Ratto: Temperatures run warm and fuzzy for A's, Ellis


Ratto: Temperatures run warm and fuzzy for A's, Ellis

Feb. 24, 2011RATTO ARCHIVEA'S PAGE A'S VIDEORay RattoCSNBayArea.com

For teams that have been off the grid for the last several years the way the As have, expectations tend to be frothy-headed cobra venom. Looks like a nice cold beer, ends up laying you out.But there Mark Ellis is anyway, the longest-running Elephant, noticing not only that this is the warmest, fuzziest spring he can remember in years but that all the things that tend to beat the As down can now be used as shoulder chips. Like the relentless anonymity. Like the minimal crowds. Like the general unfashionableness of As-hood. This is honestly the most excited Ive seen things around here in years, the veteran second baseman said before Thursdays intrasquad game won by, well, the As of course. You always come to spring hoping for good things, but I dont even remember things humming like this in 06. Ellis enters his 10th year as an Oak-towner, if you count the year he missed after tearing his labrum in a spring training collision with Bobby Crosby. He has known good times and bad ones, the years when Oakland was a destination and when it was a place to avoid. But now, with a pitching rotation of considerable note and new bats in place of no bats, the As are one of those stealthyfashionable next-big-thing picks that occasionally hit but far more often miss. And hell take it for what it is. I remember when it was Mark, Barry and Tim, we were a pretty promising team but they were the ones who got the notice, Ellis said, referring to those halcyon days of MulderZitoHudson. This feels different to me, with getting DJ (David DeJesus) and (Hideki) Matsui and all our pitching. Its like weve got something going here, and people are ready for it all to hit. Now we sort of look at the things that used to keep people away and say, Fine. It doesnt matter. Nobody pays attention to us? Nobody comes to see us? Fine. The stuff that people used to whine about, now we can use it as motivation, like Youll find out about us. He says it with not with a grimace but with a knowing smile, as though he sees something the rest of us can only guess at. The As have had pitching before but no bench or bullpen. Theyve had hitters with no bench or enough pitching. And they always manage to find the disabled list in droves. They may do so again; health is as predictable as an agitated chicken, and until they prove they can stay healthy, the logical person must assume the As will not be. But Ellis believes that health is the only thing keeping them from being a real deal. And he got that sense in the most counterintuitive way. I got a good feeling about us when the Rangers got to the World Series, he said. I thought when we played them that we were as good as they were. I know Cliff Lee is a hell of a pitcher, but we hung with them the whole year. The As, in fact, were 9-10, and the run differential of 76-88 wasnt so overwhelming that Ellis is wrong to believe that the As could be the 2011 Rangers. Or the 2011 Giants, for that matter. And yet almosts and if-onlys more often end up in what-the-hell-happeneds and how-did-it-all-go-wrongs. Teams win when they win, and for all the metrics that accurately measure what did happen, guessing in advance when it will is more a matter of art. Spring training is the time when fanciful thoughts make the most sense, but players like Ellis arent so prone to romantic imaginings. Theyve seen too much, they recognize all the ways things can go south. So it is that when he stands in front of his locker and laughs as easily as he does about the season ahead, he gives off the aura of someone who knows something but hasnt quite figured out how to express it, let alone prove it. I think the only way I can explain it is that you get a feeling when you see everyone walking around like they know they belong, like they know they have an important place on a roster. Last year, guys like (Trevor) Cahill, (Gio) Gonzalez, (Brett) Anderson looked like they could, but they didnt really carry themselves like they knew it. Now they do. They know it, and we know it. Now we have to go do it. And thats still the hardest part of all. Which is why expectations really are cobra venom. If the moment hits when everything comes together, as it did in Arlington in San Francisco, its perfect. But if it turns out to be a false positive . . . well, you know. Mark Ellis knows the difference. At least he thinks he does. This year will prove how much he knows, and how much he still has to learn.Follow Ray on Twitter @RattoCSN

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.