Ratto: Washington a Study In Honesty, Intellect and Hardball

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Ratto: Washington a Study In Honesty, Intellect and Hardball

Oct. 26, 2010RATTO ARCHIVEGIANTS PAGE GIANTS VIDEOMLB POSTSEASON TEXAS PAGERay Ratto
CSNBayArea.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Ron Washington was asked about the semi-precious Giants late-and-postseason slogan, Torture, he smiled. Hes been around too long to view baseball as anything more complicated than can be explained by his own slogan.

Thats The Way Baseball Go.

That just means there are things in baseball you cant control, the Texas Rangers manager said Tuesday. Maybe I should have said that and maybe the slogan Thats the way baseball go wouldnt have been out there.

He says this without any regret, either for the grammar or for the lack of a more pithy slogan. Then again, Washington is the most profound example of a guy who makes steak and lobster out of oatmeal and raisins, simply by being the most Washingtonian he can be.

Washington has learned in his four years in the job how to not only roll with punches, but to absorb them and come out better for them.

He challenged the established pecking order in Texas, made mistakes and emerged a smarter manager. He came close to being fired at least once, in 2009, but survived because his general manager, Jon Daniels, stood up for him. He admitted to drug use this spring and won over owner Nolan Ryan by acknowledging guilt and seizing responsibility.

He even came out better for not getting the Oakland managing job he should have gotten in 2006. He is here, after all, an honest manager who may stray from the book at times in the dugout but not from his core belief that a man is measured by how he stands when he stands alone.

When he told us about (the positive cocaine test in spring training), it was pretty emotional for everyone, third baseman Michael Young said. But he stood up and accepted responsibility, and some of the players . . . well, most of the players stood up and said they wanted him to lead us. We wanted Wash to be our manager.

And so he kept his job, enhanced his reputation within the Ranger clubhouse as an honest man and loyal fellow traveler, and is now in his first World Series, a manager who uses his gut but never forgets to use his head.

I think hes proven, bench coach Jackie Moore said, that if you cant play for Ron Washington, it isnt his problem. Its your problem.

Washington came to Dallas after 11 years in Oakland coaching under Art Howe and Ken Macha, knowing that he would never get the job himself because, among other things, he would say no to general manager Billy Beane when the facts suited it.

But having come to Texas, he faced a long-held culture of playing for the three-run homer, which wasnt his culture. He wanted a team with more facets, and bumped heads with the prevailing ethos often, sometimes impulsively. He crossed shields with Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira, and had a dugout confrontation with Gerald Laird.

But he learned the art of delivering the messages more palatably, he showed loyalty to his players, and eventually he got to the point where they stood for him when he needed them most.

He is a different manager than Bruce Bochy in that he seems at time to operate on hunches, and is not as deft with a bullpen. Then again, Bochy has managed almost four times as long, and as coach Tim Flannery said, Boch is a card-counter. He counts cards. In short, he plans days and events months ahead for a situation that may arise later.

In all other ways, their managing styles reflect what the contents of their dugouts allow. Bochy isnt against offense, he just doesnt have a lot. Washington doesnt dislike his bullpen, he just has to be careful about how he uses it.

And neither will freak out on the big stage, because theyve done the big stage. Bochy has been here before as a manager and a player, and the lights have never been brighter than they were when Washington had to admit to a demon he didnt even know he had.

In short, this isnt torture at all. This is the payoff for one life -- two, really -- for whom there is no more apt explanation than thats the way baseball go.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

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A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.