get back to what he knew and did best.
It’s as though he never coached in the NFL at all, which one suspects is just fine by everyone.
Kelly learned in Philadelphia that a paid workforce has the power of pushback. He learned in Philadelphia and San Francisco that a general manager with a drawer full of knives and a penchant for political scheming and ass-covering is the death of any sport.
But he must also know that no place reliant on the money of others to thrive is without politics or ass-coverers. The benefit that he got in Oregon was that there was only one of those – Phil Knight, Keeper Of The Swoosh.
UCLA has nobody of that wealth, but it has lots of people with opinions who give just enough money to expect those opinions to be heeded. Today, they are all-in on Kelly because it makes the Bruins’ football program a national talker, and in late November, when only a few teams are doing meaningful things competitively, talking is the currency of the realm.
Put another way, nobody talked about Chip Kelly in such glowing terms when he came to San Francisco because the failure in Philly was too fresh. At Westwood, his pro career is almost irrelevant because Los Angeles has only been an NFL town for two years, practically speaking. At Westwood, he is the man who perfected Eugene, and in the world of college football he is the man who reordered the world they care about.
In sum, for UCLA administrators and fans, Chip Kelly is the same guy he was the day he left Oregon. Philadelphia was a brief interlude and San Francisco essentially never happened at all.
If only all our histories worked that neatly.

Don't be surprised if 2018 breaks record for total batters hit by pitch


Don't be surprised if 2018 breaks record for total batters hit by pitch

If you want to have some lucrative fun this summer, see if you can find a casino that takes this prop bet: Total batters hit by pitch, one season.

And the reason? The new mound visit limitations, at least in part, and at least if Houston pitcher Lance McCullers has anything to say about it.

McCullers was trapped watching a televised analysis of the new quarter-measures set out jointly between labor and management to speed up play, at least incrementally, and did what all the cool kids do – he reacted on Twitter.

“Everyone wants to blame pace of play on mound visits or time in between pitches...” he typed after the talking heads referenced Game 7 of the World Series, which saw a parade of catcher visits to combat an apparent epidemic of sign-stealing. “Well MAYBE address the real issue at hand instead of trying to cover it up and (forcibly) insert rules that may affect the integrity of the game and alter the fairness of the game.

“You think I want to break rhythm and tempo during a game to talk about signs behind my glove? No, It’s a necessary reaction to an issue we, as pitchers and catchers, are facing. I guess enforcing the integrity by hitting batters is better than an extra 4 minutes to discuss signs.”

For “integrity,” autocorrect to “sign-stealing,” including the electronic methods, which apparently is now the scourge of the sport rather than a time-honored method of skullduggery. And the time-honored method for combatting that has been a fastball in the thigh . . . or ribs . . . or wherever the ball happens to go.

We make no claims re: the morality of this – only that it has always been used as the deterrent to brigandry of the strategic kind, and that it is likely to be the response of pitchers in the face of this new impingement on their right of between-pitches privacy.

And McCullers is not exactly alone, let alone radical, in his thinking. Never mind that the rule won’t be uniformly enforced (they never are), let alone that they will combat the problem the rule was installed to address. Pitchers and catchers and managers will work around the rules to achieve their own desired result, and if that includes one in on the wrists from time to time, then it will include one in on the wrists from time to time . . .

. . . with the predictable reaction of the hitters, which will actually lengthen game times and make the entire rule an absurdity with bruises and mound-chargings.

Baseball has never been played at a slower pace (average time 3:08, and all teams averaging at least three hours for the first time ever), and more batters have been hit than ever, though much of that is accountable to the latest expansion in 1998 and the increase in games. Still, the average of 0.38 per game was the sixth highest since 1900, and when you add the decrease in control, the increase in velocity and now the reaction to sign-stealers, I think with any real application you could see the first 2,000-HBP season, with an increase in man-games lost to injury and money spent on inactive players.

Then you’ll find out just how quickly the powers that be return to the drawing board to shorten game times more sensibly and comprehensively. Probably within 3:08, I’d wager.

For next year's All-Star game, NBA should focus on what really matters


For next year's All-Star game, NBA should focus on what really matters

The National Basketball Association got only one real lift from All-Star Weekend, and that is that LeBron James got to summarily dismiss Laura Ingraham.
Other than that, the big announcement after a largely uninspiring weekend was that Commissioner Adam Silver is going to televise more of the only thing the All-Star Game is actually good for – the assembling of the teams.
I suppose that isn’t exactly the bounce the league was hoping for from its first experiment in a format the National Hockey League abandoned as dated and the National Football League couldn’t make people care about their Pro Bowl, but the league’s bounce is the league’s problem.
So are the introductions, which one supposes will be sped up next year in Charlotte so as not to allow folks to remember why the game was in Charlotte two years after it was supposed to be in Charlotte.
But the only real production values the league ought to care about are the identities of the players on the two teams, if only because of our obsession with what we erroneously call “snubs.” If the idea is to see players irked by not being named, or elated by being named, then that is where the league’s focus ought to be.
That point was made fairly clear when Chris Haynes of ESPN was given the identities of the last two players drafted on this year’s teams – Boston’s Al Horford and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge. That was supposed to be a closely guarded secret apparently at the behest of Stephen Curry (who had a tough weekend himself), and yet it tumbled out like so many others – because it was one of the few curiosities about this event.
So if the idea is that the selection of the teams is the only real value other than the weekend price-gouging, then Silver’s job is to finish the job that begins by televising the draft – specifically, to televise the selections of the backups from which the draft emanates.
I mean, why do the players have to show their work while the coaches do not? Why is secrecy allowed for the suits but not for the sweats? What sort of anti-egalitarian message is being sent here? Fight the power! Rage against the machine!
And then when that’s done, the league should cozy up to Las Vegas again to undo some of the damage caused by its ridiculous “integrity fee” fiasco. After all, one of the undertold stories of the weekend was the way the betting line for the total plummeted once the smart guys figured out the two teams would not try to break 200, and everyone loves a betting coup. Thus, keeping up to date on betting trends, one of Silver’s ongoing initiatives, would seem to be an imperative in the years to come.
Well, that, and coaxing some fringe political yammerhead to insult one of the players for no decipherable reason. That one never fails to stick the landing.