A's get dose of good news


A's get dose of good news

The good news for the As is that Bob Melvin has gotten a three-year extension as manager. The even better news is that barring a sale, a firing of the general manager or a meteor strike, hell get all three years to complete the repairs he was charged with tackling back in June.

We say this with some confidence because while general manager Billy (Charles Laughton) Beane has been a grind on managers by habit, he has been loath to actually whack them buggers.

Oh, he called and visited and kvetched after games, and he harangued them over lineups and pitch counts and development issues, but he fired them with some reluctance. For a soccer fan, our little Kevin Kline treated managers contracts better than he would have if he were a soccer man.

Art Howe, who took such a beating in the film weve all been yammering on about this week, got seven full years, the last four being very good ones indeed.

Ken Macha did four years the hard way, fighting against the Beane-ian tide every day, and even after getting fired gut unfired shortly thereafter, for one more year he didnt like.

And Bob Geren, Beanes friend from yesteryear, got 4 years despite never producing a winning record.

In short, Beanes managers average more than five years per run, and whether its because he doesnt like to fire guys with time left on their deals or because he rides the gas but not the brake, it still means that Melvin ought to get the full length of his deal.

Melvin did not work miracles by any means -- he took a .429 team and transformed it into a .467 team, and a 12th-place team because a 10th-place team. He operated within the parameters of what he had, got the players to play with more verve and less resignation, and got true value out of more of them than he didnt.

But now he has to do the hard part -- transform them from players who like coming to the park to players who love coming to the park, and show it. The Elephants have been dramatically lacking in the sort of effervescence that this franchise desperately needs, and though it has plenty of youth, it still doesnt have the one thing that youth is best at providing:


The Bay Area is notorious for its front-running nature, and there is nothing that seizes its collective innards like a cool party just starting to assemble. The Giants did that a year ago, about four months into what because the Improbable Dream. It also got the teams managing general partner run off 10 months later, but thats another story.

The As havent had that in any way since 2006, and havent had it in a truly electric way since 2002 . . . which, coincidentally, is the year in which the movie Cries And Whispers is set.

In short, having gotten the lads to devote more of their energies to the tasks at hand, Melvin has three years to turn those energies into increased competence and the sense that the Coliseum can still be regarded as a cool place to spend a few hours. It happened five years ago, when the stadium was no prettier than it is now, so the excuse that the stadium depresses the team is nonsense. The team, more like, depresses the stadium.

And Melvin must, through words of mouth, show the players how to make Oakland a happening place again. Not through marketing, or through the ghastly mascot, or Moneyball 2: The Reckoning, but playing a brand of ball that makes people want to drop their chores and go to the ballpark on their own.

He has to overcome years of inertia, a difficult management situation above him (always agitating to move the team to another town is a serious downer), a resistance to changing habits and the omnipresent preening of the team across the pond.

If he can do that, he should get three more extensions.

But hell get the three, because thats how Alec Guiness operates. He promised three, and even if it isnt as much fun as it seems from the outside, even his pointed word is his bond.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

Raiders' magic dissipates, but valuable lesson about contending learned

So the Oakland Raiders are good, but not magical, let alone soaked in destiny. So they can make every game a hard slog for the opponent, but they are not invulnerable. So they can be inefficient, and too sure of themselves, and terribly wasteful when they’re cold.

In other words, they are part of the National Football League – no longer too good to be true.

Their performance against the Chiefs in Kansas City was a pyramid of blown opportunities, opportunities made necessary by a terrible start. A week ago, against a borderline playoff team, they could get away with it. Thursday, on hostile ground, against a team that has lost three of its previous 23 regular season games and has a defense that specializes in standing on your chest until you whistle Yankee Doodle through your navel, they couldn’t.

The result of the 21-13 loss in a game with 12 more points than degrees of temperature is that the Raiders are now the fifth-best team in the American Football Conference rather than the first-best team with four more chances to change that position.

In other words, Thursday’s defeat only provided this much wisdom: The Raiders are a good team vulnerable to other good teams with an iron-plated sense of purpose, stubborn defenses that can apply and maintain a chokehold for hours on end, and offenses that don’t feel compelled to imitate Oakland’s offense by getting into a shootout.

And also this: There is nothing that would necessarily prevent them from beating the Chiefs in case of a third match, even though Kansas City held them to fewer points in two games than they scored in every other game save one. They are still, as the pedants say, “in the argument.”

But they have flaws to be exposed against the right team in the right situation. Kansas City has been that team twice, and New England probably is, but there the list probably stops. Nobody in the AFC North or South seems terribly capable of matching them in neutral conditions, but here’s the other bone spur:

The playoffs are not about neutral conditions.

The Raiders have come a long way in what most people think is a long time, but in fact in terms of team construction, you can throw out everything before 2013, and almost everything before 2015. They are just now getting a full understanding of the hardest part of becoming a Super Bowl contender – the other Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, Kansas City has an indifferent playoff history under Andy Reid, but it is clear that under current conditions the Chiefs are serious players. And while we have no link to how the Raiders would fare against new England, we are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to play the second weekend of January arse-deep in snow in Foxborough.

The point? Now they get how hard this contender stuff really is. They could not have learned that lesson any other way – not anyone they’ve played yet save Kansas City.

Their next lessons come in Weeks 16 and 17, when they face the frantically desperate Indianapolis Colts in Oakland and then the Broncos in Denver the week after. Desperate teams can be very difficult indeed, especially to teams that are safe and dry and home, playoff-wise.

And then there are the actual playoffs, which if they were played today would have the Raiders traveling to Houston for a very winnable game against the stultifying Texans. The week after, they could be either in Kansas City again or in New England, getting a gut full of visiting field disadvantage.

But as a learning experience, the Raiders may have come out very well indeed. They now know in very real and personal ways the real difference between where they think they should be and where they are, as well as how many ways this can go terribly wrong between now and then.

And also how well it can go, if they learn what the Chiefs taught them again Thursday.

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Marshall's admission a reminder culture of health doesn't exist

Brandon Marshall of the New York Jets had one of his greatest games ever against the San Francisco 49ers two years ago and remembers almost none of it, because, as he told reporters Wednesday, he was cloudy-minded on painkillers.

This admission is one more reminder that sports are not necessarily good for one’s health, in large part because the culture of health in sports really doesn’t exist.

There is, rather, a culture of ordnance, and the players are the weaponry.

Marshall’s acknowledgement that he was masking pain from a high ankle sprain that should have kept him out of action for “four to six weeks,” by his own estimation but had him returning to action 10 days after the original injury.

“I’ll say it: I took a couple pain pills, so . . . I took a couple of pain pills to mask the pain,” he said on a conference call with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I really wasn’t supposed to play. So I don’t remember much from that game. I just remember catching those balls. That was pretty much it.”

We now re-enter the culture of playing when it isn’t prudent, either out of a misplaced sense of bravado or employer-based pressure to perform (there is no direct statement from Marshall saying that the painkillers were given to him by the team). The sense of bravado, which most athletes have, probably can never be legislated, and the culture of downward pressure to perform no matter what the infirmity has proven immensely difficult to conquer.

But there is another factor here, and that is the general lack of efficacy of painkillers. Warriors coach Steve Kerr took to using a form of medicinal marijuana because the painkillers he was taking for long-lingering symptoms from his back surgery were doing more harm than good. He said he found the marijuana was equally lacking, but he had enough concerns about the deleterious effects of Vicodin, OxyContin and other standard medications assigned to athletes in pain.

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr told CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

He later expanded on that after the initial “Kerr Is A Sparker” headlines hit the Internet.

“Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, a lot of pain, a lot of chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research,” he said. “You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet . . . NFL players, that’s what they’re given. That stuff is awful. That stuff is dangerous, the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country. The NFL, the NBA, it’s a business. So you don’t want your customers thinking, ‘These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. To me, it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception. If you do any research at all, the stuff they’re prescribing is really bad for you and the stuff that they’re banning is fine.”

It is instructive, then, that when Marshall was asked for his position on the NFL’s stance not to include marijuana as a permissible substance for pain management, substance, a Jets public-relations employee who could be heard in the background of the call saying that Marshall “knows better than that.”

But Marshall did answer the question, saying in essence that he fully intends to know better, period.

“That is something that I actually want to research more this offseason when I have time,” he said. “I’m not a guy that knows about the benefits of what it can do for pain and other things. But I’d like to hear others’ opinions and really research the effects it can have on us – positives and negatives.”

In the meantime, sports soldiers on, using increasingly debunked methods for dealing with the pain their businesses inflict upon their employees and issuing warnings about breaching the silence of the workplace. But tales like Marshall’s will continue to surface until the businesses that require him and his like come to grips with the toll of their shortsightedness and, in some cases, neglect.