Ratto: Giants' Wilson and his beard return to mound, spotlight


Ratto: Giants' Wilson and his beard return to mound, spotlight

Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

SCOTTSDALE --Brian Wilson looked up toward the ceiling as he formulated the answers to his first postgame presser of 2011. There is nothing necessarily indicative there, unless inspiration comes to him fluorescently.But after an impressive debut, in which he was greeted by a sustained ovation coming in from the bullpen to begin the fifth inning of the Giants 6-1 win over Seattle, he spoke on such varied topics as the nature of competition, commitment to the work ethic, and building a clubhouse in his home after retirement so that he can recreate the experience of the day-to-day ballplayers life for the rest of his days.RECAP: Lincecum Ks seven Mariners in Giants' 6-1 win
Ive entertained thoughts of it, he said, working as much wry as he could manage. I may have to go up to Murph (clubhouse manager Mike Murphy) and say, Murph, Im gonna need you to be my clubbie.Wilson began spring training with a back problem that put him behind, then a Friday night visit with Charlie Sheen that dragged him into the Internet Cuisinart for a few spins. By the time he finally got into his first game, he had already made plenty of news without actually making any news.RATTO: Giants' Wilson now playing by show biz rules
But after a 10-pitch inning, which resulted in punchouts of Dustin Ackley and Adam Kennedy, a modest first-pitch grounder to first from Milton Bradley, the worrisome and cartoony parts of his spring had metamorphosed into business.Even his beard, which has now moved past Gen. John Bell Hood and is easing toward Karl Marx for width, Ulysses S. Grant for chin hang and a rhododendron for organization, is probably going to fade in significance as he returns to the job that made him famous in the first place.Indeed, he looked strong enough to go a second inning, which would have violated most reliever protocols, let alone those for first-time appearances.I asked Bruce and Gardy (bullpen coach Mark Gardner) if I could go five today, he said, leaking sardonicism. They respectfully declined.Wilsons gift for channeling the late comedian Mitch Hedberg aside, his outing served not so much as a reminder of last season, but of the relief that comes from one fewer drama point for the days ahead. Spring training is a time for manufactured story lines, and with most defending champions, the overarching theme is how to be just like the year just passed, and finding potential reasons why that wont be so. Time marches on, after all, and the point has been reached when 2010 ends and 2011 begins.Wilson, though, chooses to see links between the then and the now, because for those with trophies, nothing satisfies quite like continuity.We had a very good spring last year, and then we won the World Series, he said. Some people like to say how spring isnt really indicative of anything, but we have a good team.And the dying embers of the memories of 2010 sustained him Sunday when he entered the game to an ovation that wasnt quite thundering but was well past pronounced.I felt honored to be in a Giants uniform, to hear that in a spring training game. In years past, Id take the mound, and its Lets go Brian, he said, offering a tea partygolf clap for emphasis of its lack of emphasis. And thats my mom.I doubt (the ovation) was 100 percent directed toward me. I was just part of the unit that won it all.Well, that probably explains his actual role in the title, but diminishes his role as a character and advertising hook, on a team that is frankly overrun with them. Then again, no organization has found more ways to monetize the icons of a championship. In New York, they get books written about fringe players on title teams. In San Francisco, they corner the market on T-shirts and slogans.Which is why Wilson actually entering a game and looking like the same pitcher who ended last season was a refreshing reminder of his core purpose. He gives excellent pressers, and his is still the silver medal of athletes beards, behind the one just sacrificed for charity by Pittsburgh Steeler defensive end Brett Keisel.But mostly, he throws an overpowering fastball, a nasty cutter and what the players still lovingly call a bastard slider. He does not seem to lose sight of that essential fact, so that whatever his future may hold, he still seems to grasp that he is a pitcher first and foremost. He just plays the other characters for showbiz purposes.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.