Ray Ratto

Step One to your Stanley Cup Playoffs guide

Step One to your Stanley Cup Playoffs guide

Figuring the Stanley Cup Playoffs is really quite easy, if you follow the steps.
 
Step One: The Cup is not going to either Anaheim or San Jose.
 
This is not a bold prediction, to be sure. The best teams are elsewhere – Nashville, Tampa, Boston, Winnipeg, maybe Pittsburgh on muscle memory – and the Ducks and Sharks are pretty likely to give in to temptation and wallop the dog out of the each over a long and debilitating series.
 
That kind of physical play over an extended series typically comes at a cost later – either through injuries, re-injuries or just plain fatigue. Deep runs usually feature early series breeze-bys, and neither of these two look very breezy.
 
Not only that, Anaheim probably needs to ride goalie John Gibson the entire way, which is always a difficult proposition for any team, and San Jose has played three seasons – one in which they couldn’t score, one in which they scored with ease, and a mini-season at the end in which they stopped scoring again.
 
In other words, you can’t make hide nor hair of either of them, which is a bad reason to bet them to run deep.
 
The Ducks have had their injury issues, most notably Ryan Kesler early and Cam Fowler (shoulder, will probably miss the series) late, but the Sharks are still waiting to see if Joe Thornton’s knee will be strong enough to support him if/when he returns. Thornton sensibly said he wouldn’t return unless the knee was sound, but his return would also cause the Sharks to play at an even slower pace than they have in the second half of the season. The team’s most obvious strengths – penalty killing and avoiding penalties themselves – will reveal themselves against such a penalty-prone team as Anaheim, but the Ducks are also an excellent penalty killing team and San Jose’s power play is uninspiring.
 
In sum, these are two teams that rely heavily on familiar veterans and familiar styles, familiar mostly to each other, and the other roster differences are slight enough that one gravitates immediately to the one serious imbalance between the two.
 
Gibson. If he is healthy (he was injured in a collision with Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog 10 days ago), he gives the Ducks as close to a sure thing in an unsure series. If not, it’s probably best to sit back and wait for someone to get puck luck – knowing all the time that the best teams in the other half of the bracket will be hammering each other too – only at a much higher level.

Golf is Tiger Woods, and the PGA Championship on Sunday confirmed that

tigerwoodspump.jpg
USATSI

Golf is Tiger Woods, and the PGA Championship on Sunday confirmed that

There are only 241 days of MegaTigerHype left until the 2019 Masters, which means 241 days for everyone on the PGA Tour to understand just how fully the sport they play.
 
They don’t play golf. They play Tiger. Put another way, America’s chosen prism reads Sunday’s PGA Championship as the day Brooks Koepka did well to almost match Woods, even though by the mathematics he actually beat him.
 
But you can’t hype Brooks Koepka, not yet. He is the younger Mike Trout still building his stage. Tiger is his own concert tour, and his own massive audience of golf fans, psychoanalysts and self-satisfied scolds.
 
And there is still big money in all those things.
 
It’s one thing to know something intellectually, of course – the old stove-is-hot lesson – but to see it and hear it is another thing. Golf is Tiger Woods, and the noise from Sunday confirmed that. Brooks Koepka is the new, young, not quite beloved Tiger, while Tiger is the avuncular, easier-mannered Nicklausian Tiger, and most of golfing America prefers what it’s used to seeing back in the good old days.
 
Tiger essentially did a medley of Tiger’s greatest hits on Sunday, and the album will sell millions. And after all, nobody breaks wallet locks quite like Tiger Woods.
 
Golf may be for the young athletically, but the audience is old and the audience wants to be told that what it believed 15 years ago is still true, no matter how youthfully the culture actually swings.
 
In that way, The Eldrick’s performance at the PGA Championship allows 40-Plus America to say, “See? See what I’ve been telling you?” And it also allows 20-Plus America to respond as it always does, by being in its room watching something else.
 
This, then, the real Tiger-ssance – the great instrument of change in golf getting his next star turn as the beating, money-churning heart of the establishment. He was the face of the next generation, but the next generation has been replaced by a new next generation, and that next generation has not yet decided what it feels about golf, let alone Brooks Koepka.
 
And let’s not forget that Tiger Woods was once a mightily polarizing figure himself, and that it took a decade of physical and emotional humbling for him to become the face of the good old days. Thus, at age 42, he has become not only a familiar face in new bloom, but an old and very familiar narrative point at the same time. He makes middle-aged people feel comfortable, which is the direct opposite of what he once did.
 
In short, Tiger Woods now understands the world’s infatuation with Jack Nicklaus when Woods was chasing his ghost. Not I-know-the-stove-is-hot intellectually, but in the most real way there is. Tiger Woods IS Jack Nicklaus, and that’s the weirdest sentence you will ever read 15 years ago.

Barry Bonds' number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy

Barry Bonds' number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy

Barry Bonds’ number retirement Saturday brings with it the usual rhetorical asterisks, most of them having to do with the one honorific he still doesn’t have and likely will never get.

But that is the Bondsian Paradox -- what do you get for the man who has everything except the thing he wants most?

The Giants have lavished him with awards specific to their franchise, as they should. He made a lot of people a lot of money in this town, and in a very cynical way that is the truest measuring stick of the modern world.

So with only one thing left to present him, the Giants have decided Saturday is the best day to retire the number 25, a number which, other than he and his father, has never brought much in the way of lasting memories to the franchise. Indeed, only one other Giant has worn that number for more than a decade, and that was Whitey Lockman while the team was still in New York.

So never mind the number. This is indeed about the name on the back, and how the organization’s gratitude for services rendered tends mostly to direct everyone’s attention to the elephant in the room.

The Hall of Fame.

Bonds has four years left in his quest before the task shifts to the far less forgiving Veterans Committee, which means that Saturday’s ceremony may be the highest level he reaches on the baseball honors list, as one of 199 players who have either had their numbers retired or initials commemorated in the pre-numeral days. For that reason alone, that may touch him in ways that it might not otherwise – that, and the fact that the Giants are re-acknowledging him for his contributions to the financial and reputational juggernaut that is this franchise.

(At this point, we take note of the fact that you may be shrieking “HGH!” at the top of your lungs in rebuttal, and you are certainly entitled to your righteous indignation; I just happen to have wearied of the argument. Hate him, like him, take little note of him, it matters not).

But Bonds’ path to the place he currently resides has been among the most tumultuous in modern sports/celebrity history, and he will be so regarded for the foreseeable future. As has always been true, his approval ratings diminish in concentric circles away from Third And King, and the nation seems less eager to reconsider his character than ever. He has been defined, probably for good, and barring different rules for Hall of Fame voting, so shall it remain.

Which is why his number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy. The Giants can’t really immortalize him any more save a statue, which is almost certainly in the commissioning stage, or naming the field after him a la Rickey Henderson in Oakland, so this is probably the last stop for the Bonds honors train.

And he’s earned it all in the classically fiduciary definition of “earn.” The Giants are who they are in large part because of him, for good and ill, and while they cannot truly do enough to make up that debt, they may be out of ideas for how to do so.